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The Story of Howard’s Lick

By Miss Martha Gilkeson

This pleasure and health resort was very appropriately given the name of the “Lee White Sulphur Springs” a number of years ago by Homer S. Carr, but the original name of “Howard’s Lick” has clung to it from the days of the early settlers.

The stretch of my imagination leads me to believe that John Howard and his son came into this section by way of the Lost River valley, then followed the stream known as Howard’s Lick Run to the spring and made camp at the deer lick, living on venison and the fruits of the forest and thus giving their name to the spot. We imagine, too, that their first view of the lovely South Branch Valley was from the top of the mountain that also bears their name. The story is familiar: they pressed on west from the South Branch Valley and over the mountains, then they “descended the Ohio and Mississippi rivers in a skiff of their own making, and at last, after a series of thrilling adventures, they found themselves in London, and reported their discoveries to Lord Fairfax, the proprietor of the Northern Neck of Virginia.” (The quotation is from “Planting of Presbyterianism in Northern Neck of Virginia,” page 45, by James R. Graham, D. D. – Ed.)

A portion of the Springs property was conveyed to General Henry Lee (Light Horse Harry Lee) of Revolutionary fame by the Commonwealth of Virginia, 1796. Gen. Lee’s fame also rests on the memorable words used in his eulogy of George Washington: “First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen.” Is it possible that he scouted around over his domains, located this fine spring or springs and incorporated it under the name of Soda Springs Company, and sent his son, Charles Carter Lee, here to operate a health resort?

At his death in 1818, his four sons inherited a vast area of land including his possessions in Hardy county.

Charles Carter Lee’s three brothers conveyed their interests in immense tracts of land to him, including 18 tracts in Hardy and Shenandoah counties. I was interested when I looked up the deeds (in the Hardy County Clerk’s office – Ed.) to find that the brother, Maj. Henry Lee and his wife were in France when the conveyance was made and the acknowledgement was in French before the Mayor of St. Felix, Jaques Millet. This Henry Lee was a son of Light Horse Harry Lee by his first wife, who was a Lee and a cousin. He was the oldest brother and figured in the War of 1812. Sidney Smith Lee, of the U. S. Navy, 1860, and afterwards of the Confederate States Navy, conveyed his interest also, and the third conveyance was by Robert E. Lee, the “Military Genius of the Confederacy,”

Thus Charles Carter Lee, oldest full brother of General Robert E. Lee, came into possession of thousands of acres of forest land that had become a burden to his brothers.

In 1848 he and William Seymour of Moorefield, purchased a part of the 17,000-acre Lee tract from Jas. Carr Gamble, clerk, which had been returned delinquent for non-payment of taxes.

In 1852 they formed a corporation known as the “Hardy White Sulphur Springs Company,” for the “purprose [sic] of improving the Springs and grounds adjacent, usually known by the name of Howard’s Spring,” of constructing buildings and other fixtures, and keeping horses for the entertainment of persons “who may resort to the said springs in the county of Hardy.”

The Company could hold land not exceeding 2,000 acres, and the stock could be subscribed in land at such valuation as the company might agree on.

“An Act to Incorporate Soda Springs Company of Hardy,” was repealed, which would indicate that there had been an organized company at an earlier date operating a resort at Howard’s Lick.

Mr. H. S. Carr, who owned the property later, described the spring thus: “The waters, of the purest white sulphur, rise from a bed of solid rock, and are of a temperature unequalled by any other sulphur springs, being uniformly 52 defrre [sic] Fahrenheit at all seasons of the year – ten degrees colder than the Greenbrier White Sulphur Springs. By analysis they are shown to be medicinally superior to the Greenbrier White, containing no lime and a larger per cent of soda than any other sulphur spring known in Virginia.”

Charles Carter Lee is spoken of sometimes as of Powhatan and again of Henrico. He evidently spent much of his time at the Lee cottage or hotel, also in Moorefield with his friend and cousin, Moray Randolph, at Willow Wall and other places. In politics he was a Whig and I imagine he was a genial member of many parties, both political and social. I think the description my uncle, E. M. Gilkeson, gives of one of these parties will be of interest to you:

Henry Clay was the Whig candidate for President and James K. Polk, of Tennessee, was the Democratic candidate. This campaign in 1844 was a most heated and alert one. Clay was the idol of the Whigs and his defeat was a terrible blow to his ardent and faithful followers. Organizations of many kinds were in evidence throughout the country boosting Clay. Hardy county had a splendid Glee Club, made up of Charles Carter Lee, Capt. Mullin, Capt. Mask, R. W. Gilkeson and a great many others. A great band wagon was secured from Cumberland for the club and was drawn by six white horses bedecked in all sorts of regalia. The occasion in question was the great Whig Barbecue, at Romney, and a great concourse of people followed in the wake of the Glee Club. Upon reaching Romney, the Hardy Club was met, as they approached the old Armstrong Hotel, by the Glee Clubs of Cumberland, Wincheseter and Hampshire, who called or sung out:

"Oh, where did you come from;
Tell us quick, we pray!
Oh, where did you come from?
Any news today>"

Hardy responded:

"Just from Hardy county, boys;
Ever since the Indians went away
We've been Whig and nothing else,
And now on fire for Clay!"

Then the second appeal from the three clubs:

"Oh, where did you come from?
Tell us quick, we pray;
Oh, where did you come from?
Any news today?"

The response:

"Just from Lost River, boys;
Lost under hills, they say,
But where people are not too lost
To know of Henry Clay!"

Third appeal:

"Where did you come from?
Tell us quick, we pray;
O, where did you come from?
Any news today?

The response:

"Just from Bean Settlement, boys!
Where Polk stalks all decay;
And well the beans may flourish
For they are rooted well in Clay!"

Just think of the mammoth changes since 1844! No sources of quick communication in that day! It was the daily custom then for a farmer to stop any individual passing his place during campaigns - or at any other time - with the question: "Any news today?"

These verses are from memory and were learned on my father's knee when I was a little child. See what memory does?

William Seymour, who was associated with Charles Carter Lee in the purchase of this land and the incorporation of the "Hardy White Sulphur Spring Company," was a picturesque figure in this community in his generation. He was born in 1802 and died in 1860, son of Abel Seymour and Ann VanMeter Seymour. "He had kindly social qualities, was highly respected and had more than ordinary legal attainments. He was a graduate of Princeton College, New Jersey, studied law in Staunton, Va., admitted to the bar and located at Moorefield, in his native county of Hardy. He was always a bachelor."

Many of this generation have heard their parents tell of Christmas morning at "Uncle Billy Semyour's office," which stood in the corner of what is now Arno Friddle's yard, next to Mrs. M. W. Gamble's.

There was a grand scramble for the candy he showered around for them. His love for his friends and the young people was an added charm to this talented lawyer and scholar.

He represented his county in the Virginia Legislature and in the Reform Convention of 1850.

In the Whig State Convention of 1840, the distinguished Benjamin Watkins Leigh proposed his name as the Whig elector for the Hardy district, and he was unanimously chosen.

He belonged to the Henry Clay school of Whigs and was ever a profound admirer, a devoted and enthusiastic friend of that great man. He was always a Whig. It may bring him a little closer to us in his "kindly social qualities" to add the following incident:

Gen. Winfield Scott was the Whig candidate for President in 1852. My fahter was five years old at the time of the election and he followed my grandfather to the polls. The subject of this sketch at once noticed him and asked him, "Billy, who do you vote for?"

The answer was without hesitation: "General Scott."

Mr. Seymour turned to the commissioner. "William Gilkeson casts his vote for General Scott," My father said he thought until quite a big boy that he really voted for [him].

In 1851 Charles Carter Lee and William Seymour leased 5,000 acres of land to Samuel Mullin for ten years, with buildings thereon and all buildings. Samuel Mullin, on his part, was to pay Charles Carter Lee the sum of $200 annually, and the further sum of $756 annually in improvements, as are usual and proper at watering places of public resorts, and for the purpose of securing to them the payment of all rents he was to execute a deed of trust on all furniture, carriages, carts, wagons, stage horses, cattle, et.

Samuel Mullin was an elder brother of J. C. Mullin, captain of the "Hardy Blues," and famous host of the hotel in Moorefield that bears his name.

Perhaps the sisters who presided at the Mullin Hotel-Miss Kitty and Miss Eliza-had previously served delectable food for their brother Samuel at the “Hardy White Sulphur Springs.”

To this day when potato puddings or pies are served, we are reminded that is is Miss Kitty’s recipe, “but they can’t be made quite as good as Miss Kitty’s were.” Think of her pie and a delicious cup of coffee made with sulphur water: “Let’s have another cup of coffee, and let’s have another piece of pie.”

White sulphur water makes wonderful coffee but does not make good tea.

Mrs. George Cunningham, a sister of William Seymour, was, on one occasion, entertaining Robert E. Lee at her cottage at the Springs, when the tea was swerved it was not clear, it was not good, it had been made with sulphur water. Her daughter, Mrs. Mary Spangler, in relating the incident, said her mother was dreadfully mortified. This was before the “War Between the States,” but General Lee’s prowess as a soldier was recognized at that time because of his achievements in the Mexican War. Mrs. Spanglar told of other social occasions at Howard’s Lick, when she would furnish the music on the piano, Dr. Hayes accompanying her with his violin, and the young people would dance. Dr. Chaplin Hayes was a nephew of Samuel Alexander.

The Williamses, Randolphs, Gambles, Prices, Parrens and other spent their summers there in the Fifties. They may have had cottages. I ran across a lease in the court house to Cyrus Hutton (the grandfather of Mrs. James Wood) John G. Harness and S.A. McMechen for the one-forth acre of land on which they had erected a building. Of course there were others – in hotel or cabin that I have not mentioned.

Mr. George Mathias and his sister, Miss Barbara, had charge of the hotel at one time. I heard Mr. Mathias tell this incident, that portrays one of his characteristics and leads me to think that he operated at Howard’s Lick before the War between the State:

He was quartermaster sergeant in Company F, Seventh Virginia Cavalry (Capt. Sheets’ command). Before the company went into the first battle, he saw the soldiers throwing their cards away. They were scattered all along the road side. “It put me to thinking. I had played cards at Howard’s Lick and I had played at Moorefield. I had always played an honest game, but I said to myself, ‘ If those things are not fit to die by, they were are not fit to live by.’ I threw min away, too, and I have never played a game of cards from that day to this.”

In connection with the war, an interesting story is told of Samuel Alexander, who was cashier of the bank here in Moorefield at the beginning of the war. Of course, the bank soon closed. Mr. Alexander buried the valuables under the vault floor, locked the heavy doors, carrying the big brass keys with him and refugeed with his family at Howard’s Lick. The Federal troops located him and he was captured. He took in the situation quickly and pitched the keys behind a fallen tree, where they stayed in the leaves until he could get word to one of his sons, who found them just at the spot he had indicated.

The Hardy White Sulphur Springs property passed out of the Lee family on February 8, 1879. The widow of Charles Carter Lee, Lucy P. Lee and his son, George T. Lee, made the conveyance of 432 acres to Edgar S., and Marcellus E. Alexander. Some of our older people will recall George T. Lee. He read law in Moorefield and taught the Free school at Baker’s school house, 7 miles above Moorefield, which ran only four months. After it closed he was employed by Felix B. Welton and some of his neighbors to teach a private school. He was teaching and living at “Hickory Hill,” at the time Hiser, the mail carrier from Petersburg to Moorefield, was murdered in Petersburg Gap, and perhaps the last time he was in this section was when he was in Keyser as a witness, when Seymour Douglas was tried and convicted of the murder.

February 8, 1879-493 acres of the property previously owned by William Seymour, and the part on which the spring is located, was conveyed by H.S. Carr, Special Commissioner for George S. Harness and Elizabeth, his wife, niece of William Seymour, and Abel S. Scott, his nephew, Perry W. Cooper and Moses Wilkins, to Edgar S., and Marcellus Alexander.

Mr. Seymour willed his watch and library to his nephew, William Masslin, and left the residue of his estate to the children of his deceased sister, Mary Scott, which included a part of the 493-acre tract on which the springs property is located. The 493-acre tract is a part of the old 5,000-acre Lee tract.

Thus the Alexander brothers – sons of Samuel Alexander – became the sole owners of the two tracts that have since been known as the Howard’s Lick property.

The Alexander brothers were druggists and their drug store was on the corner of Winchester Avenue and Main Street, in the building occupied by Coffman-Fisher’s dry goods store.

Edgar S. Alexander was a Confederate solider and lost an arm in the conflict. He was a genial person and he enjoyed showing visitors the interesting and picturesque spots of the community. I have hear it said “Ed Alexander is the only person who can take you there,” referring to a fine view point. He knew the beauty spots. I never heard of him using the pallet and brush as did his brother, William Alexander, who painted the portraits of the grandmothers and grandfathers that lend dignity to our homes, nor did he write books as does his famous niece, Mary Johnston, but he was truly an artist in his love of the beautiful nature. Howard’s Lick was a delightful gathering place for the Alexander family. They occupied the Lee cottage and the brothers had the management of the hotel with such able housekeepers as Mrs. Carrie Chambers. William Constable was general assistant and caretaker. Uncle Hiram, the Alexanders’ faithful servant, who brought supplies and mail from Moorefield, was not the least in importance. The whoop-not honk- that he gave as he approached the Springs was a most welcome sound.

My little friend and playmate Mary Alexander, daughter of Edgar S., had the distinction of falling into the spring, which was ever after a warning to us. She was rescued by her nurse who, I suppose, rescued the kitten also that the little lady had thrown I, then followed in an effort to save from a watery grave.

After her father’s death, with her mother and brother, she went to Texas to live. She is Mrs. William Guthrie and her home is in San Antonio.

Some of the other playmates that I recall were Ray and Morton Allen. I think their father was a candy merchant in Baltimore, and the Muncaster sisters of Washington, daughters of Dr. O.M. Muncaster, who was so enthusiastic over the medicinal qualities of the water and was a frequent visitor at the resort.

The main spring which has been discussed historically and medicinally, has an unique setting. It is situated in a bow effect inundation on the Lost River side of Howard’s Lick Mountain, and it is more easily approached from that side. Virgil D. Ritchie, of Mathias, has very beautifully described the natural surroundings in our local papers. It is 2,000 feet above sea level and is encased in the same old marble slabs of former glory. The roof of the spring house was of the picturesque canopy type. An iron frame with a rather long bar top and a receptacle at the other end for tumblers, hung in the spring-house, and it was quite an art to dip the water without losing some of the tumblers.

I am glad that I carry in my mind an attractive picture of the old log hotel. Mr. Moses Wilkins, who was an old man when it was remodeled and weather boarded in 1889, said that he helped build it in 1849.

It set well back against the wooded hill side, so close that a little bridge effect connected it with the hill side at the same level. There were double porches on the sides next to the spring and toward, the road that leads from Moorefield to Mathias. As I recall, the vines on the porch were not the heavy type that keep out the air and tempt mosquitoes, but the old-time morning glories and Madeira vines. There was rustic beauty in the logs, daubing and the old chimney.

Paths running from sunlight into shadow, connected spring house, hotel and cottage. There was romance in the mountain paths and winding streams. I was thrilled when parties would come over from Moorefield. It was great fun to watch them pair off for walks, to bowl and ride horseback – I recall the jolly times some of them had riding Mr. Scott Funkhouser’s gray mule. In the evenings they would gather in the big sitting room and dance. The musicians were from the neighborhood and I was fascinated by the accordions they played. I don’t recall the other instruments. This long room with its open fire was a lovely place for us to play rainy days and cool evenings.

If we could locate the old hotel register we would find the names of many interesting people.

Rev. George W. White, D.D., “stateliest of men and most genial of gentlemen,” never failed to take extensive travelers and interested guests to the “long apple tree” a thousand or more feet above the spring, then cherish their comments, comparing the view of the Moorefild Valley to the vales of Switzerland. The mountain climb, too, gives one a suggestion of the Alps. I know of parties on horseback, driving parties and walking parties. I imagine there was more appreciation of this restful spot because of the steep climb and descent of Howard’;s Lick Mountain.

I have in mind a walking party from Wheeling – at least the men walked – the ladies and baggage were wagonettes. Lists, Hazelits, Cummins and Heiskells tramping this way, were halted at Buzzard’s Ford. The river was high and our friends were in trouble, I don’t know how the word reached town. Thter was no bridge at that time, but several of the men from town went to their rescue, piloted them safely over and settled them comfortably at the Mullin Hotel.

The next day they moved on to Howard’s Lick, from there to Orkney Springs and back to Wheeling by another route. Mr. W.P. Heiskell, well known here as one of the firm of Ott, Heiskell Hardware Company, of Wheeling, was one of their champion walkers. He is now living in Italy. I am sure it will interest you to know that he has not forgotten his old tramping grounds on this side of the world. When my sister and I were in Europe in 1930, we had a cup of tea with him and his good wife in their apartment at the delightful resort town of Rapalla on the Italian Riviera. We had thought of getting in touch with them by wire from Rome, but long distance calls in our United States, which I suppose suggested Mr. Heiskell’s response. He said “The Mullin Hotel is a long call from the Imperial City.”

A driving party from Kingwood to Washington City, including William G. Brown, better known as “Junior” Brown, on-time congressman from the Second district, and his mother, made Howard’s Lick one of their stopping places. The party arranged to drive on to their next point on Sunday without consulting Mrs. Brown, but they did not drive on. Mrs. Brown was not in the habit of traveling on Sunday. They spent another day at the springs in such delightful company as Mr. Felix B. Welton and hi daughters, Misses Betty and Felicia (Fillie).

The last member of the Lee family that I know of who sought health of pleasure at the Springs, was Reginal Fendall. His father was a close friend and advisor of General Robert E. Lee.

The Howard’s Lick Springs property was conveyed on July 1, 1885. by A. Somerville, Special Commissioner, to H.S. Carr and others (M.S. Alexander, William C. Gatzmer, Elizabeth H. Baird, Oliver Hopkinson, R. Loper Baird, William M. Baird and Joseph Hopkinson. The interests of the several parties were later conveyed to H.S., and Sarah E. Carr, by their deed of record in the Hardy County Clerk’s office.

Mrs. Homer S. Carr who was, before marriage, Miss Sarah Newman the adopted daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Hopewell, was a remarkably fine woman of lovely face and bearing; when I knew her she had snow-white hair which she wore beautifully dressed and puffed. She taught school before her marriage in the little brick school house south of the old court house and jail on Franklin street. The children were devoted to her and must have found it easy to approach her for sympathy. My father was one of there small pupils. He ran to her one day and said: “Miss Sarah, am I the worstest boy in town?” My sister and I never tired of hearing her tell this story, but hardly think it fair to him to leave you under the impression that he was. I quote 9from a letter written to my mother. “He was my schoolmate, my roommate, and I can truthfully say that he did not have to grow up to be a man, a gentleman, because he was a manly boy and born a gentleman.” Mrs. Sarah Carr had no children, but her loving heart and tender spirit left their imprint on the community.

Homer S. Carr inherited her interest in the Howard’s Lick property on the death of his wife, Mrs. Sarah Newman Carr. He took a keen interest in keeping up and improving the buildings and grounds, both before and after the death of his wife. Mrs. Virginia Hendrickson was one of his able house keepers.

Mr. Carr came to this community from Clarksburg, W.Va., when a young man, and practiced law in Moorefiled. His second wife was Mrs. Emma K. Scott, of Washington City. I think I am correct in stating that the hotel burned the day they were married. After that they spent much of their time at their cottage, and the springs property was kept exclusively for their private use. They enjoyed the companionship of books, surrounded by the quit and beauties of nature, and we owe them a debt for preserving much of historic interest to our community.

Mrs. Emma K. Carr sold the property on August 20, 1929 to H. Riley Hishman and he in turn conveyed it to the West Virginia Conservation Commission October 29, 1934.

I feel certain that the central attraction of the Lost River State Park is “Howards’ Lick” or “The Lee White Sulphur”.


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