Lyda's Story featuring the Art of Greenbrier County's Lyda Reilly
by Jack Mayhew - classmate and friend of Lyda Reilly
Growing up in Greenbrier County instills one with a sense of pride that stays with you for the rest of your life. So is the life of Lyda Elizabeth Spencer Reilly, RN, an accomplished Artist. Born and raised on a farm located on Friars Hill Road, a few miles from the town of Renick, Lyda’s early days were filled with school and the attention of her grandfather Charlie Spencer who became her closest friend while he lived out his long life of ninety years with her family. In her early teen years, her family was expanded by the arrival of Linda and Brenda Spencer, her twin sisters who now reside in Lewisburg. As a young student, Lyda discovered art and was encouraged to develop her talent by her favorite teachers, Ms. Hanna and Ms. McKnight, which she did. However, her love of art took a back seat to her education. Immediately following High School she left the farm to attend nursing school.
Lyda Became a Registered Nurse (RN) and set about helping those in need. However, she never lost her love of farm life and her community which her paintings reflect. As soon as she had the opportunity she captured her family home on canvas. The painting now hangs on her bedroom wall in a location that ensures that it is the first thing she sees in the morning and the last at night.
Lyda expanded her life’s experiences with marriage and travel. The arrival of her daughter Kerry was magical and their bond has grown as they both excelled in the professions of helping others. Her daughter is now; Dr. Kerry Reilly, Ph.D.
Enjoy some of Lyda's art below:
Happy Earth Day: Sustainability at the North House Museum
By AmeriCorps Member - Abi Smith
Since the first Earth Day celebration in 1970, each April 22nd is an opportunity to reflect on environmental action and sustainability. As a historical society, we have a unique role to play in promoting sustainability. We like to joke that we’re always thinking in the past, especially when we deep dive into our research (or are running late). However, historical organizations also have a responsibility to consider future generations. If our mission is to preserve the diverse history and culture of the Greenbrier Valley, then sustainability is an inherent part of our mission statement. I decided to take some time this earth day to consider some ways in which we at the Greenbrier Historical Society could be more intentional in promoting sustainability.
The issue of sustainable collection storage is particularly important in the communities of the Greenbrier Valley. The Valley experiences flooding disasters on a regular basis. Natural disasters, like flooding, can result in the loss of priceless information from private and public collections, as well as family documents. Sustainable collection storage would mean creating disaster plans and storage facilities that are less at risk to destruction. It might also mean working with local communities to create digital copies of private and family collections in case these physical items are destroyed. So how can small organizations work to promote sustainable collections.
One step that we can take here at the North House Museum is to be more intentional in our collecting. Did you know that many museums only display 10-20% of their collection? This means that large portions of a museum’s collection are sitting in climate-controlled storage. Although new additions to our collection are exciting, the constant growth of an organization’s collection is not always sustainable. A sustainable collection is one that an organization has enough staff, space, and time to manage. Museum collections are not intended to hold every artifact of a community’s history, but rather are to be curated collections that can be reworked as the needs of the organization changes. Here at the Greenbrier Historical Society, we are working to improve our collecting to focus on our scope of the Greenbrier Valley. This sometimes means deaccessioning exciting collection items that have no relation to our scope, like historic copies of the New York Times. We can deaccession these kinds of items with the knowledge this information will be preserved in other institutions with a more accurate collecting scope.
Preservation of information is a key part of our mission statement, but so is education. Museums are well suited for education as they are designed to communicate to diverse groups of people. Often, environmental sustainability is taught through the science of climate change. However, as a history focused organization, we also have space to teach sustainability. We can teach about historic land use and land management practices. In fact, our newest exhibit opening in May, The Road to Plenty, examines Native American land use and management, and how those practices changed with colonization. We can also teach about the impact of industry on West Virginia’s environment. The lumber and coal industries had a major impact on the land of the Greenbrier Valley, and the effects of these industries still impact our communities. By including discussions of sustainability into the programming we already have, we can provide a framework to help guests better understand the importance of sustainable practices.
The field of museums has been slow to develop sustainable practices. However, as more institutions begin to consider these issues, more museums are beginning to implement sustainability standards. The issues of environmental sustainability can seem overwhelming, particularly for small organizations. It may even make us question our understanding of how museums should operate. However, small, concrete actions will help shift museum and public practices and values to ones that help future community enrichment.
By Executive Director Nora Venezky
In 2020 I made it my goal to visit every West Virginia State Park and Forest (There are 45). Little did I know it would become the perfect year to spend as much time as possible outside and in nature. I was very fortunate to have great weather 97% of the time and a few friends in my bubble that joined me on my hikes. If you are not aware, West Virginia State Parks have a few awesome programs to encourage you to visit.
Their VIPP program allows you to collect stamps at each park when you complete the program you get a patch, window decal, and a $25 gift card for use at any park or forest and its FREE to sign up: https://wvstateparks.com/parks/programs/vipp/. They also have a hiking program that is only $15 to register for and you get rewards as you hit different milestones: https://wvstateparks.com/parks/programs/hiking/.
There is no time limit on these programs and visiting State Parks is an amazing way to explore West Virginia. It is also amazing how much history you can discover along the way at some of the state parks. Here are a few West Virginia State Parks that had some great history to explore:
Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park
Droop is in the Greenbrier Valley up in Pocahontas County and worth the quick drive (don’t forget to stop at everyone’s favorite Beartown State Park since its just up the road). This park is part of the Civil War Discovery Trail and is the site of the Battle of Droop Mountain that took place on November 6. 1863. They have a small museum you can visit to learn more about the battle, or you can walk up the iconic lookout tower. I recommend the .5-mile Overlook trail if you want to see Civil War trenches, and a scenic overlook.
Watters Smith Memorial State Park
This is one of the last parks I visited in December of 2020. It was stunning with the fresh Christmas snow sticking to the trees. Lots of great hiking and mountain biking trails made for a nice hike. Unfortunately, I visited out of season and the historic village was closed down for the season, but I was still able to explore and read the interpretive panels. The museum depicts pioneer life from 1796 to the early 1900s. The land the park is on was first settled by Watters Smith and his wife Elizabeth in 1796. They built a home and raised eight children on the farm.
This park gets its name from Chief Logan, a leader of the Mingo people who lived in the area and fought against white settlers who were encroaching on his people’s land and killed members of the Mingo tribe. This park also hosts a museum and other historic sites. After driving through Buffalo Creek to get to the park I appreciated learning more about the of the Buffalo Creek flood that occurred in February 26, 1972 when Pittston Coal Company’s slurry dam burst and unleashed 132 million gallons of waste water killing 125 people. The museum had exhibits on coal mining, railroad history, and more. I enjoyed a hike on Woodpecker Trail, a 2.3-mile easy hike through the woods that was recommended by one of the rangers. There is a great mix of nature and history at this state park.
Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park
This state park is all about history, open from May 1- October 31 this island adventure was a blast! You can get a combo ticket that includes the sternwheel boat ride to the island, a wagon ride around the island, a guided tour of the reproduction Blennerhassett Mansion (yes this is not the original mansion, it was rebuilt using blueprints and historic documentation), and a visit to the Blennerhassett Museum of Regional History. I thoroughly enjoyed the sternwheel boat ride to the island; it was so mesmerizing watching the sternwheel churn the water of the Ohio River. Make sure you plan a whole day to explore the history and maybe stop at a restaurant or brewery in Parkersburg after.
Berkeley Springs State Park
This was a great trip that I combined with visits to Cacapon and Lost River State Parks. Berkley Springs is an awesome little town with great little shops and restaurants and so much history. It is definitely worth taking your shoes off and soaking in the waters. Long before the first white settlers, Native Americans found benefits in these spring waters. George Washington visited the springs regularly and helped promote the health benefits of the spring waters. Located right in the downtown of Berkeley Springs, there is a museum as well as a spa to enjoy.
Carnifex Ferry State Park
This hike we ran into some torrential downpours and thunder storms, but luckily, we happened to be passing by a picnic shelter at the time we could take cover in. With overlooks of the Gauley River and some stunning forest views this park quickly became one of my favorites. It was the site of a Union victory during the Civil War on September 10, 1861 that led to the eventual withdrawal of Confederate troops from the Kanawha Valley. There is a small museum that teaches you about the history of the battle and area.
Cass Scenic Railroad State Park
This park is like stepping back into an old lumber town, rows of company houses, the company store, and the train whistles echoing through the valley. Before our current AmeriCorps Member, Abi smith joined us, she spent a year up at Cass working on the historic interpretation of the park. Getting a personal tour from her brought to life so much of the history of this Greenbrier Valley town. I love visiting the remains of the old mill that was built in 1902 before a fire destroyed it in 1922. It used to employ 2,500 people in its heyday before it closed in the 1960s and fell into disrepair. If you are up for the challenge, I recommend taking a weekend bicycle trip from Caldwell up to Cass along the Greenbrier River Trail (You can camp at Watoga State Park on your way!).
These are just a few of the amazing West Virginia State Parks that had a focus on history, but each park has a unique history and something share. I challenge everyone to start planning your next West Virginia State Park adventure today, you will learn a lot, recharge in nature, and get to know our Mountain State a bit better.
Behind The Scenes With
By Sarah Shepherd - Archive Associate
After the Civil War, over four million enslaved people were freed and the nation forever changed. West Virginia had to learn how to govern over a divided people in this new state. In Greenbrier County, the majority of the population supported the Confederacy and almost all formerly eligible white men could no longer vote or hold office until pardoned for treason against the United States.
Joseph F. Caldwell emerged as a powerful force in Lewisburg as one of the few white men who supported the Union despite being a slaveowner. After the war, he held several political offices including serving in the House of Delegates, Registrar of Greenbrier County, and as Mayor, Trustee and Treasurer of Lewisburg. Caldwell was a Republican, but unlike the national Republican platform, he did not support Black suffrage.
The former Confederates were bitterly opposed to Caldwell, who was first elected Mayor in 1869. Caldwell would be forced to defend the legitimacy of his election multiple times as he was also the voter Registrar of Greenbrier County. In April 1870, his election was declared illegal and he was forced to concede the office to former Mayor Oliver P. Hoover until a vote could be held. However, the political landscape had shifted dramatically with the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870. The Republican and Democratic Party both sought the vote of the 147 eligible Black men in Greenbrier County. The Democratic meeting on April 16, held by Robert F. Dennis and Alexander F. Mathews, was likely not a success. In this meeting, the Democrats declared that Black people should “not denounce slavery [as] it was your best earthly friend” echoing the idea that Black Americans benefited from the “civilizing” influence of slavery. They threatened that if Black men vote for the Republicans “we will then see that you are our enemies…and you will suffer by it.” Despite this threat, Black men in Greenbrier County voted for the Republican candidates who supported their civil rights.
On June 4, 1870, Joseph F. Caldwell was elected Mayor and three Black men, Jaben Holmes, Jordan Davis, and Stephen Gardner were elected as Trustees. Holmes, Davis, and Gardner were wealthy, educated, leaders of the Black community in Lewisburg and were chosen by that community for political office. Jaben Holmes, free before the Civil War, was a successful barber in Lewisburg. He was the wealthiest of all three men at the age of fifty. Jordan Davis was a successful brick mason who lived in Lewisburg with his wife and daughter. Stephen Gardner was fifty-three years old when he was elected Trustee and lived with his wife Fanny in Lewisburg.  Gardner was a farmer and, according to family lore, bred and sold horses.
After the June election, the backlash against Black voters was swift and harsh. One newspaper article declared that “now, these, same colored men are utterly dependent upon Conservatives and Democrats for the bread that goes into their months, and the clothing that goes on their backs. The white people have always treated the colored people with kindness and respect...And this is their return; the very first opportunity that is presented, these colored men force old Joe Caldwell on us as Mayor. It was a cool, deliberate and premediated outrage.”
Former Mayor Hoover charged that the election was illegal for three reasons: Caldwell was not a freeholder (an eligible man who could hold office), the Black voters were not legal because they had not taken the preliminary steps for registration required by law, and third that the law requires for the Mayor to be a fit and proper man and that Caldwell was “notoriously unfit and notoriously improper.” This act was a blatant attempt to disenfranchise Black voters and a refusal to accept that the election was legitimate. The former politically powerful Confederates were furious that Black voters were allowed to vote while they could not.
On July 30, 1870, Circuit Judge McWhorter ruled in their favor again and declared that Caldwell was not the legal Mayor of Lewisburg. Hoover was restored to the position. Two weeks later, on August 13, 1870, Caldwell was arrested by Hoover, who also happened to be the Deputy United States Marshall. Caldwell, who also served as Registrar of Lewisburg, was accused by two men, Bedford Johnson and Dr. J. L. Nelson, who declared that Caldwell denied their voter registration. The men took the loyalty oath that they had not aided the Confederacy, but Caldwell believed that they were lying and had committed perjury. Hoover went to Caldwell’s house to arrest him, but Caldwell refused to go with him. Hoover then gathered “a number of citizens to aid him” and forced entry. Caldwell eventually yielded before the incited mob.
At a special election on August 20, Caldwell was elected Mayor again and Jordan Davis, Stephen Gardner, and James Cox (a white career political who refused the position two months earlier) became Trustees. Jaben Holmes was nominated as a Republican Delegate for Greenbrier County for the State Convention at Parkersburg and the Congressional Convention at Charleston. This position may have been why he was not elected Trustee again. Despite the second legitimate election, Hoover and other white citizens continued to challenge the election.
After the special election, The Greenbrier Independent again lashed out against Black voters and their Republican supporters. The article declared that the Republicans “showed their…dirty, unwashed and uncleanable hands. On that day they met in the Court-house of the county, in full social and political fellowship with the blackest of black negroes…Having done this, these white Radicals went home…to the embraces of their white wives and white children. Surely, those white wives and white children did not know…or their embraces would have been rejected. Many of these men have daughters—fair-skinned, innocent, marriageable daughters, who are, doubtless, ignorant of the fact that their fathers have taken the first step for furnishing them with negro-admirers and suitors…white woman of greenbrier! You, at least, are yet pure and undefiled by the contamination of negro associations. How do you like the appearance of things?”
The case over the Mayor was not decided that year and both men and their Trustees continued to claim to be legitimate into 1871. The Greenbrier Independent declared that a “town of one thousand inhabitants is governed by two or three white men [illegible] sixty negroes, none of them paying any tax—not even a poll tax—while all property holders are gagged, is an outrage.” In fact, many of the Black residents of Lewisburg owned property in town and paid their taxes. In February, Caldwell’s trouble continued when he was accused of stealing money from the town of Lewisburg. There was not a court case so this accusation seemed to be speculation.
Then on March 4, 1871, a new levy was ordered by the Board of Trustees. The article did not mention the purpose of the tax. On the same day, The Greenbrier Independent posted this notice: “We, the undersigned, acting Trustees for the Corporation of Lewisburg, are not pleased with the recent actions of Dr. J. F. Caldwell, who was to be the present Mayor. We, therefore, present our resignation and decline to act with him, and will not endorse any order or summons sent by him in the name of the Corporation of Lewisburg. Jordan Davis; Stephen Gardner.” Gardner and Davis resigned in protest because of the levy. However, it is undeniable that they would have faced resentment and danger from their daring to hold political office over white men. The most widely read newspaper, The Greenbrier Independent, made clear the widespread anger towards Black voters. With the resignation of Stephen Gardner and Jordan Davis, there would not be another Black Trustee (later renamed City Council Member) until the election of Paul Cooley in 1970.
Only Stephen Gardner remained in politics after resigning as Trustee. He was appointed as a State Delegate of the Republican State Convention in 1876. Reconstruction marked a brief moment where the Federal Government was committed to interracial democracy and civil rights for all men. Unfortunately, in 1876, Reconstruction failed and the rise of the Jim Crow era began.
In 1875, The Greenbrier Independent made a report on civil rights in Lewisburg. The article stated that the Black population “are orderly and quiet, and behave themselves in a becoming manner…The exception applies, principally, to those who are stragglers from their old homes and who would be worthless, lazy, thievish and good-for-nothings…There are numbers, however, who are old residenters, who respect themselves, are industrious and laborious and who know and feel their true position.” Despite the claim that its Black citizens know their subservient place in the social hierarchy, the Black community continued to advocate for their political rights and equality. Two years later, the paper took note of a meeting of the Black voters of Lewisburg.
The City Council remained out of reach until 1970, exactly one hundred years later, when Paul Cooley was elected. Cooley was the first Black Lewisburg City Council Member since Holmes, Davis, and Gardner.
 J. R. Cole, History of Greenbrier County, (Lewisburg, WV: J. R. Cole, 1917), 16; Minutes of the Board of Trustees of the Town of Lewisburg, 1849 to 1871, Greenbrier Historical Society, Lewisburg, West Virginia, 221-265.
 “A Card,” The Greenbrier Independent, August 29, 1868.
 Minutes of the Board of Trustees of the Town of Lewisburg, 1849 to 1871, Greenbrier Historical Society, Lewisburg, West Virginia, 249.
 “A Flash in the Pan,” The Greenbrier Independent, April 30, 1870.
 “Colored Meetings, The Greenbrier Independent, April 23, 1870.
 Minutes of the Board of Trustees of the Town of Lewisburg, 1849 to 1871, Greenbrier Historical Society, Lewisburg, West Virginia, 255.
 Registry of Free People of Color: Greenbrier Co., (West) Virginia, 1846-1864, (Lewisburg, WV: Greenbrier County Historical Society, 2006).
 1870 U.S. Census, Greenbrier County, West Virginia, population schedule, Lewisburg, p.15, dwelling 94, Fabian Holmes, digital image, http://ancestry.com.
 1870 U.S. Census, Greenbrier County, West Virginia, population schedule, Lewisburg, p.19, dwelling 119, Pordan Davis, digital image, http://ancestry.com.
 1870 U.S. Census, Greenbrier County, West Virginia, population schedule, Lewisburg, p.18, dwelling 120, Stephen Gardner, digital image, http://ancestry.com.
 Edith E. Perkins Matthews, Perkins and Early Related Families African Americans: Part 1, (Edith E. Perkins, 1995), 71.
 “What They Have Done,” The Greenbrier Independent, June 11, 1870
 “Town Elections,” The Greenbrier Independent, June 11, 1870.
 “Old Joe Not Mayor,” The Greenbrier Independent, July 30, 1870.
 “J. F. Caldwell Arrested,” The Greenbrier Independent, August 13, 1870.
 “Resisting the Law,” The Greenbrier Independent, August 13, 1870.
 “The Radicals in Council—the Negroes and Bitter-Enders Rule—Outsiders Excluded—The Ku-Klux Out-Done,” The Greenbrier Independent, June 18, 1870.
 The Greenbrier Independent, September 10, 1870.
 “Then and Now,” The Greenbrier Independent, August 30, 1870.
 “A Special Election for Lewisburg,” The Greenbrier Independent, January 28, 1871.
 “To Joseph F. Caldwell,” The Greenbrier Independent, February 4, 1871; “J F. Caldwell’s Exhibits,” The Greenbrier Independent, February 25, 1871.
 “A Practical Question,” The Greenbrier Independent, March 4, 1871.
 “Another Muddle!” The Greenbrier Independent, March 4, 1871.
 The Greenbrier Independent, June 24, 1876.
 “Civil Rights in Lewisburg,” The Greenbrier Independent, March 13, 1875
 “Capital Meeting,” The Greenbrier Independent, July 21, 1877.
Who We Are
At the Greenbrier Historical Society (GHS), we pride ourselves on telling an inclusive and diverse narrative of our beloved Greenbrier Valley. Founded in 1963, GHS has spent the last 57 years serving the West Virginia counties of Greenbrier, Monroe, Summers, and Pocahontas. The Greenbrier Historical Society owns and manages three regional properties; the North House, used as our headquarters and offices, the Barracks, used to house our First Settler Escape Room experience, and the Blue Sulphur Springs Pavilion which is currently undergoing structural renovations.