Click photo to enlarge.
A couple times lately, I’ve delivered limestone to well sites at a place in Doddridge County, West Virginia, near the town of West Union, called Maxwell Ridge. Along the way, I passed the beautiful old home that you see pictured above. It looked to me like a hotel or boarding house as much as a home, so I posted the photo on a Facebook site on Early West Virginia and asked readers if they knew its history. I was pleasantly surprised how much I learned.
It turned out to be the Maxwell Mansion, built in the 1840’s by Lewis Maxwell, a prominent gentleman of the area. It was inherited by two of his nephews, one a southern sympathizer who owned slaves, the other, a Union sympathizer. The slave-holder supposedly treated his slaves well, and actually freed them before the start of the Uncivil War. It has now, apparently, passed out of the family.
The movie “No Drums, No Bugles” was filmed there in part. One scene has the character, played by Martin Sheen, standing on the front porch. The movie was released in the early 1970’s and was about a fictional conscientious objector who lived in a cave during the Civil War to avoid being forced into the service. Interesting timing on its release, I thought—at the height of the Vietnam protests!
The movie was vaguely inspired by a local fellow named Ashby (Earl?) Gatrell who lived in cleft in a nearby rock cliff for three months in the early 1900’s after he and his father had a falling out. His subsequent life is somewhat questionable and only partially provable. Strangely enough, certain aspects of the writer and director’s life (Clyde Ware) are likewise.
I remember going to see the movie as a teenager. It was enjoyable, but even as a kid, I noticed two anachranisms. At one point, lacking tobacco, he smoked a weed (hemp?) that gave him a real buzz. He celebrated by running naked through a meadow studded with small multiflorsa rosebushes, managing to miss them all, apparently. First, if it WAS hemp (I know of no native weed that could be smoked to that effect), the stuff they had back then wasn't very potent, as it was bred for fiber, not THC content. Secondly, multiflora rose hadn't yet been introduced to the area. Of course, NORMAL kids wouldn't have even thought about it.
All in all, I learned more than I expected by asking my simple question. © 2014