|Tour Guide, Denise Cyrus
One of the things I love almost as much as the paranormal is learning about local history. As a native West Virginian, I’m fascinated by my state’s rich and unique background, and the stories of those who have called these hills home over the years. And obviously, whenever, I see an opportunity to experience the SPOOKY and unusual history of the Mountain State, I jump at the chance! Last week I did just that with a guided walking tour of St. Albans!
Led by local historian Denise Cyrus, this month’s St. Albans History and Mystery Tours are focused on the Civil War era and the impact of the war on the citizens of a small, but bustling town known then as Coalsmouth. Like many towns in what is now West Virginia, this area truly embraced the old ‘brother against brother’ saying, as families, friends, and neighbors were split as to whether their sympathies were with the Confederacy or with the Union…and interestingly enough, some citizens’ sympathies seemed to align with whichever side was in control of the village at the time! Still, other families just left the area entirely. But, those who stayed left quite a treasure trove of stories to be passed down for us today.
|St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
Our group met at The Loop, and after an introduction to the history of the town, proceeded to our first stop, which was St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
on ‘B’ Street. Originally organized as the Bangor Parish on the other side of town, St. Mark’s was built on this site around 1847 after the previous church burned down. During the Civil War, Union troops camped on the site and used the church to stable their horses. In fact, our first spooky story is connected to this Union occupation of the grounds. A lady was out back behind the church and witnessed a man dressed as a Civil War era soldier. This gentleman was so clearly seen that she just assumed that he was some sort of re-enactor…but no re-enactors were present. In a weird twist of fate, as we walked back to the area where the presumed spirit was seen, the group noticed that there was a man lying down near the corner of the property! I can’t help but wonder if it was just a homeless guy taking a rest in a relatively safe and comfy spot…or if we collectively caught a glimpse through time and observed one of those Union soldiers, still camping out there behind the church.
Anyway, while we were back there, we discussed the nearby Hansford House on Riverside Drive. The Hansford Family were prominent citizens in the area, and Victoria Hansford was a figure whose name came up in multiple stories throughout the evening. I don’t want to give too much away, because I encourage you to take the tour for yourself, but let’s just say she was quite a brave young woman! The house she called home, however, was the site of at least two tragic deaths. After the Battle of Scary Creek, it is said that a wounded soldier who knew the family made his way to Hansford House in search of help. Unfortunately, he passed away from his injuries, right at the entry to the house. After the Civil War, 78 year John Hansford was going out to vote and was walking along the train bridge when he was struck by a passing train and knocked off the bridge. He was dragged home from the river’s edge, still alive, by his daughter Victoria and a servant, but unfortunately passed—-in the SAME EXACT SPOT the soldier had died in.
|Behind St. Mark’s where the ghostly soldier was seen
Moving on, we stopped at the new, modern post office building and talked a little about postal service in Coalsmouth during the time before, during, and shortly after the Civil War, which was really quite interesting. But, more importantly, the current site of the post office is actually the original site of the the Chilton House, before it was moved in the 1970′s. Now known as Angela’s On the River, the old Chilton House is a beautiful, upscale (yet fairly priced!) restaurant.
The Chilton House
was built around 1857 by Allen Smith, and didn’t become known as the Chilton House until well after the Civil War, when the house was purchased by Mary Elizabeth Wilson Chilton and William Chilton I. And, it has a reputation for being haunted. Or rather, it DID have a reputation for being haunted. I had actually written a blog post about the hauntings of the Chilton House after speaking with an employee during the St. Albans History and Mystery Tour of 2019! I know have some updated information to add to that blog! You can read my original post HERE
, but in short, when the current owner took over the building, she had bought an antique mirror which had come from England. Apparently, fingerprints were noticed on the mirror, and no amount of Windex could scrub these things away. Things progressed, and what were just fingerprints on apparently the inside of the mirror, became the vision of an entire HAND, which culminated in an image of a terrifying FACE peering back out from the mirror! Strange knockings and other disturbances seemed attacked to the mirror as well, so it was decided that the thing had to be gotten rid of…and was put out on the curb where some lucky passerby snagged him or herself a FREE possessed mirror!
|Angela’s On The River,
formerly the Chilton House
Walking down the river’s edge a short ways, we stopped to discuss the importance of the old covered bridge that once stood over the Coal River and how as Confederate troops left town, they burned the bridge in attempt to stop the Union troops from following them. Hilariously, I guess it had been a particularly dry season, because the Coal River was low enough for them to just walk across without the aid of the bridge, so that piece of history was lost in an instant for nothing. And, while we were still in sight of the Coal River, Denise told us the ironic tale of a former preacher who gave up the pulpit for the whiskey selling business, but drank away all his profits and ended up killing his wife and ‘hiding’ her body in the river. His subsequent trial and hanging were a big deal and featured in newspapers well beyond the borders of then-Virginia!
The next location was St. Paul’s Baptist Church
, where there is some beautiful artwork on the doors to the church, and then a short uphill hike to everyone’s favorite house in St. Albans—The Mohler House. Now, technically, the Mohler House isn’t really Civil War related as it wasn’t built until the early 1900′s, but Denise found a couple of ways to tie it in, including the fact that where the house sits was once part of the large Muckamore estate, and was probably where the enslaved members of the estate lived. The Mohler House has an absolutely fascinating history, including being used to house nearly 100 young women known as ‘Rosies’ during WW2 who worked at the Naval Ordnance Plant in South Charleston. It’s also thought to be haunted, of course! Activity isn’t really specific, but the area around the staircase and in the basement tends to give people a very, very bad feeling.
More stories were told as we got to take a little sit-down break on Old Main, and even more stories wrapped up the evening back at the parking lot. Along the way, the sun had set and a bright, fat moon peeked eerily out from behind the clouds. It was a perfect evening…despite the earlier wind and clouds, it never got too terribly chilly, and it never rained. Just a wonderful night for a lot of history and a lot of mystery! I absolutely had a fabulous time and learned a lot about the history of St. Albans. Denise was a great story-teller, and a wealth of information about anything and everything having to do with the history of the area formerly known as Coalsmouth. I can’t imagine the dedication and hours of research that went into making these different tours, but it shows in her passion for sharing this knowledge with her tour guests. Each guest went home with a really cool photo postcard of the old covered bridge, a walking tour pamphlet of historic locations around St. Albans, and hopefully a greater appreciation for the history and mysteries of our little neck of the woods!
Know Before You Go:
The October tours meet at the Loop in front of Family Care, across from the bridge.
The cost is $10 for adults/$5 for kids.
Tours generally run about 90 minutes.
Estimated length is 1.5 miles.
(It’s a fairly easy walk, with only one fairly small hill. Even with my bad back, I managed to do just fine!)
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