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Couple builds new home on site of historic Gladesville structure

GLADESVILLE — When John Warbel retired, he and his wife Robyn acquired 16 acres of mostly forested land along the Gladesville Road. Local folks reckoned that the parcel had been timbered at least twice before. The land came with a dwelling that was in extremely poor shape. It was appraised at having no value.

It was considered unsafe and called for a teardown.

Located at the intersection of the Gladesville Road and Field’s Creek Road, the stately old home stood for more than 250 years.

The two-story, brick building had its secrets.

It showed evidence of once having been a post-revolutionary war plantation home.

The center hall entry was flanked with two windows on each side. The second story windows were ranked above them.

Inside, the hardwood floors were chestnut — pre-blight chestnut. Artistically intricate spindles and rails boldly anchored the stairwell. This was no frontier settler’s modest log home.

Most homes in western Virginia in the 18th century were constructed of logs, using only an ax.

Settlers hewed the logs, notched them and stacked them. The one-room cabin often, but not always, had a fireplace at one end of the room. It was constructed of mud or stone and set away from the walls so it could be pushed over if it caught fire. That technique helped save the cabin from burning as well.

These cabins were drafty and small. Many of them survive in rural areas of West Virginia, especially in Hampshire and Jefferson counties. The short ax stroke on the exterior log walls confirms their age. These humble cabins were a far cry from the then lavish Roby plantation.

The Roby house was updated in the 1840s. The windows were replacements of the original small paned lights. Instead, there were circa 1845 2-over-2 double hung sashes. In that same period, a porch was added with machine milled posts.

Machine milled woodwork was not available before the 1840s, so these may have replaced the columns of the original porch. Two interior chimneys provided fireplaces for each of the rooms. The bricks of the exterior were probably fired on the site.

The Warbels fell in love with the place.

“Tear it down? Not without a fight,” they said.

A look at the kitchen at a Gladesville Road historic home. The home ultimately was torn down, due to its poor condition. But elements of it have been used in the new home the Warbels built at the same site. (Submitted photo)

Several architects warned the foundation wasn’t sound. They repaired that.

The standing seam metal roof had severe damage. They weatherproofed it.

An addition in the last century allowed for indoor plumbing and electricity. The rooms, though small, were cozy with a fireplace in each.

Horsehair plaster, rose-head nails and old cut nails were further evidence of the building’s age. A nosey neighbor had been cheering them on with their project.

John removed the 19th century porch and the windows. And so, it went — for nearly two years — before the last straw fell.

The left exterior wall bowed. That could not be fixed. To do so, the bricks would need to be harvested and shucked from clinging mortar.

Further, the old mortar would need to be tested and replicated. Modern mortar would crush old soft bricks, as these were. That would take years.

So, the photos they had taken of the house would suffice to keep its memory alive. They laughed that they would be living at the “homeless shelter” for months to come. (That shelter was the home of Robyn’s folks in Morgantown.)

Although the house had to go, its history did not. Who built such a fine house in western Virginia in the 18th century?

According to the Simms Index of Land Grants in West Virginia, William Roby (Robe, Robey) Sr. owned more than 2,500 acres in then Monongalia County. He may have executed a land grant in return for military service.His first purchase of 518 1/2 acres was made in 1786. Not all the parcels were contiguous. His holdings also included 400 acres along Deckers Creek. The parcels along Field’s Creek Road have since been subdivided into several smaller farms and properties.

John and Robyn built a new home on the old site, reusing some of the old foundation stones from Roby’s home. They will be using an original fireplace in their new home. Grass is beginning to grow on the lawn and two rocking chairs grace the new front porch.

The site of the home is historically significant for the role it played in the Civil War.

Confederate soldiers, led by Gen. William “Grumble” Jones, launched their April 1863 raid on Morgantown from Kingwood through the “glades” in Preston County.

They were planning to kidnap Sen. Waitman T. Willey. Foiled in that attempt by the senator’s daughter, they abandoned Morgantown as a “stinking Yankee hole” and continued south to Fairmont, where they burned a bridge over the Monongahela River.

By Barbara Rasmussen. Barbara Rasmussen is a retired journalist and history faculty from Fairmont State and West Virginia universities. She currently serve on the Mon County Historic Landmarks Commission .