History of Hackers Creek Pioneer Descendants
Beginning in the 1760s when the earliest settlers crossed the divides of the Allegheny Mountains and made their tomahawk claims along the waters of the upper Monongahela River in what became the Hacker’s Creek settlements of western Virginia, the names and exploits of the frontiersmen of the region were indelibly inscribed in the pages of American history. These settlements were the western frontier of the fledgling nation far longer than any place in its western expansion; and, there were more conflicts between its people and the red man during the last half of the eighteenth century than anywhere else on the long frontier.
Hacker’s Creek was named for John Hacker, a Stafford County, Virginia, native who came with the first party of men to settle at present-day Buckhannon, Upshur County, West Virginia. Upon learning that the land he desired at Buckhannon had already been claimed by Samuel Pringle, an earlier sojourner in the region, he crossed the Buckhannon Mountain and selected four hundred acres on a tributary of the Muddy River, as the West Fork of the Monongahela River was then called. John Hacker thus became the first permanent European settler in what is today’s Lewis County, West Virginia.
Early History of the Hacker’s Creek Pioneer Descendants
In early 1982, Joy Gilchrist (later Stalnaker and now De Fazio) who had recently been bit by the “genealogy bug” wrote a Letter to the Editor of the Weston Democrat asking for information about John Hacker, Christian Straley and others of her early Lewis County ancestry. The late Franklin Walters, May Straley White, and Betty Wimer Graybill responded.
Joy was then living in Canton, OH, and Betty Graybill lived just across town from her. The two met over a cup of coffee in Betty’s home and decided that if they were looking for their Lewis County roots, others might be too. They contacted May who was then living in Maine and Franklin in Florida. The four decided to call a meeting in October at the Broad Run Baptist Church where Betty and May had family connections.
Ninety-two persons from six states, including descendants of most of the earliest families to settle in present-day Lewis County, were present at what would become the first “Gathering of the Clans.” The group organized itself as the Hacker’s Creek Pioneer Descendants, established dues, and authorized the publication and distribution of a quarterly Hacker’s Creek Journal. Joy Gilchrist (now De Fazio) and Betty Wimer Graybill, both Central West Virginia natives but both then living in Ohio, were respectively elected president and secretary-treasurer of the fledgling organization.
From those ninety-two persons, the organization grew and grew and grew. In 2000, before genealogy research online became the popular method of research it is today, HCPD had about a thousand members from all states and five foreign countries. Today the membership is about half that number, probably because of the present availability of family research information available via the internet.
Hacker’s Creek Journal & Newsletter
Early dues were $12 and the Journal contained ten to twelve pages. Joy, her husband Charles, and their children printed the early issues of the Journal on a hand-cranked mimeograph machine and hand-collated and assembled them. Starting in 1983. Lolita Guthrie of Bowling Green, Ohio, had the Journals printed in Bowling Green and enlisted the aid of her genealogy friends there to collate and prepare them for mailing. In 1989, that work and those responsibilities were brought to West Virginia. Today’s Journals are printed in Lewis County and the mail preparations are done by local office staff and volunteers.
It was quickly realized that there was so much information to be shared and that ten to twelve pages was not enough space for “sharing.” In 1983, dues were raised to $18/family and the Journal was increased to fifty pages per issue.
There have been some dues increases since that time but the group continues to publish fifty pages and index per quarter, together with an occasion e-newsletter that goes to all members and former members who provide bona fide e-mail address.
Numerous preservation projects have been undertaken by the organization in its twenty-nine-year history. These range from copying deteriorating documents and making these accessible to the public to preserving cemeteries and other area sites. Over the years, members have interviewed older residents of the Central West Virginia region recording their memories on tape and video; conducted tours of historic sites in Lewis and Harrison counties; prepared maps of historic sites; assisted in the preservation of courthouse records, etc., etc.
Library established in 1982
The original letters of inquiry from persons interested in “gathering” were saved by Joy and became the first two books in a library for the organization. Joy and Charles maintained the library in their Ohio home and brought it back to West Virginia each fall for the organization’s annual “gathering.” Each year the library grew. In 1984, it covered about twenty-four feet of shelf space. By 1986, the Gilchrist had to use their motor home to move the collection.
In 1987, the officers, now led by Maurice L. Allman of Philippi, West Virginia, with Raydine Teicheira, Jane Lew, as secretary and Jim Strong of Massillon, Ohio, as treasurer, arranged for HCPD to use a room in the Louis Bennett Public Library, Weston, for a library and research room. In October 1987, the library was brought to West Virginia to stay; however, it would continue to be moved to the conference sites for gathering. Irma Curtis of McGuire Park (Weston) agreed to serve as the librarian. The collection would be open each Tuesday and at other times by appointment.
The organization – and the collection – continued to grow. By 1991, it – and the demand for its use – had outgrown the Louis Bennett room. A new home was sought. Maurice and the board learned of the vacant Weston Colored School owned by the Lewis County Board of Education. After careful consideration and consultation with members and the BOE, an agreement was reached for HCPD to occupy the school. About the time that this occurred, Joy and Charles retired from their Ohio jobs and come home to West Virginia to help with the organization and to begin writing a history of Lewis County.
From Louis Bennett Public Library to Weston Colored School
The renovation was begun on the Colored School with help from a grant from the Wes-Mon-Ty Resource, Conservation and Development group and the hard work of several volunteers. HCPD moved its collections and opened the doors in April 1992. It was dedicated in August of that year. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993.
The library was now open almost daily and had evening hours on Mondays and Thursdays. All of the staff were volunteers.
Executive director hired
The organization thought it was set. . . there were empty shelves and plenty of room to expand. But that was not to be. The organization, and the collections, continued to grow. . . and grow. . . and grow. Then computers become commonplace and a Kayser, West Virginia, member gave HCPD their first one.
With this innovation and increased patronage at the library, the board of directors realized that some continuity was needed in staffing and a part-time executive director was hired. A year later (1994), she resigned. The board asked the current executive director, Joy Gilchrist-Stalnaker (now De Fazio) to resign her position on the HCPD board of directors and assume the position.
Move from Colored School to Jackson’s Mill
Soon space for collections (nearly all of which were and continue to be donated) was again at a premium. Patrons were stepping over boxes and each other to use the library. Another home was sought.
This time the organization found a home next-door to the Jackson’s Mill Conference Center. The former West Fork Water District building, it was now owned by the Lewis County Commission. A lease-purchase agreement was reached and HCPD moved in.
A two-story structure, the building had room for a conference area and stacks and a publishing room where Charles Gilchrist, now president of HCPD, could print our publications. These publications, compiled by various members from public records of a genealogical nature, were and are sold to members and the general public to generate funds for activities of the organization.
There was also room for the annual gathering in a tent on the grounds with meals and special events to be held at Jackson’s Mill. After the first meeting that lasted one afternoon at Broad Run, the gathering had expanded to a two-day, then a three-day, and finally a four-day event. And, instead of being held in October when the weather could be “iffy,” it was in August. Home for the “gathering” during the years changed as the organization outgrew facilities; it was at Jackson’s Mill Conference Center, at the Jane Lew Fire Department, and then Stonewall Jackson Lake Conference Center.
Hours changed to a full six-day schedule, including two evenings when HCPD moved into its new home. Volunteers continued to man the library proper but the increased workload caused by the larger collection, the expanded hours, and the rapidly growing membership taxed the volunteer secretary and treasurer. The board of directors expanded the executive director’s position to full-time and employed a part-time secretary. At the same time, the president, a retiree, was able to volunteer at the library on a full-time basis.
HCPD on the World Wide Web
In 1995, the internet was still new to most people and access to the World Wide Web was just being introduced to the public. During a visit to West Virginia from his California home, member Jim Squires introduced HCPD’s executive director to the Web and to e-mail; he offered to assist her in creating a website for HCPD. He lived up to his promise; the board of directors approved, and HCPD connected to the internet with its website in November 1996. More than a quarter of a million persons have visited the site since that time.
In 2001, we acquired our own domain name, hackerscreek.com and established a major share of our website on a private California server with a link to a whole gamut of information stored on the Rootsweb server. .
At about the same time, HCPD-L, a discussion group of HCPD members via e-mail, was established. Members Phil Stackhouse of Ellicott City, Maryland, and Sara Pyle of Ft. Worth, Texas, assisted Joy with the hosting responsibilities; however, since 2001, Sara has been the lead in maintaining the listserve.
And so HCPD continued to grow. . . almost of its own volition. And grow it did. . . right out of its new home! AGAIN!
HCPD moves to Horner School
By 1997, the shelves were full and nearly every nook and cranny had boxes stuffed in them. Even a portable building, purchased with a grant from our benefactor, Wes-Mon-Ty RC&D, was full! Knowing that this day would come, the board had been searching for a solution and a permanent home. But, before that happened, the society received a blow! President, Charles Gilchrist, was diagnosed with small cell carcinoma and given only a few months to live. He passed away on 2 February 1998, the day after Cary Williams, as vice president and acting for HCPD, signed a purchase agreement with the Lewis County Board of Education for the Horner School.
This time most of the renovations were too extensive to be tackled mostly by volunteers. A fund-raising campaign for building renovation was started when it was realized that HCPD would be moving again; and Wes-Mon-Ty came through again with help, along with a budget digest grant from Senators William R. Sharpe, Jr., and Rebecca White and Delegate Doug Stalnaker. It was projected that renovations would be in the $50,000 neighborhood. The repairs and upgrading completed to date exceeded that budget by about $15,000, and there are still other major renovations to be made.
HCPD moved into its new quarters in July 1998, just in time for its Seventeenth Annual Gathering when Cary Williams was elected president for the 1998-2000 term. He served a second term before turning over the helm to Mary Sleeth Creamer and accepting the job of treasurer for the organization. Cary and Mary continue to serve in their respective capacities.
HCPD continued to move forward with help from its members, the community, and grants from RC&D, the Governor’s Civil Contingency Fund and other helpers.
All of our collections have continued to grow – books, photographs, maps, local court record books, etc. Our volunteers give thousands of hours per year to keep our doors open. And, we continue to be involved in community activities. Our building is the meeting place for several community groups: Horner Busy Bees 4-H Club; East Lewis Lions Club; the Horner Community Educational Outreach Service (formerly Extension Homemakers); Trans-Allegheny Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution; and the local youth baseball league.
We continue to hold our annual gatherings – 2006 was our 25th Annual. In early spring each year we host a Spaghetti Dinner.
Joy retired as executive director in January 2005. Betty Ann Nicholson took over the executive director’s reins from Joy who retired in January 2005. Joy is still around as webmaster, a member of the Board of Directors, assistant editor of the Journal, cook for special events, and the knower of details pertaining to past actions around HCPD.
We have had many changes over the years. The library is still located in the old Horner Grade School. Patty Lesondak has been Executive Director since 2014 and Betty Ann Nicholson is our treasurer. Joy, due to health issues, has given up her Board position and editorship of the Journal. New Board Member, Carol White is now the editor of the Journal. Two Journals and 2 newsletters are published during the year. We do not have the HCPD Email Listserver anymore. Our website is updated by Patty and Paula. Paula McGrew is our current librarian and webmaster. Many of our former members and Board members have crossed over the river Jordan, and we truly miss them. We do still hold the “Gathering” on the second weekend of August – although in 2020 it was our very first Virtual Gathering! Many of the community groups that used to meet at the library are now gone. We do have a yearly Baked Steak Dinner, Spaghetti Dinner, and 2 yardsales as fundraisers. Before the COVID-19 restrictions went into place, the library was open 5 days a week, from 10 AM-3 PM and later on Thursday if we had a volunteer. We are now hopeful that this schedule will be able to resume in the coming year. With all these changes we are still growing, and using technology more and more. Through our website, emails, and even a Zoom Chat, our members near and far are staying in touch and working together. You are invited to visit the library or give us a call (304-269-7091) if we can be of any service in your genealogy journey.