Time stands still every time I have the opportunity to spend time in this historic mansion. Lewis County, West Virginia is one of a few communities that have taken on the major task of making one of their county’s most historic buildings useful in modern times. The Louis Bennett Memorial Public Library is a grand house built by local craftsmen with local materials between 1874-1876. It represents the “Can Do Spirit” of the West Virginia people. With its massive size (4 stories) and grand features(12 foot ceilings) it allows visitors to imagine what life would have been like for the very wealthy who could live in such large homes.
Senator Jonathan McCally Bennett had the huge home built overlooking the downtown area of Weston, West Virginia after his home at the same site burned to the ground. The replacement home is in the Italianate style with 20 rooms and built by the Parkersburg architect Columbus B. Kirkpatrick. At the time this may have been the first house in Lewis County the used a real architect for its construction. The construction contained 125,000 bricks and 209 handmade windows, one that is round and ruby-red in the tower. The large house is heated with two main chimneys with 6 fireplaces not including the kitchen chimney with two fireplaces used for cooking in the rear half of the house. The home became plumped for illuminating gas at the end of 1875 making it one of only two buildings to have gas lighting throughout at that time. The other building with gas illumination at the time was the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum only a few blocks from main street and easily visible from the front porches of the Bennett’s new home.
On June 21,1875 Jonathan and his wife Margaret moved into the residence while some construction continued on some of the finer details. The cost of the mansion is stated as $4,000 in 1876 and converts to about $450,000.00 + in today’s market. Sadly after a decade of life in the grand house Margaret Bennett succumb to heart problems and died in 1886. Then to the dismay of their 4 children Jonathan M. Bennett passed away a year later. The house was left to their 4 children and eventually placed into the care of their son Louis. The home remained in their hands until the death of Louis Sr, and of Louis Jr, his son during World War I. These two deaths within a month of each other drove Mrs. Bennett to make arrangements for the houses donation to Lewis County for use at the first Public Library. In 1922 the home transferred hands and Mrs Bennett moved to Europe. The home has since been used as a Library and meeting area for the community of Weston and all of Lewis County.
When visiting the massive building your first view of the inside of the building is of the grand hall on the main floor with the staircase and upgraded chandelier that was once a gas light fixture. The County has tried very hard to leave the home as close to “lived in” condition as possible adding only what is necessary to make the building safe and warm.
The remaining rooms on the main floor are two parlors, a dining room, kitchen, and small library. The two parlors are home to the circulation desk, the main collection of fiction books and computers. The library room is used as a small meeting room/ reading room. The dining room and kitchen areas are for the children’s books and the nonfiction collections.
The second level of the mansion includes what the Bennett’s used Bedrooms. Again off of a main hall the second floor housed 4 bedrooms two for the parents and two for the girls and boys. Today the wall between two of the rooms is removed to make a large meeting area where we have our book club meetings. The other rooms are now two offices and a bathroom.
The third floor housed the servants quarters with three main rooms and a bathroom and door way for the tower. The third floor has individual rooms for selling used books and is full of donations for fund-raising for the library.
The tower also held small rooms for servants or children. The middle room of the tower has two balconies for viewing the sights of the growing town and a small drawing-room at the top surrounded by windows on all four sides. The public is not allowed into the tower any more and the head Librarian states that its maintenance is major concern.
This small library serves a county of about 16,500 people and is one of the most beautiful buildings along the downtown area. For our family and many others this is the only library with in the county and is one of the very few places that the public had free access to computers and internet. This old house serves a very vital role in Lewis County and I happy to see is still open to the public and being used everyday. I am proud user and supporter of this wonderful building and hope that more people of my local area see how important it is to try to preserve it.
All factual information on the construction of the house is gathered from a booklet by Otis and Betty Reed of Weston West Virginia, Titled ” The Building of the Jonathan McCally Bennett Mansion in Weston”. Copyrighted 1997,by the Friends of the Louise Bennett Public Library,inc. The information is used with permission of the the Head Librarian Karen Enderele, 2016.