Pre-Civil War home burns in Belleville

BELLEVILLE – One of the last intact pre-Civil War homes in southern Wood County burned to the ground Tuesday night after firefighters determined the home was beyond saving, officials said.

The historic home at 54 South Shultz Road, Belleville, which survived a Civil War gunship assault and was used to shelter fleeing Confederate soldiers after a defeat at the nearby Battle of Buffington Island, was declared a complete loss Tuesday night.

Firefighters were called to the scene at 1:28 p.m. Tuesday when the Graham family noticed smoke coming from the living room of the 182-year old home, said Chief Mark Stewart of the Lubeck Volunteer Fire Department.

One baby and several older children were evacuated from the home while adults retrieved a fire extinguisher from the barn and attempted to put out the flames, Stewart said.

The extinguisher proved insufficient to put out the blaze, at which point the adults evacuated and waited for the fire department to arrive, Stewart said.

Firefighters from Lubeck, Washington Bottom, Blennerhassett and Little Hocking volunteer fire departments responded to the scene with a total of five tanker trucks, Stewart said. They shuttled water from a hydrant approximately a mile away and had plenty of water to fight the fire, Stewart said.

The cause of the fire was not determined due to the dangerous conditions the home presented once the fire was extinguished, Stewart said.

Two firefighters from the Blennerhassett Volunteer Fire Department received minor injuries while fighting the blaze, Stewart said. Their names were not released on Wednesday.

One firefighter received a burn above his boot when fire burned through his pants leg, Stewart said. This firefighter was treated at the scene and was unable to continue serving for the day, Stewart said. He was later treated at a private doctor’s office, he said.

Another firefighter suffered a laceration to his forearm when glass from a broken window fell from above and sliced his suit open, Stewart said. This firefighter was treated at the scene and permitted to rejoin the fight, Stewart said.

The home was originally built by the Wells family in 1832, said Brian Kesteron, local author and Civil War historian. It is believed to be the final pre-Civil War-era home standing in the southern part of Wood County, Kesterson said.

The home is currently owned by C.R. Graham, Stewart said.

“This is a great loss, not only for the Graham family, but historically as well,” Kesterson said Wednesday.

The Graham family, modern descendants of the Wells family, still lived in the home and used the area around it as a dairy farm, Kesterson said.

The fire was brought under control after approximately three hours, Stewart said. However, the balloon construction technique of the home meant the fire had direct access to the attic once it began on the first floor, Stewart said.

The fire was essentially unstoppable once it penetrated the house walls, Stewart said.

“The second floor collapsed in and onto the first during the fire on that end of the house,” Stewart said.

Inspection of the 182-year-old home revealed that it would not be possible to reconstruct, Stewart said. Firefighters assisted the family in removing antiques, photo albums and personal effects from the unburned end of the home, he said.

Graham made the decision to have the house brought down through a controlled burn to prevent it from being a danger, Stewart said.

The historic home was reignited and burned for an additional six hours, Stewart said.

In June 1863, the Wells property played an important role in the Battle of Buffington Island, which is near Portland, Ohio, in Meigs County, Kesterson said.

The Confederate General John Hunt Morgan was defeated by Union troops led by General Edward H. Hobson on the Ohio side of the river, Kesterson said. Morgan’s troops fled south along the banks of the Ohio River after the battle, Kesterson said.

They were met by the Ohio River Fleet, an offshoot of the Mississippi River Squadron of Union warships, Kesterson said. The United States gunboat Moose and the armed steamer Allegheny Belle intercepted Morgan’s troops, showering them with shells as the men attempted to cross the Ohio River, which was in flood stage at the time, Kesterson said.

Half of Morgan’s troops made it across the river from Reedsville to West Virginia, Kesterson said. The other half, including Morgan, retreated back to Ohio.

Foster Wells, then owner of the Wells farm, was a known Confederate sympathizer, Kesterson said. When men, including Col. Adam Rankin Stovepipe Johnson, found themselves cut off from the rest of the Confederate army after crossing the Ohio, they needed a nearby place to hide while Union troops hunted for the survivors, Kesterson said.

Johnson and his men were guided to Belleville by Wells, who hid them on his property, Kesterson said. Meanwhile, five Confederate soldiers knocked on the door to Wells’ home, asking his sister, Kate Wells, for a place to hide.

Kate Wells hid the soldiers in an attic bedroom of the home as Union soldiers knocked on the front door, Kesterson said.

According to legend, Kate Wells told the Union soldiers there were Confederate soldiers in her home, and that there would be trouble for the two Union soldiers if they entered, Kesterson said. The two Union soldiers left the home without entering, he said.

Johnson and 20 of his men went to Lee Creek, near the Wells property, and attacked the U.S. Moose from the shore, injuring one Union soldier in the arm and another in the buttocks, Kesterson said.

In retaliation, the Moose began shelling the Wells’ home, Kesterson said. Several of the soldiers hiding on the property were injured, the home was moderately damaged, nearby trees were destroyed and Johnson’s men retreated across the property and off to the East, Kesterson said.

The Wells home was featured in Kesterson’s book “Incidents of Morgan’s Raid with an Account of Stovepipe Johnson’s Retreat Through West Virginia,” and in the locally filmed documentary “The Issue Is Upon Us: Wood County, West Virginia, and the Civil War,” Kesterson said.