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Parkersburg had key players in W.Va.’s history

June 20, 2013
Parkersburg News and Sentinel

From Staff Reports

PARKERSBURG - Parkersburg was a key player in much of West Virginia's history.

Several major players in the state's forming lived in the city including Joseph H. Diss Debar, former U.S. Sen. Peter Godwin Van Winkle and Col. John Cass Rathbone.

Debar was most famous for designing the official West Virginia coat-of-arms. He lived on what is now 12th Street. His first wife, Clara Levassor, is buried in the Riverview Cemetery at the head of Juliana Street. Debar was a highly educated Frenchman who was also an artist of great talent and many sketches of the state's early history come from him. He can be remembered for his "Van Dyke" beard, dressing in a cloak, high silk hat and twirling a cane, according to portraits.

Van Winkle lived in a castle on Ann Street in Parkersburg. He was born in New York City where he studied law and was admitted to the bar when he began practicing it in 1835 in what was then Parkersburg, Virginia. He was a treasurer and later president of the Northwestern Virginia Railroad Co. in 1852 and a member of the Wheeling reorganization convention in 1861. Van Winkle was also a delegate to the state convention and elected as a unionist to the U.S. Senate where he served from August 1863 to March 1869.

Local historian Dave McKain said J.C. Rathbone formed his own Union Regiment to enable the positioning of troops to protect his families oilfield. He strengthened the unit until the fall of 1861 until it was "mustered" into the Union Army as the 11th West Virginia Regiment, McKain said.

As a result, Rathbone was appointed to head the regiment in the Union Army.

In September 1862, rebels arriving in Rathbone's entire command consisting of five companies of the 11th infantry. He surrendered Spencer without offering a defense. However, shortly after the news of surrender, Rathbone was permitted to resign his commission and return to civilian life.



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