By Jonathan Williams
Times West Virginian
Once upon a time, the George Pinkney Morgan House was left to fall in on itself.
Registered in the county in 1850, but believed based on architecture to date to the post-colonial era of the late 1700s, the homestead of the Morgan family had been filled with trash, used as a deerstand and just plain neglected.
But in 1999, Jim Rote purchased the house for a song and has spent the past 13 years working on restoring it to its original state, preserving a valuable piece of Rivesville’s historical heritage.
“I was born right across the street from this house,” Rote said. “I have a keen interest in the community and saving our history.”
Like many West Virginia natives, he spent a portion of his adult life working away from home in various professions, but he never really forgot about the old abandoned house.
“In my early childhood, when I was growing up, I always liked the Sugar Lane part of Rivesville,” he said. “I had really good memories, and this poor house just sat here in ruins. It had been abandoned for about 25-30 years.”
When he bought the property, Rote didn’t know its history, only that he liked the building and wanted to save it. It wasn’t until he did some research that he fully realized its significance.
“Rivesville has a lot of history that people aren’t even aware of,” Rote said.
For instance, he pointed out a distant obelisk marking the spot where David Morgan, who developed the area eventually becoming Fairmont, fought raiding Native Americans to save his son and daughter.
Morgan is buried under a spreading pine tree on the property.
The house itself has taken a lot of work to get to the state it’s in today, and Rote still has plenty to do.
“It’s been a lot of trials and tribulations,” he said. “The house had been boarded up and mistreated, and people would dump garbage in the house.
“It has a second-story porch and people would sit up there with a cooler and a gun and do their hunting the easiest way they could,” he said.
So when he first started cleaning up, the mess and neglect made the place seem a little spooky.
But after hauling seven dump trucks of garbage out of the property and starting on renovations, the place has brightened up.
“We ran underground electricity to the property. Then it needed a roof; most of the roof was missing when I bought it, so we had to put a roof on it, then we had to repair most of the windows,” and the list goes on, he said.
Though it’s not finished, Rote has done his best to model historical accuracy as much as possible. The dining room, for example, is matched to the same shade of blue as the original house based on careful paint removal and matching.
“Except for one room, it has all the original floors, all the original woodwork, all the original mantles, etc.,” he said.
What isn’t original has been carefully selected at estate sales and antique stores.
The house has a number of features unfamiliar to the modern family. For instance, Rote is still working on installing a bathroom, as the house did not originally have one, dating before the invention of indoor plumbing.
The kitchen was also originally located outside, with a “serving” kitchen adjacent to the dining room.
“They would bring, let’s say a turkey, they’d bring the whole turkey in here, carve it up and pass it through (a recess in the cupboard) to the people (in the dining room),” he explained.
The serving kitchen also has two entrances: “One for the master and one for the servant,” Rote said. He believes the original owners of the house had two slaves who lived in a less elegant portion of the house almost entirely separated from the owners’ quarters.
“You don’t see that in the rest of the house because the servants didn’t go unless they were specifically requested,” he said.
The house was listed on the National Historic Register in 2003.
“It was a chance to grab a piece of history, and hopefully it will be finished this summer and I’ll be able to live in it instead of walking through and daydreaming all the time,” he said.
There’s still work to be done, and Rote said there always will be, but he thinks it’ll be livable by the end of summer.
Rote does tours on occasion and hopes to work with the Marion County Historical Society over the year to do some events so people can see the progress made on the house and learn more about one of the most fascinating periods of Marion County history.
Email Jonathan Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @JWilliamsTWV.