FAIRMONT – Attendees of First Presbyterian Church’s Sunday service got to hear from some historical figures of Fairmont’s past.
Historians and Fairmont officials portrayed real people like Boaz Fleming, Francis H. Pierpont, Maria Hall and Margaret Decker at the service, as a salute to them to celebrate Fairmont’s bicentennial birthday.
“We’re able through seven people to reflect 200 years of Fairmont’s history,” said Rev. D.D. Meighen, one of the facilitators of the event. “I think it’s going to be exciting because each of these characters will bring a little bit about themselves and also the history of the times they represent.”
Meighen said the celebration was planned to align with Main Street Fairmont’s plans for Fairmont’s 200th birthday, which organized to have commemorative events for every month of the year. Meighen said he wanted to get the celebration started by first giving a history lesson to the residents of Fairmont, so they could get a sense of the events that led to present-day Fairmont.
“We decided to be a part of the 200th celebration of the city,” Meighen said. “Because the heritage of First Presbyterian has been deeply involved in the life of the city and in the life of the state.”
John O’Connor portrayed Boaz Fleming at the service and detailed the founding of Marion County, and the area known as Middletown which eventually came to be called Fairmont.
“This property was in Monongalia County, and my brother Ben purchased a large plot of land to the south in Harrison County,” O’Connor said as Fleming. “For several years, I traveled over 100 miles a year to pay my property taxes at the Monongalia County Courthouse, and Ben’s property taxes in the Harrison County Courthouse.”
O’Connor, speaking as Fleming, relayed this story as the reason for his founding of Middletown. Having purchased land in between Mon and Harrison Counties, he wanted an easier way to pay his taxes. While he failed to gain the support to establish a midway county, Fleming did manage to spur the beginnings of Fairmont, through the founding of Middletown.
“We need to go back to 1817 when my sons and I started clearing 40 acres of my 254 to start planning for a town,” O’Connor said. “On Jan. 19, 1820, Virginia General Assembly legally incorporated the town naming it, at my request, Middletown.”
Following O’Connor’s address, other people portrayed pieces of Fairmont’s history, including Nancy Jones as Maria Hall, Daniel Weber as Francis H. Pierpont, Taylor Downs as M.M. Neely and Ruth Martin as Margaret Decker.
While these individuals told the story of Fairmont’s history up to the 1970s, there were people present at the church Sunday who had lived through the recent period of Fairmont history and discussed more the times from 1970 to now. Earl Straight Jr. spoke about his father, former Fairmont council member and mayor Earl Straight Sr., who was elected as the first mayor of Fairmont.
“My father decided to run for city council and served two four-year terms from August of 1977 to Dec. 31, 1984,” Straight Jr. said. “He was also selected to be the first mayor of this new form of government, and he served in that position from August of ‘77 to 1978.”
Another former Fairmont mayor, Ron Straight, spoke as himself about the period from 2000 to the present day, and some bills and bylaws that have been passed by city council in that time. He mentioned the Human Rights Commission as one of the city’s most recent changes.
“One of our best accomplishments is the Human Rights Commission, we just enacted that in 2017,” Straight said. “It is the public policy of the city to safeguard the right and opportunity of all citizens to be free from all forms of discrimination and to provide for an inclusive – again, inclusive – environment.”
Following the service, Meighen invited everyone to speak with him and one another and to view the historical displays set up around the church. He said he was happy to help start off the bicentennial celebration, and also said that he will likely be involved in more events this year.
“We felt this would be a nice start to get it all rolling here,” Meighen said. “We’re working on some other plans right now.”
Email Eddie Trizzino at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @eddietimeswv.