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History Finds A Home

January 23, 2011

Two more historic pieces of furniture that once belonged to one of the "founding fathers" of West Virginia have been acquired for the State Museum collections.

Area history buffs will recall that after the closure of Mount de Chantal Visitation Academy in Wheeling, a large, full-length mirror - that had been owned by Sen. Waitman T. Willey and that had graced a hallway of the Mount's main building for many years - was moved (with great care) to West Virginia Independence Hall in downtown Wheeling.

The Waitman T. Willey mirror is now displayed in a place of honor in the newly-created Wheeling Room on the hall's second floor, along with a piano that belonged to Julia Pierpont, wife of Francis H. Pierpont, who was governor of the Restored Government of Virginia, which used the hall (then known as the Custom House) as its capitol. Mrs. Pierpont's piano had been housed at the hall for many years, but had not been displayed quite so prominently until the Wheeling Room was established recently.

Meanwhile, Wheeling historian Margaret Brennan had contacted an out-of-state descendant of Waitman T. Willey to inform her that the Willey mirror had been transferred from Mount de Chantal to West Virginia Independence Hall. During the course of their conversations, Brennan learned that other valuable historic pieces of furniture connected to Willey were stored in a Weirton house that had belonged to Willey's great-grandson, James Flenniken.

Willey's piano and a table - on which he wrote the famous Willey Amendment - had been passed down to Flenniken, along with other family memorabilia. Aimee Miller, granddaughter of Flenniken and great-great-great-granddaughter of Willey, agreed to donate the piano and the table to the West Virginia State Museum in Charleston.

Travis Henline, site manager of West Virginia Independence Hall; Nicholas Mitchell from the State Museum and Brennan traveled to Weirton to meet Miller and to load the piano and the table onto a truck for transport to Charleston. They were assisted by Dennis Jones, president of the Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center, and Jason Rine, a member of the center's organization.

The moving operation was documented in the December newsletter of the Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center. The center also received a donation of local materials from the Willey and Flenniken heirs.

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