The residents of 509 Main Street in the town of Logan may not realize it, but they are re-writing history in a “mansion” that is one of the most historical places in the area. Presently, there are 12 young women who call the former dwelling place of Logan Circuit Judge Harvey Oakley and his wife, Marjorie, their home. Earlier this spring, the house was officially named the “Marjorie R. Oakley Home for Women.” In November of 2014, it became an outreach of “The Recovery Group of Southern West Virginia.”
President and founder of the recovery group is Pete Browning, who is a story in himself. Browning was released from prison January 9, 2013 and has since dedicated his life to helping people overcome drug addiction, a phenomenal problem throughout Logan County and most parts of southern West Virginia. In only about two years, his efforts have circumvented those of other less successful programs throughout the state. His “no nonsense” approach has proven fruitful in the two recovery group locations he has opened—“New Beginnings”, a recovery home for men located at Cherry Tree, and the “Oakley Home”.
“I just treated prison like a Bible college,” Browning explained. “I did nothing but study the Bible. The prison didn’t offer much to me. I have four kids, and I missed my daughter graduate, and a granddaughter being born. I wanted my family back.”
Helping to institute a 12-step program at a local church for drug and alcohol addiction shortly after leaving prison, Browning said the church was seeing about 50 addicts a week and he quickly realized the need for a residential facility. “I saw the need for long term rehabilitation and treatment, and I knew we couldn’t wait on the government for help,” Browning said. “I saw that if I could surround myself with the right people, things could get done.”
The men’s recovery group home opened June 1, 2014, while the women’s home in Logan started November 2, 2014. An impressive Board of directors was formed and includes Evangelist Aaron Rice, Logan attorney and assistant prosecutor Don Wandling, Rev. Thomas Beckett of Nighbert Memorial Church, Lisa (Dempsey) Miller, who has conducted AA classes at the Holden jail location for the past 11 years, and was recently named director of the new Logan County Prevention Coalition Program that is designed to target youths. Other members include Lisa Sigmon, Dwight Neal, and Rev. Tony Dingess, who represents the Word of Life Church at Mud Fork.
Browning’s group is currently renting the men’s house at Cherry Tree, but purchased the Oakley House at a cost of $152,000. “We hope to buy the Cherry Tree property in the near future,” Browning said.
The group conducted a walk-a-thon in September of last year and raised $16,000, which was used as a down payment on the Oakley Home. The property was financed through Logan Bank and Trust.
“We are a non-profit organization that depends upon donations,” Browning explained. “Several churches help us and other individuals, including some people who can give only $5 a week.”
Angel Rice serves as director of the Oakley Home, while Browning is director of the men’s facility. Anyone wishing to donate can do so by mailing check or money order to Recovery Group P.O. Box 952, Logan, WV 25601 or on line at www.recoveryswv.org
There is both joy and sadness associated with the Oakley Home. J. Cary Alderson, who came to Logan in 1890, is chiefly responsible for opening the first bank in Logan County. When the 20-foot square bank opened, it consisted of a used iron safe and a single desk. Alderson was the only employee. Years later, the Guyan Bank would be relocated on the entire block of Washington Avenue where LB&T bank is now situated. It would be built of stone secured from Stratton Hollow in Logan.
The “Old Stone Bank,” as it was called, would serve its citizens well and help Logan grow as the railroad reached the town in 1904, and the coal industry began to boom. The rugged town of Logan would soon become a bustling “city.”
The house referred to as “a mansion” in the will of Alderson, was constructed in 1916, according to Logan County Assessor records. Alderson purchased the property from Naaman Jackson, who later became Logan Circuit Judge. It was Jackson who oversaw the Mamie Thurman murder trial in 1932. Alderson paid the Jackson’s $17,500 cash for the property in 1913 and apparently built the present brick house, which consists of eight bedrooms, five bathrooms, a laundry room in a full basement, which is equipped with a once coal-fired furnace that produced steam heat, and a full attic where servants’ quarters still exist, including a stairwell to the kitchen. There are also huge closets located throughout the structure.
Alderson’s bank and its stockholders had fared well over the years, as investors, including famed Logan County Sheriff Don Chafin, profited greatly. However, when the stock market crashed in 1929, the bank, like so many others across the nation, suffered severely. The Guyan Bank sadly closed its doors in September of 1931.
What few people know is that Mr. Alderson was the brother of Emma Alderson, the founder of what is today known as Alderson-Broaddus College at Philippi, West Virginia, a Baptist founded institution. A front page story in the Nov. 27, 1925 edition of The Logan Banner read: “Alderson Gives $30,000 to Baptist Education.” Nobody could anticipate what was to come.
Alderson had acquired interests, along with former Judge J.B. Wilkinson, for whom that community is named, in the Yuma Coal and Coke Company, as well as numerous other properties, including the then relatively new Lilly Apartments that were at 618 Stratton Street.
In deepest of secrecy, all of the valuable papers and money of Alderson’s bank was transferred to the First National Bank of Logan as local officials tried to consolidate the two. However, as that bank failed, the federal government took it over, and following numerous lawsuits against Alderson and its stockholders, a tangled web would be weaved. It was a web others would have to untangle—years after Logan’s first banker would be buried alongside his wife, Julia, at the now abandoned McConnell Cemetery, where so many other local prominent people await the resurrection of the graveyard itself. The perpetual care once promised for there would, like the old stone bank, simply flounder. Alderson died May, 6, 1934. His wife preceded him July 30, 1930, not even a year after the stock market crash.
In Alderson’s will, he desired to leave “my dear friend and Pastor Robert F. Caverlee” (1st Baptist Church of Logan) the sum of $5000. Among other matters, he left the mansion and all its furnishings, including his jewelry, to his adopted daughter, Ruth Carper, as well as a $10,000 life insurance policy. In addition, he desired to leave $10,000 in bonds to Alderson Baptist College.
Unfortunately, it was determined in 1932 that Alderson’s debts via the failed bank totaled $354,151.86. After attorney W.F. McCall was named executor of his estate and then died and was replaced by C.A. Joyce and Mark Valentine, special appointed former Logan Judge Charles Estep ruled that, after many debts had been paid down, $180,000 was still owed and the real estate rental values and royalty rights would not be enough annually to pay off the debt in five years’ time; therefore, he ordered the properties sold at public auction “at the front door of the courthouse.”
The decision was issued by the judge Oct. 15, 1932; ironically one day after the trial of Clarence Stephenson began. Stephenson was standing trial for the hideous murder of Mamie Thurman. In another twist, Rutherford B. Hayes, no doubt a close relative to the former U.S. President by the same name was the receiver representing the government in the lawsuit.
So it was that the man who started the first bank in the county, and who owned a mansion nearby, died a pauper. B.C. Harris, the owner of the local funeral home, bought the “mansion” for $11,600 cash in hand. All other properties, including Alderson’s interest in the 455.31 acres at Main Island Creek, and property at Dingess Rum, were sold at the courthouse steps, as was everything else—including his $100 pocket watch. The step-daughter apparently received nothing. Harvey and Marjorie Oakley bought the property from Harris heirs in 1973 for $80,000.
In his first instruction of his will, Alderson wrote, “I desire that my body be laid to rest by the side of my beloved wife; there to await the resurrection dawn when we shall arise to meet our saviour in the air.”
Based on that statement alone, one could surmise that the Aldersons, as well as the Oakley’s, are quite satisfied with the new ownership of the “mansion.”
After all, the recovery Group of Southern West Virginia is a religious based organization designed only for the betterment of Logan County and southern West Virginia.
As for the Alderson’s and Oakley’s—they will have their “mansions” in the sky.