Of all the structures that exist in Logan County, there is only one which belongs to all Logan Countians — the Logan County Courthouse. It aptly can be referred to as “the people’s place.”
Logically, courthouses have been defined as places where courts of law can be conducted. And in nearly all the history of what became Logan County there has been the need for a courthouse. In fact, Logan has had six of them. Intrigued by the local history that has fermented into what is known as the county seat, I thought some readers might enjoy the background that is connected to the Logan County Courthouse.
To begin with, it should be noted that even before Logan received its Indian name, there was a need for a courthouse. Although early settlers in the Logan area referred to it as “The Islands,” it became an area known and chartered as Lawnsville in 1827 but generally was referred to in many legal documents as “Logan Courthouse.”
According to records and previous accounts, a four-room wooden courthouse was in 1828 first located across what is today known as Main Street near the Guyandotte River, which at the time was named Guyandotte Avenue. A terrible flood in the mid-1860s devastated the area, and another wooden courthouse was constructed at what remains the site of the Logan County Courthouse. It is from that point on that the history becomes somewhat cloudy, but intriguing.
During the Civil War, Union forces in 1862 marched to Logan and found the community to be completely evacuated by the male population and that every man with a gun had taken a position on the steep mountainside opposite the town. Following shots being exchanged between the forces, it was ordered that the Logan courthouse and every public building in town be burned.
A red brick courthouse was constructed sometime between 1870 and 1883 and was later replaced by a stone courthouse that burned in 1912. Another stone courthouse of great beauty was built in 1917 and was replaced in 1962 by the present Logan County Courthouse, total cost being $1,687,431.36. Each courthouse was constructed at the site of a former Indian burial ground, which encompassed most of downtown Logan and led to the town being renamed from Lawnsville to Aracoma, prior to its name change to yet another Indian leader, Chief Logan.
The original courthouse property, according to a study of the history of Anthony Lawson — the man for whom Lawnsville was supposedly named — was donated by Mr. Lawson, who opened the first trading post in the area. Although the store was located near the site of Logan’s present-day city hall building, Lawson had received a land grant for hundreds of acres that includes today’s town of Logan. Interestingly, property map cards in the Logan County assessor’s office indicate that no deed has ever been recorded for the present courthouse property.
I find it amazing that the man who reportedly donated the property for the first courthouse and who opened the first mercantile store ever in what became Logan is not honored publicly in Logan County history. He and his wife’s deaths are of great historical interest, including the fact that Ann Lawson’s murder led to what likely was the first public hanging at the Logan courthouse, which occurred in 1847.
Anthony and Ann Lawson parented four boys before the couple’s unusual deaths occurred within about a year from the other, according to many historical writings. The sons were John, James, Lewis and Anthony Jr., and although none of their immediate families are known to exist today in Logan County, their heirs continue elsewhere to reap the benefits from the thousands of acres possessed by the Lawsons.
In all documentation, including newspaper accounts of the time, Anthony Lawson’s death occurred in 1847 on a return trip from Philadelphia where he regularly took ginseng and animal pelts to sell. Lawson, who would travel by horseback to the community known as Guyandotte in what today is Cabell County, from there would go by boat to Philadelphia, returning with items to sell at his trading post. It was at Guyandotte that he developed cholera, died there, and was quickly buried in the Guyandotte City Cemetery. However, a visit to Lawson’s gravesite shows that his tombstone indicates clearly that he died in 1849. It is this writer’s conclusion that the tombstone likely was not completed until two years after his death, although a mistake of that nature is difficult to imagine.
Regardless, why the mistake was never corrected can possibly be explained best by the brutal death of his wife about one year later in what became Logan. Just as Mr. Lawson’s demise is clearly etched on his tombstone in the Cabell County graveyard that featured an iron-railed fence surrounding it, so is the death of his wife, unusually explained in detail on the tombstone at her gravesite at Logan City Cemetery on High Street.
Also surrounded by an iron-railed fence, Ann Lawson’s death at the hands of two of the Lawsons’ slaves on the evening of December 17, 1847, is engraved into her headstone. Both Lawsons’ headstones are unique for the time period and undoubtedly took a considerable amount of effort before either could have been finished. The headstones and the iron-railed fences surrounding them have lasted now for well over 170 years. Amazingly, the words on the tombstones are quite visible. Here’s what you can read from the tombstone of Ann Lawson:
“Ann Lawson, wife of Anthony Lawson of Logan County, Va., who was born in Longhorsby, in the county of Northcumberland, England on the 17th day of March A.D. 1783. Murdered on the night of the 17th of December 1847 by two her own slaves.”
Historical accounts of Mrs. Lawson’s death all indicate that two slaves the Lawson’s had raised since they were children were involved in her earthly departure, one slave striking her in the head with a red hot poker and the two of them using the same poker to try and open a bureau chest drawer to obtain money and jewelry, before fleeing in fear.
One of the slaves was reportedly hanged at the courthouse lawn and the other man severely beaten before being run out of the village.
Like just about every historical aspect of Logan — even today — there is mystery, and the deaths of Anthony and Ann Lawson are no exception. As mentioned earlier, the tombstone of Anthony Lawson says he died in 1849, but several historians have recorded his death prior to his wife’s demise in 1847.
To add more confusion to the facts is a 1938 Logan Banner story in which two great-granddaughters of the Lawsons (Mrs. Lillian Avis of Logan and Mrs. Polly Anna Avis of Aracoma) were interviewed and relayed the story of how their great-grandfather had been attending a Christmas party when his wife was attacked. In the interview, the women said their great-grandfather returned from the party to find his wife “breathing her last breath” but was able to tell her husband who had struck her down.
Nevertheless, what I find appalling, regardless of when Mr. Lawson succumbed, is that of the millions of dollars that have been made by the heirs of the Lawsons — from coal leases and timbering — is the lack of some family member not removing the remains of Anthony Lawson to a site beside his wife at the Logan Cemetery — an abandoned cemetery that Lawson heirs likely still own. I even wonder if the heirs know where the two Lawsons are buried.
Since the Hatfield-McCoy trail goes directly by the Logan Cemetery, it would seem to be potentially a great tourist addition for trail riders, if the area was appropriately developed and the Lawson stories properly displayed at the historic site, which also is the burial place of Henry Clay Ragland, the author of the “History of Logan County.” Few, if anybody knows this, but Ragland’s wife (Julia) was the granddaughter of the Lawsons; her first of three husbands having been shot and killed while in a store located where the McCormick’s is now located. The killer was suspected to be Urias Buskirk, who was never prosecuted. He, like the Raglands, is buried in the City Cemetery.
It was recently announced that historic preservation grants are currently being offered through the Historic Preservation Office of the West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History. Approximately $90,000 is being offered from funding from the U.S. Congress for preservation efforts.
History needs preserved, not just buried. And Logan certainly has plenty of it.