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History of Red House, Putnam County, West Virginia

Civil War Action Marker, Photographed By J. J. Prats, July 13, 2015. (The Historical Marker Database, HMdb.org)

Note: The following history was part of a publication titled “Sixteenth Annual Putnam County Homecoming” (dated September 12, 1948). The author, D.L. Ambler, Sr., was well known to county residents of that era, having served as Sheriff from 1933 to 1938. Mr. Ambler was the head of State Roads in Putnam County and resided in Red House when he compiled this history. His brother, Dr. Charles Ambler, was a noted historian who headed the history department at West Virginia University.

History of Red House, Putnam County, West Virginia
By D.L. Ambler

The village of Red House, Putnam County, is located on the Land Grant made by George the Third of Great Britain to George Washington, December 1, 1773, for his service in the French and Indian wars. The Land Grant at that time contained 7,276 acres and extended from Buffalo Creek to Poca River. George Washington stated in his Will that William Augustine Washington and others were to have all his property in the Kanawha Valley and this Will was duly probated in Fairfax County, Virginia, January 20, 1800.

By a partition suit in the Washington family, Lawrence A. Washington, who was one of the first Justices of the Peace of Putnam County, was allotted the lands at that time known as the Red House property. George W. Summers in his Historical Sketch in the Charleston Gazette, states that if George Washington had been designated as King of the United States of America, at the time of his death his next of kin by the English law of lineal descent, would have been Augustine Washington who lived at Red House. But because George Washington had found monarch rule intolerable to the American people and had helped them win their victory over it, he refused the throne of what has become one of the greatest nations of the world today.

The first settlement was made at Red House Shoals about the year 1806 and was known by that name until recent years, when the Post Office Department shortened the name to Red House. The village is located on the north bank of the Kanawha River opposite Winfield. Just to the rear of the village and arising almost perpendicularly, is Red Rock, a precipice towering to the height of 456 feet. It is remarkable for its red appearance. The summit is crowned with lofty pines and cedars and it is the first object which the traveler ascending the Kanawha beholds, suggestive of mountain scenery.

Before there was even a road to travel by ox-cart through the Kanawha Valley forest, a family named Harmon settled near Red House at what is known as Little Guamo Creek. They obtained a Land Grant from the British government, written on a piece of parchment. The title was filed at Richmond, Virginia, when the U.S. government was formed. Later when West Virginia was formed, it was filed in Putnam County. At that time the Kanawha River was not navigable. The first shipping in the valley was by keel boats operated by man power and push poles.

In the year 1819—the same year in which the first steamboat crossed the Atlantic Ocean—a steamboat called “Robert Thompson” ascended the Great Kanawha River for the purpose of ascertaining whether it was navigable to Charleston. The voyage continued as far as Red House Shoals where two days were spent in a vain effort to pass the rapids and the boat returned to the Ohio River.

The officers reported to the Virginia Assembly the result of the experimental voyage, and that body in 1820 made the first appropriation for the improvement of the river. However, the Red House Shoals baffled rivermen until the pressing need for river transportation during the Civil War brought about blasting and an improvement in this mode of travel.

The first school taught in Union District was by a gentleman named John Armstrong about the year 1830. The schoolhouse was a hewed log building which stood about one mile below Red House on what is now the John Lynn Noffsinger farm. It was afterwards occupied as storehouse and post office by Charles Bronough. The first free school building was erected in the year 1868 and was located five miles back of Red House. It was a hewed log structure called Fairview and has since been replaced by a frame house now known as Grandview schoolhouse.

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