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Pre-Civil War mansion given to WVU-Parkersburg

Parkersburg News and Sentinel photo by Brett Dunlap John and Pamela Lutz donated the Oakland mansion and grounds at 1131 Seventh St. Tuesday to the West Virginia University at Parkersburg Foundation.
Parkersburg News and Sentinel photo by Brett Dunlap
John and Pamela Lutz donated the Oakland mansion and grounds at 1131 Seventh St. Tuesday to the West Virginia University at Parkersburg Foundation.

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — The historical home of James McNeil Stephenson is now under the care of the West Virginia University at Parkersburg Foundation.

The foundation on Tuesday accepted Oakland, the mansion built by Stephenson in 1832 and the six acres that encompass its grounds at 1131 Seventh St., as a gift from Stephenson’s great-great grandson John Lutz and his wife, Pamela.

The foundation is planning on turning the home into an alumni center for the college as well as enhancing the college’s academic functions and to be a focal point for college functions.


”We are thrilled that the Lutz family thought of WVU when considering how to preserve this treasure and provide benefit to the community,” said Randy Law, president of the foundation’s board of directors. ”Mr. Stephenson and his descendants helped build Parkersburg into a center of transportation and commerce in the late 1800s and 1900s.

”It is fitting that it will now be a part of the region’s premier college. We will do our best to preserve it and make it a focal point for Parkersburg,” Law said.

Law commended the Lutz family for giving the foundation a “wonderful asset.”

”We feel it is an asset to the community because our school is an asset to the community,” he said. ”We feel it will serve us well and the community well.

”We think you (Lutz) and the family will be very proud of what we accomplish here.”

It is the intent of the foundation to preserve the history of the home and of Stephenson, officials said.

Stephenson (Nov. 4, 1796-April 16, 1877) was a local lawyer, politician and banker with many business developments throughout the region. He represented Tyler, Wood, Ritchie and Doddridge counties in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1839 to 1848. He was elected as the second president of the Northwestern Bank of Virginia, forerunner of the Parkersburg National Bank, now United Bank. He married Agnes Miller Boreman, sister of Arthur I. Boreman, later the first governor of West Virginia.

The foundation has secured the services of the engineering firm, the Thrasher Group of Bridgeport, to begin developing plans on what can be done with the approximately 6,000-square-foot home.

”They did do an overall evaluation of the soundness of the building,” Law said. ”It is very sound.

”The next part is working with us on developing a plan for the renovations that we need to do to make this facility more accommodating to the activities we want to have here and, at the same time, preserving the history that is in the building. That itself is a major project,” Law said.

The job of the foundation is to help raise money for the school and it wants to use Oakland to help achieve that goal, Law said.

”That is wide open right now,” he said. ”We haven’t fine-tuned that yet.

”We want to use it to draw back some of the alumni to the school where they got their education and have functions here for them. A lot of that is still under discussion,” Law said.

The gift includes the home’s furniture, much of which is from the 1800s built from trees that originally stood on the grounds.

”It is our intent that everything that is here we are going to preserve,” Law said.

They are undergoing a process to evaluate what is in the home, he said. Agreements are in place and being made to ensure the long-term preservation of historical items in the home, Law said.

Officials are not releasing an assessed value of the home and grounds.

There are opportunities for academic work at the site, including history, economics and business, said Senta Goudy, executive director of the West Virginia University at Parkersburg Foundation and vice president for institutional advancement.

”Stephenson was a major pioneer here,” she said. ”He was an economic driver for the region. The connection to the community is very strong.”

The foundation will be seeking grants, gifts and other resources to benefit the development of the Oakland mansion and grounds as a major component of a busy and thriving college while preserving the history of West Virginia and the Mid-Ohio Valley, officials said.

”There is just so much potential here,” Goudy said. ”We are not closing the door on anything.”

Goudy said activities and tours are coming up in the near future to highlight the property.

The building and grounds are as much a part of the area’s history as anything and the college wants to preserve that, officials said.

”Our vision for WVU-P is that it be recognized for academic excellence and its relationship with the community,” said Fletcher Lamkin, WVU-P president, in a prepared statement. ”Oakland, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, provides us with a great opportunity for enhancing our business, history and other academic programs while giving students and alumni a wonderful place to meet and experience a truly one-of-a-kind place.”

WVU-P recently sold parts of its Downtown Center on Market Street after the site could not generate the student interest in programs offered there. That building had been donated to the college and renovated.

Goudy said the foundation and the university are two distinct organizations and the properties were different.

”They are two separate things,” she said. ”(Oakland) is a gift to the foundation.

”The sole purpose of the foundation is to benefit the mission of the college. This has the purpose of supporting our alumni and our academics in broad terms. This is such an asset for the community and we are going to look to the community to help us support it,” Goudy said.

The Downtown Center was developed purely for academic purposes and at the time, the school had a large student enrollment, Goudy said. The development of Oakland is not dependent only on student enrollment. It can also accommodate activities with far more community reach in the area, she said.

”It is that broader use,” she said.

Lutz is the last of his family who would be living in the Parkersburg area, he said.

”Something had to be done with the house,” he said.

He has had offers to buy the property, but most of those plans involved tearing the house down and he did not want that.

”I began looking at other avenues on what I could do with it,” he said.

That led him to the foundation.

The deal worked out allowed for the preservation of the house while making needed updates and repairs, Lutz said.

”Parkersburg has a long, rich history and has been a great place to live for my family since the 1790s,” he said. ”I am happy to give something back to the community.

”It has been here for 183 years. West Virginia University at Parkersburg and its foundation will be a good steward of the property and will make use of it that will benefit both the school and the community,” Lutz said.

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