Between Moundsville and Wheeling
there’s a big old farm house across from John
Marshall High School
on busy Route 2. For years the sole inhabiter, Sam Cockane, could be
seen occasionally, working the land and maintaining the yard. Mr. Cockane
was reclusive. He only lived in the back two rooms of the huge house.
It was common local knowledge that a lot of
the surrounding land used to be part of his family’s large farm, but it wasn’t
until Mr. Cockayne passed away in 2001 with no heirs, leaving the house and all
its contents to the city of Glen Dale,
that the rich history began to reveal itself.
Nila Shaddock is the chairman of the Cockayne committee—a
special committee of the Marshall County Historical Society. She’s been one of
the driving forces of the Cockayne preservation project that has been on-going
since 2003. She says she felt called to work on the project and wishes to honor
the memory of Sam Cockayne.
“When I went into the house and saw how he lived and saw
what had happened to him over the years. You know he was farming over there and
his land was taken under the threat of eminent domain for John
Marshall High School
and so he was left with just this little piece of property. That’s why I do what
I do,” Shaddock says.
Tom Tarowsky is the program director if the Cockayne
Farmstead Preservation project and gives public tours of the property and the
house. We start outside in front of the Adena mound that’s in the back yard. The
Adena Mound builders were the prehistoric people who inhabited this land sometime
before 1300 AD.
“There was originally a 300-acre farm back when this house
was built in 1850.”
Tarowsky explains that efforts to preserve the two-story
farm house began with replacing the slate roof and the exterior walls.
“We are in the wonderful position of being able to open bids
next month for a geothermal climate control system which will enable us to
protect the 1500 artifacts that the city inherited with this house,” Tarowsky
Mark Swiger is also touring the house. Swiger is an
education consultant and the co-founder of Sustainable Learning Systems--an
organization focusing on energy and environmental projects. He’s also a teacher
at the high school across the street and a member of the Cockayne committee. Swiger
is creating history and energy curriculums for both students and the general
public around the Cockayne house. He says “Old is the new Green.”
“The house was positioned to use the environment because
artificial energy produced by humans was not available. So you see where it
sits the south lawn has deciduous trees where in the winter—it’s passive
solar—so when the leaves fall in the winter the sun penetrates the house and warms
it. In the summer, they provide shade from the south.”
Also touring the house is Jayne Frye, a graduate student
from West Liberty.
“My emphasis is on technology integration and I’ll be
working on the project, basically, just helping them build a web site and with
all the QR codes for the 1500 artifacts,” Frye says.
Together community members and organizations are working to
create a multi-tiered learning system. They hope to create virtual and audio
tour programs where visitors will be able to go room to room hearing the house’s
perspective of history.
Upon entering the house it quickly becomes apparent that
this preservation project should not be mistaken for a restoration project.
It’s a little like walking into a Charles Dickens novel. Suddenly you find
yourself in Mrs. Havisham’s dilapidated time capsule of a mansion. Tarowsky
ushered us off the noisy front porch and into the front foyer of the house.
“So this was largely shut off from others,” Tarowsky says. “The
wall coverings, the floor coverings, and the furniture that you see dates from
the 1890s. These are objects that Sam’s grandparents brought in. This entrance
foyer—keeping in mind that the Cockaynes of that generation had five daughters
of marriageable age and they were very concerned socially that they would have
proper suitors. They wanted to impress those suitors. That’s why the entrance
foyer has the very fancy wall paper, has the quarter-round molding that was
done in gold leaf, so that when they turned on the electric light, as you can
see from the 1895 wire above your head, this room would just sparkle.
“Wallpaper and carpet coordinated in color and design,” Tarowsky
continues. “They knew what they were doing. This was a foyer designed not only
to impress suitors but also business associates of the Cockaynes because Mr.
Cockayne gained his wealth in the Merino Sheep business. This is what the
upper-middle class looked like in a rural setting, in WV, 120 years ago. This
is the lifestyle.”
It takes some imagination to visualize how the room must
have sparkled in its early incarnation. Today the short moss-green,
wall-to-wall carpeting and the sagging wall covering look forgotten and
“We’re going to preserve the interior of the house because
it’s only going to be this original once. And if you restore it, you’re interpreting
what was once here.”
An old bike, which long-time locals might remember Sam
riding through Glen Dale, rests next to the stairway to the second floor.
Tarowsky ushers us up the stairs.
“You may be wondering how we know when this house was
decorated, when the entrance foyer was done. I’ll show you. When you wall paper
today, when you put wallpaper over raw plaster you put sizing down, right? They
The cloth wallpaper is flaking off the walls. A piece of
fallen away cloth reveals yellow aging newspaper dated December, 1894.
And it’s not the only paper record the house has been
holding on to for more than a century. Not by a long shot. Apparently the Cockaynes
were a family of record-keepers. The family left 12,000 pieces of paper
ephemera going back to the 1830s. Back down stairs we stroll through the front
“The piano has been in this room since September 7th, 1871. We know that
because they saved the receipt from the music store in Wheeling.
The fame of the Cockayne farm, the best piece of evidence is the certificate
behind the piano. International exhibition, 1876, Philidelphia, Centennial Exhibition, The Bronze Medal at the World’s Fair for one fleece of Merino
wool. They exhibited in Paris in
1878. We have a letter from the US
consulate in Cape Town South
Africa from 1881 asking for information
Plaster is falling from corners and edges of the ceiling of
the living room. But otherwise, it’s a fully furnished and decorated room,
which seems to be missing only a thick coat of a century’s worth of dust.
Family portraits skillfully rendered by Irena Cockayne Shaw, the youngest of
the Cockayne daughters, sit on the piano. There are several pairs of 00-year-old
shoes—men, childrens, and shoes a
baby could wear—lined up by the fireplace. Moving toward the back of the house
you pass through what looks like a dining room. A collection of mismatched
china is laid out on the table. Family photographs taken in the 1850s line the
Continuing back, the rooms become less and less ornate as we
enter Sam’s abode.
There’s a placard detailing Sam’s WWII action. It’s here
that the story turns. Tarowsky explains that, based on early letters and school
essays, they know Sam was a quiet child whose only aspirations were to farm.
by Sam Cockayne when a 6th Grade Student, ca. 1932: What My Dad
dad teaches me how to work on a farm. He
taught me how to ride and drive a horse.
He taught me how to bring the cows home and how to bring down the horses
from the hill.
I was about six years old, he put me on a horse and told me how to guide
day, he let me drive the sled up from the river where he plowed corn. From what he teaches me, I hope to be a
also teaches me to be honorable and truthful.
He teaches me to avoid bad company and not to drink intoxicating
liquor. He teaches me to be square in
all my dealings and to be a good citizen.
He teaches me to never abuse a horse and not to smoke cigarettes or
Cockayne committee also found all of the wartime letters Sam wrote home. He
wrote several letters from Camp Crowdy, Missouri,
always expressing concerns about his family and the farm.
CampCrowdy, August 3rd, 1942, Dear Mom, Dad, Shep, and the Belle of Glen Dale.
received your letters of the 31st and 1st. You have no
idea how glad I was to get word from Glen Dale. Was immensely pleased to hear
that Luce had a colt and that it is doing well. Would greatly appreciate a
picture of them and would like to get one of the whole family… And after doing
K.P. several at several different times I can appreciate more fully what Mom
has to do. In fact, you never appreciate your family till after you have to do
without them… Sam.
“Sam served in the Pacific,” Tarowsky says. “He was a radio
operator during the island-hopping campaign. His was the joint army Marine
Corps unit, the 75th joint assault signal company. He had seven
battle stars. His job was to go ashore with the very first wave of an invasion,
get up close and engage the Japanese, and then radio the Naval artillery in on
the Japanese positions He saw a lot. Very very hazardous work.”
It was during the Battle of Okinawa that Sam’s mother passed
away. He returned to a farm without animals, and with an aging and ill father.
Tarowsky says like many others returning from the war, Sam was a different man.
He grew even more silent and introspective. Where his grandfather and great
grandfather had equipped the farm with all the latest technology: electricity
and even a steam powered threshing machine, Sam saw machinery as the work of
There are records indicating that Sam did buy a car. But he
sold it a couple years later and relied instead on his bicycle. He worked the
fields with draft horses until, under threat of eminent domain, he sold his
property and watched the expansion of Route 2 and construction of John
Marshall High School
several hundred feet in front of his house.
Sam lived alone in the Cockayne House from the time his
father was hospitalized in 1952, until his own death in 2001. Sam was 80 years
trying to tweak the curriculum,” Swiger says, “so that everyone who comes here,
regardless of age or background, will learn some things about history, tied to
sustainability, but also drive that historical inquiry, that curiosity that
makes us wonder about the way things used to be. And at the end of the day, how
can we make our world a better place using the house? That’s what the
curriculum is going to be about.”