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The road to West Virginia’s first governor leads to Parkersburg

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. - West Virginians celebrating the state's sesquicentennial this year could take a road trip to see the final resting place of the first governor.

The grave and monument for Gov. Arthur I. Boreman are on a hill overlooking Parkersburg with a high school football stadium as a backdrop.

Arthur Ingram Boreman was born July 24, 1823 and died on April 19, 1896 at the age of 73.

He is buried in the historical section of Parkersburg Memorial Gardens, said owner Okey Phares. The cemetery covers more than 30 acres and dates back to about 1838, he said.

It is a popular stop for history buffs as well as art students who like to sketch the old markers, Phares said.

About 1993, a monument was placed near Boreman's gravesite by the Wood County Historical Preservation Society, said Bob Enoch, who serves as society president. A pole with a state flag was also added and the Secretary of State's Office replaces the flag every year because it becomes tattered from the weather, he said.

Enoch said plans are in the works for a ceremony to be held there on the state's official birthday of June 20 with a re-enactor portraying Boreman and delivering a portion of his inaugural address.

Boreman's picture is on the monument inscribed with words from his first inaugural address of June 20, 1863: "We have the proud satisfaction of proclaiming to those around us that we are a separate state of the union . . .  and it shall be my especial pride and pleasure to assist in the establishment of a system of education throughout the state that may give to every child among us, whether rich or poor, an education that may fit them for respectable positions in society."

Boreman's name can be found at other West Virginia sites including Fort Boreman Historical Park in Parkersburg. Arthur I. Boreman Elementary School is in Middlebourne, Tyler County. Boreman Hall is a dormitory on the campus of West Virginia University.

Boreman was born in Waynesburg, Pa., and was only 4 when he moved with his family to Middlebourne, Tyler County.

Boreman's jobs ranged from lawyer and senator to circuit judge. He represented Wood County as a Whig delegate in the Virginia General Assembly from 1855 to 1861. During the Civil War, he organized militia units to combat Confederate guerrillas in the southern part of what would become West Virginia.

During efforts to secure statehood for the western counties of Virginia, Boreman was instrumental in establishing the Reorganized Government of Virginia, which was loyal to the union.

In 1863 he became West Virginia's first governor as a member of the Constitutional Union party, holding an important spot in history as the state prepares to celebrate its 150th birthday.

He made his mark on West Virginia in several ways during his time as governor.

During his inaugural address, he had promised a public education system for all children in the state. He followed through, as a public school system was established during his time in office. Later in his term, on Feb. 7, 1867, West Virginia University was created.

In 1865, he encouraged legislation denying anyone who couldn't prove loyalty to the union the right to vote, to hold political office, to practice law, to teach or to sue. The legislation disenfranchised Confederates living in West Virginia and assured a governing majority for Republicans.

In 1869, Boreman resigned from office to join the U.S. Senate just six days before the end of his term.

In the Senate, Boreman supported the ratification of the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing the right to vote regardless of race.

Upon receiving word of the amendment's ratification, he telegrammed Robert W. Simmons, the leader of the black community in Parkersburg, and a celebration was staged there in 1870, according to an article written by longtime Parkersburg historian Bernie Allen for The West Virginia Encylopedia.

Boreman served one six-year term in the Senate before returning to Parkersburg to practice law.

A story that appeared in The State Journal (Parkersburg) on April 23, 1896 offered some details of the life and death of Boreman.

It says that April 19, 1896 was a bright and sunny day and that "Judge Arthur I. Boreman died peacefully at 9:20 o'clock surrounded by his sorrowing family. The end came quietly; there was no suffering. The eyes of the beloved man closed as though he were dropping off into a sleep and he was no more."

He died on a Sunday, leaving behind a wife, two daughters, and two stepsons. The article calls his death "an incalculable loss to them and to the entire state."

The story says he had not been well for several months. "The cause of his death was a total collapse of the energies and a general breaking down," the article states.

He was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, a good speaker who could exercise analysis in debate, a hard worker, and a man of principle.

Go to state culture site to read the entire 1896 article about him.

Contact writer Charlotte Ferrell Smith at or 304-348-1246.

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