In a 1941 account published in the West Union Record, locals described Diss Debar as a distinguished gentleman known for his Van Dyke beard, high silk hat and penchant for twirling his cane as he walked. His wife was described as a small, frail woman of exceptional beauty.
On April 29, 1849, Clara gave birth to a son, Joseph Henry Jr., but the delicate woman died in childbirth.
Her parents took charge of the baby, moving their grandson with them to Cincinnati, Ohio. The Levassors and Joseph Jr. returned to Parkersburg at least once a year to visit Clara's grave in Review Cemetery on Juliana Street.
After his wife's death and son's departure, Diss Debar relocated to Doddridge County, where he helped establish a community of Swiss, cheese-making immigrants. To honor his late wife, the settlement was named St. Clara.
In 1858, Diss Debar married for a second time, wedding Doddrige County native Amelia Cain. The couple had five children, several of whom were reported still to be living in the area when the West Union Record published its account of Diss Debar's life.
Along with his work as a land agent, his artistic endeavors and his authorship of several books, Diss Debar became increasingly involved in state politics.
A year after the state's 1863 founding, West Virginia's first governor, Arthur Boreman, appointed Diss Debar to act as the state's first commissioner of immigration. In this position, which was dropped from state laws in 1931, he was responsible for attracting foreign settlers to the young state.
However, Diss Debar's most lasting contribution to the state is his iconic state seal design.
The front side of his original drawing, which is only 2 and 1/2-inches in diameter, depicts a farmer and miner standing on either side of a rock etched with the state's motto.
The design was adopted by the Legislature on Sept. 25, 1863 and still is in use nearly 150 years later. When the Legislature passed a resolution in 1960 declaring "old gold and blue" as the state's official colors, it drew inspiration from the color scheme in Diss Debar's design.
From 1864 to 1972, he also served as a member of the Legislature from Doddridge County, where he supported the attempts of the Liberal Republican Party to end Radical reconstruction and reintegrate ex-Confederates into society.
After spending nearly 30 years in West Virginia, Diss Debar moved to Philadelphia, where records show he died and was buried in 1905.
Countless figures in the colorful history of West Virginia have made a lasting impression on the state, but few legacies are as visible as Diss Debar's.
His influence lives on though the communities he helped found and the beloved design that represents the state to this day.
Contact writer Charles Young at charles.yo...@dailymail.com or 304-348-1796
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