Fort Savannah Village and Museum
The Old Red Mill stockholders were dismayed when the mill building and the country store burned to the ground, but they were not deterred from pursuing their vision of making tourism an important part of Lewisburg's identity. Dr. John Montgomery, an avid historian, was the president of the stockholders board and spearheaded the drive to fully engage the community in the development project. This became a community project with over one hundred individuals and businesses purchasing $100 shares of stock. Here is the list of shareholders. Volunteers formed several 50-person work parties to gather chestnut poles from Cross Mountain for building the stockade fence, dismantling several log homes from around the county, and hauling them back to Lewisburg. The logs were used to construct the log visitor center that is the centerpiece of today's Montwell Commons.
Dr. Montgomery maintained extensive minutes of the stockholder meetings that record the project as it progressed. A number of articles were published in local and regional newspapers that also featured the project, and excerpts from some of those sources are presented here. More complete transcriptions of the meeting minutes and newspaper articles can be read by clicking this link.
Sketch located in the Greenbrier Historical Society archive vertical file #8
April 2, 1963 Old Red Mill, Inc. stockholder meeting
After considerable discussion of the rebuilding of the property of Old Red Mill,Inc the following motion, made by Mr. Ralph Barr and seconded by Mrs. Randolph K. Houk, was passed with one dissenting vote.
“That the Old Red Mill, Inc. authorize construction, on the property of the Old Red Mill, Inc, along the lines of the drawing presented and tentatively referred to as “Fort Savannah Village”, first construction to incorporate the existing foundation of former mill with a log structure or structures situated on top of same on concrete slab which will serve as roof and/or ceiling for basement area; and that authorization for the expenditure of ten thousand five hundred dollars on same be given at this time with the understanding that further authorization be secured from the Board of Directors if the cost should exceed this amount.”
April 11, 1963
Old Red Mill to Rebuild (excerpts) . . .
“In time a number of log buildings will be constructed around the perimeter of the one acre lot and the entire area will be enclosed with an appropriate fence or stockade.”
“The board of directors authorized the sale of additional stock in amount of $11,000. This stock is being offered in denominations of $100 each. Individuals who desires to become a part of this worthy project can purchase stock certificates by contacting any member of the board of directors.”
Greenbrier Independent vol 97 no. 47
July 11, 1963
Old Fort Savannah Work is progressing on the construction work at the Old Fort Savannah Village to be erected on the Old Red Mill lot in Lewisburg.
The foundation and basement of the Old Red Mill have been worked over and a reinforced concrete slab top put on. The top of the basement will have two inches of concrete poured over it and on this will be erected two old log buildings which are to house antique exhibits and crafts. In this basement, which will be fireproof, will be exhibited the art works of Mrs. Doris Caldwell, valuable antiques, and articles pertaining to early history.
A stockade fence will be erected around the entire lot. A volunteer work crew went to Cross Mountain near Clintonville last Saturday and cut old chestnut logs to be used in the building of this fence. The timber has been given to the enterprise by the Gauley Coal Land Company of Rupert. Again this Saturday another volunteer work crew will assemble in Lewisburg at 7 AM and go to Cross Mountain and cut more logs. A picnic lunch will be served on the grounds. The fence,when completed, will surround the 250 by 108 foot lot. Greenbrier Independent vol 98 no. 5
Photo published in the Greenbrier Independent July 27, 1963
August 1, 1963
Volunteer Help Needed The builders of Savannah Village on the site of the Old Red Mill in Lewisburg are asking for volunteer help to build the village. Anyone interested in assisting with this community project can contact John Montgomery.
Saturday volunteers will go to Lowell in Summers county and dismantle two double story log houses, which will then be transported to Lewisburg and assembled as a part of Savannah Village. All this work will be done by volunteers. Several old log buildings have been donated to the project. The oldest smoke house in this section of the state, near White Sulphur Springs, has been donated as one of several buildings that will form this tourist attraction.
The stone for the parking area has been donated and is now being used.
The concrete slab over the old mill basement has been poured and is ready for use. This slab will serve as the roof for the fireproof museum as well as the foundation for two log buildings.
Greenbrier Independent vol 98 no. 8
May 14, 1964
Dr. John F. Montgomery, president of Old Red Mill, Inc. , reports that the Fort Savannah Village project is nearing completion of its first stage and will be open to the public the latter part of the month.
The main building which will house a most interesting museum and country store has been completed. Within the next two weeks, items which have been secured for the museum will be arranged for display. They include many early American farm and household items as well as the exquisite miniature nativity figures created by Mrs. John North Caldwell.
The museum-country store building is itself an artistic creation which has risen on the substantial stone foundation of the Old Red Mill. In fact, this stone portion is more than a foundation. It actually forms the first floor of the building, and virtually makes this, the museum area, fireproof since its ceiling is is formed of re-stressed concrete beams. An old-fashioned bedroom, largely furnished by Marguerite Donnally, and a huge brick fireplace flanked with many early American kitchen items bring touches of warmth and charm.
The second story of the building is made of logs which came from old houses of the area, most of which date back to the late 1700's and early 1800's. Two large log houses were secured from the Gwinn farms of Lowell, Summers county. One of these served as a fort for citizens of that locality during the days that Indians frequented the region. A small log building, which once served as a store, came from Bungers Mill. A somewhat larger building, the Dave Williams house, came from the Williamsburg area on the road between Pembroke and Trout. Alex Turner furnished some logs which he had secured from an old house in Lewisburg. Almost all of these buildings were donated, dismantled, and transported by citizens interested in promoting this civic gesture.
The completed building with its large stone chimney, attractive front porch, and pleasing lines gives every evidence of of having stood on the present site for more than a century. Its setting is also greatly enhanced by the stockade fence which surrounds the one acre plot. The fence was constructed of chestnut timber donated by the Gauley Land and Coal Company. It was cut and transported from Cross Mountain by volunteer labor and donated trucks. Greenbrier Independent vol 98 no. 49
Photo published in “A Plain Tale”, Charleston Sunday Gazette-Mail
September 13, 1964
May 27, 1964 (excerpts)
"Fort Savannah had its official opening on May 27. To date it has had more than 800 visiting guests. These guests have come from 24 states. Their enthusiasm and complimentary remarks have been most encouraging. They have been especially complimentary of the unusually fine display of art work by Mrs. John North Caldwell. This collection is splendidly displayed. It consists not only of scenes done in miniature figures but also of the life size nativity figures which are now owned by Old Stone Church. These nativity figures were also created by Mrs. Caldwell.”
“One of the objectives of Fort Savannah is to 'encourage the production of authentic handcraft art-idles. Already a number of West Virginia handmade products are on sale. More will be added as appropriate articles become available.”
“Fort Savannah is operated by a group of civic minded citizens of Lewisburg and the surrounding areas. At the moment there are 85 stockholders who have purchased $24,600 worth of the incorporated authorization of $30,000. This leaves a balance of $5,400 worth of stock yet available for purchase. The price of one share is $100.
The West Virginia News, Ronceverte
June 13, 14 1964
Fort Savannah Village and Museum included in the 1964 House and Garden Tour conducted by the Four Federated Garden Clubs of Lewisburg for the benefit of the Fort Savannah Village and Museum.
House and Garden Tour brochure, Four Federated Garden Clubs
September 9, 1964 Old Red Mill Stockholders Annual Meeting minutes (excerpt)
It was agreed that Fort Savannah should remain open during the month of October. Some concern was expressed about the amount, 75¢, charged for admission to the museum. This was left in the hands of the Board of Directors for their further consideration.
May 4, 1966
letter to stockholders: “Briefly, Mrs. Detch and I have been fully informed on the matter of the purpose and spirit of the corporation and if the stock is sold to us, we will assure all stockholders that (1) insofar as it may be possible from a business point of view to do so, we will continue the operation of the facilities and display the exhibits in the spirit and purpose of the corporation; (2) pay stockholders the sum of $100.00 per share for the capital stock held by the stockholders; (3) assume the payment of the indebtedness of the corporation which we are informed does not exceed $5,300.00”
July 28, 1966 (Old Red Mill Stockholders meeting minutes)
“. . . the present Board of Directors of the Old Red Mill, Inc. do hereby as a body and individually resign and do thereby divest themselves of any and all responsibility and obligation for said corporation . . .”
With the sale of the stock, over the next few years John and Rosalie Detch realized that a business built around a museum with a 75 cent admission could not be successful. They added a restaurant to the original rectangular visitor center and built two motel buildings, thus transforming the Fort Savannah Village into the Fort Savannah Inn.
The Greenbrier Independent newspaper clippings were copied from the newspaper digital archives at the Greenbrier Historical Society. Other newspaper articles, photographs, and reports were copied from the Greenbrier Historical Society Reading Room “Business Series 1, container 7, Businesses: N+O”