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McCallister West Virginia House

New world exhibit: Map location 40

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McCallister West Virginia House

Richard McCallister, the descendent of migrants from Ulster, built this house by Tyler Creek in West Virginia. This was a region of yeoman farmers who, despite their small landholdings, seemed to prosper. The 1860 Census shows that Richard was literate and held property and personal belongings to the value of $1,200 - about $36,545 of purchasing power today.

In Cabell County, West Virginia in 1827, Richard and Sarah McCallister built this house.

Richard married Sarah Nickell and built this house in the hills along Tyler Creek near the town of Salt Rock, close to the Ohio border. The house is made from local materials - pine trees from the forested hills around the house and sandstone. Pockets of cleared, cultivated land provided food for the family and their livestock. They tended cattle, sheep and hogs and may have grown corn and flax.

Their first child who survived to adulthood was Isaac Preston McCallister, born 1816. By 1830 the house was doubled in size to accommodate eight children - three under five, two aged between five and ten, and three between ten and fifteen.

In 1853, Cabell County authorities purchased the McCallister property to use as Cabell County Poor Farm. According to family stories, Richard and several of his grown up children and their families moved to Arkansas. Richard returned to Tyler Creek later in his life and died in June 1867 aged 75. He is buried in Enon Cemetery, a quarter of a mile from the house he built in 1827.

The poor farm house was extended in the early 1900s. One section of Richard’s house was removed. The other part, now rebuilt at the Ulster American Folk Park, was merged into the north end of the new structure and preserved. Cabell County Poor Farm remained open at Tyler Creek until 1929.

West Virginia historian Fred B Lambert described the people of the Tyler Creek area, ‘It is not necessary to lock smokehouses there. Honesty, fearlessness and godliness reign supreme. Few communities in this whole country can boast of so many men and women of strong outstanding character’.

Look out for the t-shaped wooden object called a ‘bed key’ hanging on the wall in the McCallister bedroom. The ropes of the bed needed to be tight for a good night’s sleep. We still say ‘sleep tight’.