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Colonial Dames restore Fort Lee sundial

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- One of the first projects of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the state of West Virginia was to establish a marker on the site of Fort Lee.

That was in 1917, and the small marble monument has been restored probably eight or nine times since, most recently this year.

The marker's location on Kanawha Boulevard makes it an easy target for vandalism. The sundial has been stolen from the top of the marble pedestal, which was cracked from exposure to the elements. The bronze plaques were so dirty that they were difficult to read.

Surrounded by a black wrought-iron fence, the sundial sits on the north side of the Kanawha River, between Brooks and Morris streets, the approximate site chosen for a fort in April 1788.

Col. George Clendenin and a company of rangers marched from Camp Union -- now Lewisburg -- to the Kanawha Valley to build a fort as part of a defense system against Indians.

Clendenin already owned more than 1,000 acres, from the mouth of the Elk River stretching three miles to the east and for a mile up the Elk River -- essentially what is now downtown Charleston and the East End. He paid 5 shillings for it, according to "Charleston 200" by John G. Morgan and Robert J. Byers.

A native of Scotland, Clendenin had become prominent in Greenbrier County and served in the Virginia General Assembly. He saw the Kanawha Valley as a highway to the West.

The fort itself was a two-story log structure, smaller than a mobile home. It was surrounded by stockade measuring about 250 by 175 feet.

Fort Lee was named after Gen. Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee, but was frequently called Fort Clendenin.

Six years later, in 1794, the General Assembly passed an act establishing a town on 40 acres owned by George Clendenin at the mouth of the Elk River. The town was named Charlestown in honor of George Clendenin's father, Charles.

Charles Clendenin was the first person to die within Fort Lee in 1790; he was buried in a garden within the stockade. His son George died in 1797 while visiting a daughter in Marietta, Ohio.

In 1818, Charlestown became Charleston to avoid confusion with Charles Town in Jefferson County.

During Kanawha County's bicentennial celebration in 1988, the sundial marker was moved across Kanawha Boulevard to its present site. One of the plaques notes the restoration of the marker by Kanawha Bicentennial Commission. The other notes the site of Fort Lee.

The recent restoration was a joint effort by the Charleston Beautification Commission and the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the state of West Virginia.

Harley Goodwin Jr., public grounds director for the city, has been instrumental in getting the repair work finished, said Kit Wellford, with the Colonial Dames.

She said the stainless-steel sundial, painted black, sits on a piece of scrap marble that has been cut to fit the top of the pedestal. The plaques and bases were sent to Sears Monument for cleaning, the major expense of the restoration.

Reach Rosalie Earle at earle@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5115.


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