Henry Bell Gilkeson

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Henry Bell Gilkeson
Henry Bell Gilkeson.png
Member of the West Virginia Senate
from the 12th district
In office
Serving with Solomon Cunningham
Preceded by Samuel Lightfoot Flournoy
Succeeded by John B. Finley
Member of the West Virginia House of Delegates
from the Hampshire County district
In office
Preceded by Alexander W. Monroe
Succeeded by Amos L. Pugh
In office
Preceded by James Sloan Kuykendall
Succeeded by Robert Pugh Monroe
Principal of the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind
In office
Preceded by John Collins Covell
Succeeded by C. H. Hill
Superintendent of
Hampshire County Schools
In office
Preceded by A. M. Alverson
Succeeded by Charles N. Hiett
President of the Bank of Romney
In office
Preceded by None
Succeeded by John J. Cornwell
Personal details
Born (1850-06-06)June 6, 1850
Moorefield, Virginia (now West Virginia), United States
Died September 29, 1921(1921-09-29) (aged 71)
Mountain Lake Park, Maryland, United States
Resting place Indian Mound Cemetery, Romney, West Virginia, United States
Political party Democratic Party
Spouse(s) Mary Katherine Paxton
Relations Robert B. Gilkeson (father)
Sarah E. Gilkeson (mother)
Edward M. Gilkeson (brother)
Children Laura P. Gilkeson
Robert William Gilkeson
Henry B. Gilkeson
Residence Romney, West Virginia, United States
Alma mater Hampden–Sydney College
Profession lawyer, politician, school administrator, and banker
Religion Presbyterian

Henry Bell Gilkeson (June 6, 1850 – September 29, 1921) was an American lawyer, politician, school administrator, and banker in the U.S. state of West Virginia. Gilkeson served in the West Virginia Legislature as a state senator representing the 12th District in the West Virginia Senate (1890–1893) and as a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates (1883–1885 and 1909–1911). Gilkeson also served as superintendent of Hampshire County Schools (1877–1879), the mayor of Romney (beginning in 1885), principal of the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind (1887–1888), and the first president of the Bank of Romney (1888–1913).

Early life and education[edit]

Henry Bell Gilkeson was born in Moorefield, Virginia (now West Virginia) on June 6, 1850.[1][2] He was the eldest child of Robert B. Gilkeson and his wife, Sarah E. Gilkeson, both of Scottish ancestry.[1][3][4] His father was a prominent dry goods merchant in Romney, where Gilkeson and his brother, Edward M. Gilkeson, were raised.[1][4][5]

Gilkeson graduated from Hampden–Sydney College in Hampden Sydney, Virginia.[2] While there, he was inducted as a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity in 1874.[6]

Academic career[edit]

Following his graduation from Hampden–Sydney College, Gilkeson became a schoolteacher and later served as superintendent of the Hampshire County Schools district from 1877 to 1879.[2][7][8] Before 1886, Gilkeson was elected a member of the Romney Literary Society together with his brother.[9]

West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind[edit]

From 1876 to 1888, Gilkeson served as a member and secretary of the fourth, fifth, and sixth Board of Regents of the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind, a position through which he familiarized himself with the school's efforts to educate its deaf and blind students.[10][11]

In 1887, upon the death of the schools' principal, John Collins Covell, Gilkeson was selected by the Board of Regents to serve as principal of the institution.[11][12][13] He left his lucrative law practice and accepted the position under the condition that he serve as an interim principal while the Board of Regents sought a more suitable candidate to build upon Covell's initiatives and reforms.[11][12] Gilkeson believed that only administrators and educators fluent in sign language should be appointed to serve in the School for the Deaf, and during his tenure as principal, he found that personnel who relied on interpreters did not receive "satisfactory results".[14] During his tenure, the position of principal included the roles of clerk, bookkeeper, steward, and final arbiter of matters in the classroom.[14] While he lacked special training for the position, Gilkeson's business experience allowed him to run the schools in an economically efficient manner, which pleased the schools' Board of Regents.[12]

In the summer of 1888, Gilkeson was delegated by the Board to Regents to attend the Conference of Superintendents and Principals of American Schools for the Deaf in New York City and select the most fitting candidate present or recommended to replace him as principal of the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind.[11] Gilkeson tendered an offer to C. H. Hill, an instructor at the Maryland School for the Deaf, and upon Gilkeson's return to Romney, his recommendation of Hill, and his resignation, Hill was appointed by the Board to fill his position.[11][12][13]

Although Gilkeson resumed the practice of law and pursued a political career, he continued his involvement with and advocacy for the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind, especially through his influence as a prominent lawyer and state legislator.[11] Gilkeson used his position as a state legislator to condemn and hold accountable the officials responsible for the mismanagement of the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind, and often interceded on the schools' behalf following Hill's retirement due to political reasons.[11] Gilkeson was displeased with the state's political interference in the schools, and the "multiplication" of positions within the institution that were filled with personnel who had political or business ties but lacked prior knowledge or experience with deaf and blind education.[14]

Law and political careers[edit]

Administration Building of the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind in Romney, West Virginia in 1880. Gilkeson served as the schools' principal from 1887 to 1888.

Following his tenure as superintendent of Hampshire County Schools, Gilkeson undertook the study of law and started a law practice in Romney; he subsequently became a prominent lawyer in the community.[4][7][11] His law office was located on Main Street in Romney, two blocks from the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind.[11] Due to his preeminence in the legal field and high standing in the community, Gilkeson served as dean of the Hampshire County Bar Association.[14]

Gilkeson was twice elected to represent Hampshire County as a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates for the 1883–1885[15][16][17][18] and 1909–1911 legislative sessions.[6][19][20] He was also elected to represent the 12th District,[21][22] consisting of Grant, Hampshire, Hardy, Mineral, and Pendleton counties,[23] in the West Virginia Senate in 1890, following the resignation of Samuel Lightfoot Flournoy.[22][24] Gilkeson served the remainder of Flournoy's term until 1893.[6][21] Gilkeson also served as the mayor of Romney, West Virginia beginning in 1885.[25]

Banking career[edit]

Photographed in 1937, the Wirgman Building in Romney housed the Bank of Romney from 1888 to 1965. The structure was razed in 1965 for the construction of the current Bank of Romney building.

Gilkeson served on the board of directors as the first president of the Bank of Romney after it was granted its charter by the West Virginia Legislature on September 3, 1888 and was opened on 20 December 1888.[4][26][27] During Gilkeson's tenure as president, the Bank of Romney occupied two rooms on the ground floor of the Wirgman Building, where the city's previous bank, the Bank of the Valley of Virginia, was located prior to the American Civil War.[26][27] Gilkeson served as the president of the Bank of Romney until his retirement in 1913, when he was succeeded by John J. Cornwell, 15th Governor of West Virginia.[4][27][28]

Later life and death[edit]

Gilkeson resided in Romney for the majority of his life and was involved in most of the community's organizations as either a leader, officer, or stockholder.[14] Gilkeson's wife, Mary Katherine, predeceased him in 1910.[29] In his later years, Gilkeson suffered from allergic rhinitis and experienced a "physical breakdown" following the death of his son, Robert William Gilkeson, on October 2, 1918, during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive of World War I and shortly before the Armistice with Germany.[2] On account of his increasingly failing health, Gilkeson spent the summer of 1921 in Mountain Lake Park, Maryland to recuperate.[2] About a week before his death, Gilkeson fell down a flight of porch steps at his vacation residence, fracturing a number of bones.[2] He died on September 29, 1921, in Mountain Lake Park and his funeral was held on the anniversary of his son's death on October 2, 1921.[2] Gilkeson is interred with his wife Mary Katherine at Indian Mound Cemetery in Romney, West Virginia.[29]

In recounting Gilkeson's achievements to the Conference of Superintendents and Principals of American Schools for the Deaf following his death, West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind instructor Charles D. Seaton said of Gilkeson:[30]

"His learning ability and integrity were recognized in the various courts in which he practised. As a counselor he was safe, careful, painstaking, and always conscientious. As a criminal lawyer he defended the interests of his clients with all his energy, never however beyond the bounds of honor or of the ethics of his profession. His courtesy to the court, to his associates at the bar, and to witnesses was always such as to place upon him the unerasable stamp of 'gentleman'. His decisions were always based on one proposition – the right. He was not aggressive. He was unobtrusive in manner, but firm as a rock in his conception of duty. It was a blessed privilege for any young man to have been associated with him and to have been influenced by him as one was bound to be".

 — Charles D. Seaton, Conference of Superintendents and Principals of American Schools for the Deaf (1921)[30]

Personal life[edit]

Gravestone at the interment site of Henry Bell Gilkeson at Indian Mound Cemetery in Romney, West Virginia.

Marriage and family[edit]

Gilkeson married in 1884 to Mary Katherine Paxton (1853–1910), daughter of J. J. and E. J. Paxton of Virginia.[1][29] He and his wife had three children:[1]

  • Laura P. Gilkeson
  • Robert William Gilkeson
  • Henry B. Gilkeson

Religious activities[edit]

Gilkeson was active in the Presbyterian Church in Hampshire County and served as a trustee for the Presbytery of Winchester along with Samuel Lightfoot Flournoy.[31] In 1881, Gilkeson and his fellow trustees were instrumental in securing from Amos L. and Allie G. Pugh a house and a large, partially wooded land lot in Capon Bridge for use by the Presbytery as a centrally located manse in Hampshire County.[31] Gilkeson remained a trustee of the Presbytery from 1876 until his death in 1921.[32]


  1. ^ a b c d e Maxwell & Swisher 1897, p. 708.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Fusfeld 1921, p. 476.
  3. ^ McClure 1914, pp. 208–209.
  4. ^ a b c d e Munske & Kerns 2004, p. 178.
  5. ^ Cartmell 2009, p. 445.
  6. ^ a b c Brown 1917, p. 313.
  7. ^ a b Maxwell & Swisher 1897, p. 496.
  8. ^ Maxwell & Swisher 1897, p. 279.
  9. ^ Maxwell & Swisher 1897, p. 436.
  10. ^ Maxwell & Swisher 1897, pp. 478–479.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i Fusfeld 1921, p. 477.
  12. ^ a b c d Maxwell & Swisher 1897, p. 475.
  13. ^ a b Maxwell & Swisher 1897, p. 477.
  14. ^ a b c d e Fusfeld 1921, p. 478.
  15. ^ West Virginia Legislature 1922, p. 247.
  16. ^ West Virginia Legislature 1922, p. 249.
  17. ^ Lewis 1889, pp. 463–464.
  18. ^ Maxwell & Swisher 1897, p. 278.
  19. ^ West Virginia Legislature 1922, p. 261.
  20. ^ West Virginia Legislature 1922, p. 262.
  21. ^ a b West Virginia Legislature 1918, p. 350.
  22. ^ a b West Virginia Legislature 1922, p. 252.
  23. ^ West Virginia Legislature 1922, p. 272.
  24. ^ West Virginia Legislature 1918, p. 351.
  25. ^ Brannon 1976, p. 473.
  26. ^ a b Maxwell & Swisher 1897, p. 347.
  27. ^ a b c Munske & Kerns 2004, p. 115.
  28. ^ Munske & Kerns 2004, p. 161.
  29. ^ a b c Indian Mound Cemetery: Hampshire County's Most Historic Cemetery - List of Interments, HistoricHampshire.org (HistoricHampshire.org, Charles C. Hall), retrieved May 9, 2014 
  30. ^ a b Fusfeld 1921, pp. 478–479.
  31. ^ a b Woodworth 1947, p. 369.
  32. ^ Woodworth 1947, p. 385.


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