This two story structure built in 1778 is still standing in Shinnston, West Virginia. Levi and his eldest son, Clement, raised two families consisting of 17 children. It has a central fireplace that’s big enough to roast a small herd of pigs. The original house is still there, the only addition is a ‘modern’ kitchen added in the late 1930’s or early 40’s. The Shinn memorabilia – furniture and clothing items, are displayed in the two rooms on the main floor.
Each year the Shinn Kin have an annual picnic at the Homestead. For information on how to become a member of the Shinnston Historical Association, you can call 304-584-4071.
By Lena Golden and Jack Sandy Anderson
Among Harrison County’s early settlers was Levi Shinn (1748-1807), who came to the West Fork Valley with his brother, Jonathan, in the fall of 1772. He was born and grew to manhood near Burlington, New Jersey.
Burlington was where his great grandparents, John and Jane Shinn, had settled upon their arrival from England in or about 1678.
Levi Shinn’s grandfather, James Shinn, married Abigail Lippincott in 1697, thereby allying himself with a prominent and influential family that was actively involved in the affairs of colonial New Jersey. In 1740, Levi’s father, Clement Shinn, married Elizabeth, daughter of Robert Webb, and to them were born seven children. Four of these children — Clement, Levi, Jonathan and David — became Harrison County pioneers, although David eventually settled in Hampshire County and there ended his days.
In 1772, Levi married Elizabeth (1755-1813), daughter of James and Mary Capon Smith and half-sister of Aaron Smith, a noted Simpson Creek pioneer. A family tradition has it that soon after his marriage, he set out to explore what was then the wilderness of western Virginia for the purpose of choosing land upon which he could establish a home. In the West Fork Valley in 1773, he found this land, and on this tract he built a two-story log home that is now one of West Virginia’s few remaining from the Revolutionary War era.
Details about the original Shinn settlement are rather vague, but the best available evidence indicates that Shinn established a permanent home there sometime between 1775 and 1778. It’s known that he and Elizabeth lived for a while on Apple Pie Ridge, a region not far from Winchester, Virginia, and it’s generally assumed they came from there to present Shinnston. At any rate, by 1778, the log house had been built, and the Shinns were busy at work clearing their land and struggling for survival in a rich, but often hostile wilderness.
A man above the ordinary, Shinn soon became a leader in his part of the country. Records and tradition alike reveal him to have been an educated, frugal, and honest individual who in later life was able to amass what was then a considerable fortune. His neighbors frequently sought his counsel, and he was always ready to help those in need.
Although reared in a strickt Quaker household, Shinn soon discovered that Quaker tenets had to be abandoned if he were to survive on the frontier, where death from Indian attack was ever a possibility. Bearing arms was a necessity, and in the 1770s and 1780s, he helped protect the frontier by assisting in the building of fortifications and by responding to alarms that warned of immediate danger. Some of his descendants believed that he served in the militia during the years of Indian warefare, but thus far, no authentic record has been found to prove this.
In or before 1785, Shinn built a gristmill a short distance from the mouth of Shinn’s Run. This mill proved to be of importance, since it formed the nucleus around which grew the village that gradually developed into today’s city of Shinnston. Milling was necessary in early times and seems to have run in the family, for the immigrant ancestor, John Shinn, was a miller in colonial New Jersey and at least three of Levi’s sons at one time or another were engaged in milling.
His extensive lands mostly obtained by grant, included some of the choicest acreage in northern Harrison County and provided a goodly inheritance for his children. However, in 1793, he sold the valuable tract upon which the main section of the town and of East Shinnston today stand. His brothers, Clement and Jonathan, were the purchasers, and it was the latter’s heirs who caused the land to be laid off into lots and sold, thereby laying the foundation for a town. Levi had obtained this tract of over 600 acres in 1784 as part of a preemption warrant he had for 1000 acres. His original tract containing his farm and home was acquired in 1773 and constisted of about 400 acres. Another large tract he onwed was to the west on the waters of Bingamon Creek, and it was upon this tract tha tthe village of Pine Bluff developed.
Tradition tells us that Levi was an unusually strong individual and spent hours working on his farm and in his mill. He was well known for his honest and for his generosity to people in need. Both he and his wife were hopitable by nature, and their home was always open to relatives and friends. For the most part, Shinn chose to live quietly and unassumingly and was not active in the political life of the county. Shinn and his wife, Elizabeth, had nine children who grew up in the Harrison County area. He was a member of the Simpson Creek Baptist Church. In 1807, with his family around him, he died and was buried in the family cemetery in Shinnston.
In time, Shinn’s oldest chiled, Clement (1773-1840), gained possession of the original log house. An industrious person, he managed with care his inheritance, added to it, and died a well-to-do man. Most of his wealth came from milling and raising livestock.
Following Clement’s death and some complicated legal transactions, his heirs sold the log house to David Morris, whose descendants owned it until the mid 1900s. By the 1840s, when this sale occurred, the pioneer era in the West Fork Valley was over, the log houses had become decidedly old-fashioned. Frame dwellings of planed lumber, often large and elaborate, and red brick “mansions,” as they were called in ante-bellum days, were fast replacing them. A quirk of fate is the fact that trhough the marriage of David Morris’s great-granddaughter, Mabel Fleming, to one of Levi Shinn’s great-great-grandsons, Claude S Randall, the log house once more passed into possession of a descendant of its builder. In 1959, Estelle Randall and her brother, George, children and legal heirs of Claude and Mabel Flemming Randall, sold the Levi Shinn House to Richardson Lumber & Construction Co. In 1972, the company deeded the house as a gift to the Shinnston Historical Association, which now owns it and employs it as a headquarters and museum. The Levi Shinn House, which is one of West Virginia’s oldest houses, was entered on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.