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Winner Will Get More Than A Quilt — History

By Staff | Mar 28, 2012

Pictured with the Monkey Wrench quilt that was pieced by the Rock Port Sewing Circle are members of the Rebecca Circle of the United Methodist Church who are raffling the quilt for missions projects. From left are Judy Yoho, Bernice Fluharty, Dolly Sands, Betty Harvey, Carolyn Goddard, Wilda Fruner, Evelyn Smith, and Ann Standiford. (Photo by Amy Witschey)

The Rebecca Circle at the New Martinsville United Methodist Church isn’t just raffling a quilt, they will be giving the lucky winner a piece of local history.

As a fund raiser for their various mission projects, mostly purchasing Christmas gifts for local, low income children, the Rebecca Circle is raffling a quilt made using a quilt top made by the Rock Port Sewing Circle.

The Rock Port Sewing Circle was formed in the 1940s by those who attended Rock Port Grade School that was also home to the Rock Port Methodist Church. The school was located about one mile east of New Martinsville on state Route 7, near the entrance to the Rolling Acres housing development.

The school house is actually still standing and has been converted into a home. Marsha Hindman of New Martinsville said her husband, Fred, grew up in the home that his parents, Virgil Hindman and Lillian Watkins Hindman, purchased from the Wetzel County Board of Education in 1946 when he returned home from World War II. In about 1957 Virgil dug a basement and had the building moved about 50 feet from its original location that was nearer state Route 7 and approximately where the home’s most western driveway entrance meets the roadway.

“They hired a company in Parkersburg to move the house,” said Marsha. “Lillian was busy packing up her dishes for the move and the house movers told her to leave everything in the house as it was (glassware and everything) and that is how they moved it.” Local barber Pete Day whose shop is near the building, said he remembers riding on the porch with Lillian and her son Roger Hindman while it was moved.

The Rock Port School is pictured as it was while a school and today as a home. These photos are of opposite orientation, approximately looking west, left, and east, right. The home was moved about 50 feet, just east and further from the state Route 2, in about 1957. (Photos provided)

Marsha said Virgil would often say, when ready to go home from someplace, “Well, let’s go back to Rock Port.” For many years she thought it was just some sort of inside joke, not realizing the building they were living in was once the Rock Port School.

Rock Port School on state Route 7 is often incorrectly referred to as the Rockport School. However, there was a Rockport School in the Proctor area, making a slight misspelling very confusing. Also, there is an area called Rockport near Littleton. Some members of the Rock Port Sewing Circle were Mary Witschey Durig, Wanda Witschey Estep, Helen Witschey Barcus, Kate Witschey, Kathleen Anthony, Lucy Glendenning, Amanda Buchanan Morgan, Freda Morgan Lemasters, Doris Morgan Westfall, Helen Moore Steele, Eliza Kirkland, Ellen Witschey, Ethel Rabel Witschey, Eunice Rabel Harman, Glenna Hartman Longwell, Donna “Doney” Steele, Virginia Starkey, Elizabeth Witschey, Mildred Leasure, Ina Chaney, Ruby Jennings, Donna Amos, and Esta Jennings.

The Rockport Sewing Circle held their meetings in the homes of members every other Wednesday evening. The evening was spent piecing a quilt top, embroidering pillowslips, or crocheting. The whole family attended. The men would sit on the porch or in a back room in winter. The children would play outside or sit quietly in a hallway or stairway.

Carolyn Steele Seckman, whose mother Helen Moore Steele was part of the circle, remembers more of the active times than the perhaps more poetic “sitting quietly” that invokes images like a Bessie Pease Gutmann illustration. “Us kids would be outside just running like a bunch of idiots. Her yard would look like a herd of elephants ran through it,” said Seckman, 71, of her particular memories of meetings at Mary Witschey Durig’s home. Although she’s sure some flowers probably got trampled other places too.

As Seckman grew, she also learned the art of sewing and joined the group. Just like the ladies had done for her mother when Steele was expecting Seckman, the circle held a baby shower for Seckman in 1961 when she was expecting her son, Ed.

The circle pieced quilts and then raffled them off. “Katy (Witschey) would do a pair of pillowcases every two weeks,” recalled Seckman. “They would sell them, I think for $5 a pair.”

Mary kept the books for the group. “I can still hear Mary reading those reports off – what their balance was, etc.” Seckman wasn’t quite sure what was done with the little money they raised. “I know they bought materials with it,” she said. Undoubtedly any surplus money was used for a charitable endeavor, much like the proceeds from this raffle will be – bringing it all full circle.

“As the members grew older, they started meeting in the afternoons and disbanded in the early 1990s,” said Carolyn Goddard of the Rock Port Circle.

“Little by little, one by one, they just died off,” said Seckman of the group’s demise. Seckman, Ellen Witschey, and Wanda Witschey Estep may be the only former members still living.

The quilt being raffled, a Monkey Wrench design, is much more than pretty, soft, or warm. It is a tangible 74 by 88 inch piece of history that is weaved into many local families. The lucky winner, to be drawn on Mother’s Day, May 13, will have the honor of taking that history home. Tickets are for sale for $1 each or six for $5. They can be purchased at the NMUMC office or by calling Goddard at 304-455-1638 or Betty Harvey at 304-455-3295. Also, the Rebecca Circle will be selling tickets Friday from 9 a.m. to noon at Witschey’s in New Martinsville.

This photo provided by Janet Sutton is of students at the Rock Port School. While the exact date of the photograph isn’t known, she says it had to be between 1920 and 1924.