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Adaland Mansion

Adaland Mansion gives flavor of post-Civil War Barbour County

By PAM KASEY pkasey@statejournal.com

Philippi — Travelers venturing off the interstates into Barbour County may make a surprising find: the restored 1870 Adaland mansion.

The presence of a 23-room, four-story home in this location is eye-opening for local history buffs and reflects the legacy of well-to-do pioneers that arrived more than 200 years ago.

"The people that settled the land were there in 1807," said Adaland Executive Director Ann Serafin, speaking of settlers Charles Modisett and family. "They came here from over in Luray, Va., and they bought 400 acres and had a double log cabin and actually had slaves on the land." 

Grandson Augustus Modisett, sheriff of Barbour County, built the Neo-Greek mansion after the Civil War with the paid help of his emancipated slaves. 

Like most or all West Virginia homes of the period, the Modisett Mansion was built of local materials. 

"Its bricks were made from clay found on the land," Serafin said. "Its woodwork was made from black walnut harvested on the land and the stones were quarried in Barbour County."

But more like homes further east that must have served as models, it was constructed with a full and very functional basement. 

"They had different rooms down there and a fireplace in each room," Serafin said. "A lot of the work was done in the basement of the house. Some of the cooking was done there. Probably some of the servants slept there."

The property passed through various hands, including that of Judge Ira Robinson, chief justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals and, later, special counsel to the U.S. attorney general. He named the mansion Adaland for his wife, Ada Sinsel.

Eventually, Anker Energy owned the property and used it as an administrative location. When the company gave the house, barn and carriage house and its 20 acres of land to the city of Philippi in 1996, it was in a state of "advanced disrepair," with no appreciation for its historic character, Serafin said.

"They'd dropped all the ceilings, covered the floors with tile and put paneling over the brick walls inside," she said. "We had to put in all the electrical, water and heating systems."

The city undertook a first wave of restoration, readying the mansion to open as a tourist attraction in 1999. The operation was then assumed by the nonprofit Adaland Mansion Development Inc., which received grants from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, the Vandalia Foundation, the Daywood Foundation and other funders.

The organization now employs eight full-time and part-time staff and also relies on the assistance of about 30 volunteers to attend to the stream of 5,000 visitors that make the trip to Adaland each year.

Tours of the mansion and restored circa-1850 barn led by tour guides in period dress are offered Wednesday through Sunday, May through December, and buses are welcome. 

Visitors can learn about how early settlers used their resources, Serafin said. They also can learn about home construction of the period: the structure is "shotgun style," she said, with the front and back doors lined up, and includes sleeping rooms on the porches. 

The property also may be experienced more intimately through a range of special events — for example, there are many opportunities to take a meal at Adaland. 

"We serve high tea and royal tea to groups, and we cater lunches and dinners," Serafin said. "And then we have five or six Sunday afternoon buffets each year."

Weddings also take place May through September.

"We recently built with USDA funding a beautiful white outdoor pavilion that sits right next to the house," Serafin said. "They have the ceremony in the gardens and come up to the house for the reception. We can accommodate up to 150 guests, and we hold 14 or 15 weddings each year."

Finally, Christmas, Serafin said, is a big deal at Adaland.

"We start Christmas the first of November, and it goes through to New Year's, and we'll see about 700 people during that time period because the whole house is decorated," she said. 

As far as future projects go, Serafin said she would like to see the land developed with historic crops and the sale of produce from the land. 

For information and a schedule of events, visit www.adaland.org.