Uncovering West Liberty’s past by exploring Curtis Hall’s namesake, William Baker Curtis

Curtis Hall

By Tara Adamczyk, Contributing Writer

Everyday students, staff, and faculty members drive, walk or run by the Curtis Hall dormitory on West Liberty University’s campus. However, not many of the passersby know the history behind the building’s namesake, General William Baker Curtis. Professor Earl Nicodemus is one of the few on campus who holds knowledge about the man that made his mark on this “hill.”

William Baker Curtis was born on April 18, 1821 and was the son of Josiah and Hester Curtis. William had one brother by the name of George Washington Curtis, who was killed in the battle of Slaughter Mountain in 1862 during the Civil War at age 35. In February of 1844, William married Hannah M. Montgomery. Together they had twelve children, four boys and eight girls. The youngest daughter graduated from West Liberty Academy and taught at West Liberty Elementary School.

Both William and Hannah were involved with the school. Their house was known as The Liberty House. They allowed students, attending the school, to live in their house and often hosted graduation parties and other formal affairs. “Even though the house should be considered a historical monument, it was torn down because it was old and hard to maintain,” said West Liberty Historical Society member, Nicodemus.

When the Civil War began Curtis took students from West Liberty Academy and fought in the war on the side of the Union. However, his brother was a student at Bethany College and fought on the Confederate side. Curtis never faced his brother in battle, because his brother had been quickly killed in battle. The Curtis family did not know about George’s death until after the war ended. Although he is buried in Virginia, the Curtis family placed a monument in the West Liberty Cemetery, in George’s honor.

In the Civil War, Curtis was a colonel and before the war had ended, President Abraham Lincoln had promoted him to General William Baker Curtis. He was given this honorable title just after the surrender in Petersburg. “Something funny about Petersburg is that just after the surrender, William and Lincoln walked into Jeff Davis’ office. Lincoln sat down in his desk looked at William and said ‘so this is what it feels like to be Jeff Davis’,” Nicodemus said.

After the war, Curtis became a member of the West Virginia legislative. This was around the time that West Liberty Academy was going bankrupt. Curtis was actually the one who saved the school from closing  completely. Curtis got the state to purchase the school out of bankruptcy and make West Liberty Academy a state school. Curtis died on August 25, 1891, and is buried in the West Liberty cemetery.

So next time you stop to tie your shoe on the sidewalk in front of Curtis Hall, stop and remember General William Baker Curtis.  After all, he is truly one of the reasons you are able to roam around the University.

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