History of Wheeling Post No. 1, American Legion
In March 1919, in Paris, France, a caucus of World War I veterans was held at the American Club with the idea of planning an organization that would perpetuate the comradeship in memory of those fallen friends who had died in that Great War. At this meeting the name selected for the new organization was The American Legion. These representatives called for a meeting to be held in St. Louis, Missouri on May 8, 9, 10, 1919.
On March 1, 1919, a group of World War I veterans from Wheeling, some of whom had sat in on the initial caucus in Paris, France met in what is today known as the Laconia Building, located at Twelfth and Market Streets, Wheeling, West Virginia. They organized what is now known as the oldest American Legion Post in the United States of America. On March 7, 1919, General Pershing Post No. 1 was organized in Washington, D.C. calling itself the pioneer Post of the American Legion. The name of the Post was changed after the St. Louis caucus in May, 1919 since no Post could be named for any living person. The names of the organizers are as follows: Edmund Lee Jones, H. Reass, Thomas McCummins, George S. Hughston, and P. J. McGinley. Mr. McGinley was elected as the first commander of what was named Wheeling Post I.
Post No. 1 chose delegates to attend the St. Louis Meeting to have the Post included in whatever organization might be effected by same. When Charters were being arranged, Wheeling Post No. 1 insisted upon and obtained the designation “Post No. 1”. Apparently, there was some disagreement by the Wheeling contingent as to the official name to be designated on the Charter and one officer on his own volition filled in the name as Fort Henry Post No. I.
The first Post Department Convention for the State of West Virginia was held in the Charleston Y.M.C.A. on October 15 and 16, 1919. A number of those Wheeling organizers who had worked from the beginning appeared and after a hearing before the State Committee, the convention restored the Charter to the founders and restored the name to Wheeling Post No. 1, deleting the Fort Henry designation.
Ever since that date, the American Legion organization in Wheeling has been known as Wheeling Post No. 1, oldest Post of the American Legion. On March 19, 1920, General C. P Summeral, Commander of the first United States Army Division visited Wheeling Post No. 1 and became an honorary member of the Post. Likewise that year, on April 9, General John J. “Blackjack” Pershing visited the Wheeling Banquet Scottish Rite. This was financed by many contributions of the 800 people present, totaling over $8,000. Apparently the balance left over from this meeting was given to Wheeling Post No. 1.
Wheeling Post No. 1 opened up the Club Room on the second floor of the Schenk Building located at 1130 Market Street on June 15, 1920. The post stayed at that location until it moved in 1926.
In August 1920, the second Post Department Convention for the State of West Virginia was held in Parkersburg, West Virginia. J. Byron Nickerson of Wheeling Post No. 1 was elected Department Commander for the State of West Virginia. At that time, the Department headquarters were moved to Wheeling, West Virginia and Bernard E. Kaiser of Wheeling was appointed Department Adjutant with offices being located in the Market Street Auditorium in Wheeling.
Thereafter, Wheeling Post No. 1 occupied various quarters in the City of Wheeling. The Post occupied offices on the third floor of the Peoples Bank Building located at the northwest corner of Twelfth and Main Street. Later the Post moved to the third floor of the Flat Iron Building located at Sixteenth and Main Streets in Wheeling. The Post maintained its quarters there until 1935 when they relocated to the second floor of the old Off Fellows Building located at Twelfth and Chapline Streets.
In 1936, Wheeling Post No. 1 American Legion Home Corporation was organized and acquired the facilities located at 727 Market Street. However, in 1945, the H. F. Behrens American Legion Home Corporation was organized and acquired the facilities located at 1119 Chapline Street. The acquisition of this property was due mostly to the generosity of Mr. H. Fred Behrens. Subsequently, title to this property was transferred to the American Legion Home Corporation by which it was owned and operated. Also, the property located at 727 Market Street was sold to the Foundation for the Blind which was also organized by Legionnaires.
In 1960, the funds remaining in the treasury for the original American Legion Home Corporation were matched by the present Wheeling Post No. 1 Home Corporation and a trust fund was created there from with the Security Trust Company as Trustee thereof. The income of the trust is paid annually to the present Home Corporation for the purpose of maintaining a location for Wheeling Post No. 1.
In August 1938, a number of Legionnaires from Wheeling Post No. 1 organized the American Legion Athletic Club, an independent corporation. This corporation purchased the Fulton ballpark and financed various activities since that time. The American Legion Athletic Club financed the American Legion Junior Baseball Team and at one time maintained a bus to transport the team for out of town games. The bus was also used to transfer boys to and from West Virginia American Legion Boys State at Jacksons Mill, West Virginia.
Wheeling Post No. 1 claims to the title “Oldest Post of the American Legion” has not been an undisputed honor. As set forth above, several other Posts claimed this distinction, notably of which is George Washington Post No. 1, which claims to be the “Pioneer Post”. Additionally, at the first St. Louis caucus, it was agreed that each State could have its “Post No. 1” as long as it was the first one filed in that State. Apparently, the State of Missouri and Wheeling Post No. 1 sent charters to United States Congress in order to claim the title of “Oldest Post”. Accordingly, Congressional Records were checked and it was established that Wheeling Post No. 1 had filed first. It was at that time the American Legion authorized each State to have its own “Post No. 1”. In the period 1950 through 1955 during the tenure of Donald R. Wilson as National Commander of the American Legion, a resolution was passed at a national convention granting Wheeling Post No. 1 to claim the title “Oldest Post of the American Legion”. Regardless of the official status of this claim, Wheeling Post No. 1 of the American Legion has a long and illustrious history for which it can be rightly proud.
This history was compiled by Brigadier General W. Craig Broadwater (deceased), a former State Circuit Judge and Northern District of West Virginia trial judge for whom the Federal Courthouse in Martinsburg, West Virginia is named.