By Jim Hunt
Like most West Virginians, I have heard the story of Anna Jarvis starting the Mother’s Day celebration to honor her mother, back in May of 1907 at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton. On a recent visit to the Grafton City Hall, I spoke to Larry Richman, the city clerk, and he volunteered to give me a tour of the Mother’s Day Shrine. Larry is such a reservoir of the history of Grafton and the Mother’s Day Shrine and I felt fortunate to have access to such detailed knowledge. A short walk down the street from City Hall is the red brick church that houses the shrine and the neatly maintained grounds that feature a beautiful sculpture of a mother and child.
The large wooden doors of the church swung open, and we walked into the lower floor of the church and passed several offices before entering a large room with beautiful stained-glass windows. There were pictures displayed and numerous mementos of the history of the Mother’s Day Shrine and of Grafton and Taylor County. Most notable were the numerous Mother’s Day plates, like those that adorn the homes of many mothers throughout the country.
Larry Richman pointed out that several versions of the plate were manufactured at the former McNicol China Company that was located in Clarksburg. I assumed that I had seen most of the shrine and was ready to walk back outside when Larry asked if I wanted to go upstairs. While walking up a narrow staircase was not the most desirable for my aging knees, we headed upstairs.
Larry pointed out a hinged area that he opened and noted that it was hinged in order to bring caskets up the steps. I couldn’t believe that a casket would fit up the narrow stairway but even more, I wondered “Why would they go upstairs anyway?”
In a moment, I realized that the church was located on the second floor and that the downstairs room was not the main part of the church. A large pipe organ was the first thing you see, as well as a beautiful altar with the most incredible artwork I have ever seen in my travels throughout West Virginia. The stained-glass windows in the upstairs chapel were even more amazing than those on the first floor. You could hardly believe that this piece of history was this well preserved. It felt like a trip back in time, to a hundred years ago. The pews were original and were perfectly aligned and Larry pointed out that several years ago, they replaced all of the screws that held the pews to the floor, in order to keep things consistent.
While Grafton is a good bit smaller in population than it was many years ago, there is an energy in the city that is infectious. Under the leadership of the Mayor and City Council, the city has been busy with reimagining the city and removing blighted structures. City Manager Kevin Stead is one of the veteran city managers in the state and has done a great job in leading his staff and revitalizing this interesting city.
If you want to see a part of our nation’s history, visit the Mother’s Day Shrine in Grafton and enjoy this wonderful treasure. You will never think of Mother’s Day the same after visiting and seeing where it all began, in the Amazing city of Grafton.