McCallister West Virginia House

Location: Ulster American Folk Park / New World

In Cabell County, West Virginia in 1827, Richard and Sarah McCallister built this house.

Richard’s ancestors were from Ulster. ‘McCallister’ is an Ulster name, mostly found in County Antrim, but Richard himself was born in Bath County, Virginia. His family moved to Cabell County in 1805-1806.

Richard married Sarah Nickell and built this house in the hills along Tyler Creek near the town of Salt Rock, close to the Ohio border. The house is made from local materials - pine trees from the forested hills around the house and sandstone. Pockets of cleared, cultivated land provided food for the family and their livestock. They tended cattle, sheep and hogs and may have grown corn and flax.

Their first child who survived to adulthood was Isaac Preston McCallister, born 1816. By 1830 the house was doubled in size to accommodate eight children - three under five, two aged between five and ten, and three between ten and fifteen.

In 1853, Cabell County authorities purchased the McCallister property to use as Cabell County Poor Farm. According to family stories, Richard and several of his grown up children and their families moved to Arkansas. Richard returned to Tyler Creek later in his life and died in June 1867 aged 75. He is buried in Enon Cemetery, a quarter of a mile from the house he built in 1827.

The poor farm house was extended in the early 1900s. One section of Richard’s house was removed. The other part, now rebuilt at the Ulster American Folk Park, was merged into the north end of the new structure and preserved. Cabell County Poor Farm remained open at Tyler Creek until 1929.

West Virginia historian Fred B Lambert described the people of the Tyler Creek area, ‘It is not necessary to lock smokehouses there. Honesty, fearlessness and godliness reign supreme. Few communities in this whole country can boast of so many men and women of strong outstanding character’.

Look out for the t-shaped wooden object called a ‘bed key’ hanging on the wall in the McCallister bedroom. The ropes of the bed needed to be tight for a good night’s sleep. We still say ‘sleep tight’.