Todd, William Elhanan Manning: Old State House Reproduced in Southern Hills

Brief Sketch of the Career of Former New Haven Resident Who Erected Among the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia A School House Modeled After the Structure that Stood so Long on the Green.

To reproduce in a strange land the building that meant home in one’s “Ain Countree” is nothing new. Immigrants wearying for the sight of Loch Lomond or for a whif of smoke from a Kilkenny cot have done it before this; under the hands of a man with the Heimweh on him even that uncompromising institution, the New England farm-house, has a way of taking on unaccustomed lines and something of an air of foreign graciousness.

But to become so warmly attached to a public building, to a structure that can have none of the intimate associations that make home unforgetable, as to reproduce it years afterwards, line for line, with all the loving attention to detail with which one would copy the home hearth-place, there is an O’Henry twist of the unusual.

The man who did this once lived in New Haven. He is Rev. Wm. E. M. Todd, whom many residents of this city will probably remember. The building he reproduced was the old State House that stood not many years ago on the Green. And the site he chose for it was a natural depression in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, “On the trail of the Lonesome Pine,” where feuds and romances, fairy-stones, (and at that time moonshine whiskey) and big apples flourished, as well as material for ballad makers, and in one instance, at least, nostalgic yearnings for the dignity and orderly grace of a New England town.

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During the middle eighties, the “People’s Mission” stood on Union Street, nearly opposite the grimy, old Union Station. Here were welcomed the human derelicts that then made the street an unsavory spot, and though it was before the day of the “social settlement,” there was constructive work done there that would compare favorably with the record of the more pretentious institutions of today.

One of the workers at the Mission was a boy named Todd–William Todd. He was an enthusiastic young chap, somewhat of a mystic, preached as they use to preach in the olden days, with a vehemence and deadly earnestness such as the world now regards as out of tune with the times. But he had one quality which the genius preacher does not always possess–imagination.

These were the days when the old state house still loomed up in the heart of the city, and the boy, who often on Sunday afternoons spoke to a crowd of four or five hundred people at the southern portico, was fasinated by the long line of steps, the tall fluted columns and the whole aspect of a Greek Temple of the Golden Age set down in the trim expanse of a New England green. And when not long after he left New Haven, he carried with him a mental image of the old State House that was to stay with him for many years.

At that time, Mr. Todd was preparing for the ministry. From New Haven, he went to Virginia, and continued his studies for several years, spending his summer vacations on Menhaden fishing steamers going out from Boothbay Harbor, Boston, New London, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Norfolk, Cape Charles and a score of other ports ranging the ocean from off the Maine coast to the West Indies. In the meantime, he became a full-fledged marine engineer and was seeing service on the Job T. Wilson, the first vessel of that type ever launched, the Pauline Wilbur, the Starry Banner, the Bradley, the Goodale, the Daisy, the Isaac N. Vesey and the J. W. Hawkins. The last named was a great ship and was well manned, having a double crew. One morning these alert fellows, having a chance, caught before breakfast 500,000 menhaden. It took all day to load them. Later, it may be recalled, this vessel was purchased by the Cuban Junta and placed under the command of the Cuban Patriot, Gen. Calixto Garcia, in the service of Cuba Libra. She was unusually large and swift for a vessel of this class and easily converted into a filabustera or blockade runner.

Mr. Todd’s carcer has been a versatile one. His sea going ventures including also time used “before the mast,” first as an ordinary seaman, then as an able seaman, afterward as steward and from that up to second officer on the great black sloop “Rainbow” of the Rappahannock, the “Lila Dale” of the lower Chesapeake, the rakish, buoyant daring caraway pungy “Alice,” Captain Cole, whose home was on the Patuxant river; the sailing merchantman “L. F. Hall” of Baltimore and the bold ocean rover and pineapple freighter, the old Staten Island “William McGee.” This vessel went to the old Columbus port of San Salvador.

After leaving the fishing harvesters, he was chief of a ship of nine engines in U. S. construction service. About this time, completing his studies, he was ordained to the ministry in 1890, and since then has served in the churches throughout the country as evangelist, pastor and builder or supervising architect. Not long after his ordination, he was appointed postmaster of an important court-house town and port of entry, and did much “dry” campaigning in Alabama, Tennessee and Virginia, each state ultimately winning for prohibition by large majorities. Later he was at work in Iowa and Montana when they each voted “dry” by splendid margins.

It was during this period that he erected the building so well modeled after our State House. He had planned to build a school for the illiterate whites of that section, and when the question of design for the building came up, a happy inspiration struck him–the old State House on the green. This was a new departure for the Virginian mountain district, a gaunt wooden shack, foursquare to the winds, was the type of school building to which the people were accustomed, but Mr. Todd persisted in his purpose to do the highest best, and finally won the men of the mountains over to his views and enthusiasm arose so high and strong that they had the structure up in short order, after which new schoolhouses became quite the order of the day all over that part of the state.

The corner stone of this noble building was laid with Masonic ceremonies amid great rejoicing. Several thousand people being in attendance, and music was furnished by excellent brass and string bands made up of young native mountaineers. This band later numbered 175 players and attained a national reputation, being known far and near as a human pipe-organ. From time to time other buildings, seven in all, were erected and the rock, timber and lumber used in the construction of them all was furnished from the Virginian quarries and forests of the surrounding country. A steam saw and planing mill was set up on the campus–a tract of 100 acres where it worked early and late for about two years. Also steam and water grist mills were soon established, stone-masons were recruited, journeymen carpenters secured and the work went steadily forward to a grand finish in a little more than 30 months. A sojourner in the district sends the following description of Central College, Literary Institute and School of Music, as this group of schools was then called. It was early chartered and incorporated.

“Along the old Danville-Carroll Pike, not far from Carroll Court-house, where the Allen Clan, a few years ago shot up the court while in session, and near the head waters of the historic Dan river, is a natural bowl in the Blue Ridge Mountains, reaching from the famous Lover’s Leap on the west, to the Bull Peak on the east. It is a mammoth depression, ten miles across the top and about a thousand feet deep, and through this runs the old pike. Its sides are covered with forests, small farms and orchards, and cottages overflowing with children. Suddenly one comes upon the College with its band stand on the roof and usually “Old Glory” flying from the flagstaff above. It tells its own story, a strong people realized a need and a loyal son of Virginia and Connecticut lived and worked there with them. During the first five years he rode something like 14,000 miles on horseback in the interest of this establishment. Of the results of his work with the institution, Dr. Richard S. Martin, member of the Board of Visitors, President of the State Medical Association and member of the Virginia House of Delegates, said at one of the Commencements: “In the lives of his students and in the hearts of our people, he has erected to himself a monument more enduring than either gold or marble.”

The founder of this Central School and Armory–for it has its military academy–has often been invited into pulpits all along the east coast as well as throughout much of the interior, from the Pine Tree State in the far northeast to the most southern city of the nation, and musicians under his instruction have been called for from Seattle, Wash., thru the middle West to Washington, D. C. and south to Macon, Ga. In Key West, Fla., he was president of the Ministerial Association, (40 churches). His church was a colony of more than 400 families. A fine pipe organ was installed and they had the most delightful choir in all the orange land. Two of his men were members of the Legislature, many were merchants and several owned fleets of sponge ships. While resident there, he was speaker at a great state convention, Memorial Day orator for the G. A. R. and for the Four Hundredth Anniversary of the birth of Wesley, before the only English Wesleyan Church in the United States, a body of some 500 members, also located at Key West.

His Alabama people made his work among them a constant delight. The Mayor of Piedmont, Judge E. D. McClellan, one of his Elders, always kept open house for him and his family. At Anniston he was clerk of the City Ministerial Association (40 churches) and Judge (Chancelor) W. W. Whiteside, statesman, churchman and jurist, a widely beloved man was clerk of his session. Here he officiated at times with seven of the leading pulpits, gave a memorial to General Joseph Wheeler, was made a Royal Arch Mason and designed his ninth new church. Judge J. Marion Hare, of Fairview, Major E. S. Smith, at Argo, Esq. J. J. Freeman, of Mountainboro, Judge R. A. D. Dunlap and George Washington Whorton, at Gadsden were most valued friends who always worked with steady, sturdy faith and membership in the historic old church was multiplied by three. While here he was stated clerk of his Presbytery, elected Moderator and sent to the General Assembly. Gadsden was the first of the old iron towns in the heart of the “Old South”, now a city of pretentious proportions and a county seat, on the famous Coosa river; and was always most prompt to ring true to every call of its ancient chivalry for the protection and advancement of its people. The name of Gen’l Nathan Bedford Forrest, founder of the true Ku Klux Klan (there was a false one) the invisible empire, the invisible brotherhood of the fiery cross, was here held in reverential affection. Many Todds have lived here, some coming direct from the old home across the sea.

On Dr. Todd’s retiring from this field where he was also chaplain of the city Fire Department, chaplain A. F. & A. M. and prelate for the Knights Templar, his church inviting the co-operation of these organizations, planned an elaborate farewell meeting which was attended by a full house. The Fire Department Band was present and discoursed appropriate selections. Piano solos and duets were rendered by members of the congregation and addresses were given by Judge R. A. D. Dunlap, who spoke for the church, Judge James A. Bilbro, speaking on “Religion and Fraternity” and the minister who talked for “Life’s Idealisms and Realisms.” Mrs. Todd gave a reading, the band played, the choir and congregation worshiped with prayer and song and the whole audience united in tendering the pastor and his family a loving and affectionate farewell and in wishing them prosperity and success in all their future labors. The Rev. Todd was accepting a call to Omaha, Neb.

To mention the towns and cities in which Mr. Todd has spoken would be to list practically all the communities of any considerable size in the country. In Massachusetts, he has addressed congregations in Springfield, Brockton, Edgartown, Taunton and Fall River; in Rhode Island, Providence, Bristol, Green, Lafayette and Woonsocket; in Connecticut nearly 100 places including, Danielson, Tylerville, Taftville, Burrville, Plainville, Unionville, New Haven, Wallingford, Middle Haddam, Chester, Centerbrook, Danbury, Norwich, Cheshire, Mt. Carmel and Torrington; in New York, Albany, New Lebanon, New York City and Brooklyn; in Maryland, Harve-de Grace, Salisbury and Baltimore; More than seventy-five places in Virginia, including Charlottesville, Danville, Martinsville, Clarksville, Excelsoir Springs, Lynchburg, Newport News and Richmond; North Carolina at Greensboro, Danbury and Salisbury; Georgia at Atlanta, Macon and Savanah; in Alabama, Tennessee, Oklahoma and so on over the list of states. His most famous pulpit in the South was the old Circular Church of Charleston, a well endowed parish and a notable organization dating from 1678. His strong pulpit farthest north was First Church, London, Canada. Some of his interior pulpits have been at Zanesville, Cleveland, Chicago, many places in Iowa, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska, including Kansas City, Omaha and Lincoln; Hot Springs, S. D.; Butte, Mont.; Lewiston, Idaho; Aberdeen, Wash.; Portland, Ore. where he had twelve war platforms, three of which were pulpits.

At the beginning of this century, Dr. Todd was in charge of an important parish on the western border of Connecticut and while here the membership increased, the church and grounds about it were improved and the congregation celebrated its 175th anniversary. The affair was given wide publicity at the time, and guests were present from Danbury, Pennsylvania, New York, Hartford and Boston. Plain, austere and puritanical in external simplicity, but cozy and cordial within, and in summer almost hidden by the foliage of surrounding trees, this church stands as a symbol of the faith which the forefathers of the congregation have followed on this same site for two centuries. The great French General Rochambeau once camped his army for weeks beside it. It bears the distinction of being nearer to the New York line than any other in the state and numbers among its stanch supporters, educators, members of the town board, business men and members of the Legislature.

Not long since the minister’s work was again in the west and while located in Iowa–his wife’s native state–his silver wedding was observed with the people of his parish and was the occasion of much unalloyed pleasure. A band of 40 pieces furnished most delightful music and the family were the grateful recipients of fifty silver gifts and fifty silver dollars, $25 and 25 gifts to each celebrant. It was Dec. 25th, and the church was filled with loving friends whose minds were alight with living memories of a personal past, sacred with tenderness and anxious kindness in the ways, cares and labors of growing family experiences in the home, in business and in society. The program and ceremonies were purely informal, after which dainty refreshments were served by three prairie nymphs, the Misses Neva Stockdale, Ruth M. Todd and Anne Tiedens, gowned in pink and blue who made everybody happy with their delightful and quaint liberalities and witty pleasantries. Back of the band on the wall was stretched a beautifully illuminated picture of Bethlehem, the Angel and the shepards, the wise men and the star, a great lithograph in oil 9 feet high and 27 feet long and suitable for both Christmas Eve and Christmas night. The band seemed in unusual good spirits and added much to the festivities of the occasion.

Among the many delightful and deeply appreciated gifts was a tall candle stick, suggesting the Bible figure of the true light in the church. This gift by the pastor of the Reformed Church, the Rev. Mr. G. Zindler and his daughter, touched very closely the earnest Christian motive of the pastor and Mrs. Todd. And of the many messages of the fraternal regard from many sections of the country the one given below, by the stated clerk of the Presbytery of Waterloo breathes the kindly spirit of all the others.

My garden blossoms best at Christmas time,
Untouched by wintry winds or clinging snow,
Because my flowers are loving Memories
That never die but grow, and grow, and grow.
And if, perchance, within that garden fair,
You’ll walk with me and all its fragrance share,
For-get-me-nots of Heaven’s serenest blue,
You’ll find are blooming there, my friend, for you.

Dr. Todd is a member of the American Academy, American Geographical Society, Archaeological Institution of America, with classical schools at Rome, Athens and Jerusalem; American Historical Association, National Geographic Society, Educational Association of Virginia, Scout Commissioner, the National Municipal League, the League to enforce Peace, and one of the founders of the National Masonie Research Society. He has often spoken in the interests of Patriotism, Education and Religion in some thirty of the great cities and college centers of the country, and is also connected with the most significant movements of modern times in the church, the schools and with the masters of Political Science. He has been a hard student and has enjoyed the society of many of the most responsible leaders of inventive and sociological progress. His large stake is: he never forgets a friend, much less an enemy, and his work every where has been constructive.

Congratulations came also from His Honor The Mayor, and Mrs. William Dreyer, His Honor the Ex-Mayor, attorney, and Mrs. D. Voogd, the Rev. and Mrs. Wm. H. Roberts, LL. D., stated clerk of the Presbyterian General Assembly, and the Rev. Dr., and Mrs. Charles Herron, of Omaha Theological Seminary, who wrote: “When your band plays, the year of Jubilee has come, may it be a foretaste of the melody above.”

Butte, Montana, the largest, richest and at that time, was the wickedest mining town in the world. Its status since then has been very greatly advanced. The state has voted “dry” and its other great vice has been radically abated. While resident pastor here, Dr. Todd’s address in defense of the “Verity of the New Testament Story of the Trials of Jesus”, given before the Montana Commandry of Knights Templar, of which order this minister is a member, was published in the city press and in bound form for circulation.

His pulpit work on the far western coast has been regarded as of unusual strength and by many has been warmly commended in both Oregon and Washington. Many distinguished guests attending his ministry, including the fraternities, commercial, military and other bodies. He did his war bit in a dozen different ways; in the camps, at ship furnishings, army supplies, as engineer, band master, time keeper, paymaster, foreman, storekeeper, postmaster and chaplain. The recruiting officer came into his home soliciting his service on special lines. His family in the meantime each doing their utmost to help Uncle Sam win his most laudible designs against the secularized and fanatical scientists of the age who were unerringly sealing in their swagging, savagery, their own well deserved death warrant and ultimately that of their empire and their government.

In the Appalachian mountains, from the Potomac to the Mississippi rivers dwell 3,000,000 people of the purest American blood. Five times their present numbers during the last 150 years have flooded from these giant hills into the throbbing life veins of the Nation and like a fierce artesian well have helped mightily to keep the great stream full and free. In the early sixties, when numbers were relatively much less, 80,000 enlisted in the Union service. It was given to such as these men to capture, single-handed, the largest bunch of the boldest Huns during the world-war, and our most notable public officials hasted to do them honor. Given the steady benefits of modern educational progress this remarkable people may enhance the mind, heart, life and initiative of our wonderful America, in the strongest application of its practical genius a hundred fold. The vast recesses of these mountains are mines of unrelenting spirit, common culture of a flexible granite quality that can scarcely be found anywhere else in the world. It is up to institutions like the above to find and utilize this measureless value of America’s psychological wealth.

Professor Wm. E. Manning Todd was Trans-Mississippi Exposition City Preacher with Omaha First Church during the Spanish-American War; in Green Street Church, Chicago, during the worlds fair; with old Circular church Charleston, during the reunion of United Confederate Veterans–the Federal Gunboat Raleigh from which was fired the first shot at the Battle of Manilla Bay was guest of honor on this occasion–and this speaker was also with the First Church, London, Canada, a cathedral city, during the mobilization of troops for service in the Transvaal. He occupied, 1917-18, fifteen war pulpits, founded the college group mentioned above, sent fifty students to post graduate studies, prepared fifty more for scientific agriculture, graduated a hundred public school teachers and had more than a thousand boys in Uncle Sam’s recent armies. Men of his Highland Battery attained renown. Two of his churches doubled in membership and three others trebled. He established ten pulpits, found fifteen men for the ministry and an entire city was organized into a single church. He is the practical pioneer of modern church unity, and in the co-operation of state and denominational college work.

His conservatory of music furnished musicians for the civic division of the 1912 Presidential Inaugural and for other great national functions. He designed and constructed twenty-five fine church properties, all of them excellent and some of them ample, impressive and dignified architecturally; beautifully harmonious within, and wholly and inclusively practical. Substantial and effective expressions of the best and most inviting themes in the active Christian thought of today, and many have united with the churches he has served. These prodigious labors, together with an unusual scholastic record–for he always carried class honors–have earned for him five degrees and fellowship in five learned societies. His commission as Captain hangs on his library wall and his appointment as chaplain in the great assembly room at the court-house. He has been moderator and stated clerk of presbytery, member of the General Assembly and participated in many difficult war activities, being connected, part of the time, with seven camps. He also helped furnish and supply 100 of the U. S. Merchant Marine.

His archaeological researches have promoted a keen advance for an intelligent concern in the work of the American Classical Schools at Rome, Athens and Jerusalem and he has active investments in the restoration of Palestine, Syria, Arabia, Armenja and the ancient dominion of the Calaphs. His philosophy declares “An age is dying in the East and that a new world will rise there.” His book answering “New Testament Critics” received strong commendation and was given a wide circulation. He had ten speaking points in the heart of the city of Portland, Oregon, and his home was a rendezvous for both officers and privates during the entire period of the war. He often led the war-time bands and his work was in all of the northwest states. He was also called east on a number of special missions in the interest of both the church and the government.

Dr. Todd’s work on the northwest coast has lately again been cordially referred to personally and in the public press, for its patriotic and educational value, for besides his church and camp work he had three war bands, and his university classes were a fine enrollment. A high salaried position was offered him and a chair in a great school, but his whole interest is absorbed in the church. To this spiritual enterprise he is wholly devoted and to this purpose his life is dedicated.

His pulpit in Greenfield, Indiana, is in a great building of twenty-five rooms fully equipped right down to the minute, and the character of his sermons has recently called again into his audiences the Veterans of the Grand Army, the Woman’s Relief Corp, the American Legion and the Knights Templar. These last named worshipped with him on Easter Sunday when his sermon addressed to them was entitled: “Why the World Failed and Christianity Won in both the First and in the Twentieth Centuries.” This Easter sermon was given a generous circulation in the daily and weekly press. The Armistice Day will never be forgotten–11th hour, 11th day, 11th month, 1918. He has recently added to his collection two great pictures: The Most Dramatic Moment in Four Centuries–General Allenby entering Jerusalem unarmed without firing a shot–ending forever misrule in the Holy City, Dec. 11, 1917. And the Reading of the Proclamation at David’s Tower in four languages Christmas Day two years ago when General Allenby made to Christendom a present of recovered Jerusalem. These tremendous incidents made possible by the faith, sacrifice and work of the period, have started the music of the world to vibrating in a new way. And so we move ahead again toward the better excellence promised in God’s book, into the morning ever dawning in the human conciousness.

Mrs. Todd has always been interested in school and in woman’s work, teaching seven years before marriage and later in Alabama and Virginia, where she was principal of Central Academy and matron of the young ladies’ dormitory. She is active with the W. C. T. U., the W. R. C., with the Woman’s Federations and the Order of the Eastern Star. But her chief interest has been Missions. Always devoted to the church she has had opportunity to address the women of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Florida, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Virginia, Montana, where in the city of Butte she was auditor of the Federated Woman’s Clubs, and in Oregon where under the new suffrage law she was made a judge of election in the city of Portland. Being so steadily busy, her chief relaxation has been a good garden–both flower and vegetable–and an occasional good banquet. For twenty-five years this home has rarely ever been without a guest and much of the time as many as from five to fifty people. For much of this period the family scarcely ever sat down to a meal by themselves. And the banquets so much enjoyed have served on many important civic, educational, church and community occasions from a hundred to twenty-five hundred people and the mendicant never gets by her door without his hand-out. Both the garden and the banquet, together with her school, church and home duties have been and are to her a source of inexhaustable comfort and pleasure. Always fond of young people, young company and good, hearty, lively merriment, she has kept herself young, and now at fifty-three seems little above forty. So the gift of immortality early shows itself in the lives of those to try to exemplify the Todd motto–“To live well, is to have lived enough”–that is, to try to do your best.



Todd, George Iru. Todd Family in America. Gazette Printing Company. 1920.

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