Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Bowyer House of Winfield

Photo of Shady Dell, Property of the Owner
I promised I'd get around to writing about the Headless Horseman of Winfield, aka, the Ghost of Winfield's Bowyer House, that was recently featured on SyFy's Haunted Collector with John Zaffis.  I just needed a little time to watch the show for myself, and really let it sink in.

Part of what I needed to let sink in was that honestly...I had NEVER heard of the legend of the Headless Horseman, even though I've lived in this area over 20 years and practically grew up in the backyard of this property, lol.  I really was bothered by the fact that despite my familiarity with the basic history of the home, I had never heard of this awesome story, so what would that say about me as a paranormal investigator?  As time went on, I started to feel a little better, and I'll tell you why as I get to those parts of the story, lol...the hard part is really just knowing where to begin, so I guess I'll start at the beginning...

The home in question was built around 1841 by Captain John Bowyer, who christened it Shady Dell. Bowyer was born April 26, 1794 near Lewisburg but moved to this area around 1835 after serving in the War of 1812.  He married Permelia Brown Crawford in 1828 and after she died in 1852, he married Elizabeth Smith in 1870.  He had several children, the most important to this story being Jerome Toledo, (J.T.) who was born on February 22, 1841.

Jerome was a college student in Ohio when the outbreak of the Civil War sent him home, although there doesn't appear to be any proof that he actually FOUGHT in the war.  We do know that he did study law under Winfield's first judge, Judge Hoge, as well as Captain H.C. Parsons.  He passed the bar in 1868 and practiced law all his life, as well as serving in a variety of political and social positions.  He also owned and operated coal mines just outside of Winfield.  These coal mines were operated for a number of years, and I have documentation that they were active in and around 1882 to at least 1889.  J.T. left no heirs when he died on January 30, 1910.  He is buried in the Winfield Town Cemetery, located on Rocky Step Road, in a three-person vault along with two of his siblings, Victoria Dudding and George.

Shady Dell sat empty for several decades, but has stayed in the family.  At one point the home was owned by Joseph Woodrum, a fifth-generation descendant of John Bowyer.  However, according to the Haunted Collector show, the current owner is Bill Woodrum.  From the show, it appears that Bill is undertaking a serious project...to get the home restored and turn it into a bed and breakfast.  Just recently, it also served as the shooting location for a small movie production about the death of Captain Thurmond, the soldier who was killed at the Hoge House and whose body was recently discovered and re-buried on the Hoge property.  (Side Note:  Luke and I were actually at the dis-interment!  My mom worked at the board office and was there one Saturday catching up some work before she retired to watch Luke.  She needed in the warehouse, but her key only worked from the OUTSIDE.  As she was out by the warehouse, she noticed a group of people standing outside, so she marched over to several she knew, called them out on it, then called me immediately.)

Anyway, several claims of paranormal activity were reported to Zaffis and his crew.  Hearing whispers and footsteps were common in the home and the parlor area where old portraits of the family were displayed gave off an uneasy feeling.  In a REALLY creepy report, it was said that a pool of blood and a trail of little blood droplets would appear on an interior staircase.  Zaffis theorized it was probably just rusty water, but it was pointed out that in some cultures, to see this phenomena was a death omen.  If given the opportunity to one day investigate this location, this would be the perfect scenario to try a technique that HPIR has been wanting to do...taking our use of UV lights a step further and actually using Luminol to trace possible blood evidence!

One of the portraits mentioned above was of an aunt who they named Lenora or Nonie and it was said the eyes creepily follow you, another aspect of the haunting that John seemed to automatically rule out as an optical illusion.  I think this woman is Lenora Bowyer Miller, born in 1870.  Perhaps somewhat related to this portrait was the personal experience of a family friend who was asleep in the parlor when he awoke to see an apparition of a woman while feeling pressure on his chest.  Oddly, I don't believe that Zaffis was as quick to "debunk" this sensation as he was some of the other reports, even though to most investigators this is a textbook example of the "Old Hag Syndrome," which is actually one of the most common ways that sleep paralysis with accompanying hypnagogia manifests.

Then obviously, the big story was that of the Headless Horseman.  Bill related that both his grandfather and his great grandfather told tales of a Headless Horseman, believed to be a Union soldier, who rode through a path running along the 24 acre property past the house.  As part of the collection of artifacts that the show asks all participants to gather beforehand, there WAS a military patch that, when examined, automatically gave off some weird readings on the EMF meter.

At one point during the investigation, two of the investigators rode horses down the "path" by the home and it was alluded that it dead ended at a cemetery, where the first grave they came to was the Bowyer/Dudding mausoleum, which holds the body of J.T. and two of his siblings.  This section was pretty misleading as the cemetery where this mausoleum is located is the Winfield Town Cemetery.  This cemetery actually used to be on the Bowyer property, but now is located some distance away.  George Bowyer donated the land to the town in 1893, and then in 1907 an additional 120 plots worth of land was donated by the family.  There is no way to get to it from the home without crossing over Rocky Step Road and going past several modern houses.  Now, I've stated that I, nor anyone I've met has ever heard of the Headless Horseman, but as kids growing up, my friends and I did have some legends about the Bowyer-Dudding Mausoleum.

The Bowyer Mausoleum is a large stone structure that is cemented closed, and then covered with an iron gate which is padlocked.  As kids, we hung out at the cemetery a LOT.  At the time, it was just a short walk through my friend's back fence and through a small field (there's now a subdivision in between).  We'd try to scare each other by doing a little trick called "Blue Baby" while sitting on the un-named Bower family baby's grave near the structure, but also by saying that the gate and the concrete was to keep the Bowyer's from getting out because they were vampires, lol.  We'd hide and knock on the stone trying to freak each other out, but obviously these were just kids' tricks and had no basis in fact.  However, the Haunted Collector had more luck here than we did, as the name of "Rosie" squeaked out over the walkie talkie while the investigators were standing in front of the crypt.

After the field investigation was complete, several historians were consulted for the show, including Cheryl Withrow of the Upper Vandalia Historical Society.  I am a member of this society and we had a meeting not long after this episode aired, and Cheryl shared her experiences working with the show.  And this is where I began to REALLY start to feel better about myself and my lack of knowledge about the Headless Horseman.  Cheryl told us that she kept telling the crew that she had never heard of this legend either.  They didn't seem to be interested in that fact, though.  What they WERE interested in, was emphasizing the fact that J.T. Bowyer owned coal mines after the Civil War.  In fact, Cheryl related that the staff told her what to say, and made her keep repeating the information.

That seemed a little odd to me when I saw it in the show, and it would all come together after the interview with the gentleman from the State Archives.  The military patch that gave off the weird readings earlier in the show was taken to him for analysis and it was revealed that it was a shoulder board patch for a Union staff lieutenant colonel.  I'm not sure how the connection was made, but it was brought up that such a gentleman in this position, named "Julian Garesh" served under  a man named Rosecrans and was beheaded during the battle of Stones River in Tennessee.  Rosecrans, obviously, was known as "Old Rosie," making the disembodied voice caught earlier make sense.  And this is where Cheryl's bit with the coal mines came in to play, too....

The historian stated that Rosecrans came to West Virginia to work in the coal mines after the war.  While not explicitly stated, I gather that the connection they were trying to make was that Rosecrans came to WINIFIELD to work for J.T.'s mines, and somehow, passed on a piece of his friend's uniform to the Bowyer family, prompting the slain man to haunt the Bowyer property.  After John removed the offending patch, the Headless Horseman ceased to make his nightly journey.

The Headless Horseman?
Only...there's a couple of problems I found with this scenario.  For one, just a minor issue, but the man named "Julian Garesh" in the show was actually named Julius Gareshe, a native of Cuba and a West Point graduate.  Eerily, he did have a prophecy concerning his death.  He was chief of staff with the rank of lieutenant colonel under General William Starke Rosecrans, which normally was not a position that saw battle.  He was told that it was his fate to die in his first battle...and that's exactly what happened in a very gruesome manner.  His head was shot off, yet his horse still rode back with his torso supporting a bloodied and spurting stump upright in the saddle.  As another side note, Julius' ghost is also said to haunt the actual battlefield on which he died, making him quite the busy spectre!

Secondly, General Rosecrans, from what I can gather, did not come to West Virginia after the war.  I did find a few blurbs that said he did work in the coal industry in what I believe is NORTHERN West Virginia before the war, but after the war, he basically fled west.  He was removed to Missouri after an unsuccessful show in the battles following Stones River, and then later moved to California.  It seems unlikely that he would end up in Winfield with J.T. Bowyer, and even less likely that it was him who brought a patch belonging to Julius out there.

After all that, you can see where I was hesitant to finally sit down and write out my thoughts on this particular location, lol.  It does seem like there are more questions than answers, and even though I wouldn't say any of this was fabricated, I do believe that certain facts were creatively presented to account for an old family legend that to my knowledge, never went beyond the family.  This is an old house, and its seen much life AND death in its many years, and I'd love to be able to investigate it for myself and be allowed to come to my own conclusions on the paranormal activity.  However, it seems like I might have to wait until the dream of a Bed and Breakfast is realized.

Where is the Bowyer House located:

I get this question a LOT and I've been hesitant to share this information, as I'm not sure how the owners would feel about it.  However, the property is fairly well blocked off and the family that owns the property does live adjacent to it, so I think the risk is minimal.  Still, please, please, please respect the No Trespassing signs.

The house is located on Winfield Avenue.  It is my understanding that the current Rt. 35-turned 817 that runs through Winfield is NOT the location of the former main road in the area, and that it originally followed this road, which is directly off Rocky Step Road.  Turn onto Rocky Step, then make the first right you come to (actually, its more of a straight stretch, as Rocky Step curves to the left at this intersection).  Follow that road all the way to the end.  The road dead ends at the property, which is cordoned off, and unfortunately during this time of year, you cannot see the home through the foliage.  This area is sometimes referred to historically as Little Hurricane Creek or Route 29.

Contacting the Owners:

I have tried to contact the current owner to no avail and I will not give out the contact information that I do have due to privacy concerns.  In the television show, the owner's full name is given; doing a search on this name will give you several options to try if you look hard enough *wink.*  Maybe you'll have better luck than me.


  1. Thank you for your excellent analysis and research. Finding people so dishonestly representing history drives me crazy.

    1. Thank you! I guess I shouldn't be too shocked, since this isn't the first time I've seen television's need to present and wrap up a neat little story butcher a perfectly good story, lol.

  2. Thank you, Theresa.It's obvious you've put a lot of work into this subject.
    I watch every ghost related show on t.v. and they are all hokey. I accept that and watch anyway, for the entertainment value.I love ghost stories, and the shows feed my addiction.Lol.
    Keep on doing what you're doing. You're the real deal.

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I've always loved the paranormal, and I've always loved history so I feel very fortunate that I've been able to combine these two passions. Folklore, including ghost stories, is a vital piece of history that rarely gets the attention it deserves. he Tmindset that even the strangest legends are based off a grain of truth or at least explains a popular perception from a cultural point of view keeps me going with my work!

  3. Nice work Tree...you filled in a lot of the gaps they left out and added fuel to what I had figured already. You know i'm an Art Bell fan, but "I DON'T believe it"....not this time around.

  4. that is my family's the bowyer's and wow did this person bother to even give any of us a call or anything no we could have told him everything GOOD JOB from a true BOWYER

    1. Thank you for sharing the perspective of a family member. If you have any further information, I'd love to hear it.

    2. I am so excited to have found this!!! I have researched anything I could find on Lenora Bowyer Miller! My Great Grandmother, Eva Mae Louk lived with this family from about 1901 until around 1912. She was a servant for them. I know her husband was a newspaper editor and they had a young nephew named Earl that I believe my Great Grandmother would have taken care of, she named her first child Earl. I have a few stories about her being with this family, my great grandfather was a logger and have horse taxi rides for people going into town. The story is that his logging crew stayed at a bed and breakfast/hotel and this is where he met my great grandmother. I would like to talk to a Bowyer or Miller family member, see a picture of Lenora, was curious about the painting of her, in 2013 I had gotten away from it because I was caring for my Great Aunt who was my Great Grandmothers daughter and family historian, aparrently that is when this story came out! Oddly enough my Great Aunts name was Rosie! lol fascinating story! Thank you!!

    3. Forgot to add my contact info is bloomflowr@gmail.com

  5. I live in woodland forest my whole life and I also have some pretty awesome "facts" about the old Bowyer house that I know are true. My facts relate more towards the mausoleum and house itself. However out of respect for the family and the deceased I will not publicly post my findings. I will say after photographing the house and mousaleum I captured an apparition of a woman in a dress which cannot be debunked because it's to clear. Also I've been in the house and it is extremely paranormal. 100 percent. I am a neighbor of Teresa and I didn't know she investigated this house. I have proof proving Teresa to be correct in her findings. When the time is rightb I will bring the info to you Teresa. Thus is really a huge block of history. And a great find. Thanks

    1. Thank you for your comments and I'd love to see the picture and hear any additional information when you're ready! Feel free to email me at: theresarhps@yahoo.com

  6. Hi,Theresa. I'm from Cross Lanes WV and was curious if there is any abandoned places that are accessable to venture out? My boyfriend and I are really big into photography and old abandoned places with creepy eerie vibes always draw us towards a place. Would you know of any places in the Kanawha or Putnam area that we could possibly go in?

    1. I cannot condone entering an abandoned property without proper permission, but for an interesting location that is well accessible, I'd suggest the Wine Cellars in Dunbar.


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