American Legion Post 1 Celebrates 50th Anniversary, March 1969
- from the Wheeling Intelligencer, February 1969. © Ogden Newspapers; reproduced with permission.
City's 'Pioneer' Legion Post To Observe 50th Anniversary
By ROGER WOOD
Of The Intelligencer Staff
On the night of March 1, 1919, five young Wheeling men who had served their nation in World War I met in an attorney's office in the Laconia Building. That was the beginning of American Legion Post No. 1, the nation's oldest legion chapter and one which has played a major role in the growth of an organization with nearly 2.5 million members.
On March 1, Post No. 1 will observe its 50th anniversary and two weeks later will join other chapters in the celebration of the national organization's silver jubilee. For, ironically, Post No. 1 is older than the legion itself.
The five men who meet in the Laconia Building office were Joe Reass, Tom Cummins, George Houston, P. J. McGinley and Edmund Lee Jones. Reass, Houston and McGinley are deceased.
Cummins, who still resides in Wheeling, is no longer active so Jones is the only Post No. 1 charter member who still attends legion functions. A practicing attorney in Wheeling for more than a half century, Jones'· office was the site of the first mee1ting.
"It was really Joe Reass' idea to meet and form World War Veterans of America which later became Post No. 1. He had been to New York, joined an organization there and came back all fired up about the need for an organization for World War I veterans. Of course, then it wasn't World War I but just the World War," Jones recalled.
The national did not really come into being until March 15, 1919, when a group of veterans gathered in Paris. These men returned to their homes and arranged for a national caucus that was held in St. Louis on May 8, 9 and 10, 1919, when the organization's constitution and bylaws were drafted.
At a meeting earlier this week, Post No. 1 members agreed to mark both anniversaries with a celebration to be held March 15, the legion's official birthday. An open house will be observed at the post beginning at 7:30 p.m., March 15 but the agenda for the event has not been finalized as yet.
Tim Ashcraft, a Hundred resident and the legion's district commander is expected to be the guest speaker at the March 15 celebration. Weirton's John A. Jones, the national vice commander, will be invited but his busy schedule may prevent his attendance, according to Post No. 1 officials.
The Wheeling chapter is not the only one which claims the distinction of being the legion's oldest. George Washington Post No. 1 in Washington, D.C., calls itself the "pioneer" chapter of the legion but Jones said there is documentary proof that it was not organized until March 7, 1919, six days after the meeting in his law office.
Contrary to popular belief, the Wheeling post is not the oldest simply because it has the No. 1 title. Unlike most other organizations, the legion numbers its chapters by states, referred to as "departments," and not on a national basis. As a result, many states boast of No. 1 posts.
Following the first meeting in Jones' office, subsequent sessions were held in the Market Auditorium and in the Circuit Court rooms. Originally, the local chapter was referred to as Ft. Henry Post No. 1 but at the organization's first state convention, held in Charleston on Oct. 15 and 16, 1919, the designation of Wheeling Post No. 1 was made.
In days when the legion was in its infancy, many distinguished military men stumped the country and urged veterans to unite for a common purpose. Among those who visited Wheeling just after Post No. 1 was organized were Gen. C. P. Summeral, First Division commander, and Gen. Adelbert Cronheit, 80th Division leader.
But the highlight came on April 9, 1920, when General of the Armies John J. Pershing traveled to Wheeling and spoke to 800 at a banquet at the Scottish Rite Cathedral. Pershing's visit to Wheeling was also marked by a parade which many believe was the largest ever staged in the city.
Soon after Pershing's visit here, Post No. 1 moved into its first permanent headquarters on the second floor of the former Schenk Building, 1130 Market St. It was the first of five homes for Post No. 1.
A lack of funds in 1926 forced the post to move into a upper floor of the old Peoples Bank Building at Twelfth and Main Streets. After a short stay there, the chapter was moved to the old Wheeling Steel "Flat Iron" building, Sixteenth and Main Streets, and in 1935 was transferred to the Odd Fellows Building, Twelfth and Chapline Streets.
One year later, Post No. 1 obtained its own home for the first time when the American Legion Home Corp. was organized and a house at 727 Market St. was purchased. This property was later sold to the Foundation for the Blind and Post No. 1 returned one-half of the purchase price as a contribution to the foundation.
The generosity of Mrs. H. Fred Behren in 1945 resulted in the purchase of Post No. 1's present home at 1119 Chapline St. The chapter's Home Corporation operates the home with the aid of a trust fund of which the Security National Bank & Trust Co. is the trustee.