Belpre celebrates 224 years

BELPRE – More than 100 members of the Belpre community celebrated the 224th anniversary of the “Belle Prairie” settlement on Tuesday evening with the annual Belpre Historical Society’s Founders Day Dinner.

“This is the celebration of our history,” said historical society president Nancy Sams. “We’ve led a good, long life as a city.”

The dinner was held at the Belpre Church of Christ Fellowship Hall, 2932 Washington Blvd., and was followed by a presentation of the events leading up to and including the 1864 presidential re-election of Abraham Lincoln by local history buff and Lincoln researcher Marty Seufer.

“At the time of the 1864 election, Lincoln and the Republican Party had fallen out of favor,” Seufer said. “Thousands considered Lincoln a dictator and a tyrant with the general feeling as opposition to the (Civil) war.”

Seufer has been collecting Lincoln memorabilia and researching the life of the 16th President of the United States for more than 25 years. He has a continually growing collection, including vintage newspapers with reports of events in Lincoln’s life.

The program on Lincoln’s re-election came about during the presidential election last November.

“Unlike now, the 1864 election was tight and over the course of only a few months, which I wish it was still done that way because now we have campaigns that last two years or more,” Seufer said. “Speculation is, had (Democratic Party presidential nominee) George McClellan actually campaigned, he would have won the election.”

With the campaign short on time, both Lincoln and McClellan made only one campaign appearance each. Lincoln stopped on June 16, 1864, in Philadelphia while McClellan spoke in Newark, N.J.

Seufer said that while the population of both the North and South was tired of the war and the Democratic win would end the fighting, the fact active soldiers were able to vote turned the tide in Lincoln’s favor.

“This was the first time soldiers were allowed to vote in the field,” he said. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that if you were a soldier and had seen your friends and brothers die, you were going to vote for Lincoln to see the war through.”

The final popular vote was Lincoln, 2,218,388, to McClellan’s 1,812,807 votes.

“Lincoln was a master politician,” Seufer said. “He knew people and he took those who were against him and pulled them closer, which won him the election.”

Proceeds from the dinner will be applied to fund the new Collections Preservation building, a 50-by-50 foot building, to complement the Farmers Castle Museum Education Center at 509 Ridge St. and provide more space for educational presentations, workshops and programs.

The historical society will continue the anniversary celebrations at 9 a.m. Thursday with the groundbreaking ceremony of this new building.

“We not only met, but exceeded our goal and now have 90 percent of the funds needed for the building,” Sams said. “Yes, we went after grants, but the community has been so supportive that I am overwhelmed.

“We have had donations from $5 from a student to $100,000, which blows my mind,” she added.

The $100,000 donation came from Pam Thomas, widow of former Belpre Mayor Dick Thomas, who kicked off the fundraising campaign with the “massive” donation, Sams said.

“We are still taking donations because we need to finish the building,” Sams said. “We want this to be everybody’s museum because history belongs to us all.”