Now home to the Osiris Shrine, the magnificent stone mansion at 91 Kruger (Cruger) St. in Wheeling was once home to Wheeling socialite Lydia Boggs Shepherd Cruger from the time it was built in 1798 until the time of her death in 1867.
A PERSONAL CONNECTION
When Roann Neidert — wife of Shriner and Oriental Guide Robert “Bob” Neidert — was young, her uncle was the caretaker of Monument Place, and she has many fond memories of time spent in the fabled mansion.
“There’s just an aura around the place that’s special,” she said. Her uncle would sometimes allow her to dust the furniture, and she would daydream about the days when Lydia was the mistress of the mansion.
Roann reveals that Monument Place boasts a series of underground tunnels that the Shepherds dug in case the need should arise to escape Native American conflict.
It’s no secret that some people have claimed to have encountered mysterious other-worldly spectres while visiting the old home. Roann is no exception. She tells a haunting tale about one particular visit with her uncle while in the company of a hearing-impaired 5-year-old whom she babysat at the time.
“Lydia was known for having a large library that she loved to show off to visitors,” Roann relates. “On this day, my young friend and I were walking down the hall of the mansion when he suddenly became extremely excited, giggling and reaching his hand up as if to take the hand of someone else.”
However, there was no one else around. Using sign language, the confused Roann asked the child what he was so excited about. He signed back to her, “Library! The lady is going to take me upstairs to the library!” His “words” stopped Roann in her tracks, because of course, she saw no one present.
HISTORY OF SHEPHERD HALL
Shepherd Hall was built in 1798 on the grounds of the former Fort Shepherd, according to the Ohio County Public Library website. The David Shepherd family owned the large parcel of property and had built a fort. Col. David Shepherd was also the commander of Fort Henry, and he and his son Moses were present at the famous battle of Fort Henry.
Also in the fort during that siege was the family of Capt. John Boggs, who had arrived from the Washington, Pennsylvania, area to help his friend Col. Shepherd and his men secure Fort Henry. Colonel Boggs’ young daughter Lydia was among those in the fort, helping in whatever way she could to assist the weary soldiers.
Around 1782, Moses Shepherd and Lydia Boggs would marry after having been acquaintances for most of their young lives thanks to the friendship between their fathers. Eventually, Fort Shepherd was burned to the ground during a conflict between the Native Americans and Wheeling settlers. David Shepherd died in 1795, and in 1798, Moses and Lydia built the stately sand-colored manse on the site of his father’s destroyed fort.
According to wvculture.org, the Shepherd plantation boasted a gristmill, sawmill, general store, distillery and tavern. As successful and wealthy plantation owners, Moses and Lydia were both well known and well respected in social circles far and wide. They entertained some of the most important dignitaries of the day, including U.S. Sen. Henry Clay, with whom Moses and Lydia became close.
When Lydia insisted that the first federally funded highway, the National Road, pass directly by her home, Clay was able to use his considerable influence to make her wish come true. Moses, who was also a bridge builder, erected the Stone Arch Bridge so that the new road would literally kiss the edge of the mansion’s vast front lawn and then sweep gracefully across the nearby creek.
To thank Clay for ensuring that the road passed through Elm Grove rather than through Wellsburg as originally planned, the Shepherds had a large monument placed on the grounds of the mansion in Clay’s honor. At that point, the property began to be referred to as Monument Place, a title it retains to this day. Monument Place is on the National Register of Historic Places and is thought to be the oldest home still standing in Wheeling.
LYDIA’S LATER YEARS
Moses Shepherd died during a cholera epidemic that struck Wheeling in 1832. Lydia would remarry Gen. Daniel Cruger the following year. Current day Kruger Street is named for the Crugers, although it was misspelled at the time, and the incorrect spelling stuck.
Lydia would also outlive her second husband and continue to manage the huge plantation on her own. She was one of the area’s last slaveowners, who continued to enslave individuals until the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.
Throughout her 101 years of life, Lydia was known not only as a society hostess, but as a woman with a bold pioneer spirit as well as a keen intellect and extensive knowledge of local history and events. She kept a selection of her clothing over the years as a living testament to changing styles. She also had a large collection of books in her personal library.
After Lydia’s death in 1867, the plantation was sold off in plots, most of which have become the current day neighborhood of Elm Grove. Her beloved home has only had two other owners since her death. It was purchased by the Alfonso Loring family in 1870. Monument Place was then purchased by the Osiris Shriners in 1926, and they are the owners of the property today.
THE OSIRIS SHRINE
“Shriners are very special men,” says Roann Neidert. Roann should know; she and her husband Bob have been actively involved with the Shrine for the past four years, and Bob is in line to become Potentate of the Shrine in 2024.
Shriners are a spinoff of Freemasonry, the oldest known fraternal organization in the world. Centuries ago, Freemasonry was founded by stonemasons and other craftsmen as a brotherhood for fellowship. As the years passed, the group opened its membership to men in all lines of work.
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In 1872, the Shriners organization was formed when a group of Masons from New York decided they wanted a group focused on fun and philanthropic activities. According to the Shriners’ International website, today’s Shriners are devoted to brotherhood, fun, family and philanthropy. Speaking of brotherhood, it’s worth noting that women cannot join the Freemasons, and therefore, cannot be Shriners.
Their biggest mission is to support the network of 22 Shriners’ Children’s Hospitals that offer specialized pediatric care to kids, free of charge to their families. Over 1.4 million children have been treated since 1922. “It’s hard to imagine that the parents of these awesome kids aren’t ever going to see a bill!” shares Roann. Hard to imagine, perhaps, but thanks to the generosity of the Shriners, a reality just the same.
Historically, the Shriners adopted a colorful Arabic theme for pageantry purposes within the organization. Perhaps the most distinctive symbol is the red Fez with black tassel that Shriners sport on their heads during special events. The Fez is so named for the town in Morocco where the hats were first made, according to the Shriners’ website.
The Shrine is comprised of several units, each with a specific purpose. Bob is a member of a number of those units, including the Arab Patrol marching group. In fact, the only unit he is not a member of is the Legion of Honor, as he isn’t a military veteran.
Fellow Shriner Jeffery A. Hawkins is the Assistant Rabban of the Osiris Shrine and will become Potentate in 2022. He is part of the Tin Lizzie Patrol, whose tiny cars are a tradition seen in many local parades.
Of course, the Shriners are also known locally for hosting the Shrine Circus. The fate of that event is unknown for the coming year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Another tradition is the myriad of fundraisers that the group hosts in support of their mission. Roann and the other Ladies of the Shrine are extensively involved in planning these fundraisers. In this year of the pandemic, Roann says that they’ve had to think outside the box. Typically, the Osiris Shrine would hold several dances and dinners throughout the year, including a Benefit Ball, ’60s dance, Halloween celebration and Valentine’s Day dinner. They have also had gun raffles and golf scrambles. All of these events are open to the public and attract a large crowd. But this year, limits on crowd size have forced Roann to get creative in her planning.
“We had an online raffle for a side of beef as well as a virtual gun raffle this year,” she explains. They also sponsored a socially distanced outdoor car show earlier this summer. Roann says all the events are a great time.
That element of fun plus family involvement keeps younger men interested in Shrine membership. Although Bob and Roann estimate that the average age of today’s Osiris Shriner is probably somewhere around 60, they say that there are Shriners from 20-something to over 90 years of age.
Jeffery, a member since 2011, said that 2022 will be a very special year for the Osiris Shrine. “My year as Potentate will have a lot of big events going on. It’s the 150th anniversary of the Shriners and the 100th anniversary of our hospitals.”
WHY BECOME A SHRINER?
“Bob and I both love it,” says Roann. “We benefit way more than the kids do!”
Jeffery agrees. “It’s the kids we care for that make being a Shriner so special,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if they are missing an arm or leg or have a spinal injury or one of the many other problems we treat. These kids put a smile on your face, and that makes them even more special!”
The Shriners are always seeking committed new members to do that work. To become a Shriner, one must first become a Mason. As a Mason, members learn about the group’s mission and history, thereby earning “degrees.” Once a member is a Master Mason, he can become a Shriner. For more information on joining the group, click here. Don’t worry if you don’t know the first thing about the organization; both Jeffery and Bob say they didn’t know much at all about the group when they joined, but quickly and easily got up to speed.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE KIDS
If Weelunk readers know of a child up to age 18 who may be able to benefit from the services of Shriners’ Hospitals, Jeffery suggests they contact the Shrine Temple at 304-242-2911.
Bob and Roann both share that they have very personal reasons for their desire to be involved with the Osiris Shrine.
“Being the parent of a child with special needs, I want to ensure that parents of other special needs children get the best care possible without worrying about the costs involved,” Bob says.
Roann shares a story from last year’s Benefit Ball. Sarah, a local girl who is one of the Shriner’s poster kids, attended the ball. This young lady happens to use an artificial leg. Jeffery adds that she is known locally as the kid in the Shriners’ Hospital commercials who “wants to be able to catch my brothers.” When the ball music started, Roann says that Sarah Czapp quickly removed that plastic limb, handed it to Roann and said, “Please hold this — I just want to dance!” And off she twirled to do just that.
“That’s why we all do what we do,” Roann smiles. “So kids like Sarah can dance. Or do whatever it is that they want to do.”
• A lifelong Wheeling resident, Ellen Brafford McCroskey is a proud graduate of Wheeling Park High School and the former Wheeling Jesuit College. By day, she works for an international law firm; by night, (and often on her lunch breaks and weekends) she enjoys moonlighting as a part-time writer. Please note that the views expressed in her writing are solely her own and do not necessarily reflect those of anyone else, including her full-time employer. Through her writing, Ellen aims to enlighten others on causes close to her heart, particularly addiction, recovery and equal rights. She and her husband Doug reside in Warwood with their clowder of rescued cats, each of whom is a direct consequence of his job as the Ohio County Dog Warden. Their family includes four adult children, their spouses and several grandkids.