My Town: Benjamin Andrews

I started dating Mary Ann in the late 1940s. Incidentally, dating in my day was asking a girl out for the evening for a movie, a dance etc. Her father, Andy Hess, had bought Table Rock Farm in the early 1930s. It was pretty run down. What is now the right front parlor was used to kill the chickens. He performed an absolutely amazing job of restoration, doing the research himself through the U.S. Postal Service. This was at the depth of the big depression. Folks were just trying to live, so the last thing on most people’s minds was restoring antebellum mansions to their days of pre-civil war splendor. He did it all, like learning how to be a blacksmith and building a forge, so he could make big strap hinges for heavy basement shutters and other hardware that was never manufactured. There was plenty of cheap labor he could hire to help him, but he learned the necessary crafts and employed them. It was truly a labor of love.

Once the family moved in from their home on Laurel Avenue in Lenox, an increased staff was necessary. When I first arrived on the scene, there was the “inside” man Christopher, who cooked and served the evening meal in the dining room dressed in a white jacket and often in his bare feet.

There were two “outside” men, named Benjamin and Memphis, who took care of the outside chores in the smoke house, cabin, barn and a big garage, where horse stalls were also located. Christopher kept a separate set of dishes for the outside help.  These three men, “the help,” were, I suspect, illiterate and were deemed to be very lucky to have food and shelter plus jobs in these depressed times. Even after the war, the culture of our society was very slow to change.

Andy would ride with other gentlemen farmers on trails that they maintained and which connected their properties.  I understood that in their riding equipment a flask of spirits to ward off the damp air was standard equipment.

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Among Andy Hess’ friends was a priest, who later was to become a monsignor, named Benjamin J. Ferrell, he was a man full of life and entitled to the love and respect he enjoyed. One of his assignments early in his career was to be the chaplain at the state penitentiary in Moundsville. Whenever he said mass inside the walls, his server was a very big, quiet, gentle man. Fr. Ferrell was taken by this man’s soft, quiet demeanor. He asked him what was his crime, and the response was manslaughter.

Upon an investigation Fr. Ferrell initiated, it was discovered that his mass server was a Jamaican, who as a teenager, was hired on a railroad labor gang. There had been a work related accident, a man was killed and someone had to pay for it. The big foreign kid became the fall guy.

Fr. Ferrell got him a parole. One of the conditions of his parole was that he would have a job when he was released. Fr. called his friend at Table Rock Farm, and the big gentle man with the funny accent, Benjamin, became one of the outside men working the farm.

One story will give you an idea of the gentleness of this big, warm man.   Benjamin was assigned to train two large german shepherds that Mrs. Hess wanted on the place after she lost her husband. The only danger they presented was when we brought our little ones up to the farm, those two dogs were so happy to see us that their happy, wagging tails could knock over the younger one.   Their other “protective measures” were trying to climb up in your lap when you sat down in a chair.

No one in the family outside of andy hess knew of Benjamin’s background. We found out about Benjamin when he died. It was known he sent what little money he made to nieces and nephews to help with their education. When his relatives were notified, as I recall, around a dozen from newport news came to wheeling for the funeral. They were all well educated middle class. Their name was different from Benjamin’s, which I have forgotten. The gentle giant, whom we knew as Benjamin, is buried in the hess plot in mount calvary cemetery.

The name by which we all knew him, Benjamin Andrews, was his adopted name which he took when he was released from prison. He had taken the names of his two benefactors, Benjamin J. Ferrell and Andrew C.M. Hess.