State treasurer saves historic ledgers
Shortly after he took office in 1997, State Treasurer John Perdue noticed a bunch of old state ledger books were being dumped in the trash at the state Capitol.
“I found the books down on the docks. They were going to get rid of them.
“I said, ‘This is history. We don’t want to get rid of them,’ ” Perdue said.
“They came from a storage place upstairs. If I hadn’t seen them, they could have ended up in the garbage.”
Their pages were all handwritten -- usually in artistic script, recording the early sources of revenue and expenses, including salaries, of West Virginia’s state government shortly after West Virginia became a state in 1863. Most of the volumes are being preserved in the library at the West Virginia Culture Center. A few are still inside the Treasurer’s office.
One smaller volume in Perdue’s collection has financial information going back to 1863. A larger volume has statistics beginning on Jan. 1, 1877.
The volumes include detailed lists of all the “Treasurer’s Receipts” and all the “Treasurer’s Checks.”
One volume with “Miscellaneous Accounting Records” sorts those records by 20 cities, including: Martinsburg, Wheeling, Parkersburg, Charles Town, Charleston, Huntington, Lewisburg, Grafton and Union.
Back then, state funds were deposited and stored in different banks in those, and other, cities throughout the newly formed state.
Looking at a volume for 1866, Perdue pointed to the entry of the “#1” expenditure check.
“They started new every year, with Check #1,” Perdue said.
The variety of expenses recorded in the volume included payments for “Lunatics in Jail” and “Salary of Gov. A.I. Boreman.”
Boreman, who made $500 a month, was the state’s first governor. He served the most consecutive terms of any governor, resigning just one week before his third term ended.
Other checks were made out to: “Civil Contingency Fund,” “Registration of Voters,” “Medals,” “School Funds” and for an “Extra Session of Legislature” in 1866 and 1868.
Debra Basham, the state’s Assistant Director of Archives and History, said the documents are important ones that date back to the state’s founding.
“They probably moved from Wheeling to Charleston, then back to Wheeling and back to Charleston again, each time the state Capitol moved,” Basham said. “The fact they lasted so long shows they are important.”
The old volumes, Basham said, contain many interesting references, such as ones to the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, which later became Weston State Hospital.
“I think it is great that the Treasurer’s office saved these early volumes,” she said.
The historic books also record some large expenditures, such as $360,000 the state government spent acquiring land in Moundsville between 1867 and 1876, Perdue said.
The Moundsville State Penitentiary, which operated from 1876 to 1995, was built on some of that land. Today, the historic, structure is still maintained as an historic site to attract tourists and as a training facility.
The books include salaries paid to state and county officials, as well as fines paid by residents for violating state laws. Fines paid to the state varied between 4 cents and $1.94.
In 1867, the West Virginia State Treasurer made $350 a month, according to one of the historic volumes Perdue has in his office. That would have been $4,200 a month in 2013.
In current dollars, the Treasurer’s salary in 1867 would be worth $98,532 today. In 2013, Perdue’s salary was $95,000.
Kenneth Sullivan, executive director of the West Virginia Humanities Council, said it is important that old documents — especially official records, be saved. Sullivan praised Perdue for rescuing those historic volumes.
“Those records all have a charm to them, apart from any informational and practical value,” he said. “You can see the way handwriting has changed. Today, we are about to lose the ability to communicate in cursive writing.
“But you can see wonderful examples in records of the past. We have certainly lost something in handwriting.”
Fred Armstrong, a former Director of Archives and History, said in his time at the department, he was always looking for ways to piece together the state’s history.
“Documents could help. They recorded things like the governor’s salary,” Armstrong said. “Those things were documented elsewhere, but it was always nice to see things in handwriting.
“Those books help document the historical interpretation of the time period. It is always better to have hard, cold facts on paper. Regrettably, that doesn’t happen so much anymore.”
Good historians and archivists, Armstrong said, love to look at documents like the books Perdue found and preserve them for future reference.
“These are the kinds of things we always try to find,” Armstrong said. “We also found things like minute books with the original records of meetings at the West Virginia Board of Public Works. They were extremely interesting.”
Reach Paul J. Nyden at email@example.com or 304-348-5164.