Shepherdstown is often designated the oldest town in West Virginia—some thirty-odd years older than the nation itself. High Street is considered to be the oldest street in town—used by pioneers crossing the Potomac River at Pack Horse Ford when they came up over the bluffs to the town—and on it sits a building named the Catherine Weltzheimer House, a.k.a., The Yellow House, circa 1817.
The Yellow House is considered to be one of the oldest houses in Shepherdstown. Adam Myers erected a house in that location in 1802. At that time, High Street was more important than German Street (Shepherdstown’s current main street). Myers and his wife Elizabeth sold the property to Weltzheimer in 1815.
Catherine Weltzheimer was born in 1765 and died September 23, 1823, at the age of 58. She married Frederick Weltzheimer, and together they owned and operated the Weltzheimer Tavern on North Princess Street in Shepherdstown, as early as 1795. Catherine continued to live in the Yellow House and operate the Tavern after her husband’s death in 1806. When she died 17 years later, she was a successful businesswoman with considerable property. Catherine is buried in Shepherdstown’s Lutheran Cemetery.
Catherine left the Yellow House property to her daughter Elizabeth, who was married to Daniel Entler, proprietor of the Entler Hotel (on German St.). The house passed through several generations of the Entler family. By 1900, it belonged jointly to Nettie Entler and F.L. Weltzheimer. In 1926, F.L. transferred it to the State Board of Control, which owns it today as part of Shepherd University.
Shepherd has put the building to many uses, including a 14-year period when it was the Phi Sigma Chi Sorority House. That was when Elizabeth “Betty” Lowe entered the picture—a member of the sorority as a Shepherd student.
Honor and Identity
In 2013, the Sorority Sisters of Phi Sigma Chi, under the presidency of Lowe, collected over $4,000 to place an iron railing created by blacksmith, Frank Graves, along the front of the Yellow House leading to the front door that reads: “In Honor of the Phi Sigma Chi Sorority 1948-1960.” Upon close inspection, the railing boasts a clever rams-head design that has a tie to the university.
Additionally, Lowe purchased a brass plaque in 2017 for the front of the House to give identity to tourists and locals interested in the history of Shepherdstown. The plaque is in tribute to her Phi Sigma Chi Sorority Sisters, and reads: “Catherine Weltzheimer House Circa 1817.”
“Our sorority met at the Yellow House once a week in the evenings,” she explained. “At the time, the house was home to the maintenance man and his wife. They allowed us to meet there every Tuesday night. They would go out to visit their family while we had our meetings there. Our sorority still meets once a year. We probably have twenty-five women that still meet.”
Lowe, the historian laureate for Shepherdstown, has written a report on the Catherine Weltzheimer House, which includes a painting of High Street in the 1940s that depicts the Yellow House, painted by Lowe’s mother, Sarah Folk Snyder. The report explains the history of Catherine Heiser Weltzheimer along with a photocopy of the original painting of Catherine that is dated 1765-1823, which hangs in the Popodicon (president’s residence) on Shepherd University’s west campus. John Miller, chair of the Friends of Popodicon, provided the nameplate for the painting.
Dr. Keith Alexander, associate professor of history at Shepherd, spearheaded recent efforts to restore the Yellow House. In 2015, as a result of a successful grant application in cooperation with the Corporation of Shepherdstown, Shepherd’s Historic Preservation and Public History Program received $15,000 to help plan the next steps for the building.
They also recently received the WISH grant to help turn the structure into a classroom and laboratory for historic preservation and public history. The project will entail restoring the remaining windows on the north and south elevations, performing interior restoration work on the fireplace and chimney, and creating interpretive signs both inside and outside the structure.
“This will significantly improve the appearance of the structure, and will make it possible to begin using the building as a preservation classroom and a staging area for living history events,” said Alexander. “In addition, the WISH grant funds will be used to sponsor community workshops in historic window restoration, interpreting historic structures, and enhancing community pride through historic preservation projects. Those workshops will be free and open to the public.”By Robin Murphy