Slideshow of a few Clampers who have made the pilgrimage to West Union. Click on the slideshow to view descriptions of the photos.
The Bee Hive Inn
If you are walking or riding along the North Bend Rail Trail near West Union, you’ll see a BEE HIVE INN monument sitting behind the football stadium, not far from the train trestle. The Bee Hive Inn was a hotel and tavern operated by our very own Ephraim Bee in the early 1800s in what was then called Lewisport.
The story goes that Joseph H. Diss Debar, founder of St. Clara and creator of the West Virginia state seal, dubbed Ephraim’s hostel the Bee Hive when he dined there on his first trip to Doddridge County in 1846. Upon seeing all of the Bee children running around the Inn, he exclaimed that he had never dined in a beehive before! From that day on, the Inn was called the Bee Hive. Oral tradition states that the Bee Hive Inn played a part in the Underground Railroad prior to the Civil War.
It was in about 1845 that Ephraim Bee, one of Doddridge County’s most colorful characters, founded a tongue-in-cheek fraternal organization called the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus (ECV). His point was to poke fun at the pomposity of the other fraternal organizations of that time. The organization was taken west during the California Gold Rush of 1849 and the early 1850s, eventually spreading throughout the western states. There are still numerous active ECV chapters in California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Colorado. There are also several ECV “nomads,” as they call themselves, living in the eastern United States.
Bee Hive Inn Monument
The Bee Hive Inn monument was erected on May 7, 2005 by a group of western Clampers and Doddridge Countians Gregg Dulaney Smith and Stoney Bee, both descendants of Ephraim Bee. When placed there in 2005 the cinder blocks were left exposed on the sides and top of the monument. It was supposed to have been finished at a later date, but for some reason it never happened.
Last summer a Clamper from Nevada City, California, Jim Cirner by name, offered to help pay to have the monument finished. With the help of those funds, Max Nichols and Rennie Brown were able to put the finishing touches on the monument. We would like to thank members of E Clampus Vitus (R), Inc. from Columbia, California, for kindly donating the funds to complete the project. Here are the names of the people in that order who approved the donation:
Brian Nash, Sublime Noble Grand Humbug
Ken Jaques, Nameless
Bill Wensrich, Sublime Noble Grand Recorder
Jim Cirner, Proctor
West Union the Clampers’ Mecca
Every Clamper knows the name Ephraim Bee and his role as the founder of their organization. Every year a number of Clampers make a pilgrimage to Doddridge County to “have a drink with Ephraim” and tour the county where ECV was born. The tour always includes a visit to the ECV monuments along the Rail Trail and on Sunnyside Road, a stroll down Main Street in West Union, a visit to Ephraim’s great-great grandson Stoney Bee, and a sojourn to Ephraim’s gravesite at Cabin Run Cemetery.
Without exception, we have found that the Clampers who have visited here were awestruck by the experience. The significance of being in the place where their founder lived and worked, and now lies, has not been lost on any of them. They no doubt are happy to have bragging rights with their fellow Clampers who have not made the pilgrimage.
Those of us who live here tend to be unappreciative of many of our early settlers, including Ephraim Bee. The attention being directed our way by ECV chapters throughout the country should lead us to embrace the Ephraim Bee legend and welcome future Clamper visitors with genuine Doddridge County hospitality.
The Clamper motto is Credo Quia Absurdium, which means, take nothing seriously unless it is absurd. All the Clampers we’ve met seem to embody that motto. They are a fun-loving bunch of jokesters who appreciate history in general, but who are especially eager to see and learn about the birthplace of their organization.