For those of you who may be new to this column, I’m a big believer in the idea that history is and should be personal. Historians often pretend that history is all George Washingtons and Susan B. Anthonys, and “in fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” but it’s so much more than that.
It’s the men and women, young and old, of every race and religion, who made these major historical moments possible. It’s the country blacksmith who never left his town but whose tireless work helped make settlement of that area possible. It’s the grocery store clerks, and the engineers, and the lawyers, and the steelworkers, and the homemakers, and all the other people who helped build and run their city. It’s you and me, and your parents, and your grandparents, and their grandparents, and ancestors you’ve never even heard of.
Unfortunately, because of historians’ focus on major events and people, the stories of these regular people are often lost. Unless stories are passed down to kids and grandkids, or snippets make their way into the historical record here and there, someone’s life fades to nothing. These occasional “Stones with Stories” are my way of pushing back, one life at a time.
This is the story of Adam Frederick Kisar, an enterprising businessman who worked tirelessly to improve his chosen hometown.
Born in 1854 in Somerton, Ohio, little is known of his family history due to a fire at the Belmont County Courthouse that destroyed many records. All that is passed down is that his grandmother was supposedly a lady-in-waiting to Empress Josephine of France, his mother Mary was born in France around 1828 and emigrated to the U.S. where she married a man by the name of Kisar, and his sister Alberta was a Dominican nun in Memphis, Tennessee.
The first definite record of his life is his marriage to Anna Rebecca Baker in 1876, with whom he had five children: Maude (Edward Somerville), Velma (Edward Heiner), Gertrude (died Sister Mary Fredericka of St. Aloysius Academy), Leota (died young), and Adam Frederick Kisar, Jr. (Meda King).
By 1880, at the age of 25, he was the owner of a small jewelry store in Ozark, Ohio, where family history says he also taught school.
Then, in 1888 or so, perhaps familiar with the construction of both the Kanawha & Michigan and Ohio River Railroads and knowing that the town at their intersection would be growing, Kisar and his family moved to Point Pleasant. Still a young man at only 34, he was warmly welcomed to town and quickly established himself as a modern and skilled jeweler specializing in diamonds.
His first store opened at 506 Main just before Christmas 1889, and the Weekly Register said it was “all the rage” and “the finest display ever opened in this town.” Such was his success here that, less than a year later, he began buying property and expanding.
In 1890, a fire destroyed the entire west side of Main Street’s 400-block. In the aftermath, Kisar bought the center lot. This is now 415-19 Main, and if you know Main Street, you know
how valuable this center lot on the center block of the city’s commercial district truly is. He quickly turned that lot for a profit and in 1891 bought the old Dr. Samuel Shaw property at 3rd and Main.
Shaw’s office on Main was demolished and a large two-story commercial block built in its place. On the corner (most recently Décor Corner) was Kisar’s jewelry store, where one could buy watches ranging in price from $2.50 to $500 ($70 to $14,600 in today’s dollars).
Meanwhile, the old Shaw home, behind the store and facing the Ohio River, went through an intense renovation. A large wing was built to replace the separate summer kitchen, the three main sides were covered in a sleek yellow brick, and the interior was completely gutted and redecorated. The final version was what is perhaps the most ornate home in West Virginia, with several rooms clad entirely or partially in ceramic Art Nouveau tiles, wood parquet floors and ceilings in most of the public spaces, and over two dozen unique fireplaces. (This is the home later owned by Wayne and Margaret Kincaid, and now under restoration by Main Street Point Pleasant.)
And these were by no means Kisar’s only enterprises. Soon enough, he owned the Hanley Rink (a community building/theater type building) and had stakes in the Kanawha Furniture Company, Standard Furniture Company, Enterprise Docks, and steamboat Ida Smith. He also, as soon as the lot was developed and the building finished, repurchased 415-19 Main.
A busy guy, to be sure. Through his own businesses and properties and his position on the Board of Trade, he was instrumental in developing quite a bit of Point Pleasant, though you wouldn’t know it today by his relatively simple plot in Lone Oak Cemetery or from how few people know his name.
Information primarily from census records and the Weekly Register.
Chris Rizer is the president of the Mason County Historical & Preservation Society and director of Main Street Point Pleasant, reach him at email@example.com.