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Silk Top Hat Still Distinctive

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
November 17th, 2014

Blog post by Michael Ridderbusch, Associate Curator, WVRHC.


While not a museum, the West Virginia and Regional History Center sometimes acquires artifacts, most of which accompany collections of family papers, business records, and related material.  The top hat of teacher, newspaper publisher, prosecuting attorney, and Parsons, West Virginia mayor James Porter Scott (1857-1938) is such an item, filling a unique niche in our collection.  Though over a century old, its brown silk outer layer still has a reflective sheen.


Brown silk top hat


According to the donor, it was purchased at a Scott family estate sale, and was one item among many in a house “full to the ceilings,” a veritable “time capsule.”  J.P. Scott had been successful and well known in the community for many years, and the older citizens at the time of that sale had many stories to tell the donor, including one about selling him moonshine.


Portrait of James Porter Scott


The History of West Virginia, Old and New, published in 1923, informs us that he was born in Simpson, Taylor County, on 21 April 1857, attended the West Virginia College at Flemington, and graduated from the State Normal School at Fairmont.  After teaching for seven years in rural schools and serving for a year as a principal, he retired from teaching, and then became the publisher and editor of the Simpson New Era, a weekly paper.  Thereafter he studied law, was admitted to the bar at Grafton, and went to Tucker County where he founded the Tucker Democrat, a weekly paper, and became a partner in the law firm of Colonel A. B. Parsons.  In addition to his legal career, he served as mayor of Parsons, West Virginia three times, and was director of and attorney for the First National Bank of Parsons, among other activities.


"Celebrated Rossmore Make" emblem inside hat

Emblem in interior of top hat.


J.P. Scott’s top hat isn’t the only artifact at the History Center.  Other items include frontier era rifles, Civil War firearms, swords, uniforms, jackets, dresses, and other material.  They complement our collections of family papers and business records by providing a tangible connection to history that documents cannot always convey.

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