Town of West Union, WV
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For Immediate Release: by Barbara Gain
Joseph Hubert Diss Debar, born in Alsace, France on March 6, 1820, two years after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo met and fell in love with Clara Levassor when he was a young man. Because she was much younger than Joseph, her father, Eugene Levassor, disapproved heartily and moved the family from France to America to Wood County, WV. They settled in what is now called Parkersburg because of the beauty and access of the Ohio River.
Diss Debar was highly educated. He was fluent in French, German and English; he knew Spanish and Italian and could translate Latin and Greek. An artist of great talent, many of Diss Debar’s sketches recorded early WV state history.
A distinguished looking gentleman, Joseph Diss Debar wore a Van Dyke beard, dressed in a cloak and high silk hat, and was known for twirling a cane.
Joseph Diss Debar sailed toward America from Liverpool, England, in January 1824 on the steamer Britannia, to follow Clara. Charles Dickens was also making the voyage, and the two became friends. During the journey aboard ship, Diss Debar sketched Dickens with a few swift pencil strokes. His later painting is now one of the treasures of the Department of Archive and History of the State of West Virginia.
Diss Debar found his beautiful Clara in Parkersburg, and in 1848 they were married at Marietta. He was a man of 30, his wife, just 17. Diss Debar lost Clara on April 29, 1849 during the birth of their son, Joseph Henry Diss Debar, Jr.
Diss Debar moved to Doddridge County, and brought a Swiss colony to the hills of WV near Leopold, a little town that he called Santa Clara - for his wife. It is in Cove district near Weston, WV, almost on the Lewis county line. This was an early settlement of its kind, and the chief industry of the community was cheese making.
Amelia Cain, of Doddridge County, WV, became Diss Debar’s second wife in 1859; they had six children.
During this time Joseph Diss Debar was prominent in matters of state. Governor Boreman appointed him commissioner of immigration in 1864. He did surveying and acted as agent for a land company.
He prepared, compiled and published the first "Handbook of West Virginia." He was a member of the House of Delegates from Doddridge County in 1864. In 1863 the legislature appointed Diss Debar to make drawings in compliance with their suggestions for a state seal and coat-of-arms. The design was made and was adopted in September 1863. Joseph H. Diss Debar designed the official seal and coat-of-arms for the state when West Virginia came into the union.
The Constitution of West Virginia, Article 2, Section 7, provides that: “The present seal of the state, with its motto ‘Montani Semper Liberi,’ shall be the great seal of the State of West Virginia, and shall be kept by the secretary of state, to be used by him, officially as directed by law.”
In later years, the elderly Joseph Diss Debar left West Virginia and went to Pennsylvania. He died in Pittsburgh in 1906 and is buried in Philadelphia.
Plans are underway for The Town of West Union to be dedicating a monument to Joseph Diss Debar.
The West Union Festival will be held July 22, 2006, honoring the 125th
Anniversary of the Town of West Union. 2006 is also the hundredth year since the
death of Joseph Diss Debar.
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NOTE: The Above picture of the Diss Debar Home is one of Joseph Diss DeBar's sketches. The most complete selection that we have found on the web is at: West Virginia Culture and History Archives, http://www.wvculture.org/history/dissdebar/ddindex.html
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