RISING SUN — One will not find a plaque or statue bearing the name Charles W. Wilson in Rising Sun. But nonetheless monuments to this talented builder remain today though few people realize it.
Charles W. Wilson was the builder, and most acknowledged designer, of the former bank building in Rising Sun, Janes Methodist Episcopal Church (pre-fire), the former Rising Sun town hall and the stately Haines and Fox houses in Rising Sun. He built numerous structures in Oxford, Pa., and other areas of the county as well, but his legacy work was in Rising Sun, where he was the primary builder of commercial and palatial residential structures after the Civil War.
Born in Oxford, Chester County, Pa., on Jan. 7, 1837, he was brought up on a farm until he reached the age of 16. At that point, he left the farm and country schools to attend the Jordan Bank Academy in Chester County under Dr. Evan Pugh. He soon took up the carpenter’s trade before entering the State Normal School of Pennsylvania. Upon completion, he taught for four years until 1862 when he put aside the chalk and textbook to take up arms.
Charles Wilson enlisted for nine months’ service in the 124th Pennsylvania Infantry, mustering in at Harrisburg, Pa., in August 1862. As a soldier in blue, his first trial by fire was the bloody contest at Antietam. He also saw service in the battles of South Mountain, Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg until his honorable discharge in May 1863.
However, his service did not end in 1863, for he answered the call of President Abraham Lincoln when he sought state troops later in the war. Wilson aided in the organization of a company and was elected first lieutenant of Company A, 43rd Pennsylvania Infantry. He was soon on the march to the Potomac area for patrol and guard duty. This was a brief service, and soon he was able to return to Rising Sun, where he had settled just prior to the war, and resumed teaching in the public school for two terms.
At the close of the war, Wilson was invited to Washington to be part of the celebration and reunite with friends. He traveled by ferryboat, train and stagecoach and soon arrived in the city where he enjoyed dinners and conversation. Making sure his uniform was clean and pressed, he headed off for the entertainment of the theater as a member of the audience eagerly anticipating the staging of “Our American Cousin.”
Wilson would never see the end of the play, as he attended the play at Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865, the night Harford County’s John Wilkes Booth shot and killed Lincoln.
The year prior, Wilson had married Elizabeth Fisher, of Philadelphia. The couple had 10 children, four of whom died young. Among their children were Rhoda V., who attended the Boston Conservatory of Music and became a skilled vocal and instrumental music instructor. Fred, who followed his father as a carpenter; Emma, a milliner in Union, S.C.; Howard, a teacher; and Armenia and Edna.
It is from Charles W. Wilson that what is perhaps the greatest monument in Rising Sun sprang — in the form of his grandson, the late William “Bill” McNamee, who was named the town’s official historian, penned a history of the town, designed and built the Lions Club coffee pot, restored the log cabin, and did so much more for his beloved hometown.
Wilson also left his mark on Rising Sun by serving as a Rising Sun town commissioner and being extremely active in numerous clubs and organizations. He was a member of the Garfield Post No. 18 of the GAR, or Grand Army of the Republic, and was their go-to speaker for Memorial Day ceremonies. He was also a commander of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in Rising Sun, among other posts, and a member of Janes Church, where he was superintendent of the Sunday School.
It was during one of his numerous speaking engagements at Janes Church in Rising Sun, where he was speaking of his Civil War service and April 14, 1865, at Ford’s Theater, when he collapsed at the podium and died of a heart attack.
His loss came as a supreme shock to his family and community, and his funeral proved one of the most auspicious and largely attended, when he was laid to rest at Brookview Cemetery in Rising Sun.