How the hamlet of Burnt House got its name
Along the rolling hills and hollows that are traversed by Route 47, a small community exists in Ritchie County by the name of Burnt House. The town is located east of Smithville and on the old Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike. The hamlet’s unusual name begs for explanation and several accounts exist as to why this town was branded with such an odd name. My favorite haunted tale of the area is that which involves a slave girl by the name of Deloris. There are various versions of the story but this one is my favorite.
At the intersection of Route 47 and Tanner Road there stands a large two-story house. This building sits on the site of the original “burnt” house. Going back in time to the mid-1800s, a man named Jack Harris came from New York with his son, William, and three slaves. Jack was a businessman and decided to build a tavern along the turnpike at the present site of Burnt House. It was a wise choice as traffic was plentiful in those days and many travelers would stop for lodging, a meal and refreshment.
Deloris was a beautiful woman and worked at the tavern. People often gossiped about the fact that she and William Harris were quite taken with each other. Deloris would often don new dresses sold by roving peddlers and the locals would notice this and began to wonder over the source of her good fortune. Peddlers would come and go and on one day, misfortune struck one of them. The peddler turned up missing and a rumor was soon circulated by a tavern stable boy who told of seeing William Harris, with one swipe of a razor sharp knife, cutting off the head of the missing peddler.
The body of the peddler was then allegedly taken by William across the turnpike and up into an area now known as Dead Man’s Hollow. Deloris disposed of the peddler’s bloody and severed head. The sheriff was alerted and swore out a warrant for the Harrises and their arrest. The family hurriedly left town leaving the beautiful Deloris behind as they headed westward, eventually changing their names.
The family had quickly sold the tavern, along with Deloris and another slave, to a local widow woman. Not too long after that and during a church service in town, the smell of something burning filled the house of worship. The congregation rushed outside and was shocked to see the old tavern engulfed in an all-consuming fire.
As the people approached the flaming building, they saw a person dancing and swaying back and forth in the glass enclosed lookout on the top floor of the tavern. The figure was Deloris, the beautiful slave girl, in her finest attire. She was dancing and singing while the building burned swiftly. While the horrified people watched, they could see Deloris inside as she fell through the second story ceiling. They tried to save her life, but to no avail. She was lost in the fiery flames of the wooden structure.
The story does not end there, of course. Deloris returned to the community for a few more visits while in her spectral form. She would appear at first as a wavering bluish flame. The flame would eventually take the form of a young girl and she would begin a ghostly dance over the burnt ruins of the old Harris tavern.
The last appearance for her ghost was said to occur in 1882. A sudden electrical storm had swept thru the valley with complete chaos. Ground shook with thunder and many folks witnessed as balls of fiery lightening rolled down along the old turnpike. In the violent storm that darkened the skies, the ghostly form of the beautiful slave girl was seen for a brief instance. She danced one last solo dance across the old tavern site before she wandered off towards Dead Man’s Hollow. She was never seen again.
As I pass through the area across the old turnpike road on occasion, I pay close attention to that area and keep a watchful eye out for the spirit of Deloris. On full moon nights when the eerie shadows cast down a ghostly glow across Dead Man’s Hollow, I can swear I hear the laughter and the music from the old tavern. I hope Deloris is finally at rest.
Sherri Brake is a paranormal researcher, author and Haunted Heartland Tour owner. You may email her at SherriBrake@gmail.com or visit her website at www.HauntedHistory.net