When researching real property title in southwestern Pennsylvania, a name frequently encountered is Josiah Van Kirk Thompson. Known as “J. V.,” Thompson was a banker and broker who became a multi-millionaire through buying and selling coal properties.
Thompson was born February 15, 1854 in Menallen Township, Fayette County, son of Jasper Markle and Eliza Caruthers Thompson. President Abraham Lincoln appointed Jasper Thompson collector of internal revenue for the 21st district of Pennsylvania, and he was president of First National Bank in Uniontown. After graduating from Washington & Jefferson College in 1871, J. V. went to work at the bank and became president after his father died in 1889.
J. V. married three times. His first wife, Mary Anderson, with whom he had two sons, died in 1896. In 1903, Thompson met a beautiful, young widow named Hunnie Hawes, and they wed that summer at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. After a lengthy European honeymoon, the couple returned to Uniontown and Oak Hill, the 42-room Neoclassical Revival mansion Thompson built for his bride on a hill overlooking the National Road. They filled it with antiques, fine furniture, and art acquired during their travels.
By 1915, Thompson was divorced, after paying Hunnie a $1 million settlement. His business interests were in receivership, and his bank was failing. Unable to convert his real estate into cash, he was forced to file for bankruptcy. Piedmont Coal Company, which bought a number of his holdings, including Oak Hill, allowed him to continue living there, and hired him as a salesman.
In his later years, Thompson took up genealogy, filling journals with the history of local families. In 1927, he submitted membership applications to the Sons of the American Revolution - these include meticulous, handwritten details about his great grandfathers: William Thompson was a scout for General George Washington and Casper Markle was a frontier guardsman who built a fort on Sewickley Creek in Westmoreland County.
Thompson married for the third time in 1929, to Rose Stillwagon Maloney. The union was a happy one, though Thompson suffered from complications of diabetes. When he died on September 27, 1933 of a cerebral hemorrhage, Rose was by his side. He was buried in Oak Grove Cemetery, in Uniontown.
It has been 85 years since his death, but J. V.’s presence in town is still apparent.
The year he died, Oak Hill was purchased by the Sisters of St. Basil the Great, an international religious order of the Eastern Catholic Church. They call their home Mount Saint Macrina.
The 11-story “skyscraper” built by Thompson in 1901 to house The First National Bank stands at 50 West Main Street, and is now called The Fayette Building, presently offering commercial and residential space for lease.