Charles J. Van Meter (1826-1913) is remembered in Bowling Green as a pioneer in the development of commerce on the Green and Barren Rivers. His generosity toward the Southern Normal School (now WKU) prompted the naming of Van Meter Hall in his honor.
Charles’s father, Jacob Van Meter, came to Bowling Green in 1818 and grew wealthy as a farmer and merchant. As a state legislator, he also lobbied for public improvements to river navigation and helped build the Bowling Green Portage Railway, a narrow-gauge railroad that carried goods from the boat landing to the center of town.
When 86-year-old Jacob Van Meter died on February 27, 1874, the funeral was planned for March 1 but was delayed for a day when, early that morning, his 82-year-old wife Martha also died. In the florid style so popular with Victorian Americans, the Bowling Green Republican mourned two of the city’s most venerated citizens. How appropriate, declared the paper, that Jacob’s soul “should have been wafted to Paradise with the first breathings of spring.” As a canny businessman, kind neighbor, model father and blameless Christian, Jacob’s character was “solid as marble and unsullied as snow. He has gone down to his grave,” continued the paper, “without stain or blemish, ripe in years and in honors.” Martha Van Meter, similarly, was “a remarkable woman, esteemed and beloved by all who knew her.” And so the tribute when on and on . . . for four long columns of the newspaper’s editorial page, as if emulating Jacob Van Meter’s lifelong motto, never give up.
The obituaries of Jacob and Martha Van Meter are part of the collections of WKU’s Special Collections Library. Click here for a finding aid. For more on Bowling Green’s Van Meter family, search TopScholar and KenCat.