The Boal family and its gradual social rise

October 16, 2013

by Raymond Drake

For many people worldwide, our pervasive liberal culture leads them to think of America as frenetic Wall Street trading or gambling in Las Vegas. Or they recall sports figures like Michael Phelps or film stars like Clint Eastwood. Others will remember our magnificent landscapes such as the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls.

Théodore Boal and his wife Mathilde Denis de Lagarde

Theodore Boal and his wife Mathilde Denis de Lagarde

Very few, think of traditional America where a family’s stability in a place, coupled with exceptional ability and a desire for refinement, gradually turn it into a local elite, then a regional elite, a traditional elite, and finally, a traditional elite analogous to the Old Continent’s nobility. Yet the Boals of Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, are an example of this less remembered America.

The village of Boalsburg started in 1804, when David Boal, Jr. opened Boal Tavern on land received by his father, Captain David Boal, Sr., for his military service during the Revolutionary War. Today, 200 years and eight Boal generations later, the family is still at the heart of Boalsburg and its 4,500 residents.

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With each successive generation, the family’s social rise and the town’s development became more closely intertwined. David Jr.’s son George was a judge, farmer, and Pennsylvania State Representative. He was also a founder of the Farmers’ High School (really an agricultural college),  that later developed into Penn State University.

Georges Boal (1796-1867)

George Boal (1796-1867)

One of George’s sons, John, was a captain in the Union Army and died during the War. Another, David, followed in his father’s steps and was elected State Representative. A third son, George Jr., moved to Denver, but he had a son, Col. Theodore Davis Boal, who saw action under General Pershing during the Pancho Villa punitive expedition into Mexico and the First World War.

Col. Theodore Boal was also an architect and a successful businessman. He was involved in companies that brought water, electricity, telephone and public transportation to the region. He married Mathilde Dolorès Denis de Lagarde, whose aunt Maria Victoria had married don Diego Santiago Narciso Colon de Toledo y Ruiz de Villafranca, a descendant of Christopher Columbus. It was from this aunt that Mathilde, and through her the Boals, inherited the Discoverer’s desk and other belongings which can still be seen today in the Boal Mansion.

1898 Carriage House at the Boal Mansion is in the village of Boalsburg, in Harris Township, Pennsylvania.  Photo by Ruhrfisch.

The 1898 Boal Mansion is in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania. Photo by Ruhrfisch.

Col. Theodore Boal’s son Pierre also fought in the First World War. He joined France’s 1st Regiment of Cuirassiers, as a volunteer. He later became a U.S. diplomat, with postings in various countries. In 1919, he married Jeanne Marie Bernard de Menthon and they had two daughters. By marrying Blair Lee III, a Maryland politician who served as acting Governor of Maryland, their daughter Mathilde married into one of America’s first families, the Lees of Virginia. Their other daughter, Mary Elizabeth, joined a family of old French nobility when she married Count Gaston Jacques Marie Ghislain d’Harcourt.

Inside of the Christopher Columbus Chapel

Inside of the Christopher Columbus Chapel in the Boal Mansion.

Slowly, over time, the Boal family rose socially. From officer status in the Revolutionary War, it eventually developed into a traditional elite family analogous to European nobility.

And, today, Blair and Mathilde Lee’s son Christopher lives with his family at the Boal Mansion in Boalsburg, giving stable continuity to the family’s roots in the town and surrounding Centre County, Pennsylvania.

 

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