100-Year-Old Historic Watch Found at Habitat Build

ASHLAND, VIRGINIA:  Hanover and King William Habitat for Humanity unearthed an engraved 100-year-old pendant watch at the site of their 78th home. Through the help of the Ashland Museum, they tracked down the descendants of the original owners to give it back to the rightful owners.

In January of 2023, work began on Habitat’s lot on Wesley Street in Ashland. Knowing there had previously been a house there decades before, Habitat construction manager Jeff Ell decided to bring out his metal detector and see if he’d find anything interesting. While searching the front of the property he found a surprising treasure!

Buried just a few inches below the soil was a small pendant watch with the engraving “WWB to JLW.” After some online research on the watch manufacturer and design, he determined it was most likely made in 1920s. Since many people in Ashland have deep roots in that community and it was possible that family members might still be in the area, he asked John Hodges, a regular Habitat volunteer and vice mayor of Ashland, for help. Hodges connected Ell and Habitat with the Ashland Museum founder, Rosanne ‘Rosie’ Shalf.

Shalf dove into online research, real estate records, census records and other sources. Pretty quickly she was able to connect the initials on the watch to two longtime Ashland residents who lived at the former Wesley Street home. “WWB to JLW” meant Wesley William Brannan to his wife Joseph ‘Jo’ Louis White Brannan.

The story doesn’t stop there. Habitat wasn’t the rightful owners of such an important piece of the Brannan’s family. The couple passed long ago but still have kids and grandkids that live locally. Jeff Ell decided to go straight to the Brannon’s grandson, Scott Brannan, who Shalf had a work address for. Brannan was initially shocked at the unexpected visit, but after an hour-long conversation, excitement arose. The Brannan family believes the watch was a gift while the couple was dating before they married in 1925.

Habitat held a brief ceremony on July 11 to officially return the pendant watch back to the Brannan’s. Many grandchildren and extended family came to both see the relic, as well as visit the old homesite. Everyone reminisced on stories of the past – the front porch swing, the Easter egg hunts, and playing games in the yard. There was even a photo of the late Ms. Brannan searching for Easter eggs in the exact spot Ell found the watch.

As stories were shared, the homeowner of Habitat’s new house, Krystal and her daughter Nyla were there taking it all in. Everyone agreed her new front porch would be perfect for a swing, just like the Brannan family remembers on their grandmother’s porch. Past stories were making way for future stories in a new, affordable home.

The Brannans decided there were too many descendants to pick just one person to keep the watch. They decided to donate it, along with some family photos brought to the event, to the Ashland Museum. Shalf said they plan on making a display to honor the family’s story. Habitat looks forward to seeing it and are glad they could be a part of this amazing story.


About Hanover and King William Habitat for Humanity

Hanover and King William Habitat for Humanity is a locally run, independent affiliate of Habitat International and is responsible for Hanover and King William Counties. For over 30 years, they have built homes alongside families who pay an affordable mortgage. Habitat’s repair program addresses critical repairs around the home. With their help and the help of the community, Habitat homeowners achieve the strength, stability, and independence they need to build a better life for themselves and their families.

About the Ashland Museum

The Ashland Museum is a nonprofit that strives to preserve and showcase the historical and cultural heritage of the town of Ashland, Virginia. They have office space, archival space, and a virtual museum to share the story of Ashland through words, images, voices, and objects.