Ruins of a presidential family

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(Angel guarding the Tolbert Family private graveyard in Bensonville)

The small town of Bensonville lies about 30 kilometers away from Monrovia. Today Bensonville has not much to show for itself. Nominally it is the capitol of Montserrado County, but one does not notice that when driving through Bensonville. The town passes by in less than three minutes. However, while driving through Bensonville, one can not but notice the concentration of ruins. And they are what makes the town so special.

The decaying ruins hark back to another time, the time when the last of the old breed Presidents of Liberia,  William R. Tolbert Jr., had the dream to make the small town he was born, into the new capital of Liberia.
Tolbert belonged to one of the most influential families of the Americo-Liberian elite who has ruled Liberia for much of her history. He spend most of his political life a vice-president of the Tubman administration, and only succeeded Tubman in July1970, after having been a vice president for 20 years.
He was also the President of the Baptist World Alliance in Liberia, and preached frequently at the Mount Zion Praise Baptist Church in Bensonville.
Today the church is the only intact building of the Tolbert area. The other houses of the family clan in Bensonville are just decaying empty shells, out of which everything has been looted.
Being born into a wealthy family, William R. Tolbert had already lived in a nice house (top left below) during his time as a vice-president, but when became president of Liberia he decided that he should upgrade to a larger, more representative place.
(top right below)

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Towards the end of his reign President Tolbert decided to build yet another house for himself. This one was known as his “Dream House”. (bottom left and right above)
But he was never to live in it. Before the “Dream House” was finished, William R. Tolbert was killed on April 12th 1980 in the Executive Mansion in Monrovia by the coming dictator Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe.
But not only “Dream House” was build in vain. President Tolbert had planned to be buried in the family cemetery in Bensonville, his presidential graveside facing the statue of the angel.(first photo). What he got instead was an anonymous grave somewhere in Monrovia.

While Tolbert started his term in office with high aspirations and progressive slogans his administration was soon back to the old familiar ways of nepotism. He appointed several members of his family to important position in his administration, among them his brother Stephen Allen Tolbert as Finance Minister and another brother, Frank E. Tolbert as President Pro-Tempore of the Senate.  Same as Hitlers Paladins, who built their houses around the Führers residence on the Obersalzberg, the family members of the Tolbert clan also build their stately homes in Bensonville. 

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The house top left above once was the residence of Daniel Tolbert, a businessman. The house top right, still belongs to Tolberts daughter Wokie. In a marriage arrangement typical for the Americo-Liberians, she married a son of former President Tubman. Wokie Tolbert managed to escape Liberia to the United States where she now lives.  Tolberts brother, the former Finance Minister Stephen Allen Tolbert once owned the building bottom left above.  Only the steel gates are left from the house of his other brother Frank E. Tolbert. The building itself has been razed completely. (bottom right above)

Neither the great plans that William R. Tolbert had for the transformation of Liberia, nor his plans for Bensonville, which he renamed Benton, came to fruit. The mansions of the presidential clan have been reduced to rubble, and Benton is again called Bensonville.

The only building which has survived intact up to this day is the Mt.Zion Praise Church, where Tolbert frequently took the pulpit.


 

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2 responses to “Ruins of a presidential family

  1. akklammed

    then there is the samuel do mansion in zwedru and the tubman mansions spread around the country. you made a salient point! to me, bensonville look like a place that might assume life again.

  2. Yak Dorzon

    Tolbert renamed it Bentol, not Benton, Mr Foreigner. There was a logic to his megalomania – the “Ben” was for Bensonville and the “tol” was for Tolbert. Not satisfied, he went further and made Bentol the capital of Montserrado county. Try to get your facts right. Also, his wife Victoria Tolbert’s mother was 100% indigenous Vai. See her autobiography, “Lifted Up,” for the details.

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