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The Town that Industry Built
December 6, 2011 - Jodi Burnsworth
Recently, the Elkins Depot Welcome Center was approached by The InterMountain and West Virginia Uncovered to start a historical blog of the area. It would encompass the entire InterMountain readership. Needless to say, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed about where to start. So, after several recommendations, I decided to start with what I know.
As an AmeriCorps member of Appalachian Forest Heritage Area, I work with history and heritage in some aspect at all of my sites: Elkins Depot Welcome Center, Elkins Farmers Market, and the Beverly Heritage Center. The organization is based in Elkins, which is also home to The InterMountain, so that’s where the story begins…
Situated on a bend of the Tygart Valley River, the city of Elkins was incorporated in 1890 by Senators Henry Gassaway Davis and Stephen Benton Elkins, due to the men's much-needed headquarters for the their vast timber, coal and railroad empire. Named after the junior Senator, the city of Elkins served as the Senators’ summer retreat from Washington, D.C. Both men built permanent places of residence, known as Graceland and Halliehurst, respectively; these Victorian-era mansions are now part of the Davis & Elkins College and are listed on the National Register for Historic Places.
In 1899, Elkins became the county seat. Davis and Elkins were developing railroad lines, coal mines and timbering. Together, they built the WV Central and Pittsburg Railway into Elkins and opened a vast territory to industrial development in the late 1890s. With those developments, Elkins started a building boom. By 1906, as described in "The Coming Metropolis of the State," the town boasted of "European-style" hotels, opera houses, banks, a YMCA, brickworks, tannery and brewery. Davis Memorial Hospital and Davis & Elkins College had already been founded. The city was attracting hundreds of rail and timbering workers as well as business entrepreneurs, all looking to call Elkins their home.
As the railroad expanded, Elkins experienced the luxury of passenger train service. By 1930, 18 passenger trains were arriving and leaving Elkins daily, filling the air with the coal dust of steam locomotives. But, by the late 1950s, passenger service was discontinued; and, by the end of the 1980s, all rail service ended. However, at the turn of the 21st century, the rail yard began to be vibrant again. The construction of a new bridge at the south end of the old Western Maryland rail yard was completed in May 2007. This gave the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad the opportunity to lease the depot for their excursion trains, the New Tygart Flyer and the Cheat Mountain Salamander, to handle passengers there, as well as for use as their new dispatching center and retail store. Behind the depot is a town square that is used as a central gathering spot for local events, as well as the seasonal Elkins Farmers Market.
The Elkins Depot Welcome Center makes its home in this historic depot, which was built circa 1908 by the Western Maryland Railway Company. It replaced two previous depots: a wood frame passenger depot just north of the current station which had been built in 1889, and a larger freight depot partially on the site of the current station and slightly to the south of it. The station is a good example of turn-of-the-century railroad architecture. Historically, the train station is perhaps the most significant and pivotal structure in Elkins. It serves as a tangible representation of the interrelated transportation and extraction industries, which were responsible for the founding of Elkins and provided the primary source for the subsequent development of the region for the next century.
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The Western Maryland Railway Depot in Elkins