Davis & Elkins District

The Davis and Elkins Historic District is a National Historic Landmark District on the campus of Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, West Virginia. It includes two mansions, the Senator Stephen Benton Elkins House and Graceland, that are separately listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Halliehurst and Graceland, a pair of mansions on the grounds of Davis and Elkins College, are the key surviving buildings associated respectively with two of the “Gilded Age’s” most important business and political figures, the college’s namesakes Stephen Benton Elkins and Henry Gassaway Davis. United personally by Elkins’ marriage to Davis’ daughter, they became partners in business, and, though titular political opponents, shared a common interest in shaping Federal legislation that favored the interests of those such as themselves who were “captains of industry.”

Halliehurst, in Elkins’ namesake town, was the summer home of U.S. Sen. Stephen Benton Elkins from the time of its construction in 1890 until his death in 1911. His father-in-law, who had generally resided in Deer Park, Maryland, even when representing West Virginia in the U.S. Senate, joined him in Elkins in 1893 with the completion of Graceland, named for Hallie’s younger sister. This remained Davis’ home thereafter.

A wealthy lawyer and entrepreneur, Elkins had become a major figure in Republican presidential politics during the 1880s. As a supporter and campaign manager of James G. Blaine, Elkins established himself as an influential member of the Republican party and as a “president-maker.” He played a key role in Blaine’s 1884 bid for the presidency. His second marriage, to Hallie, the daughter of prominent West Virginia businessman Henry Gassaway Davis, who was already a force in the national Democratic Party, gave him opportunities to join with his father-in-law in rail, coal, coke, and timber enterprises. Together they played a major role in the exploitation of West Virginia’s natural resources, bringing an era of prosperity to the State and adding to their personal wealth.

Henry Gassaway Davis and Stephen Benton Elkins remained major players on the national politicalsceneintotheseconddecadeofthe20thcentury. Their wealth and interest in shaping national policy in ways congenial to the interests of industrial magnates made them a force to be reckoned with. Although Henry Gassaway Davis usually merits only a footnote as the aged Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate in 1904, no proper history of Presidential politics from the 1880s through World War I can be written without reference to the role of Davis and his son-in-law.


The fortune of Henry Gassaway Davis, the senior partner in the bipartisan duo who dominated West Virginia business and politics in the latter decades of the 19th century and into the first decades of the 20th century, rested on railroad building. As a 5-year-old boy in Maryland, he witnessed the beginning of the Baltimore and Ohio (B & O), the first railroad in America, for which his father later worked.

Davis himself went to work for the B & O as a brakeman in 1842. By 1847, he had become supervisor of the railroad’s Cumberland line. Marrying in 1853, he became a station agent at Piedmont, Virginia (today West Virginia), a key station for cross-mountain traffic. He started a store in that town in 1854 and quit the railroad to manage it in 1858. A supporter of the Union who voted against Virginia’s secession in 1861, Davis prospered from Federal government contracts and sales of supplies to railroads.

After the war, he pursued plans for the development of the upper Potomac and Cheat River valleys, engaging in lumbering operations on his extensive landholdings and laying out the village of Deer Park, Maryland, where he built an estate. Meanwhile, between 1865 and his election to the U.S. Senate as a Democrat in 1871, he served first in the West Virginia House of Delegates and then in the State Senate. He served two full terms in the U.S. Senate. As might be expected, he served on a special committee that dealt with transportation routes to the seaboard and for 2 years, during Democratic control of the Senate, as chairman of the Appropriations Committee. Then and later, he supported high protective tariffs that benefitted his investments in bituminous coal. He declined to run for a third term in 1882, and although he did not again hold public office, he never ceased to dabble behind the

During the 1880s, Davis and his new son-in-law turned to fresh railroad building and coal mining enterprises that would be of immense consequence in the economic history of West Virginia. By 1889, they had pushed the West Virginia Central and Pittsburgh Railroad through rough terrain to Elkins, where in 1892 he joined his son-in-law and built his mansion called Graceland, reportedly siting it because it offered a good view of his coal trains. In 1902, he sold that railroad and in 1902-06 built the Coal and Coke railroad from the upper Monongahela through to Charleston.

Davis kept his strong ties to the Democratic Party partially through his cousin Arthur Pue Gorman, longtime Democratic Senator from Maryland, but he also had connections to his son-in-law’s formidable influence in national Republican politics as well. Tacitly, in 1888, they made a common commitment to put Benjamin Harrison in the White House after Davis was unsuccessful in getting President Cleveland to support high tariffs on coal. Because of this, Davis resigned from the Democratic National Committee and sat out the election. He helped to maneuver Elkins into the U.S. Senate in 1894, but thereafter remained a Democrat and supported the national ticket even when the populist William Jennings Bryan was the nominee in 1896 and 1900.

In 1904, with the progressive Republican Theodore Roosevelt in the White House, the Democratic Party chose Alton B. Parker, a conservative New York judge, as its Presidential nominee, rejecting the radical upstart, newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst. The party turned to the aged Davis as its Vice-Presidential nominee. Though Davis was already 80 years old, he was remarkably vigorous for his age. It was expected that he would spend generously on the race himself, garner heavy contributions from businessmen afraid of Roosevelt, and carry West Virginia, a doubtful border State, for the national ticket. The party was disappointed on all counts and Roosevelt was returned to the White House in a virtual landslide.

Davis, confounding those who had asserted he would not have lived out his term if elected Vice President, lived on until 1916. Indeed, he survived Elkins, who died of cancer in 1911. Davis spent his last years tending to his business interests; to the affairs of Davis and Elkins College, which had opened in Elkins in 1904; and to his children and grandchildren.


Elkins was born in Perry County, Ohio, in 1841, and grew up in Missouri, where he studied law. Following his admission to the bar, he moved to New Mexico in 1864. There he profited from land and mining investments and also became active interritorial politics. He served as the territorial delegate to Congress from New Mexico in the mid-1870s. While in Congress, he developed a friendship with James G. Blaine. During this period, he established a residence and office in New York to pursue his legal and business career. He also married Hallie Davis, daughter of Sen. Henry Gassaway Davis of West Virginia, and went on, as noted earlier, to be a partner in Davis’ coal and railroad enterprises.

Elkins first distinguished himself on the national political scene as an ally of James G. Blaine and organizer of Blame’s repeated bids for the presidency. At the1880 Republican national convention, he worked for Blaine’s nomination, gaining Blaine’s confidence in his abilities as a political organizer. Elkins’ maneuverings at the 1884 convention were an important factor in securing the nomination for Blaine. In recognition of Elkins’ skills, Blaine used him as manager of his presidential campaign that year. Despite Blaine’s defeat in 1884, Elkins gained “a national reputation as a political strategist that… played an important role in his translation from New Mexico to West Virginia in later years.”

In 1888, Elkins again worked for Blaine’s nomination for the presidency. This time, though, Blaine was reluctant to be a candidate. Blaine’s colleagues, especially Elkins, worked to create a groundswell of support within the party that would overcome Blaine’s objections to being nominated. In doing so, Elkins played a leading role in complex negotiations aimed at a unanimous “draft” nomination for Blaine, or, failing that, nomination of someone indebted to Blaine and his supporters. This strategy brought Elkins to discuss the nomination with Benjamin Harrison, who was not allied with Blaine’s opponents in the party, and whose strength in Indiana could aid Blaine in the event of a “draft” movement, or at least help to prevent Blaine’s enemies from taking over the convention. Elkins was the principal liaison between Harrison and the Blaine supporters. Harrison succeeded in winning the Republican nomination, and subsequently the Presidency, in the 1888 election.

Following Harrison’s election, Elkins continued to act as a link between Harrison and Blaine. His efforts were rewarded in 1891 with appointment as Harrison’s Secretary of War. Elkins served in that capacity until the end of Harrison’s term.

Halliehurst, built in 1890, reflects Elkins’ interests in West Virginia commerce and in national politics. He built Halliehurst as his business and railroad interests in WestVirginia were expanding. The house site was chosen because of its proximity to the planned terminal for one of the Davis and Elkins railroads. Halliehurst also represents Elkins’ political need to be identified with one geographical area after a career that had led him from Missouri to New Mexico, Washington, D.C., and New York, and finally to adoption of West Virginia as his home state.

As early as 1881, it was becoming clear to him that political appointments would be difficult to obtain until he was perceived as a man with political strength rooted in a single geographical area. His varied financial activities and interests across the nation had given him a certain flexibility in political maneuvering in the Presidential nominations of the

1880s, but his decision to be identified with West Virginia made him a member of the established Republican “Old Guard” in the Senate. His move to West Virginia, represented by his establishment at Halliehurst, “was an integral part of the process by which the political and economic resources of West Virginia were marshalled in the service of a national economy in process of industrialization and centralization.”

In 1895, Elkins entered Congress as a Senator from West Virginia. By this time, he and his father-in-law, because of their varied coal, railroad, and timber enterprises, were among West Virginia’s wealthiest and most powerful citizens. Elkins’ activities in the Senate reflected his interest in national policies on trade and transportation. Notably, he was Chair of the Senate Committee on Interstate Commerce at a time when it was one of the most important committees in Congress, and when railroad legislation was a major aspect of the development of federal regulatory practices. Thus, Elkins, like Davis, is one of the pre- eminent examples of the influence of wealthy businessmen in late 19th-century politics, and one of the architects of federal railroad policies.

Elkins was involved in several major pieces of legislation that supplemented the Interstate CommerceActof1887. Court decisions had minimized the power of the Interstate Commerce Commission, established by that act, to effectively carry out the law’s provisions against rebating and other discriminatory practices used by railroad companies in setting rates. The Elkins Act of 1903 was the first amendment to the Interstate Commerce Act. Specifically intended to discourage rebating, it prohibited deviations from published rates, but Elkins and his fellow “railroad senators” on the Senate Committee did not in this act give the ICC powers in the rate-setting process.7 (Not until passage of the Hepburn Act, in 1906, did the ICC get authority to investigate and lower railroad rates, upon complaints by shippers.)

Continued resistance by the railroads to federal regulation led to passage of the Mann-Elkins Act of 1910. This law, sponsored by Senator Elkins and Representative James R. Mann, gave the ICC authority to suspend general railroad rate increases on its own initiative, pending investigation, and placed responsibility for proving the reasonableness of original rates and increases on the railroads. It also defined telephone, telegraph, and wireless companies as common carriers, thereby bringing them under ICC jurisdiction.

Elkins, who had been mentioned as a Republican Vice-Presidential possibility in 1904, the same year his father-in-law was the Democratic nominee, never left the Senate and never ceased to be influential in the Republican Party. He died of cancer in 1911. His son Davis Elkins served briefly that year in his father’s vacant Senate seat and later (1919-25) served a full term.

The Davis & Elkins College campus includes six national register historic landmarks, four of which also comprise a National Historic District.

Albert and Liberal Arts Halls

Listed 1979
Albert and Liberal Arts Halls were constructed in 1924-1926. At the time, they provided the “entirety” of academic buildings at the “new” campus on the former Halliehurst estate. Walter F. Martens, an architect from Charleston, W.Va., who also was involved in the construction of the State Executive Mansion, was appointed to devise an overall plan for the new Davis & Elkins College campus. The centerpieces of his plan were these two Georgian Revival Buildings which reveal a masterful use of the campus’s sloping terrain. The overall design of the buildings is Georgian with brick exteriors laid in a Flemish bond. Both buildings are highly symmetrical with ample natural light from large, multi-pane windows. Decorative elements include sidelights, fanlights, Corinthian  pilasters, swags, inlaid castings of the College Seal, and stonework belt courses. Liberal Arts Hall is topped by a cupola. Albert Hall was originally named Science Hall, and was renamed as Albert Hall in honor of the late professor and Dean of the College, Dr. Charles Albert. Together with Halliehurst, these two buildings formed the entire campus for the next 30 years.


Listed individually 1970; Listed within Davis & Elkins National Historic Landmark District 1998 – Completed in 1893, Graceland is a stone mansion that, along with a 360-acre estate, served as the summer home of Senator Henry Gassaway Davis. Enjoyed by two generations of the Davis family, the mansion was acquired in 1941 by the West Virginia Presbyterian Educational Fund, and, in 1945, the building and immediate grounds were presented to Davis & Elkins College. Until 1970 it was used for student housing. It has been completely restored and is now operated as an inn.



Listed individually 1982; Listed within the Davis & Elkins National Historic Landmark District 1998Halliehurst, designed by New York architect Charles T. Mott, was built in 1890 for U.S. Senator Stephen Benton Elkins, a lawyer, businessman, and politician. Its size and elaborate detailing directly reflect Elkins’s wealth and influence, as does its location in the town that grew up because of the business enterprises of Elkins and his father-in-law, Sen. Henry Gassaway Davis.


The Icehouse

Listed within the Davis & Elkins National Historic Landmark District 1998
The Icehouse is a cylindrical structure of stone that was originally built in the late 1800s by Senator Stephen B. Elkins as a place to store ice in the summer. The circular field stone structure is a utilitarian storage building, but done in the same imaginative style as Halliehurst. There is a long, shingled, overhanging roof with a picturesque cupola venting the roof. A large square bin projects from the wall on ground level. A pair of stone steps descends to the lower level, where there is an entrance door. In 1969, the structure was refurbished and has since been used as a coffee house and private campus pub.



Listed within the Davis & Elkins National Historic Landmark District 1998
At the entrance to the Davis & Elkins College campus stands the Gatehouse, a quaint structure that doubled as a gatekeeper’s/caretaker’s residence during the years when the Elkins family spent their summers at Halliehurst. The house, with its unusual “witch hat” towers and leaded glass windows, has a storybook look and feel. After the estate was deeded to the College, it became the residence of the College groundskeeper.

The general profile of the Gatehouse is Queen Anne, with steeply-pitched roofs broken by several conical towers. The first floor is rough masonry, and the second-story walls are covered by wood shingles. The first floor plan includes the vestibule, hall, kitchen, and porch on one axis, with the dining room projecting off the main rooms, and the living room placed opposite in the largest round turret. There are separate bedrooms over the living room and dining room respectively. The roof is covered by wood shingles.

In 1988, the Gatehouse underwent restoration to correct structural deficiencies and repair storm windows. During an extensive interior face-lift, walls, woodwork and fixtures were restored to their original condition and antiquated plumbing in the kitchen and upstairs bath were upgraded to modern standards. Today, the tiny historic building houses the Davis & Elkins College Office of Public Safety.