Downtown Elkins District

The Downtown Elkins you see today is only about 120 years old. Well into the late 19th century, Randolph County remained primarily agricultural, with a few small towns and family farms in the valley sand vast virgin forests covering the mountains. 

The area first caught the eye of railroad entrepreneur Henry Gassaway Davis and Stephen Benton Elkins on an excursion with their families in the mid-1880’s. Senator Davis realized that a potential fortune in timber and coal lay in central West Virginia, but could not be extracted without a railroad. The Tygarts Valley near the small community of Leadville offered a suitable place for the main hub of such a rail line. Davis soon began extensions of the West Virginia Central and Pittsburg Railway into the heart of the state. 

Elkins was a planned city, laid out from the very beginning as a railroad community. The majority of the downtown, including the old rail yard, is located upon a 163 acre tract bought by Davis from Bernard Hinkle in 1888. By 1889, Davis and Elkins had formally laid out the city and autumn of that year marked the arrival of the rail lines. In 1890, less than five years since the first venture into the area, the city of Elkins was incorporated. 

Development thrived, feeding off the energy and economy of the railroad. The earliest businessman to show up on the scene were known as the “Eighty-niners”, named for the year they ventured to the newly-founded city. These men built the majority of the early commercial buildings in the downtown area. They were also the first to open businesses and the first to fill early government offices. 

A devastating fire on March 17, 1897 wiped out most of the original business district. The fire probably started in an upstairs room above the Elkins Furniture & Hardware Store on Davis Avenue and caused losses amounting to $85,000. The fire forever changed the face of the Elkins downtown district. Building owners learned from the disaster and result in brick and stone what had been wood-frame structures. Most downtown structures today postdate the March 1897 fire. One positive outcome from this fire was the organization of the first fire department in Elkins.

The population of the boomtown of Elkins grew quickly. Community leaders agitated for Elkins to become the county seat replaced the much older but now smaller town of Beverly. After a series of elections and a near-battle, a court ruling settled the issue in Elkins’ favor and the seat of county government was moved.

Elkins continued to grow over the decades and became a center of commerce and culture. Development was booming and from 1900 to 1920 – the most prolific construction period of Elkins’ history. Most of the houses and businesses you see today were built during that era. Workers, managers, and merchants making a living from the railroad established residential and commercial areas in the new town. 

To this day, Elkins continues to shine as the business and cultural hub of Randolph County When the mainline railroad moved out, community lenders moved forward to rebuild the rail yard and downtown economy based on tourism and small businesses. While the purposes of some buildings have changed, walking through downtown will still give you a glimpse of what life used to be like in the industrial city and how over 100 years later, social, cultural, and commercial scenes are alive and thriving in a new age.