Wees Historic District

The Wees Historic District, listed in 2006,  is a national historic district located in Elkins, near the historic downtown and the Elkins City Park. This historic district encompasses 282 contributing buildings, 1 contributing site, and 1 contributing object in a primarily residential section of Elkins. The district includes different achectectural style homes built around the 1890s and 1955s era. The district also includes a variety of domestic dependencies, several historic churches, the 7.9-acre City Park, and a small number of commercial buildings. Also in the district is a bronze equestrian statue of Henry Gassaway Davis otherwise known as the Iron Horse. Located in the district are the Davis Memorial Presbyterian Church, Randolph County Courthouse and Jail, and the Warfield-Dye Residence.

The Wees Historic District is locally significant and district represents the area of community planning and development in that it is comprised primarily of three formally-platted additions to the city of Elkins, representing the growth of the city during the period of significance. Further Criterion A significance in the area of recreation/ entertainment is derived from the district’s long association with Frank Wimer, who also provides part of the district’s significance under Criterion B. The district’s Criterion B significance is vested in its association with two individuals of transcendent importance to the history of Elkins. Legendary West Virginia sports figure Frank C. Wimer lived in the district for more than a half-century and industrialist A. Spates Brady, a long-time political figure active in both local and state politics built a house in the district and lived here for much of his active professional and political life. Under Criterion C the district is significant for architecture, as a strong, locally-significant, and relatively dense concentration of residential, commercial, and institutional buildings built between c.1890 and the mid-1950s and including examples of many of the styles of design popular during the period of significance. The district reflects the growth and maturity of this West Virginia community in the wake of significant coal, timber, and associated railroad development beginning in the last decade of the nineteenth century and spanning the next half-century.

The initial settlement of Randolph County was concentrated in the vicinity of Beverly, south of Elkins, and dated from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The area which would become Elkins began as the rural village of Leadsville, named for its proximity to the mouth of Leading Creek; by 1823 a post office was established in the settlement. Leadsville’s growth was slow during the ensuing six decades and it remained little more than a rural hamlet. In 1888 Henry Gassaway Davis acquired 163 acres from Bernard Hinkle, a tract that would comprise much of the railroad yards to which the community’s fortunes would be inextricably linked. Davis (1823-1916) was a native of Woodstock, Maryland and at an early age began work as a brakeman on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Prior to the Civil War, he began investing in coal and timber lands in the section of north- western Virginia which would become West Virginia. In the 1880s Davis and his business partners constructed the West Virginia and Pittsburg Central Railroad to access these vast natural areas, and among the communities which thrived along the line was Leadsville, which in 1889 was incorporated. G. Davis began his political career after the Civil War and served one term in the West Virginia House of Delegates before being elected to the state Senate and in the early 1870s to the United States Senate. The first Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate from West Virginia, he served until the early 1880s. He declined multiple offers to run for Vice President of the United States and to fill Cabinet positions. In 1904 he agreed to run for the Vice Presidency, only to be defeated by the Republican ticket headed by Theodore Roosevelt. A 1927 equestrian statue of Davis, otherwise known as the Iron Horse, stands at the intersection of Sycamore Street and Randolph Avenue near both to the entrance to Davis and Elkins College and to Davis’ summer home.

The growth of Elkins depended upon not only Davis, but also his son-in-law, Stephen B. Elkins (1841-1911), to whom the fortune of the community was also tied. The husband of Davis’ daughter, Hallie, the elder businessman had made the younger a partner in the 1870s. Writing in 1994, Robert C. Whetsell noted, “Together Davis and Elkins brought the first railroad into West Virginia’s rugged Potomac Highlands; through it, they converted the region’s vast coal and timber resources into their personal fortunes. Like his father-in-law, Elkins devoted a significant proportion of his energies to politics, representing West Virginia in the U. S. Senate from 1895 until his death sixteen years later.

In addition to their coal and timber interests, Davis and Elkins were the community’s first and most prominent philanthropists. In 1895 Sen. Davis presented the community with the City Park and the same year, along with his brother, Thomas, commissioned the construction of the Davis Memorial Presbyterian Church as a memorial to their parents. In 1904 Davis and Elkins College opened, financed largely from the generosity of its namesakes.

Among the community’s other business leaders was the Wees family (also spelled WEESE in some sources). Perry Hart Wees lived in a substantial home with an attached store on Randolph Avenue and owned a farm behind his house to the east. In 1890 the family laid out their farm into 153 building lots. The Wees Addition, including portions of Buffalo, Fayette, Cherry, Guy, Earle, and Prospect Streets, and Boundary Avenue, comprises a large part of the Wees Historic District. Following the death of P. H. Wees, his estate was divided among his children. A typical deed from the Wees Addition provides the recitation that the property sold was owned by Perry Wees’ son and daughter-in-law, Boyd Wees and Knight Burns Wees, and was “one of the lots assigned to Boyd Wees in a division between Boyd Wees and [his brother] Kirk Wees.” By 1905, Boyd Wees was the sole proprietor of the family business and would eventually serve three terms as the Mayor of Elkins.

By 1889 the population of the community exceeded 350. Elkins’ growth continued unabated throughout the 1890s, as the exploration and harvesting of coal and timber developed and the railroad grew concomitantly. In 1898 the population had swelled to 3,000. In 1903 the 110-parcel Hillside Addition was laid out east of the Wees Addition. The 1890 Wees Addition plat had noted that the area to the east was “rising ground” and the naming of the Hillside Addition reflects its topography. In 1907 C. L. Earle platted a small 4-lot addition along Park Street; the addition bore his name. By 1910 more than 5,200 called Elkins home.

Returning to the physical development of the historic district, farther south along the east side of South Randolph Avenue stood a circular timber frame barn, one of several similarly-shaped agricultural dependencies built near Elkins. Erected in 1832, the round barn (Figs. 1 and 2) was dismantled after being damaged in an 1897 snowstorm. In 1906, W. H. and Savilla Mason laid out the Round Barn Addition to the city of Elkins, creating 36 building lots along portions of present-day Locust Avenue and Vine and Diamond Streets.

Elkins prospered in the early years of the twentieth century. By the early 1920s the population reached nearly 6,800 and by the end of the period of significance in the 1950s had topped 9,100. The building up of the Wees Historic District began along Buffalo, Prospect, Earle, and Guy Streets, closer to the downtown. The balance of the historic district was built following about 1910 and continued unabated until the 1950s, when ranch-style homes were filling in the last building lots in the district.

Workers and managers alike built homes in the new subdivisions. The district became home to a broad cross-section of individuals whose fortunes were tied to the success of the community.

Representative examples include James Appleton, who lived at 106 Elm Street. Appleton (1851-1938) came to Elkins in 1890 and became the community’s first practicing attorney. He drew up the incorporation papers for the new municipality, served as its mayor in the late 1890s, and was elected to several terms on City Council. Cyrus Scott Kump was another community leader who made his home in the district. A local attorney and the son of West Virginia Governor H. G. Kump, Cyrus Kump and his wife, Hazel Turner Kump built the 1937 Georgian Revival-style house at 41 High Street.

The Criterion B significance of the Wees Historic District is attributable to its long association with two individuals of transcendent importance to the community. Frank Coin Wimer (1896-1981), was a legendary figure in the history of sport not only in Elkins but also across West Virginia. Wimer, known universally as “Coach,” was an Elkins native whose father, C. H. Wimer, operated a livery in Elkins. As a youth, Frank Wimer was an outstanding athlete both in high school and at Davis and Elkins College. He saw service in World War I and afterward graduated from West Virginia University. In 1919 he began a teaching career at Elkins High School and the following year began to coach; his career in education continued until his retirement in 1954. He amassed a record of 585-184 in basketball and 181-86-26 in football; his track teams won 68 of 105 meets. Under Wimer, Elkins won state basketball titles in 1926 and 1935 and was runner-up four times. Referred to by sportswriters as the “winningest coach” in West Virginia history, his composite all-sports won/lost record at Elkins High was 834-307, including a school record of 60 consecutive home contest victories between 1923 and 1928. He coached some of the finest athletes of the time, including 1937-1938 University of Pittsburgh All-American halfback Marshall Goldman. Wimer was the founder and first commissioner of the Big Ten Conference in north-central West Virginia and he also designed the stadium at Elkins

High School, which was named in his honor in 1936. Wimer was inducted into the West Virginia Sports Writers Hall of Fame in 1959 and the Davis and Elkins College Sports Hall of Fame in 1975. In 1999, eighteen years after his death, the Charleston Daily Mail named him among the best ten high school coaches in the twentieth century in West Virginia. He and his wife lived at 316 Buffalo Street for nearly 56 years, until their murder at the hands of a hitchhiker.

Additional Criterion B significance is ascribed to the Wees Historic District for its association with A. Spates Brady, who also made his home in the district. About 1920 he built a Colonial Revival- style house at 109 High Street where he lived for the rest of his life; the house is presently occupied by his grand-daughter. Brady (1876-1946) was a leading regional business leader and served several appointments in state government. Born on the north branch of the Potomac River at Brady’s Mill, Spates Brady was educated at the public schools of Mineral County and at the Allegany County Academy in Cumberland, Maryland. As a youth he was the water and tool boy on the first two-mile section of the Piedmont and Cumberland Railroad (later the Western Maryland). He became a civil and mining engineer for the West Virginia Central and Pittsburg Railway, which had been built by Henry Gassaway Davis, and also with the Davis Coal and Coke Company. In this latter role Brady constructed the first electric power plant and installed the first electric-powered mining machinery in the northern West Virginia coal fields. He later engaged in the practice of civil and mechanical engineering with his older brother, doing business as S. D. Brady and Brother. His work included the “surveying of practically the coal and timber land in the Upper Potomac coal regional and the construction of logging railroads, sawmills, mining plants, and railroad surveys.” He and his brother opened an office at Clarksburg and prepared many of the original oil and gas maps for that part of the state and also became successful oil and gas developers. Brady moved to Elkins in 1911. During World War I, he represented the United States government in issues related to war time fuel production and later represented citizens from Elkins, Buckhannon, Phillipi, Keyser, and Piedmont in a rate dispute wit h the Allegany Gas Co. In this endeavor he was associated with his life long friend, H. G. Kump, who was later elected Governor of West Virginia.

During Gov. Kump’s term (1933-1937), Spates Brady was appointed one of the original members of the Liquor Control Commission and served as president of the state Board of Control. He also served sixteen years on Elkins City Council and during a serious drought in the 1930s he designed and saw constructed a pump station across Tunnel Mountain, on the Cheat River, allowing water to be pumped to the Western Maryland Railroad tunnel, where it could flow down Isner Creek into the Tygarts Valley River, the community’s water supply. He also served as director-general of the Mountain State Forest Festival which was held in Elkins and enjoyed a sixteen-year-long tenure as president of the Businessman’s Association of Elkins. He maintained an abiding interest in Davis and Elkins College and served on its Board of Trustees; the college recognized his service with an honorary Doctorate of Laws.

About 1920 Brady commissioned local master builder/architect T. R. Whiteman to erect for him a house Colonial Revival-style house at 109 High Street. He lived there for the balance of his active career until his death in 1946 at the age of 70. The house remains in the family and is owned by his granddaughter.

The Wees Historic District’s significance for architecture is established by the presence in the district of a strong and cohesive concentration of mixed-use architecture which mirrors sixty-five years of development in Elkins and reflects many of the popular styles of design in vogue throughout the period of significance of the district. Included among these styles are the Queen Anne, and Romanesque, Gothic and Late Gothic, Neo-Classical, Tudor, and Colonial Revival, Bungalow, American Foursquare, Cape Cod, and Ranch styles, along with numerous vernacular derivations of many of the styles and other properties reflecting no particular architectural style but nonetheless reflecting local building traditions within the city. Specific examples of representative styles appear in Section 7.

In addition to its reflection of the community’s domestic architectural legacy, the institutional growth and maturity of the community is seen in three substantial religious buildings and two religious residences which stand along Randolph Avenue in the Wees Historic District. These are the 1894-95 Davis Memorial Presbyterian Church and its adjacent 1902 Manse, the First Baptist Church of 1913, and the 1927 St. Brendan’s Roman Catholic Church, now to a community center, and its adjacent Rectory, now the community center’s office.

The Wees Historic District is strengthened considerably by the presence in the district of the work of several nationally- and regionally prominent architects, one sculptor, and several local master builders. The Davis Memorial Presbyterian Church is the work of Baltimore architect Charles E. Cassell. Cassell was also responsible for the design of the Chapel at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, the Bishop Cummings Memorial Church in Baltimore, Christ Episcopal Church in Cambridge, Maryland, and the Stafford Hotel in Baltimore.

Washington, D. C. architect Clarence L. Harding designed the Davis Memorial Presbyterian Church’s 1921 Sunday School addition. His Elkins work also includes the 1924 Gov. H. G. Kump House on South Randolph Avenue (NR 1983) and in Charleston he designed the Union Building, the tallest building in West Virginia when it was built in 1911.

The 1938 U. S. Department of Agriculture Building was the product of the Depression-era Works Progress Administration and represents the work of the U. S. Treasury Department’s Supervising Architect Louis A. Simons, assisted by Supervising Engineer Neal A. Melick. Simons and Melick also collaborated on the WPA-built Post Office in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. The Elkins USDA Building served as a prototype for Simons’ Laconia, New Hampshire, federal building which houses the offices

The significance of the USDA building is further fortified by its association with illustrator Stevan Dohanos (1907-1994), a noted WPA Federal Art Project artist. The Federal Art Project was one of the divisions of the WPA created under Federal Project One. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had made several attempts prior to the F.A.P. to provide employment for artists on relief, namely the Public Works of Art Project (P.W.A.P.) which operated from 1933 to 1934 and the Treasury Department Section of Painting and Sculpture which was created in 1934 after the demise of the P.W.A.P. How- ever, it was the F.A.P. which provided the widest reach, creating over 5,000 jobs for artists and producing over 225,000 works of art for the American people. Two of these works are “Forest Service” and “Mining Village” murals painted by Stevan Dohanos in the Elkins USDA Building.

Dohanos was an illustrator whose work appeared on 125 Saturday Evening Post covers. He served as the design coordinator for the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee and directed the design work for more than 300 commemorative stamps. He contracted tuberculosis in 1936 and after being cured designed the 1942 Christmas Seal used in the fundraising campaign associated with research into a cure for this disease. In addition to his Elkins commission. Dohanos’ other WPA-era murals include a federal building in the Virgin Islands and the Post Office in West Palm Beach, Florida.

New York City sculptor Louis Saint-Lenne produced the equestrian statue of Henry Gassaway Davis. His work also includes the 1920-1921 Isaac L. Rice Memorial (Study of American Boy), at Pelham Bay Park, New Rochelle, New York. Her daughter, Bessie, a graduate of West Virginia State College, taught music and was pianist at the Shiloh Baptist Church. Glenn Edwards also assisted with the construction of the 1916 former Elkins Post Office, outside the district.

Edward T. McHale was born in 1861 and became a noted local stone mason. Among his pro- jects were his own McHale Building in downtown Elkins outside the district and the Davis Memorial Presbyterian Church on Randolph Avenue. Among the most prolific of the builders in the period of significance was Thornton Russell Whiteman (1875-1966). He came to Elkins in 1905 and over his long career built 127 homes, 104 of which he also designed. Within the district, he was responsible for the homes of Dr. L. J. Parmesano and John Wallace on Cherry Street, E. A. Bowers at 200 Boundary Avenue, A. Spates Brady at 109 High Street, and Nunley Beard Snedegar at 106 High Street. He is also credited with the construction of the previously-listed 1916 Randolph County Jail. At the time of Whiteman’s death, a tribute to him noted, “Of his contributions were removed, we would be unable to recognize Elkins.”

Viewing the Wees Historic District in the context of other similar resources, several comparisons can be made. As noted previously, within Elkins itself are two listed historic districts, one encompassing Davis and Elkins College and one encompassing the downtown area. The college district differs from the Wees district in that it consists of a campus dotted by institutional buildings, while the downtown district is primarily commercial in character; the Wees Historic District is primarily residential in character and contains only a small proportion of non-residential resources.

Summarizing, the Wees Historic District is distinctive as a cohesive and strong concentration of locally-significant, primarily domestic architecture dating from the last years of the nineteenth century through the first half-century of the twentieth.