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Place-based Essays

Essays in SAH Archipedia are broadly grouped as either place-based or thematic. Place-based essays include overviews of architecture in specific U.S. states and cities. Thematic essays examine architectural and urban issues within and across state and regional boundaries. Like individual building entries, essays are accompanied by rich subject metadata, so you can browse them by style, type, and period. SAH Archipedia essays are comprised of peer-reviewed scholarship (born-digital and print-based) contributed by architectural historians nationwide.

Downtown

By: S. Allen Chambers Jr.

Bluefield's compact downtown is hemmed in by railroad tracks and yards to the north and hills in every other direction. It appears larger than the population ever warranted, testament to the city's former role as a regional commercial, distribution, and government center. In...

Residential Bluefield

By: S. Allen Chambers Jr.

Bluefield's prime residential areas are separated from downtown by hilly ridges, conveniently distant from the noise and grime of the railroad yards when they were in their prime. Generally known as South Bluefield, this cohesive area is connected to downtown...

Bramwell

By: S. Allen Chambers Jr.

Bramwell is the Brigadoon of coal country. Beautifully situated on a level plain formed by a horseshoe bend of the winding Bluestone River, and climbing the hills to south and east, it seems to exist in another time and, most assuredly, in another place. Almost alone of West...

McDowell County

By: S. Allen Chambers Jr.

McDowell County was formed in 1858 and named for James McDowell, a former governor of Virginia. West Virginia's southernmost county, it remained one of its most isolated and underpopulated until the end of the nineteenth century. In 1890 the population was 7,300; in 1900 it had...

Maybeury

By: S. Allen Chambers Jr.

The 1941 WPA-sponsored guide to West Virginia described Maybeury as “a mining center [where] rows of houses, monotonously alike, radiate up narrow hollows into the hills.” Over the intervening years, a variety of changes, including room additions, garage conversions, artificial...

Elkhorn

By: S. Allen Chambers Jr.

Elkhorn, one of the earliest McDowell County coal camps, was established in 1888 when the railroad reached this point in its northwest trek down the narrow valley of Elkhorn Creek. The town, a short distance north of U.S. 52, is reached via Elkhorn Station Road. Elkhorn, now...

Keystone

By: S. Allen Chambers Jr.

Keystone was a regional trading center for area coal company towns and camps. It also served as a regional red-light district, and its “Cinder Bottom” was a notorious early-twentieth-century destination in coal country. A group of twenty-odd one-story brick bungalows at the...

Welch

By: S. Allen Chambers Jr.

In 1888 Captain Isaiah Arnold Welch, geologist, explorer, and pioneer developer of West Virginia's southern coalfields, paid a dollar an acre, throwing in his sorrel mare to seal the bargain, for a 100-acre tract at the confluence of Tug River and Elkhorn Creek. In 1891 the Norfolk...

Wyoming County

By: S. Allen Chambers Jr.

Wyoming County, created in 1850, derives its name from the Delaware Indian word that translates as “large plains.” In this particularly mountainous region, it could also be translated as “wishful thinking.” The Coal Heritage Trail (West Virginia 16) traverses the county's...

Itmann

By: S. Allen Chambers Jr.

Itmann, the Pocahontas Fuel Company's town, was named for its president, I. T. Mann. In 1916 the company leased more than a thousand acres of coal land and built Itmann in 1918–1919. It remains among the best preserved communities in the region, and the 1989 Coal Road Study...

Raleigh County

By: S. Allen Chambers Jr.

Raleigh County, formed in 1850 from Fayette County, was named for Sir Walter. In 1860, on the eve of the Civil War, it had a population of only 3,367. The county's early economy was agricultural, but toward the end of the nineteenth century entrepreneurs began to exploit its...

Beckley

By: S. Allen Chambers Jr.

General Alfred Beckley established Beckley on a thirty-acre tract in 1838. He named his “paper town”—as neighbors called it in derision—to honor his father, from whom he had inherited vast tracts of land. Initial settlement was almost nonexistent, and by the time the town plat was...

Raleigh

By: S. Allen Chambers Jr.

Raleigh, now a southeastern suburb of Beckley, was the company town of the Raleigh Coal and Coke Company, one of the county's pioneer operations. The company opened mines here in 1900 and sold its product under the trademark Black Knight Coal. By 1930 the company employed 750 men...

Coal Company Towns

By: S. Allen Chambers Jr.

The chief remnants of Raleigh County's coal company towns lie in the county's southwestern quadrant. The Coal Heritage Trail (WV 16) traverses the region from Beckley southwestward to Wyoming County. Several of the following entries are “off the beaten track,” but...

Boone County

By: S. Allen Chambers Jr.

At the suggestion of a Virginia legislator, Boone County, formed in 1847, was named for Daniel Boone. The noted pioneer had rescued the legislator's mother from Indians in the late eighteenth century. John Peter Sailing (Salley) explored the area in 1742 and recorded in his...

Madison

By: S. Allen Chambers Jr.

Madison, the county seat, was incorporated in 1906 and had a 2000 population of 2,677. Its name derives not from James Madison but from William Madison Peyton, who helped establish the county. Madison's Main Street is wedged tightly between the CSX railroad tracks, which parallel...

Logan County

By: S. Allen Chambers Jr.

Logan County was named for a chieftain of the Mingo Indian tribe, whose name in turn had honored James Logan, secretary of colonial Pennsylvania and a friend to the Indians. Established in 1824, the county initially comprised a far larger area than it now does. Even so, its 1830...

Logan

By: S. Allen Chambers Jr.

Writing in 1835, Joseph Martin noted that Lawnsville, as the county seat was then named, was “laid off in 1827, since which time a handsome [courthouse], clerk's office, and jail have been erected of hewn stone.” In 1852 the Virginia General Assembly incorporated the town as Aracoma...

Mingo County

By: S. Allen Chambers Jr.

“Bloody Mingo,” West Virginia's youngest county, was established in 1895 from the western portion of Logan County and named to honor the Mingo Indians. Coal was Mingo's birthright, but before the Norfolk & Western Railroad reached this far western section of the state in the...

Williamson

By: S. Allen Chambers Jr.

Manufacturers' Recordnoted the proposed establishment of a new town in what was then Logan County in its May 23, 1891, issue: “W. J. Williamson … and others have, it is reported, purchased 1,200 acres of land in Logan County, and will build a new town to be called...

Matewan

By: S. Allen Chambers Jr.

Matewan's fame derives from the “Matewan Massacre” of May 19, 1920, depicted in the 1987 movie Matewan. The “massacre” was perhaps an inevitable result of long-standing disputes between labor and management in the West Virginia coal mines. In a short but bloody...

Lower Ohio and Kanawha Valleys

By: S. Allen Chambers Jr.

The far southwestern section of West Virginia contains some of the state's earliest documented sites of human occupation, largely along the fertile Ohio and Kanawha river lowlands. American settlers followed the examples these prehistoric inhabitants had set centuries...

Wayne County

By: S. Allen Chambers Jr.

Wayne, formed in 1842 from Cabell County to the northeast, is West Virginia's westernmost county. Both it and the county seat were named for Anthony Wayne, the famous Revolutionary War hero whose name is almost always preceded by “Mad.” In the nineteenth century timber and...

Kenova

By: S. Allen Chambers Jr.

Wayne County's largest community, with a 2000 population of 3,485, derives its somewhat convoluted name from the three states whose borders converge here: Kentucky, Ohio, and West Va. It lies at the extreme southwestern tip of West Virginia, across the Big Sandy...

Lincoln County

By: S. Allen Chambers Jr.

Lincoln County, third of the five counties formed after West Virginia became a state, dates from 1867. The 1870 census counted a population of 5,053. In 1910 the count had risen to 20,491, and it has fluctuated little since then. The 2000 count obtained a figure of 22,108....

Cabell County (outside Huntington)

By: S. Allen Chambers Jr.

Cabell County, formed in 1809 from Kanawha County, was named for William H. Cabell, whose term as governor of Virginia had just ended. The first courthouse was at Guyandotte, but the more centrally located Barboursville became the county seat in 1814. In 1840...

Barboursville

By: S. Allen Chambers Jr.

Barboursville, founded in 1813, was named for Virginia Governor James Barbour. In 1835 Joseph Martin called it a “handsome little village” of “25 dwelling houses.” U.S. 60 bypassed Barboursville in 1930, and the town's smallscale charm comes as a welcome relief from the...

Milton

By: S. Allen Chambers Jr.

An early settlement grew up here at the Mud River crossing of the James River and Kanawha Turnpike. A covered bridge that replaced the ferry in 1875–1876 stood until recently. When the community became a stop on the C&O Railway in the 1870s, it developed as a regional...

Green Bottom

By: S. Allen Chambers Jr.

Humans have occupied the fertile Ohio River bottomlands that extend from northern Cabell County into southern Mason County for a millennium. As noted in the introduction to this book, Henry Howe recorded in 1845 that “before the plough of civilization had disturbed the soil...

Huntington

By: S. Allen Chambers Jr.

Huntington sprang full blown from the fertile mind of Collis P. Huntington (1820–1900). The western terminus of his Chesapeake & Ohio Railway, it was platted on a huge, level tract of Ohio River flatland between the earlier communities of Guyandotte on the east and Ceredo on the...

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