Almost everything about Grafton and its architecture revolves around the railroad. John Grafton, an engineer with the B&O, provided the name, but the story persists that it was named because so many branch lines converged with the main line here that crews called it the “graftin' on” place. Adding credence to that version is the fact that Grafton was, after Cumberland, Maryland, the most important division point in the early years of the B&O.
By the time the B&O and Northwestern Virginia lines were completed, a railroad station and hotel had been built in the Y-intersection where the tracks joined. In 1857 the Cincinnati Enquirer, quoting one of that city's “prominent citizens,” described it, perhaps more enthusiastically than accurately:
… In point of convenience, beauty and all the et ceterathat go to make up a hotel par excellence, the one at Grafton is not to be surpassed upon any line of railroad in this or any other country. The edifice is a grand structure, composed of the Gothic and Corinthian style of architecture and in the point of extent of dimensions and beauty of its appearance will compare favorably with many hotels in larger cities.
High praise indeed, especially as Cincinnati's own Burnet House, regarded as one of the world's finest hotels, had just opened. The Grafton hotel was a good, if conservative, example of the Italianate style, likely designed by the Baltimore firm of Niernsee and Neilson. In continuing its description, the Enquirergave graphic evidence of the dirt and soot that attended travelers in the early days of the iron horse: “The first thing that attracts the attention of travelers on entering the spacious main hall is a large ante-chamber with a double row of washstands extending throughout the entire length of the room.” The antebellum stationhotel building no longer stands, but its twentieth-century replacement, even grander in its own heyday, remains.
Dirt and soot from years of industrial activity in the railroad yards have taken their toll on Grafton, as have the equally destructive forces of economic inactivity that have characterized recent decades. Main Street contains several structures of architectural interest, but vacant buildings between them evoke an overriding impression of decline. The author of an article on Mother's Day and the city's Mother's Day Shrine ( TA2) in the May 13, 2001, edition of The Washington Postunkindly described Grafton as “the kind of town only a mother could love.”
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