The Preservation Alliance of West Virginia has announced that the Davis Coal and Coke Company Administrative Building just south of the historic River Street District of Thomas has been recognized as a significant endangered historic building for 2019.
It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011 because of its importance as the Tucker County headquarters of the company founded by legendary railroad and coal magnate Senator Henry Gassaway Davis from 1900 until 1950. The Alliance is adding it to the West Virginia Endangered Properties List because it has been sitting vacant since the 1980s and is structurally failing.
In 1995, the City of Thomas took ownership of the building and has been able to maintain the exterior walls and roof, but not to correct the structural problems inside the building. The Friends of Blackwater took an interest in the building and has partnered with the City of Thomas and Vandalia Heritage Foundation to seek additional funding. The future is looking bright. In July 2019, the West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office granted $29,100 to Vandalia Heritage to replace joists on the first floor and repair a structural wall in the building.
There are still many unknowns, and the Friends of Blackwater looked to bring more attention to this important project by nominating it to the West Virginia Endangered Properties List. The current plan is for the City to enter into a long term lease with the Vandalia Heritage Foundation to redevelop the building,
The Friends of Blackwater initiated this endangered properties recognition process on behalf of the City of Thomas and has solicited the assistance of the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia for historic preservation technical assistance, as well as applied for grant funding to develop an adaptive reuse plan for the building. The mostly likely redevelopment path for the building would be to have retail space on the main floor, with offices or residential space on the second floor and in the attic.
The West Virginia Endangered Properties List is a collection of historical resources in danger of being lost. The Preservation Alliance of West Virginia is the statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to historic preservation in our Mountain State. It maintains the West Virginia Endangered Properties List and administers the Preserve WV AmeriCorps program.
This structure played an important role in the life of Tucker County for many years. In the early 1900s, there were 1300 to 1500 Davis Coal and Coke employees in the Thomas area alone, and many more in neighboring towns who would have been overseen from the administrative building. Miners from Thomas and the surrounding area would have come to the building to get their pay, and the pay window on the first floor has been preserved, along with several walk-in bank vaults on the first and second floors. Important documentation was kept in the vaults along with money, and the building’s contents were so valuable that they were protected by armed guards.
Engineers, surveyors and other upper level employees would have worked on the second floor of the building. Ledgers stored on the second floor and in the attic show that this was a center of record keeping, with personnel files, financial documents, maps, and records of chemical testing all left behind in the building. Many of these files have since been taken to the West Virginia University archive department for preservation and digitization. Boxes of core samples, used to determine the quality of coal deposits, are stored on the lower floor.
Research, mapping, and important decision-making for coal development would have taken place on the upper floors of the building.
The administrative building would have also been at the center of many of the key historic events in the area. For instance, when the Thomas Number 25 mine exploded in 1907, the building became a coordinating point for rescue efforts and later handled compensation for the surviving families of men killed in the explosion.
For more information contact Danielle LaPresta Parker, [email protected]