The Byrd Center staff traveled to Elkins, West Virginia last week to setup our traveling exhibit Robert C. Byrd: Senator, Statesman, West Virginian at its next venue, the Randolph County Community Arts Center. This venue is the tenth stop for the exhibit on its tour across West Virginia and our first stop in the Potomac Highlands region of the state.
Founded in 2000 and located in the historic St. Brendan's Roman Catholic Church, the Randolph County Community Arts Center supports arts programs that education and enhance the cultural and economic life of the Elkins and Randolph County region. The center is a wonderful venue that should draw numerous visitors to the exhibit through Friday, March 17, 2017. The Byrd Center thanks executive director Kurt Barkley and board chairman Charlie Friddle, III for their support and help in bringing the exhibit to Elkins.
Elkins is a particularly unique stop for the exhibit examining the life of Senator Byrd as the city itself was founded by two of his predecessors who represented the state in congress: Senators Henry Gassaway Davis and Stephen Benton Elkins.
Senator Henry Gassaway Davis served in the West Virginia House of Delegates from 1865 until 1869 and the State Senate from 1869 until 1871 before serving two terms in the United States Senate (1871-1883). In 1904, Davis was the vice presidential nominee on the Democratic ticket with presidential candidate Alton B. Parker. They lost the election to the incumbent President Theodore Roosevelt.
Davis amassed a fortune by investing in several railroad, coal, and timber companies in West Virginia. In the last decade of the 19th century, the Davis Coal and Coke Company was among the largest coal companies in the world. By this time, Davis was working in partnership with his son-in-law, Senator Stephen Benton Elkins. A veteran of the Civil War, Elkins first served in congress as a representative from the New Mexico Territory (1873-1877) before marrying Hallie Davis and moving to West Virginia. He served as U.S. Secretary of War from 1891 to 1893 in the Benjamin Harrison administration and then represented West Virginia in the U.S. Senate from 1895 until his death in 1911.
Through their coal and railroad company interests, Senators Davis and Elkins founded the city of Elkins in 1889. Though the city was named after Senator Elkins, both senators' names are preserved by Davis and Elkins College, founded in 1904.
In October 1997, Senator Robert C. Byrd and his wife, Erma attended the dedication of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Hospitality and Tourism on the Davis and Elkins College campus. The facility provides accommodations for visitors to the campus and classrooms for the college's school of Business and Entrepreneurship and the Center for Railroad Tourism. A garden outside Graceland, the historic summer home of Senator Davis, was also dedication in honor of Erma Byrd.
Like so many of the stops on our exhibit tour, Elkins has connections to the life and career of Senator Byrd that can still be seen today. We hope that you have the opportunity to view the traveling exhibit while it is on display in Elkins.