National Historic Landmarks, which are sites of national historic significance, are designated by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. They represent a higher level of recognition than the National Register of Historic Places, whose sites may be merely of state or local significance. West Virginia has 16 National Historic Landmarks.
The National Historic Landmarks program was authorized in 1935, and most landmarks are identified through rigorous study by National Park Service personnel. The majority are buildings, but archeological sites, bridges, ships, astronomical installations, and even whole towns may be considered. Owners receive bronze plaques officially identifying their properties as National Historic Landmarks, and most display them proudly.
West Virginia’s landmarks are wonderfully diverse. They include the Clover site, overlooking the Ohio River in Cabell County. There, archeologists have uncovered evidence of human occupation dating from 9,000 years ago and a well-preserved 16th-century townsite of the Fort Ancient culture. Moundsville’s Grave Creek Mound, our other archeological National Historic Landmark, dating from about 250–150 B. C., is one of the largest mortuary mounds in the world.
Also included are the 1849 Wheeling Suspension Bridge, in its day the longest suspension span in the world and the first bridge across the Ohio River, and West Virginia Independence Hall, the birthplace of West Virginia, in downtown Wheeling. Bethany has two National Historic Landmarks. The Alexander Campbell Mansion illustrates the life of the founder of one of America’s largest indigenous religious movements, the Disciples of Christ. Nearby Old Main is the prodigious architectural centerpiece of Bethany College, which Campbell founded. Morgantown also has a National Historic Landmark associated with American education, the Alexander Wade House. As superintendent of Monongalia County schools during the 1870s, Alexander Wade inaugurated a system of graded classes that was later adopted nationwide.
In the northeastern corner of the state, Preston County’s Elkins Coal & Coke Company Historic District at Bretz contains one of the nation’s largest concentrations of beehive coke ovens. Far to the southwest, in Mingo County, the Matewan Historic District witnessed a nationally significant labor history event, the bloody 1920 Matewan Massacre.
The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs is also a National Historic Landmark. West Virginians can also be proud of Weston State Hospital, a gargantuan stone building designed to reflect the most advanced mid-19th century theories for treatment of the mentally ill. The Davis & Elkins Historic District in Elkins includes Halliehurst, home of Stephen B. Elkins, secretary of war under President Benjamin Harrison and U.S. senator from 1895 to 1911, and the adjacent Graceland, home of Henry Gassaway Davis, also a U.S. senator and father-in-law to Elkins. Traveller’s Rest in Jefferson County was the home of Revolutionary War Gen. Horatio Gates.
Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton was designated a National Historic Landmark because it was here that Anna Jarvis founded Mother’s Day in 1908. Perhaps the most unusual National Historic Landmark in West Virginia is the Reber Radio Telescope at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory at Green Bank. The most recently designated National Historic Landmark in West Virginia is the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Martinsburg Shops complex in Berkeley County.
National Historic Landmarks are afforded no special protection, a fact that one of West Virginia’s former landmarks tragically illustrates. The boarding house prison where Mary Harris ‘‘Mother’’ Jones, the union organizer, was held in the Kanawha County town of Pratt was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1992 but demolished by its owners in 1996.
This Article was written by S. Allen Chambers Jr.
Last Revised on February 18, 2013
Cite This Article
Chambers Jr., S. Allen "National Historic Landmarks." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 18 February 2013. Web. 27 March 2017.