Senator Stephen Benton Elkins (September 26, 1841-January 4, 1911) was born in Perry County, Ohio, and died at Halliehurst, his home in Elkins. His father, originally from Virginia, moved the family from Ohio to Missouri when Stephen was small. Young Elkins attended Masonic School at Lexington, Missouri, and graduated at the head of his class at the University of Missouri in 1860. After graduation he taught school at Harrisonville, Missouri. During this time Elkins taught Cole Younger, later a notorious outlaw, and Younger once saved Elkins from Confederate guerrillas during the Civil War.
Elkins, whose father and brothers were in the Confederate army, served two years in the Union army as a captain. He left the army in 1863. He attended law school at least briefly and was admitted to the Missouri bar in 1864. He moved west the same year, settling in Mesilla, New Mexico. He served as New Mexico’s attorney general in 1867 and as its U.S. district attorney, 1867–70. In 1872, he was elected to represent the New Mexico Territory in Congress. Before his election his wife died, leaving him with two small daughters, Elizabeth and Sallie.
In Washington Elkins met Hallie Davis, daughter of Sen. Henry Gassaway Davis of West Virginia. Miss Davis, only 20, and Elkins were married in Baltimore in 1875. Recognizing the potential of the oil, coal, and timber industries, Senator Davis invited Elkins to become a partner in developing lands in West Virginia in 1877. In 1878, Elkins became a citizen of West Virginia. He and Davis joined with Davis’s two brothers and R. C. Kerens and formed the West Virginia Central and Pittsburg [sic] Railway which opened a vast wilderness to development. Elkins was also associated with his father-in-law in Davis Coal & Coke and other enterprises.
In 1890, the Elkinses chose to build their castle-like home, Halliehurst, in Randolph County near the Tygart Valley River. Nearby was Graceland, home of Senator Davis, and the town of Elkins sprang up in the valley below.
In 1884, Elkins was elected executive chairman of the National Republican Committee, and he became a force in Republican politics nationally and in West Virginia. President Harrison appointed him secretary of war in 1891. The West Virginia legislature elected Elkins to the U.S. Senate in 1895, and he served until his death. Elkins is credited with helping to engineer the long ascendency of the Republican Party in West Virginia, lasting from the 1890s to the Great Depression. For many years he operated a formidable machine within the party.
The town of Elkins and Davis & Elkins College are named for Stephen Benton Elkins.
This Article was written by Jae Spears
Last Revised on October 18, 2012
Lambert, Oscar Doane. Stephen Benton Elkins: American Foursquare. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1955.
Elkins, West Virginia: Its Past, Present, and Future. Elkins: Board of Trade, 1906.