Historic Houses of Charleston
Charleston’s historic houses can be found in every neighborhood and come in all shapes and styles. Some are historic for the person who once lived there, while others are historic because of their age and architectural significance. This exhibit presents more than 60 of these houses.
In the 1780s, Charleston’s first settlers built log houses from the trees that filled the Kanawha Valley. Over time, the more prosperous residents built substantial houses, often as the centerpiece of a plantation. Those plantations are gone, but a handful of the houses remain.
The city grew slowly in its first 50 years, but by the 1830s, Charleston boasted several large residences, especially along the Kanawha River. The city began to grow more rapidly after 1885 when it became the permanent capital of West Virginia. By the beginning of the 20th century, Charleston was a bustling city with an ever-growing population, which required the development of new housing in every direction. Businessmen with interests in salt, coal, timber, chemicals, natural gas, and other industries built handsome houses in the East End, along Edgewood Drive, and across the river in South Hills, which offered expansive views of the city.
The oldest house in Charleston is Holly Grove, built in 1815 by Daniel Ruffner, a son of saltmaker Joseph Ruffner. There are at least six other houses in Charleston built before the Civil War that remain: the Colonel Henry Hewitt Wood House, the Augustus Ruffner House, the Craik-Patton House, the MacFarland-Hubbard House, Littlepage Stone Mansion, and Glenwood. Many other significant houses were built in the following decades, including Sunrise, Breezemont, and the Governor’s Mansion.
Several prominent builders and architects were responsible for many of the houses featured in this exhibit. Norris and William Whitteker constructed the MacFarland-Hubbard House, which serves as the headquarters for the West Virginia Humanities Council. The Davidson brothers, Wayland and John, constructed a number of large houses that still stand, including the Carver House and the Ohley House on Kanawha Boulevard. Architect H. Rus Warne designed houses in Edgewood, South Hills, and Kanawha City, many in the Colonial Revival and Tudor Revival styles. Architect Walter Martens also designed many significant residences, including the Governor’s Mansion and Torquilstone. Other important architects represented in this exhibit are Fred Crowther, L.T. Bengston, and John C. Norman.
Five of Charleston’s neighborhoods are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Two of the districts—the Downtown Historic District and the Elk City Historic District—consist mainly of commercial properties. The East End Historic District, the Grosscup Historic District, and the Edgewood Historic District remain residential neighborhoods. There are also 27 Charleston houses, most still privately owned, that are listed individually on the National Register of Historic Places.
This exhibit features houses that are on the National Register or in Charleston’s historic districts. A few of the houses are neither listed on the Register nor in a historic district but are considered significant nonetheless.
This exhibit was developed with assistance from historians Ken Bailey and Billy Joe Peyton; Henry Battle, president of the Kanawha Valley Historical and Preservation Society; and the owners of the historic houses.
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