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Charleston History Through Postcards

There are 27 sections in this Exhibit

These postcards illustrate how much Charleston has changed in the past century or so. Many landmarks—such as the Kearse Theater and Charleston High School—have come and gone, but other familiar buildings remain. These postcards are from the collection of Stan Cohen, who is the co-author, with Richard Andre, of Kanawha County Images and Kanawha County Images, Volume 2.

Section 1: Capitol Street, 1909


This postcard from 1909 shows Capitol Street looking north from the corner of Quarrier Street. Most of the buildings on the right side of the street are still standing

Section 2: Capitol Street, looking south


This postcard from about 1915 shows Capitol Street from Quarrier Street. The Union Building can be seen in the distance.

Section 3: Capitol Street, looking north


This postcard from about 1917 shows Capitol Street from the old federal building, which is now the Kanawha County Public Library. The yellow streetcars were local cars, while the green ones were interurban cars. The Charleston Interurban Railroad operated two interurban lines, one west to St. Albans and the other east to Cabin Creek.

Section 4: Davis Park


This postcard shows a corner of Davis Park at the corner of Capitol and Lee streets. To the right is the YMCA, which opened in 1908. Henry Gassaway Davis donated the land for the park, and his statue still stands there. The YMCA building was torn down in 1981.

Section 5: Boat Landing


This 1908 postcard shows two packet boats docked at the levee. Commercially operated steamboats were a common sight on the Kanawha River until the 1930s. This postcard also shows buildings along Kanawha Street that were torn down to make room for four-lane Kanawha Boulevard. They were occupied by a number of businesses, including the Charleston News Mail, which later became the Charleston Daily Mail, and Diamond Ice and Coal Company.

Section 6: Victorian Capitol


In 1870, the state capital was moved from Wheeling to Charleston. The 1870 capitol was built in the Italianate style, with Romanesque details. The state’s fourth capitol building, the second one in Charleston, incorporated the 1870 capitol into the new structure. The 85 rooms of the new building, shown here, were completely occupied in 1887. This building was the seat of government until it burned in 1921.

Section 7: First Governor's Mansion


Clothing merchant Gustave Jelenko built this home on Capitol Street about 1887 and sold it to the state in 1893. Eight governors lived there, beginning with Governor William MacCorkle. The current Governor’s Mansion on the capitol grounds was built in 1924-1925.

Section 8: Capitol Annex


The capitol annex at the corner of Lee and Hale streets housed the offices of the auditor, treasurer, the Supreme Court, the state law library, the adjutant general, and the Department of Archives and History. The state vacated the building when the new capitol was completed in 1932. The building later housed the Kanawha County Public Library from 1926 to 1966 and Morris Harvey College from 1935 to 1947. The building was demolished in 1967.

Section 9: New Capitol


This postcard from the 1920s shows how the state capitol was supposed to look when it was completed. Construction of the main building was finished in February 1932, and the capitol was officially dedicated on West Virginia Day, June 20, 1932.

Section 10: K&M depot


The Kanawha & Michigan depot was built at the north end of Broad Street in 1903. It was demolished in 1975 to make way for the interstate. The nearby freight warehouse was renovated and now serves as the Capitol Market.

Section 11: Old South Side Bridge


Built in 1891, the original South Side Bridge was the first to cross the Kanawha River at Charleston. It gave people an easier way to reach the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway depot on the south side of the river and spurred the development of South Hills. The bridge was condemned and dropped into the river in 1936. The current bridge, constructed with funds from the Works Progress Administration, opened in 1937..

Section 12: Old Federal Building


In 1884, a federal custom house was constructed on Capitol Street. The custom house was also home to the post office, and this area became known as Post Office Square. The building was torn down in 1911 to make room for a new federal building. That building serves today as the Kanawha County Public Library.

Section 13: Federal Building


In 1911, a new federal building and post office was built to replace the 1884 custom house. The Kanawha County Public Library moved into the building in the 1960s.

Section 14: Ruffner Hotel


The Ruffner Hotel was built at the corner of Kanawha and Hale streets in 1885 by A. L. and Meredith Ruffner and the Charleston Hotel Company. With its 180 rooms, the Ruffner Hotel was the biggest building in the city except for the new Victorian capitol, also built in 1885. The Ruffner was torn down in 1970.

Section 15: Kanawha Hotel


The Kanawha Hotel was located at the corner of Summers and Virginia streets. This photograph shows a fire-proof addition under construction. John F. Kennedy held his victory celebration in the hotel after the 1960 primary. The hotel later became home to the Charleston Job Corps and was torn down in 2003.

Section 16: Holley Hotel


The Holley Hotel opened in 1914 at 1008 Quarrier Street. It was a fine hotel in its heyday, but more modern hotels made it obsolete. The Holley was demolished in 1993.

Section 17: Fleetwood Hotel


The Fleetwood Hotel opened at 219 Capitol Street in 1909. Labor leader “Mother” Jones and other national figures stayed at the hotel during its prime. The hotel closed in the 1950s.

Section 18: Kearse Theater


When the Kearse Theater opened on Summers Street in 1922, it was the largest movie house in the state. It closed in 1979. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 but was demolished two years later.

Section 19: Strand Theater


The Strand Theater was located at the corner of Lee and Summers streets. Renamed the Greenbrier, the movie house remained in business until the 1950s.

Section 20: Plaza Theater


When the Plaza Theater opened in 1912, it was called "The Home of High-Class Vaudeville and Novel Attractions.” The theater went out of business in 1919 and was sold. In 1921 it reopened as the Capitol Theater. It closed again in 1982, but was later restored and is now owned and operated by West Virginia State University.

Section 21: Kanawha Valley Bank


Kanawha Valley Bank, later One Valley Bank and now BB&T, was organized in 1867 by the Dickinson family and others involved in the salt industry. Of the three banks opened in Charleston immediately after the Civil War, Kanawha Valley Bank was the only one to survive the financial panic of 1873. The bank occupied this building at the corner of Kanawha and Capitol streets beginning in 1894. The building was torn down in 1963.

Section 22: County Jail


The Kanawha County jail, shown at the right, was built in 1888 behind the courthouse. This view is from Court Street toward Kanawha Street (now known as Kanawha Boulevard). The jail was torn down in 1924 to make room for an addition to the courthouse.

Section 23: Bottle plant


In 1917, the Owens Bottle Company opened a plant at the upper end of Kanawha City, which is now part of Charleston. The bottle factory produced fruit jars, jars for industrial products, and after the end of Prohibition, beer bottles. By the 1930s, the Kanawha City plant was the largest bottle-making factory in the world. However, production declined in the 1950s, and the factory closed in 1963. Machines used in the plant were designed by Michael Owens, a Point Pleasant native.

Section 24: Charleston High School


This building for Charleston High School was opened in 1916 and was located on the corner of Quarrier and Morris street. It later became Thomas Jefferson Junior High School when a new building for Charleston High School was built in 1926 three blocks away.

Section 25: University of Charleston


Morris Harvey College (now University of Charleston) moved to its current home on the banks of the Kanawha River in 1947. The main administration building, Riggleman Hall, was built in 1950-51.

Section 26: Elks Club


In 1904, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks bought this building at the corner of Quarrier and McFarland streets. After fire destroyed the state capitol in 1921, the third floor was occupied by the state attorney general’s office.

Section 27: Scottish Rite


This building was built as an armory during World War I and purchased by the Scottish Rite Masons in the early 1920s.

This exhibit was compiled with the help of Stan Cohen and Richard Andre.


Andre, Richard & Cohen, Stan. Kanawha Images, Volume 2. Charleston: Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, 2001.
Bumgardner, Stan. Charleston: Postcard History Series. Chicago: Arcadia Publishing, 2006.
Cohen, Stan & Andre, Richard. Kanawha County Images: A Bicentennial History, 1788-1988. Charleston: Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, 1987.