Harrisville Historic District
The Harrisville Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2013, The Gombach Group.
The Harrisville Historic District's period of significance begins c.1860, corresponding to the oldest resource in the district. It also corresponds to the beginning of the oil and gas boom in the county and the prosperity that followed the completion of the railroad in 1857. The period of significance ends in c.1957 when Robinson Motors, a car dealership, moved out of its historic downtown location to the eastern edge of town thus starting an exodus of other businesses from the downtown to this new location. The district retains much of its original character as a rural county seat and displays a variety of architectural styles typical of the mid nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The changes shown in the Harrisville Historic District illustrate the evolution of a small town through time and the economic forces that shaped those changes.
Harrisville, first known as "Mealey's Settlement," was first settled in 1801 by Lawrence Mealey. Thomas and John Harris, brothers, arrived soon after in 1807. Thomas Harris, who the town is named after, was an early proponent of locating the county seat in Harrisville and platted the town, along with John McKinney, in 1822. The plat for the town had only 32 lots with Main Street running down the center of the plat and North and South Street flanking it. Each side of Main Street had two lots, four lots long. Each lot was "5 poles front 8 back" which equals one fourth of an acre. The 1822 plat also dictates that Main Street was 50' wide. Others streets were 33' wide and alleys were 8' wide.
Harris provided the land for the location of the town. The Commonwealth of Virginia chartered Harrisville as a town in 1822 with plans for it to someday serve as a county seat. Although no houses existed on the land that was to become a town, many settlers lived nearby and the first store opened there in 1828. The first post office was established in 1833 as "Solus." It was later known as "Ritchie Courthouse" before changing to Harrisville. However, the town itself was always known as Harrisville. The first known building in town, a house built by Stephen Stuart in 1837, is no longer extant. It was located on Lot 14 of the 1822 plat. By 1840, Harrisville still only had four houses. Development of Harrisville and the county was soon to come, however.
The Northwestern Turnpike from Winchester to Parkersburg was constructed between 1830 and 1840; and the Staunton and Parkersburg Turnpike was constructed between 1840 and 1850. Both of these routes attracted settlers to the area and some settled in what is now Ritchie County. The development of the county was primarily due to its geographic location along these major east-west routes. Harrisville's early population growth was in direct relation to the construction of the Northwestern Turnpike (now US 50). With population in the county growing, Ritchie County was formed in 1843 from parts of Wood County, Harrison County and Lewis County. With the formation of the county, Harrisville became the county seat as envisioned by Thomas Harris. The first county court was held in the home of John Harris (non-extant).
Around the same time, Daniel Rexroad constructed a small hotel, the Watson House, which burned down in 1906. By 1846, the largest hotel in the county was built in Harrisville. It was known as the White Hall Hotel and was built by Robert Porter. It stood three stories tall, had 35 rooms and a housed a store. Porter lost the property early on to debt and it went through a series of owners until the Patton family purchased and ran it. White Hall, originally located on North Court Street, was demolished in the mid 1960s.
In February 1845 Henry Rexroad, Sr. re-platted Harrisville into 99 lots and recorded it at the county courthouse. Nearly all of the lots were 1/4 acre (as on the 1822 plat). The plat also depicts the courthouse square in its current location. A few lots were one to two acres with General Thomas Harris having a lot size of 1-3/4 acre. Main Street was 64' wide and North and Court Streets were 50' wide; Cross, South, Spring and Church Streets were 33' wide; Apple Alley was twenty feet 20' wide; and Cherry Alley, 8' wide. In comparison to the 1822 plat, many of the streets were widened. The 1845 plat shows the town defined by North and South Streets to the north and south and by Stout and Church Streets to the east and west.
Harrisville and the county continued to grow. By 1850, Ritchie County had a population of 3,856. The greatest spur to settlement and development in the county was the building of the Parkersburg branch of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad which was completed by 1857. Many towns, including Harrisville, Pennsboro, Cairo, Ellenboro and others in Ritchie County, owe their existence to the railroad. In 1869, the town was reincorporated and named for General Thomas M. Harris, nephew of the town's founder.
In 1875 a narrow gauge railroad was constructed from Pennsboro to Harrisville (P&H). It was later extended to Pullman. The P&H served the community until 1924 when paved roads began to be constructed. For a short period beginning in 1915, the Harrisville Southern Railroad was also located in Harrisville. It began in Cornwallis on the B&O and folded about the same time as the P&H and for the same reasons. Two depots from the P&H railroad are still extant within the Harrisville Historic District: a freight and engine depot (609 East Main Street), c.1910, has been heavily modified and converted to commercial use; a passenger depot (601A East Main Street), also c.1910, remains largely in as-built condition.
In 1891 a gas well was drilled on the edge of town on the Leach property, and the owners of the well struck a deal with Harrisville that they would pay the town $1,810/annually to sell the gas to the town's residents. This worked so well that the town became known as a "taxless" town as the fee paid off all the town's debts and no taxes were assessed on residents. Heat and light was provided to the town's residents from this gas well. The oil and gas boom started in Ritchie County around 1860 and peaked in 1917. The county became the center of the area's oil and natural gas production and Harrisville, as the county seat, reaped many of the benefits of this industry.
By 1899 when Fowler's bird's eye view of the town was completed, the town core was set and nearly matches what exists today. Court Street divides the town into east and west sections and Main Street is the dividing line between north and south. Main Street, Spring Street, South Street, Court Street and North Street are all depicted in Fowler's bird's eye view. The view also illustrates the large and public buildings in town but few residences. The west end of Main Street does not yet have its dense residential cluster nor does South Street. West Main Street began to develop by 1900 while South Street did not fully develop until World War II and after. A 1905 map of Harrisville, which hangs in the General Thomas Harris School Museum (217 West Main Street), also shows the core of Harrisville as it is today with the Richie County Courthouse at its center and the majority of the commercial buildings surrounding it and along Main Street. This map shows the undeveloped Pierpoint land to the south of the courthouse flanking Spring Street and the west end of Main Street is large individually owned tracts.
The county population figures peaked in 1900 at 18,901 while Harrisville's population at that time was 472. Evidence of Harrisville's growth in the early 1900s can be seen today in the sidewalks which were laid down in 1908. A town resident and contractor, Effus P. Cokeley, was proud of the new sidewalks and inscribed in several locations throughout town a logo that reads "E.P. Cokeley, Harrisville, WVA, 7/16 [various dates] 08." Cokeley never imagined that this inscription would last into the twenty-first century. In 1910, Harrisville grew to 608 and in 1920, the figure was 1,036.
By 1910, Harrisville had more than a dozen lawyers, three doctors, two dentists, six general stores, a variety of specialty shops, a flour mill, an opera house, two newspapers and three banks. Doctors, lawyers and other professionals served within the above businesses and helped Harrisville to grow. Also by 1910, major streets were paved and sidewalks installed. Early on in Harrisville's history, private water wells supplied the town's water needs but by 1911 the residents began agitating for a water system. They had a long wait because a water supply for the town was not put into place until c.1950 when a dam was constructed on the North Fork of the Hughes River that provided the town's water.
Harrisville remained a rural county seat through the Great Depression and World War II. After WWII, Harrisville began to grow again along with Ritchie County through the development of the garment industry. The first garment factory in the county was the Myles Garment Industry in Pennsboro. It grew to a workforce of about 100 people. Eventually a second garment factory opened in Pennsboro as well as one in Cairo, three in Harrisville and one in West Union. The first garment factory in Harrisville was opened in 1945 in the old Raiguel Furniture Store on Stout Hill. A woman (known only as Miss Caroline) started the company and Ms. Sylvie Snyder, along with her husband, were the managers. These same individuals opened the Harrisville Garment Corporation in 1951 and sold it to Melvin May from New York. It was located in the old Stout Hardware storage building located at 120 South Spring Street. Mr. May moved the factory to a new building on Harrison Street in the early 1950s. A Mr. Nicholas and "Doc" Cornelius from Pennsylvania were the managers. The name was eventually changed to Economy Industries, and at their peak they had a work force of 380 employees and produced 2,000 dozen a week of their specialty, shirtwaist dresses.
Businesses began moving out of the downtown in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The first major business to move out to the eastern end of town was Robinson Motors, a car dealership from their downtown location, the Lowther Building at 305 E. Main Street. In 1957, trying to modernize their facilities and offer better access, they built a new dealership on the eastern end of Harrisville. At that time, cars were being marketed in glass and steel buildings with a "streamlined" look and the new location was able to accommodate such a facility. Other businesses such as drug stores, variety stores, gas stations and restaurants followed. One of the primary reasons for the exodus out of the downtown was that the lots outside of town were less expensive to purchase and the taxes were less as this area was not yet incorporated into the town's limits. For businesses that wanted to expand and grow, the east end of Harrisville offered an attractive alternative.
Businesses, Schools, and Churches
In 1908, independent telephone service was supplied to Harrisville's residents. The first office was located on the second floor of the First National Bank building (117 E. Main Street). In historic photographs, the telephone lines can be seen coming out of the front window. When first incorporated it was known as the Ritchie Telephone Company but is now known as the Armstrong Telephone Company. Armstrong is located in a contributing building within the Harrisville Historic District (600 East North Street) constructed c.1957.
The development of churches, banks, schools and newspapers continued to add to the prosperity and growth of Harrisville. The first newspaper in Harrisville was the Ritchie Democrat established in 1856 with Enoch G. Day as Editor. He came from Bath County, Virginia and continued the publication of the paper until just before the Civil War. Day sold the paper to Daniel F. Shriner who continued the publication until 1864, at which time he sold the paper. Two newspapers make their home in Harrisville today. They include the Ritchie Gazette, originally published by Robert Morris, and The Pennsboro News.
The First Baptist Church house of worship was erected c. 1805 on the lands of Lawrence Mealey, at the present-day site of the Harrisville Pioneer Cemetery. The Harrisville Baptist Church was then formed in 1825 and a frame structure was built on North Church Street on land donated by George and Eve Moats. The church was then located on West Main Street from 1891 until 1965 when the present modern brick church was constructed on the former site of the residence of General Thomas Harris (outside of district). The first Methodist Episcopal Church building was a log structure built in 1843. It was followed by a new church in 1855. In 1877 a wood frame structure was built but was destroyed by fire in 1888. Finally the present church was built on the same site c.1910. Many churches remain today that were organized early in Harrisville's development.
Extant within the Harrisville Historic District is one of the earliest grade schools in Harrisville, constructed in 1878 (217 West Main Street). It consisted of four rooms constructed of bricks that were made in the west end of town. Four additional rooms, also of brick, were added to the rear of the original building in 1904. Prior to the construction of this school, education was conducted in a building located on Main Street, no longer extant.
One of the earliest banks established in Harrisville was the First National Bank in 1906. The bank was located at 117 East Main Street in a brick building with a curved corner entrance. The Union Bank of Harrisville was established in 1929 by William Westfall, just prior to the Great Depression. It managed to survive the Depression and continues today as Huntington Bank. It is located in a historic building (121 N. Court Street) that has been modernized. Several other modern banks serve Harrisville today.
One of the more well-known lawyers and families was the Davis family. Three generations of the family served as attorneys in Harrisville. Their law offices were located in a Main Street commercial building that has since been torn down. A Davis residence survives, however, at 409 E. Main Street. Each of the three generations were named Thomas Davis. The first was Thomas Engle Davis (1846-1906), who began his practice in 1869. He also served two terms as prosecuting attorney and one term in the Legislature. His son, Thomas J. Davis Sr. (1879-1962), began his practice as a partner with his father. Father and son worked together from 1900 to 1906. Like his father, the son also served two terms as prosecuting attorney and two terms as State Senator. The house at 409 East Main Street dates to this second generation. The third generation is Thomas J. Davis Jr. (1918-1981). He began practicing law in 1954 and partnered with his father until 1962. The Davis family men served the public of Harrisville for 112 years.
Other noteworthy families in Harrisville include the Moats, Dr. Asel Hatfield, Dr. Talbott, Cokeleys, Robinsons, Stouts, Berdines, Rymer, Morris, Lamberts, Scotts, Woods, Blairs, Pierpoints and many others. All have contributed to the history and growth of Harrisville. Physicians were instrumental in the growth and care of Harrisville's citizens. These include Dr. W.E. Talbott who arrived in Harrisville from Upshur County about 1881 and served as a doctor for more than a quarter of a century. He not only performed his duties as a physician but served on the County Board of Health and the Pension Examining Board. Talbott's home and office are extant within the Harrisville Historic District (100 West North Street, both c.1900). By 1911, Ritchie County had twenty doctors with many using Harrisville as their base of operations with offices therein.
Two homes within the district are associated with the Rymer family, father and son doctors. The Goodnight/Rymer House (221 West North Street, c.1885), and the Binder/Rymer House (200 W. North Street, c.1890). There is also a Cokeley house still extant within the Harrisville Historic District (128 W. North Street, c.1910). The Cokeley family has served Harrisville throughout the years in service positions such as the Cokeley who poured the town's sidewalks and in more modern times, Faye Cokeley worked to preserve the history of the town. The family home of the Blair attorneys, is also extant within the district, (313 W. Main Street, c.1890). It was built in the Queen Anne style and the interior hallway is divided to allow access to a front office via one entrance and the other entrance is to the family rooms. The interior is quite decorative and the style illustrates the owner's prosperity.
The Pierpoint family name is also well known in Harrisville since its earliest days with a street in town named for the family. Joseph Pierpoint owned much of the land where the west end of Harrisville now stands. Zacquill M. Pierpoint was the first family member to come to Harrisville from Marion County about 1842. He operated a tannery and was instrumental in the building of the old Methodist Protestant Church which sat across the street from the current museum.
With the growth of the railroad and the oil and gas industry, Harrisville served its citizens through hotels, drug stores, dry goods stores, mills, tanneries, hardware stores and all other services. The mills, hotels and tanneries are for the most part long gone due to fire, deterioration and modernization, but remnants remain as shown by the oldest business in Ritchie County, Stout Hardware (116 S. Spring Street), established c.1889, and the likeliest oldest Five & Dime in West Virginia, Berdines (106 N. Court Street, established in 1908). The Heritage Inn (c.1930), located at 311-319 E. Main Street, continues Harrisville's history of hospitality and graciousness.
Stout Hardware (116 S. Spring Street) was founded c.1889 by W.S. Stout and is the oldest business in Ritchie County. Stout was a blacksmith from Gilmer County and initially had a blacksmith shop in the lower portion of the original building. The building has seen some alterations over time but it has continued to serve the community well. The original Stout Hardware building was destroyed by fire in 1897, but the current building was rebuilt on the original site. The business also maintains at least one storage warehouse (120 S. Spring Street) which was the original location of the first garment factory in Harrisville.
Berdine's Five & Dime (106 N. Court Street) was established in Harrisville in 1908. Their original location was at the corner of South Court Street and West Main Street. This is the present site of the modern building of the Hawkeye Record Search Company (101-103 W. Main Street). Berdine's moved into its current building in 1915. The original building, which housed the post office in 1899, Cokeley's Funeral Home and numerous other businesses, were demolished c.2000. Berdines' is likely the oldest Five & Dime in the state and one of the oldest continuously operated in the country.
The Harrisville Historic District is also eligible for the National Register for its architecture as a locally significant collection of nineteenth and twentieth century architecture. Harrisville displays a variety of styles of architecture, both residential and commercial, developed throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Architectural styles represented in the district include Richardsonian Romanesque, Italianate, Colonial Revival and Queen Anne. An excellent example of the Richardsonian Romanesque style is the First National Bank (117 E. Main Street, c.1906). The style is illustrated by the use of arches over window and/or door openings and masonry facades often mixing brick and stone with the stone as an accent. It has a diagonal recessed main entrance on the corner with a stone surround and large arched transoms on the first floor storefronts fronting Main Street.
The Queen Anne style is the most prevalent in the Harrisville Historic District. The same characteristics that distinguish commercial Queen Anne style buildings distinguish residential buildings also. The style is characterized by steep roofs often with a front-facing gable dominating, an asymmetrical facade with a porch, decorative detailing and the avoidance of a smooth facade through the use of differing patterns of shingles, horizontal and vertical siding, etc. A good example of the style is the Bartlett/Woods House (124 E. Main Street, c.1890). It has a pressed metal shingle hip gable roof, a partial return cornice with brackets and frieze board and German siding as well as decorative shingles in the gable ends. It has numerous decorative detailing on windows including stained glass as well as an elaborate front porch with turned posts with spoked brackets and spindled vergeboard with spoked brackets at each end.
The Colonial Revival style is a simpler style and places emphasis on the entrance and detailing. The Heritage Inn (311-319 E. Main Street, c.1930) and the Lowther Building (305 E. Main Street, c.1910) both illustrate elements of the style in a commercial context although the entrance to the Heritage Inn was most likely more decorative when it was originally built. The Lowther Building shows elements of the style through its projecting pedimented porte cochere and simple window and door surrounds and; the Heritage Inn illustrates these stylistic elements through 9/9 paired windows on the upper floors with a wood primary cornice with frieze and multi-paned windows with panels on the first floor. A residential example is the Lowther House (508 E. Main Street), a later example of the style built in 1948. It has a partial return cornice, red brick facade, 6/6 wood windows with stone sills, and a recessed entrance door with an arched and quoined stone surround. Two buildings within the Harrisville Historic District are listed individually in the National Register of Historic Places. These are the General Thomas Harris Museum/Harrisville Grade School (217 W. Main Street, 1878/1904) and the Ritchie County Courthouse (115 E. Main Street, 1923) with its associated war memorial, c. 1946. The museum is considered Italianate style and the courthouse is Neoclassical style. The Italianate style, also represented by some of the residences in Harrisville, is shown through a low pitched roof, a cupola or tower, multiple stories, commonly arched window openings often with decorative window hoods, and wide eaves supported by decorative brackets and dentiling. The courthouse illustrates the Neoclassical style through the use of full-height classical columns supporting an entrance portico and a symmetrical facade dominated by a large central cupola with decorative urn finials and a clock, befitting a county courthouse. Harrisville does have some unique characteristics for a county seat in West Virginia. The first is its courthouse square. The town was already established prior to its becoming the county seat, and the courthouse square contains several privately owned commercial buildings that front Main Street with the courthouse located at the rear of the lot accessed via a sidewalk between the commercial buildings.
Harrisville's other striking characteristic is its professionally designed current courthouse built in 1923. It was designed by architects Holmboe and Pogue in Neoclassical style as stated above. This style was very prevalent in the time period for use in public buildings such as a courthouse. It is constructed of fine-grain ashlar sandstone and is a high style example of architecture in a rural setting.
Harrisville Historic District can be compared to the Sutton Historic District, the county seat in Braxton County. Harrisville and Sutton both have imposing courthouses that act as the focus of their respective downtowns with the historic commercial cluster located around the courthouses and historic residences radiating from the town's center though Harrisville has twice the population of Sutton and a much larger body of residences and commercial buildings. In Sutton there is a concentration of two and three-story masonry commercial buildings, with party walls or shared walls and zero lot line setbacks forming the commercial core. These are relatively intact and there is still a strong downtown feel, though it is only two blocks long. While the oil and gas industry fueled Harrisville's start, timber fueled Sutton's. Sutton's downtown is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (07/10/1987). Its Period of Significance spans from c.1870 to c.1935. It contains similar architectural styles to those in Harrisville, both commercially and residentially, as well as some significant public architecture. Sutton's topography is slightly different than that of Harrisville's with Sutton located on a major river, which provided transportation at times of the year. They are both located though on important transportation routes for their sections of the state.
Harrisville can also be compared to the Ronceverte Historic District in Greenbrier County, but Ronceverte was founded much earlier than Harrisville and again, timber fueled its growth with its convenient location next to the Greenbrier River. Ronceverte also had the benefit a major railroad, the C&O, and its influence on the development of the southern portion of the state and Greenbrier and surrounding counties. The river and the railroad fueled much of Ronceverte's development. The architecture again, is similar between Ronceverte and Harrisville, with a downtown core with zero setback and no side yard masonry commercial buildings, though Ronceverte's appears to be more concentrated and larger in scope. Harrisville and Ronceverte share commercial and residential styles. Ronceverte though is not a county seat, so it differs from Harrisville in that respect. Ronceverte was listed May 6, 2005. Historically, Ronceverte had at least twice the population of Harrisville.
Buckhannon is another similar rural county seat in West Virginia but it developed due to WV Wesleyan College and, historically and currently, has three times the population of Harrisville. Downtown Buckhannon Historic District was listed in the National Register in 2009. It has a larger, more intact commercial core with two and three-story masonry commercial buildings of varying styles in similar configurations, lot lines, etc. as the other comparisons. There are a few taller buildings but not many. Buckhannon's courthouse is located in the center of town but does not have a courthouse square. It is practically a zero setback building in its own right and does have a large modern addition attached to it on the front. Residential styles are similar to Harrisville's but Buckhannon's are grander and in some cases, designed by an architect. Buckhannon's Period of Significance is from 1879 to 1960, a much later beginning date than Harrisville's.
All of these comparisons comprise a small rural county seat that served as the nexus of activity and development for the county or the surrounding rural area/region. Here was located the county courthouse, regional and locally significant banking institutions, lawyers, businesses, supply companies and retail and entertainment establishments for the populace.
The Harrisville Historic District is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places for the local significance of the development of the community. It is also significant as an important collection of historic architecture from the second half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth. The period of significance begins c.1860 and corresponds to the oldest resource in the district. It also corresponds to the beginning of the oil and gas boom in the county and the prosperity that followed the completion of the railroad in 1857. The period of significance ends in c.1957 when Robinson Motors, a car dealership, moved out of its historic downtown location to the eastern edge of town thus starting an exodus of other businesses from the downtown to this new location.
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†Susan Critchley and Jean Boger, Michael Gioulis Historic Preservation Consultant, Inc., Harrisville Historic District, Ritchie County, West Virginia, nomination document, 2011, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.