Avery Street Historic District
Avery Street Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. 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 Avery Street Historic District, in Parkersburg, Wood County, West Virginia is a large, primarily residential area that developed as Parkersburg's first "suburb" or "extension" in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The Avery Street Historic District is a distinctive, cohesive neighborhood with a distinctive character of its own, primarily residential, with supporting structures such as churches, a school, and a few small residential-related businesses. To the immediate south of the Avery Street Historic District is the downtown Parkersburg business district, itself containing over a score of previously listed National Register properties. To the west of the district is the Julia-Ann Square Historic District, a distinctive 19th century residential district that was the original residential area for the city when it began developing in the early and mid-19th century. The Parkersburg High School complex to the north is one that is, in all probability, National Register eligible and should be treated separately. [Note: Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992 as the Parkersburg High School — Washington Avenue Historic District.] A stone wall separates this complex from the northern end of the historic district. To the east of the Avery Street Historic District there is a rather abrupt change from recognized historic house styles (within the district) to newer residential housing that would be considered intrusive in a historic district. While there has been some "erosion" at the fringes of the district which include both demolition and the introduction of intrusive elements, the Avery Street Historic District maintains integrity as a cohesive unit.
There are 12 distinctive historic architectural styles identified within the Avery Street Historic District, with some sub-types of styles. All of these historic architectural styles were flourishing throughout the United States during the time period in which the district developed. A strong thread of vernacularcism, however, runs through all of these styles, so that few distinctly "pure" examples of any of the historic architectural styles exist. Rather, the buildings within the Avery Street Historic District represent a creativity of ideas and tastes which often married elements of one style to the overall plan of a differing style or type.
The historic architectural styles found within the Avery Street Historic District are:
In 1773 Robert Thornton claimed the area that is now Parkersburg by "tomahawk right." Thornton sold the 1,350 acres he had thus claimed to Alexander Parker of Pittsburgh in 1783 for the sum of $50.00. Parker in fact never settled in the area that he purchased, though he did have the area surveyed by James Neal who, in 1785, settled in what is now South Parkersburg, calling his little settlement Neal's Station. John Stokely built a cabin at "The Point" on the land owned by Alexander Parker in about the year 1800. Parker having died the same year, passed on his claim to the land to his daughter, Mary Parker Robinson; litigation ensued between Stokely and Mrs. Robinson and her husband, William. In 1809, Mr. and Mrs. Robinson recovered that portion of the land that Stokely held on the northeast side of the Little Kanawha River, and, the following year, in a settlement with Dr. Joseph Spencer (who also claimed part of the land), a survey was conducted on the 170 acres at the confluence of the Ohio River and Little Kanawha River. Streets were laid out and the land divided into plats. The survey was conducted by a prominent early settler, civil engineer George D. Avery, a ship builder and professional surveyor from Belleville, in whose honor Avery Street is named. The town was, by mutual consent, named Parkersburg in honor of the first patentee, Alexander Parker.
Steamboats began stopping at Parkersburg in 1818 (which had become the seat of Wood County in 1799), giving impetus to new mercantile enterprises. The town was officially incorporated by the Virginia Assembly in 1820. The Northwestern Turnpike was completed in 1837 and in 1843 the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike was opened, greatly facilitating the growth of Parkersburg as a trading center. The completion of the Grafton-Parkersburg Branch of the Baltimore Ohio Railroad in 1857 further hastened economic development.
Parkersburg experienced its first period of rapid growth, or "boom time" during the period immediately prior to the Civil War. The first West Virginia (then Western Virginia) oil and gas boom occurred nearby at Burning Springs in 1859 and as the nearest source of supplies and shipment, Parkersburg prospered.
During the Civil War, Parkersburg continued to prosper due to its location as the point of embarkation for Union troops from the Northwest going to the eastern theater of the war. Parkersburg also played a very prominent role in the movement for West Virginia statehood and many of that movement's leaders were Parkersburg natives. This is evidenced by the fact that West Virginia's first and second elected governors, Arthur I. Boreman and William E. Stevenson, were both Parkersburg residents and one of the state's first two United States Senators, Peter G. Van Winkle, was a Parkersburger.
Johnson N. Camden was the leading citizen of Parkersburg, especially in terms of economics, in the period between the end of the Civil War and the turn-of-the-century. Twice the Democratic nominee for Governor (1868 and 1872) and twice United States Senator, Camden owned much of the Little Kanawha Oil Field and later turned his holdings over to the Standard Oil Company. The Camden Refinery was established near Parkersburg by him, and he used his influence to draw in other refineries, making Parkersburg one of the nation's leading producers of oil and kerosene. The early 1890's saw another boom, this time from the nearby gas fields, and it was this economic boom that brought about the development and building of much of the Avery Street survey area, originally known as the "out-lots" of Parkersburg. While the more "aristocratic" of the Parkersburg community (Camden's, Van Winkle's, Chancellor's, Stevenson's, etc.) tended to reside in the older Julia-Ann Square district, the newer generation of doctors, dentists, lawyers, merchants, contractors, and others of the managerial class, tended to build homes in this more suburban area.
Development within Parkersburg kept apace of these economic boom years. In 1884-85 (while another Parkersburger, Jacob B. Jackson, sat in the governor's chair) a line of horse cars was established in Parkersburg. In 1889, an ordinance for street paving and sewerage bonds passed the Parkersburg City Council. The same year two large water tanks for the city's water works were completed on Jackson Heights, on the eastern border of the district. Electric trolley lines were introduced in1894. The first city hospital was founded in 1897 on 13th Street.
The decade of 1900-1910 was the real period of growth for the district. During this decade the "Avery Street Extension" as the area on Avery Street now within the Avery Street Historic District (8th Street to beyond 19th Street) was then called, took form as a real neighborhood; much of the built environment of today's district took place during this period. From Parkersburg's State Journal of 1900 we read proud advertisements for: "A fine seven room house, hardwood finish, bathroom complete, fire cellar, front and back porch, gas and electric light, Avery Street extension between 13th and 16th Streets. Nice home.", advertised by the real estate firm J. Mitchel. Lots on Avery Street's "extension" were selling for $875.00 in 1900, where as by 1903 the same lots were being sold for $2,000. In fact, the area of upper Avery and Market Streets had become a bustling neighborhood and was viewed by the business community in particular as a roaring success. Note the following article in the State Journal of September 21, 1903, under the heading Boom in Real Estate Business: '...location makes the property valuable. The most valuable and expensive property today in Parkersburg lies between Avery Street and Murdock Avenue, on the extensions of Avery, Market, Julianna and Ann Streets. Two years ago lots sold at $750; today they are bringing $2,000.'"
This was reported as the "proud boast" of the West Virginia Real Estate Company, then the largest real estate firm in Parkersburg, having acquired much of the property in the present district from Senator Johnson N. Camden.
Architects operating in Parkersburg during this period included S.B. Sanderson, who designed the new hospital in 1900. W.A. Patton, Richard H. Adair, who was responsible for much of the fine residential architecture of the period, and young H. Rus Warne who later moved to Charleston and became one of the state's most prominent architects of public and mercantile buildings. In 1900, Warne had his fledgling office at 603 Market Street.
Contractors and builders of this period in Parkersburg included the firm of Caldwell & Drake, G.C. Brown, J.N. Robinson (who specialized in pavements, walls, etc.), John Daniels, and C.E. Sharp, who was the contractor for the three new residences (still standing) constructed on Avery Street behind and on property of the Calvary Baptist Church in the summer of 1903. Much of the interior wood features of these fine new residences in the "extension" were the work of the Parkersburg Mantel Company, whose office was downtown at 212 Avery Street.
Even Cornwall Street, now rather sadly neglected and deteriorated, was having its day in 1903, as is witnessed by this advertisement of the real estate firm of Leonard & Biddle in August of 1903; "Grab this one — eight room house on Cornwall Street, lot 50 by 150 feet — only $2,000." The same firm was offering, on the same day, a lot 40 by 125 feet on Avery Street (though without any improvements) for $1,650. The higher on the hill, of course, the more prestigious (and expensive) one got. The State Journal of August 15, 1903 advertised, "New six room house located on Jackson Heights — finished in hardwood, cabinets, mantels, ..." for $3,500. However, Market Street was still the focus of the community, as is evidenced by the sale of a "six room house on Market Street, between 10th and 12th for $4,500."
In September of 1905, the State Journal announced: "The largest real estate deal of some time was pulled off this morning (September 30) by the West Virginia Real Estate Company. It was the sale of the house recently built on 13th Street by C.W. Prewett to W.S. Edelen, a wealthy citizen of Lubeck District. The price was $8,500." The same article also noted that "Mr. Prewett is building another house of the same character near this one, on land purchased from Mr. (Senator) Camden." Mr. C.W. Prewett was undoubtedly one of the most active builders of the time. Two years after the above referenced transaction, the real estate firm of Powell and Company, was advertised as selling three houses on Avery Street built by C.W. Prewett (1907).
Multi-family units as well as single family residences were also being developed in the district during this period of seemingly continued growth and development. In 1903 prominent merchant, Thomas C. Savage constructed the then luxurious and commodious apartment complex on the corner of Avery and 13th Streets that became known as "Savage Flats." Residents in its first decade included such prominent men as W.B. McGregor, president of McGregor and Amiss Furniture Company, merchant William E. Hermannus, and Harry Newberger, owner of Newberger Clothiers. The State Journal of July 20, 1905, announced "Sam Logan this morning began construction on a large, three story brick apartment house on Market Street between 10th and 11th Streets, to cost $10,000. John Daniels is the contractor." Daniels was a contractor of note in this period.
The spiritual side of life in the district was not neglected. St. Paul's United Methodist Church, on the corner of 11th and Market Streets, was completed in 1901 and dedicated on July 8 of that year. Bishop H.C. Morrison of Louisville, Kentucky gave the dedication sermon that day, and the prosperity of the parishioners is evidenced by the fact that the church debt of $5,000 was paid off on that date by contributions from those in attendance. The Calvary Baptist Church, on the corner of 13th and Avery Streets, across from the "Savage Flats" was completed in 1902.
Parkersburg's continued role as a leader in the public affairs of West Virginia was evidenced by the fact that from 1901 to 1905 the Governor of West Virginia was none other than Parkersburger and State Journal publisher, Albert Blakeslee White.
Throughout the 1910-1920, and to a lesser extent, the 1920-1930 period, growth continued apace in the area, though not at the "boom" level of excitement and rapidity characterized by the previous decades. This period saw the completion of a number of magnificent Neo-Classical style residences in the area, but the major "boom" period had already spent its initial impetus by the time of the First World War and Avery and adjoining streets settled into becoming an integral part of the city, ceasing to be mere "extensions."
Parkersburg has continued to play a significant role in the life of West Virginia, although it has experienced no further extraordinary periods of growth such as previously narrated. The completion of the United States Route 50 to Parkersburg in the 1930's and of Interstate 77 in the 1970's have served to illustrate that Parkersburg has remained a stable and significant member of the West Virginia community.
The Avery Street Historic District, Parkersburg's first "suburban" development, is highly significant for the historic role it played in sustaining the city as one of West Virginia's leading cities, housing the families who were the "life-blood" of the city's growth and development, and is significant for reflecting the rich architectural legacy of this region of West Virginia and the Ohio Valley.
Ambler, Charles A. & Summers, Festus P., West Virginia; The Mountain State, second edition, Prentiss-Hall, N.Y., 1958
City of Parkersburg, Report of the Various Departments to the City Government for 1911, West Virginia State Archives, Charleston, W. Va.
American Directory Company, Parkersburg and Wood County Directory for 1898-99, Parkersburg, West Virginia.
Dawson, James, Parkersburg, An Early History, Parkersburg, West Virginia, 1935.
Harris, Kate, History of Parkersburg from Time of its Settlement to the Present in Gripping Narrative, copied by Virginia Laughlin, MS in West Virginia State Archives, 1913, copied 1956.
Parkersburg, 1907; A Souvenir of the City of Parkersburg, W.M. Barnes Directory Company, Parkersburg, West Virginia, 1907.
Inslee, Frances A., Mr. Parker Bought a Town, MS in West Virginia State Archives, Charleston, West Virginia, c.1945.
Parkersburg Dispatch-News, February 16, 1913.
The History of Wood County, West Virginia, West Augusta Historical and Genealogical Society, Taylor Printing Co., Dallas, Texas, 1980.
West Virginia; A Guide to the Mountain State, Works Progress Administration Writers Project, 1940.
Summers, Festus P., Johnson Newlon Camden; A Study in Individualism, G.P. Putnam & Sons, New York, c.1917.
State Journal, Parkersburg, West Virginia, various issues, 1900-1912.
"Various M.S.S. relating to general histories of Parkersburg, Wood County, West Virginia," West Virginia State Archives, Charleston, West Virginia, various dates.
† Michael J. Pauley, Historian, hart & Pauley, Consultants, Avery Street Historic District, Wood County, WV, nomination document, 1986, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.