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The Robert C. Byrd Mountain State Tours: Beckley, West Virginia

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Heading north from the deep overcast skies of Bluefield, I headed north with two friends along the West Virginia Turnpike to the “Gateway to Southern West Virginia.”

Beckley, West Virginia is the county seat of Raleigh County and was founded in 1838 as Beckleyville, later shortened as Beckley. Although coal is no longer king in the region, the area is primed for tourism development with its location just south of the New River Gorge and along two major interstate highways. The town is home to the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine and the Tamarack.

The city has seen the development of many new federal- and state-funded projects in the past decade, including the new Robert C. Byrd United States Courthouse and Federal Building, the Raleigh County Judicial Center and the Beckley Intermodal Gateway. Beckley’s downtown is also seeing an equal amount of private investment, with several new restaurants taking on the dining scene, along with a few cafes and local boutiques.

I started the tour with a view northeastward along Neville Street towards the new Raleigh County Judicial Center. The streets are asphalt with a brick stamp and need frequent repainting. Considering that Beckley was known for its brick streets back in 1910, when they were first installed, traditional brick or at least concrete stamped “brick” should be used. Other than that, the streetscape is clean, functional and attractive.

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307-311 Neville Street was home to Hotel President, constructed circa 1920. The two part commercial block features yellow fire brick and red brick sontruction.

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313-317 Neville Street once housed the Silver Thumble (Gus Farris Clothing) and was constructed in 1925. The first story had a stone facade with yellow fire brick on the second story.

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Built in 1925, 403 Neville Street was a commercial and apartment structure. It is now home to the Raleigh County Playhouse and Theatre.

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112 S. Huber Street was known as the Rose and Turner Building and was built around 1920. It later hosted the Revco Drug Store.

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The corner structure, 130 S. Huber Street, was built in 1929 as Red Wing Apartments. The adjoining building, at 126 S. Huber Street, was constructed in 1921 as Rock Haven Apartments.

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The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks Lodge 1452 structure at 200 S. Heber Street was designed by Pater M. Hulsken and Robert A. Belser and built by Vipperman Construction Co. from 1947-1949.

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Views along Main Street.

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121 Main Street formerly housed Foster Hardware and was built in 1920.

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123 Main Street, also known as the Raleigh Register Building, was built in 1920.

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I wish I could remember the address for this hidden gem. We were allowed access up by the owner of the structure.

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Located at 103 North Kanawha Street (Main and Kanawha Streets), the Bair Brothers Building was constructed in 1920.

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A glance down Prince Street.

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The Beckley Federal Savings Bank, at 200 Main Street was designed by Richard Montimor Bates, Jr. of Huntington, with J.O. Freeman serving as the general contractor. The classical revival structure was built from 1922 to 1924 and features a temple front commercial plan, with a facade of limestone and glazed terra cotta. The one-story building with mezzanine features an enclosed stained glass dome. The interior measures 75 feet from the floor to the top of the dome.

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Located at 129 Main Street, United National Bank (formerly the Raleigh County National Bank/Raleigh County Bank) was built in 1921. The bank clock was constructed earlier in 1914. A roof penthouse was added in 1959. An addition to the east, 125 Main, was constructed in 1952 and features a limestone facade on the first level and brick on the upper three levels. A three-story addition was completed at 106 North Fayette in 1980.

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The Raleigh County Courthouse is located at 215 Main Street. Designed by L.T. Bengston with J.O. Freeman serving as the general contractor, the courthouse was constructed from 1936 to 1937 around the existing brick courthouse. Referred to as WPA project # W.VA 1043-R, the building was constructed of steel joists with an exterior of pink and natural color sandstone.

The western facade faces Shoemaker Square, a pedestrian walkway that was dedicated on May 11, 1985 and named after Charles F. Shoemaker, a former mayor of the city. An obelisk is in the front of the courthouse and is dedicated to General Afred Beckley, founder of the city.

The court rooms serve more of a ceremonial purpose since the Raleigh County Judicial Center opened in April 2012.

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The Raleigh County Judicial Center is located at 222 Main Street. It features a 70-foot-high clock tower.

Construction on the Raleigh County Judicial Center began in 2008 to consolidate the circuit, magistrate and family courts into one secure structure. The courts were formerly held in two separate buildings. The 69,500-square-foot building, completed for $17.5 million with a $1.1 million contribution by the Supreme Court for technology, equipment and furniture, was dedicated on April 3, 2012.

The building was designed by Sean Simon of Silling Associates, with Jim Bowyer of G&G Builders serving as the general contractor. The exterior featured 126,800 modular bricks, 6,500 blocks, 2,900 inset pavers and 400,000 lbs. of architectural precast panels, completed by Lang Masonry Contractors.

The first floor contains two courtrooms for the county’s five magistrates, the Magistrate Clerk’s Office, and a holding facility. Three family court judges have separate courtrooms and chambers on the second floor, which also houses the Circuit Clerk’s Office. A courtroom is reserved for mental hygiene hearings. The third floor features courtrooms and chambers for the county’s three circuit judges. The historic Raleigh County Courthouse will be used by visiting judges and the Mass Litigation Panel.

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Located at 400 Neville Street, the United States Federal Court Building was designed by Alex B. Mahood and S.H. Bridge in 1934 in the 20th century post-war American public architecture style. It was constructed of stone and yellow fire brick, and is one story with a basement and mezzanine.

The building served as the city’s post office when it first opened, and then as a federal courthouse from 1961 to 1999 when the new Robert C. Byrd United States Courthouse and Federal Building opened.

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The Robert C. Byrd United States Courthouse and Federal Building, located at 110 North Heber Street, was completed in 1999. It is named in honor of the late Senator Robert C. Byrd.

In a limited competition, the General Services Administration jury selected the design of the Robert C. Byrd United States Courthouse and Federal Building in 1995 which paid homage to the 1930s Works Progress Administration style. The project’s lead designer, Robert A. M. Stern of New York City, wanted a design that evoked a classical, Depression-era expression. Stern also wanted a structure that blended in with the context of Beckley’s downtown, in which nearly every structure predated World War II.

The location was selected at the terminus of Main Street on one side of Shoemaker Square, a pedestrian walkway that was dedicated on May 11, 1985 and named after Charles F. Shoemaker, a former mayor of the city. The lot, narrow and 500-foot-long, was a parking lot on a sloped elevation. The design was originally linear with no bends, although to fit in better with the surroundings, the three functional elements of the building – the courts, an IRS center and a civic structure, were skewed as to create two bends.

The original design called for stone and lead-coated copper accents, but due to unforeseen costs in constructing the foundation and new and expensive security measures, limestone-color precast panels and painted metal accents were used. The interior was also redesigned to be more modest, although a Richard Haas mural remained. The site plan of the complex includeD a landscaped arcade behind Neville Street, comprised of a wide terrace, trees and low plantings, a “court” presence along the Main Street facade, and a more general entrance along First Avenue.

Construction began in 1996 and was completed in 1999.

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All in all, I was pleasantly surprised with Beckley. While it may not be as youthful as Fayetteville to the north, with its Bridge Day and “Small Cool Town” designation, or Lewisburg, with its charm and rolling farmland that surrounds it, Beckley is more mature, the center of commerce for the region and conveniently located along the West Virginia Turnpike/Interstates 64 and 77, U.S. Route 19/Corridor L and U.S. Route 121/Coalfields Expressway.

Further Reading

a. Beckley, West Virginia: http://urbanup.net/cities/west-virginia/beckley-west-virginia

b. Beckley Federal Savings Bank: http://urbanup.net/cities/west-virginia/beckley-west-virginia/beckley-federal-savings-bank/

c. Raleigh County Bank: http://urbanup.net/cities/west-virginia/beckley-west-virginia/raleigh-county-bank/

d. Raleigh County Courthouse: http://urbanup.net/cities/west-virginia/beckley-west-virginia/raleigh-county-courthouse/

e. Raleigh County Judicial Center: http://urbanup.net/cities/west-virginia/beckley-west-virginia/raleigh-county-judicial-center/

f. Raleigh County Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse: http://urbanup.net/cities/west-virginia/beckley-west-virginia/robert-c-byrd-federal-building-and-u-s-courthouse/

g. Robert C. Byrd United States Courthouse and Federal Building: http://urbanup.net/cities/west-virginia/beckley-west-virginia/robert-c-byrd-federal-building-and-u-s-courthouse-new/

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