HINTON HISTORICAL DISTRICT
Paul D. Marshall, A.I.A.
Paul D. Marshall & Associates, Inc., Charleston, West Virginia
Hinton, West Virginia is located at the southernmost end of the New River Gorge National River. Its position in the New River Valley is accessible from many directions including the Bluestone and Greenbrier river valleys and the plateaus and mountainous areas for miles around. In fact the Legislative Acts which created Summers County required that the county seat be located at the mouth of the Greenbrier River.
Hinton became a town after the C. & O. Railway came through the area in 1872-73, but human occupation in the vicinity has been documented to the PaleoIndian Culture of almost 15,000 years ago. Two sites in the region, Richmond Bottoms (46-Su-104) and Meadow Creek Bottoms (46-Su-107), on lowland upper New River terraces yielded surface-gathered Clovis points and Cumberland fluted lancelote points of the PaleoIndian Culture which occupied the region during the Late Wisconsin glaciation. These hunters likely roamed the New River valley following large game animals like mammoth, mastodon, giant beaver, giant sloth and carribou.
Archeological research in the Hinton-New River valley area has yielded artifactual evidence of four other culture traditions: Appalachian Archaic; CarolinaPiedmont; Laurentian; and Kanawha traditions. Artifacts include projectile points and flint flakes, pottery sherds, knives, ax heads, scrapers, drills, pipes, human skeletons and evidence of cooking fires. Evidence has been accumulated to trace connecting links between New River peoples and those from distant cultures in the east and south.
It has been difficult to determine the Protohistoric (or Early Historic) period (Ca. A.D. 1500-1675) time frame of the New River region. Archeological and early historical evidence in the area is very limited and little can be said about continuities between prehistoric and historic cultures. Certain historic Siouian groups like the Saponi, Occanuchi, and Tutelo tribes of nearby southwest and south-central Virginia are likely direct descendants of cultures known in the archeological record, such as the Clarksville culture. The Protohistoric occupation in the New River area occurred at the same time as the Clovis phase (ca. A.D. 1450-1650) which was centered in the Lower Kanawha and mid-Upper Ohio Valleys.
There is some speculation that around A.D. 1450 some of the people of the late Bluestone phase gradually moved from the New River Valley above Hinton to join their kindred in the Upper Kanawha Valley (Graybill pers. comment). Further speculation suggests that if this group represented the mysterious "Salt-maker" Indians, so cautiously approached by the Batts and Fallam explorers in 1671, then it is possible to speculate that New River Protohistoric peoples were related to the Clover-like phase occupation in the Upper Kanawha Valley. There was also a probable relationship between "Salt-maker" Indians and the Moneton whom Gabriel Arthur met in the Lower and Middle Kanawha Valley during his capture and ordeal with the Tomahittan (or Cherokee) Indians in 1674.
Before Batts and Fallam started their expedition it is likely that Abram Wood's guides or other local Indians knew about, or possibly had traded with Moneton Indians as early as the late 1650's. Salt was dried in Clover phase salt pans and was a very valuable commodity to both the Indians and whites. Siouian-speaking tribes like the Tuleto, Occanuchi, Saponi and even the Susquehannock (Iroquoian speakers) were all sources of information about the Monetons, since they were known to be middlemen in trade between Virginians and other Indians.
Further speculation is that the Moneton, and by association, the Kanawha Valley Clover phase people, were an Algonquian-speaking group like the Shawnee. If this speculation should be correct, it may be possible to develop a cultural relationship between the Bluestone phase people and the Shawnee. It was the Shawnee people with whom the first white settlers had to deal.
Tradition holds that Col. Abram Wood was the first white man to enter the New River valley. This exploration occurred in about 1654. The first serious exploration of the valley was in 1671 when the House of Burgesses of Virginia commissioned an expedition for "ye finding out of the ebbing and flowing of ye waters behind the mountains in order to the discovery of the South Sea." This was the instruction for the famous Batts and Fallam expedition which penetrated the valley only as far as Peters Falls near the present Virginia-West Virginia border. Explorers who visited near Hinton included Dr. Thomas Walker, who camped near the mouth of the Greenbrier river in June 1750 and Christopher Gist who crossed the New river about eight miles north of the mouth of the Bluestone river on May 7, 1751.
The earliest settlements in the region were near Alderson (1763) in which all inhabitants were killed by Indians, and the Graham settlement at Lowell in the 1770's. Other early families in the area were the Lillys, Meadows, Farley, Kellers, Kincaid, Mathews, Maddy, Harvey, Shumate, Ellison, and others.
The land on which Hinton, Avis and Bellepoint are located was once owned by its first settler, Isaac Ballengee, who received a land grant for 210 acres from the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1777. Shorly after the Revolutionary War he left Botetourt County with his family to claim his grant. He first settled somewhere near the Bluestone river but Indians drove him away from this original site, so he moved to the mouth of the Greenbrier river and claimed all the land which now comprises Hinton, Avis and Bellepoint. This was 1785. Again, the Indians tried to discourage him by burning his first home, but he built another log house which survived until about 1942 when it was taken down during construction of the Bluestone Dam.
Unfortunately, Isaac Ballengee did not live long on his new land. He died in 1792 leaving his wife and their three sons, Isaac, Jr., George, and Henry, among whom Isaac's land was divided. Isaac, Jr. settled in the Hinton area, building his house near where the C. & O. Railway shops are located; Henry settled in the Avis area, later selling his land to John (Jack) Hinton, and moving west; George located at the mouth of the Greenbrier river in what is now Bellepoint.
The Ballengee house in Hinton and the John Hinton house in Avis were the only dwellings in existence in the area when Summers County was formed. When the railroad came through the area there were still only six families in the vicinity, but when the town was laid out and lots were sold, the population grew rapidly as many as 300 persons in one year. The railroad was the attraction due to Hinton being planned as a major terminal yard on the main line.
The Isaac Ballengee, Jr. property was sold at public auction on November 6, 1871 to the C. & O. Railway Company for $3,600. On January 23, 1873, the C. & O. conveyed all of the property, except what it needed for railroad operations and five other lots, to the Central Land Company for $12,000. Thus the groundwork was laid for the development of the City of Hinton. The town was laid off into town lots by civil engineer Bennett R. Dunn, and the Central Land Company began to sell lots.
The original plan of Hinton consisted of five named streets running in a direction roughly parallel with the C. & O. Railway tracks (northeast to southwest) and nine numbered streets perpendicular to the named streets. The plan contained 178 lots. Corner lots sold for $300, with inside lots selling for $250.
The earliest buildings erected in the new city were along Front Street (named Front because it faced the railroad and river with lots on only one side). Buildings along Front Street were primarily service-oriented toward the railroad and its on-the-go work force. There were hotels (Hinton House was the first), taverns, mercantile stores, boarding houses, shoemaker, drug store, etc. During early years the town reflected its surrounding agricultural environment (cows, hogs, and horses were still pastured within town limits) but the increasing commercial establishment and rapidly developing coal and timber industries influenced a remarkable change in the scene.
Hinton was incorporated in 1880 with W. R. Benedict as mayor, a position he held for three terms. The county government had been seated in the town when a new courthouse was built in 1875 on land donated by the C. & O. Railway Company. The first few years of incorporated history saw the development of city government facilities and services including a city hall, a jail, and a new water system. The C. & O. Railway shops were completed on August 1, 1892, consisting of a roundhouse with 17 engine stalls and a car shop holding forty cars. The roundhouse employed 370 men and the car repair shop, 170 men. The payroll of the shops pumped a monthly payroll of $84,000 into the Hinton economy. The C. & O. also built a large YMCA building (one of the earliest in the nation) near the passenger depot in 1891.
Industrial and commercial activity and railroad expansion were causing an accelerated population growth, challenging the Hinton government with the task of providing facilities to meet the demands pressed upon them. By the early 20th century the city had established a sewer system and an electric company. Streets were paved with brick (most of the brick streets still serve the town traffic). A new brick high school was opened In 1893 and cultural needs had been addressed by entrepreneur Col. Joseph Parker who built an opera house in 1885.
A great building boom occured from 1895 to 1907, fed by the prosperity of Hinton and its citizens. Most of the extant structures in the Historic District date from this period. After the major building boom ended in 1907-1908, building slowed down considerably but several notable buildings were erected in the years following the boom. Among these were the Andrew Carnegie Library (1913), the Hub Clothing Store on Temple Street (1915), the Post Office (1926), the Ritz Theatre on Ballengee Street (1929), and the Memorial Building on First Avenue (1934), a county government building.
In 1907 the population of Hinton was about 6,000 and by 1925 the area had grown to over 8,800. The New River coal fields kept the trains rolling and the economy of Hinton stable into the years following World War II. In the 1950's, however, changes in coal mining methods, the working out of some of the older mines, the abandonment of coke making, and the conversion of locomotive power from steam to diesel all worked together to drastically alter the social and economic life of Hinton. The C. & O. Railway Company laid off hundreds of workers who had been specialists in the maintenance of steam engines, and the Hinton population declined.
The Bluestone Dam, completed in 1949, and its companion Bluestone Public Hunting and Fishing Area and Bluestone State Park, the later development of Pipestem State Park, and the New River Gorge National River have all served to stabilize population at about 5,000 and redirect the focus of economic development. The railroad continues to use Hinton as a terminal yard. More recent developments in transportation, namely the location of an Interstate 64 highway interchange near Sandstone, should enhance the city's posture as a focal point in the growing tourist industry.
The Hinton Historic District, which is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, generally incorporates the downtown portion of the original town layout of 1874.
Except for the loss of most of the original Front Street structures, there has been little change in the original fabric and character of the neighbor hoods. The character of Hinton architecture reflects nearly all the design philosophies of the period with respect to commercial and industrial architecture.
Where the architecture is stylistic, there is a typical Victorian eclectic blend of Classical Revival styles with more elaborate decorative trim. Masonry materials are used with taste and elegance, including brick corbeling and stone trim such as window lintels and sills, copings, columns, keystones and belt courses. Stone appears in both smooth and rockfaced surfaces, and brick occurs in a variety of colors and textures. The builders used cast iron, formed and pressed galvanized iron cornices, terra cotta, current styles and construction methods.
Residential buildings run the full range of styles from simple vernacular one-room deep buildings to elaborate eclectic Victorian gems. Most residential units, whether simple or multi-family buildings, are two stories in height complete with one- or two-story porches. The residences in the district reflect the individual tastes of owners and the prevailing construction techniques and preferences of local carpenters and builders. There is an abundant use of "gingerbread" or pierced and patterned decorative wood trim. All types of columns, from the classical orders to box or turned vernacular styles are used to support single or two-tier porches and verandahs.
Most of the residential properties are marked with fences, walls, or shrubbery, and landscaping is tastefully and appropriately done, for the most part using plant materials which fit the residential scale. Several properties are still outlined with old cast iron fences.
The institutional buildings in the Hinton Historic District are almost all constructed of brick with stone trim and clothed with the finest in classical detailing. Examples of the various styles seen in the district are: the Second Baptist Church on James Street an outstanding example of Classical Revival style with brick belt courses, dentiled cornice work, pedimented gable end interrupted by the bell tower and a Byzantine roof form on the tower lantern; the Big Four building with its brick detailing, imposing classical stone entry and deep metal cornice; the First Presbyterian Church, which has excellent proportions in its Greek Revival architectural statement; the First Methodist Church, the St. Patrick's Catholic Church and Ascension Episcopal Church, which all use various applications of the Gothic Revival style; the Summers County Courthouse is an eclectic version of Victorian Romanesque; the U.S. Post Office is also Colonial Revival with columned entrance, brick arched fenestration and belt courses; the Memorial Building is Greek Revival with even a suggestion of the Temple form; the Hotel McCreery tastefully blends several classical elements into a very pleasing facade even though some of the principle architectural elements have been removed; the C. & O. Railway Passenger Depot retains much of the Victorian trim elements used by the designer to create an interesting railroad landmark; and the Hinton High School is a good example of traditional lines used to express function in a contemporary building.
The history of Hinton is compact, beginning essentially with the advent of the C. & O. Railway main line in 1872-73. The railroad determined that the accessibility of the area relative to the nearby river valleys, and its location with respect to potential industrial growth made the spot ideal for a major terminal yard. Another plus factor for growth was the selection of the mouth of the Greenbrier river as the Summers County seat of government. These factors led the city into a spectacular early growth. Most of the buildings extant in the district date to the early building boom era of Hinton history (1895-1907).
The architectural character of the Hinton Historic District is pleasurable, with variety of style and ornament that reflect the exciting times during which it was developed. The lack of major renovation and desruption of that character demonstrates that citizens of today respect the taste of former owners. This attitude will maintain and enhance the historical and architectural value of the Hinton Historic District.
Hinton Daily News Selected articles from the newspapers concerning construction in Hinton from 1905-1933.
Marshall, Paul D. & Associates, Inc. "A Cultural Research Project, New River Gorge National River, West Virginia," Volume 1, Prehistory, Volume 2, History, Architecture and Community. A report submitted to the National Park Service. December 27, 1983.
Marshall, Paul D. & Associates, Inc. "Hinton Historic and Architectural Survey." A report submitted to the Summers County Landmarks Commission. September 30, 1983.
Marshall, Paul D. & Associates, Inc. "National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form." The documentation required by the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, for the nomination and placement of properties on the National Register of Historic Places. Submitted to the State Historic Preservation Office of the West Virginia Department of Culture and History. September 30, 1983.
Miller, James H. History of Summers County. Parsons, WV: McClain Printing Co., 1908.
Last Updated: 08-Jul-2009