Huntington-Skinner House (also known as "The Beeches")
Construction of this historic mansion began in 1873. The following year, it became the home of Henry Edwards Huntington, the nephew of railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington. The Huntington family named their estate "The Beeches" and it later became known as the Huntington-Skinner House. The property changed hands several times in the 20th century and served as the home of the Woman's Club of St. Albans for many years.
Backstory and Context
Railroad magnate Collis Potter Huntington constructed the house known as “The Beeches” in 1873-74 for his nephew, Henry Edwards Huntington. Henry made the move to West Virginia from New York to run the operations of his uncle’s sawmill. The house quickly came to be known by the name “The Beeches” due to the abundant number of beech trees on the property.2
Upon completion of the house in 1874, Henry and his wife Mary Alice Prentice occupied the house. Within two years, the young couple would own the home as well as the sawmill started by Collis. Henry was also active and successful in his uncle’s newest railroad venture, the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O Railroad). This success made it necessary for the couple to return to New York in 1876.2
Henry went on to become one of the country's leading financiers and a collector of art and rare books. In his will, he left part of his fortune to establish The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino California. 4
After the Huntington family left St. Albans, “The Beeches” was bought by the C&O Railroad, which later sold the estate to the Montague Manufacturing Company. The superintendent of the sawmill once owned by Huntington used the house as a home. In 1903, the Montague Manufacturing Company filed bankruptcy and “The Beeches” was sold at auction. John Van Rensselaer Skinner purchased the structure for $3,750.1
Skinner was also a railroad man and eventually become the owner of the Coal River Railroad. Due to his many investments in coal, timber and real estate, he was among the wealthy citizens of Kanawha County. Skinner left “The Beeches” to the Woman’s Club of St. Albans in his will in 1948 for use as a culture and education center for the community.1 The club sold the house to Charles and Pam Smith in 2015 due to the cost of maintaining the home. 2.
The Smiths did extensive renovations and upgrades to the house, saving it from almost certain demolition. In 2018, they sold "The Beeches" to Dennis and Virginia Painter. 5
The original architecture of the house was a variation of the Italianate style; however, Skinner made significant changes to the home, adding a number of neoclassical details. Surviving original details include a shallow hipped roof, double front doors with arched glass panels a hewn sandstone block foundation and the parlor's mid-19th-century fireplace with an arched opening. The deep eaves were probably originally bracketed in the Italianate style; however, the brackets seen today were replaced by Skinner. Additional changes made to the original structure are a classical style porte cochere complete with a triangular pediment, fluted metal Ionic columnns, and flush siding.1, 3
The interior also features two five-sided, one-story bays with window seats, forming a visual east-west axis between the dining room and sitting room. 3
"The Beeches" was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. 3
2. St. Albans Historical Society, Richardson.www.stalbanshistory.com
3. Pauley, Michael. "The Beeches" National Register of Historic Places Inventory - Nomination Form. West Virginia Historic Preservation Office. http://www.wvculture.org/shpo/nr/pdf/kanawha/79002586.pdf.
4. "Henry E. Huntington." The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. http://www.huntington.org/uploadedfiles/files/pdfs/pr_hugabouthenry.pdf.
5. Virginia Painter (current owner)