Raleigh County Courthouse
The town of Beckley has served as the county seat for Raleigh County since its inception in 1850. The first courthouse was built here on a plot of land donated by Alfred Beckley, the town's founder. During the Civil War it briefly housed soldiers of the 23rd Ohio Regiment during their occupation of Beckley in 1862. The current courthouse building is the third iteration, and was constructed in 1936-1937 with support from the Works Progress Administration (WPA). It is the centerpiece of the Beckley Courthouse Square Historic District, which comprises eight blocks of downtown Beckley and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. The courthouse grounds today contain a number of monuments to Alfred Beckley, the history of Beckley, the Eccles mine disasters, the Civil War, and Mayor Charles F. Shoemaker.
Backstory and Context
The town of Beckley was founded on April 4, 1838 by Alfred Beckley, who named it in honor of his father John James Beckley, the first Clerk of the House of Representatives and the first Librarian of Congress. Alfred Beckley had moved there and built a house around 1835 after inheriting over 56,000 acres of land in the area. In 1850, at Beckley’s urging, the Virginia state legislature established Raleigh County. He himself named it after Sir Walter Raleigh. Soon afterwards, Beckley donated a 240 feet by 240 feet parcel of land in the center of his town for a courthouse to be built. The first courthouse was constructed in 1852 at a cost of $2,772.
During the Civil War there was a significant amount of Confederate support in Beckley; Alfred Beckley himself served as a brigadier general for the Virginia militia. At some point during the winter of 1862 the town was occupied by the Union’s 23rd Ohio Regiment Infantry. The 23rd Ohio notably fought in the Battles of Antietam, Lynchburg, and Second Winchester. It also spent a large portion of the war stationed in present-day West Virginia, where it engaged in the Battles of Carnifex Ferry, and Cloyd’s Mountain. The regiment famously included future Presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley; Hayes was the commanding officer during the occupation of Beckley. On April 5, 1862, Company A of the 23rd Ohio was stationed at the courthouse for the occupation. A small plaque near the entrance to the building commemorates this event.
In 1893 the original courthouse was demolished and a new one built on the same spot. On April 13, 1912 it was the only structure left standing in the town’s commercial district after a massive fire destroyed over 30 buildings. The town quickly rebuilt and continued to grow. By the 1930s the courthouse building had become too small, but the town and county could not afford a new one. In 1936 the county received funding from the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to remodel and expand the courthouse building to its present condition. The three-story, sandstone structure was designed in the Art Deco style, a common feature in WPA public buildings. In 1938 a jail wing was added, containing room for 150 prisoners.
There are currently several different monuments on the grounds of the courthouse. In addition to the plaque honoring the 23rd Ohio Regiment, there are two highway historical markers. One briefly describes the origins of the town of Beckley; the other commemorates the Eccles Mine Explosions, which killed a total of 193 coal miners in 1914 and 1926 at mines several miles away. In another section stands a large obelisk honoring Alfred Beckley. It was dedicated in 1938 for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the town of Beckley. On the west end of the grounds is Shoemaker Square, created and dedicated to former Beckley Mayor Charles F. Shoemaker in 1985.
“23rd Ohio Regiment Infantry.” Civil War Index. Accessed October 18, 2018. http://www.civilwarindex.com/armyoh/23rd_oh_infantry.html
“History.” Beckley – Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce. Accessed October 18, 2018. http://www.brccc.com/history.aspx
Hooks, Bryon. “Beckley.” Historical Marker Database. June 16, 2016. Accessed October 18, 2018. https://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=60987
Hooks, Bryon. “Civil War Site.” Historical Marker Database. June 16, 2016. Accessed October 18, 2018. https://www.hmdb.org/Marker.asp?Marker=60293
Hooks, Bryon. “Eccles Mine Explosions.” Historical Marker Database. October 26, 2016. Accessed October 18, 2018. https://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=60204
“Raleigh County Courthouse – Beckley, WV.” The Living New Deal. Accessed October 18, 2018. https://livingnewdeal.org/projects/raleigh-county-courthouse-beckley-wv/
Valente, Kim A. “Beckley Courthouse Square Historic District.” National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form. April, 1994. Accessed October 18, 2018. http://services.wvgis.wvu.edu/SHPOdocs/PDFs/NationalRegister/94000722.pdf
Wood, Jim. “Raleigh County.” e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. June 3, 2013. Accessed October 18, 2018. https://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/1981
Image 1: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/16/Raleigh_County_Courthouse_Beckley.jpg
Image 2: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Beckley#/media/File:Alfred_Beckley.jpg
Image 3: http://jeff560.tripod.com/beckley2.html
Image 4: https://www.hmdb.org/Marker.asp?Marker=60293
Image 5: https://www.hmdb.org/Marker.asp?Marker=60987
Image 6: https://www.hmdb.org/Marker.asp?Marker=60204
Image 7: https://mapio.net/wiki/Q4878744-en/