Collis P. Huntington Statue
Backstory and Context
Collis Potter Huntington was born on October 22, 1821, in Harwinton, Connecticut. Huntington was raised in a poor household; he left at the age of fourteen to travel throughout the South as a peddler selling watches and other merchandise. Huntington's second entrepreneurial endeavor was in the form of a general store in Oneonta, New York. Sometime around 1849, he journeyed to California during its gold rush and established a store that sold mining equipment. This business proved highly successful, and Huntington quickly became significantly wealthy. He utilized these profits to invest in other business opportunities, expanding his financial clout.
Huntington was very active in the Republican Party, and his involvement sparked interest in the railroad industry. In 1860, he joined a partnership with Mark Hopkins, Leland Stanford, and Charles Crocker, who became known historically as the “Big Four.” With an investment of $1,500, Huntington and the other members of the Big Four created the Central Pacific Railroad Company. In 1862, Huntington secured a commission from the U.S. government to build the western half of what would be the Transcontinental Railroad. The railroad was completed on May 10, 1869, when the Central Pacific linked with the Union Pacific.
The completion of the Transcontinental Railroad earned Huntington a great deal of fame, and in November 1869 he singlehandedly purchased control of the struggling Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad in Virginia. The C&O sought to extend their line to connect the James River in Virginia with the Ohio River in West Virginia, but damages caused during the Civil War had derailed these plans. Huntington agreed to provide the necessary funding to build the railroad in exchange for being appointed president of the C&O. He actively helped plan the route of the rail line through the Appalachian Mountains and selected a plot of land along the Ohio River to be the site of its terminus. Construction of the terminus, immediately dubbed Huntington, began in 1871. Huntington himself was not very involved in the creation of the city other than choosing the location, and much of the planning was left to his brother-in-law Delos W. Emmons and engineer Rufus Cook. The C&O’s expanded line was completed in 1873.
During the 1880s, Huntington also extended the C&O further east to the port of Newport News, Virginia (which he also founded), and west to Cincinnati. This enabled coal from West Virginia to be transported to even farther markets. The rapid expansion of the lines proved a great strain to the C&O, and in 1887 the company went into default. It was saved when J. P. Morgan purchased a controlling stake in the company, but Huntington was pushed out as result. He still retained control of the Central Pacific and Southern Pacific Railroads, the Newport News Shipyard, and owned vast amounts of land across the country. Huntington died in 1900 with a net worth of around $70 million.
Around 1924 Huntington’s widow Arabella and his favorite nephew Henry commissioned a sculpture of the city’s founder in his honor. The eight-foot bronze statue was sculpted by artist Gutzon Borglum, who later achieved international recognition as the creator of the Mount Rushmore monument. The statue was unveiled on October 23, 1924, in a ceremony attended by approximately 7,000 people. The Huntington Boy Scout Band gave a performance and Pastor M. L. Woods of the Fifth Avenue Baptist Church delivered the invocation. Neither Borglum nor the Huntington family attended the ceremony.
The Collis P. Huntington statue originally stood in front of the C&O depot. In May 1977, it was moved to Heritage Station, a newly-created retail center that had formerly been Huntington’s Baltimore & Ohio Railroad depot. In 1999 CSX Transportation, which occupied the former C&O depot, requested that the statue be returned to its original location. Some speculated that CSX desired the move because it was the successor company to the C&O, whereas Collis P. Huntington had no affiliation with the B&O. The statue was moved back to the C&O depot in 2000 with the understanding that CSX pay for its transportation costs, but that the statue remain under the ownership of the Greater Huntington Park and Recreation District.
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Collis Potter Huntington, -1900, head and shoulders portrait, facing left. , ca 1890. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2005689073/.
Highsmith, Carol M, photographer. The statue of Collis Potter Huntington, which stands at the restored Chesapeake & Ohio now CSX depot in Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington United States West Virginia, 2015. -05-07. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2015631841/.
Highsmith, Carol M, photographer. The CSX formerly C&O train station in Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington Huntington. United States West Virginia, 2015. -05-07. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2015631868/.
Lavender, Dave. “Park board stakes claim to Collis P. Huntington statue.” Herald-Dispatch. March 8, 2016. Accessed May 23, 2019. https://www.herald-dispatch.com/_recent_news/park-board-stakes-claim-to-collis-p-huntington-statue/article_a6419269-b87b-536d-9119-af6dfbbbcbd6.html.
Platania, Joseph. “Collis P. Huntington, the statue, turns 85.” Herald-Dispatch. November 19, 2009. Accessed May 23, 2019. https://www.herald-dispatch.com/news/recent_news/collis-p-huntington-the-statue-turns/article_f4f631e9-3f66-5dea-8a1f-83ee1d77a63a.html.
Platania, Joseph. “Collis P. Huntington Statue.” e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. March 2, 2012. Accessed May 23, 2019. https://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/755.
wvarchivesandhistory. “The Life and Times of Collis P. Huntington” (video). Posted April 12, 2014. Accessed May 23, 2019. https://www.m.youtube.com/watch?v=ouQpt5083po.
Yohe, Randy. “CSX says Collis P. Huntington statue will stay in Huntington.” WOWK. March 23, 2016. Accessed May 23, 2019. https://www.wowktv.com/archives/csx-says-collis-p-huntington-statue-will-stay-in-huntington-/865515342.
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