Huntington Social History Bike Tour
A tour designed for bicycle exploring important events and places in the social history of Huntington, WV.
Originally known as the Union Bank and Trust Building, the West Virginia Building was constructed in 1924-1925 and was the largest commercial building in the state at the time. Huntington’s Union Bank and Trust company failed during the Great Depression, and the building was later renamed the West Virginia Building. The 9th Street Walgreens was housed in the first floor of the West Virginia Building from 1937 to 1961. The structure underwent a series of renovations and restorations beginning in the 1980s and continuing into the 2010s. Today the West Virginia Building houses luxury apartment units as well as businesses on the first floor. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Downtown Huntington Historic District.
Bailey’s Cafeteria earned a reputation as one of the best eateries in Huntington, West Virginia at the turn of the century. The popular restaurant was established in 1934 and remained open for six decades. To this day, many residents recall the restaurant with fondness, but prior to 1963, the restaurant was not open to all residents of the state. Members of the Civic Interest Progressives, a local civil rights organization established to challenge segregation, launched sit-in protests against Bailey's and several other Huntington restaurants in the spring of 1963. On May 1, 1963. The owners of Bailey’s Cafeteria then filed a court order against the protesters to stop the picketing in front of the restaurant. This attempt to use the courts to squelch the protest backfired and the more students and community members joined the protest. Hoping to end the demonstration, the owner reluctantly agreed to end segregation at Bailey’s. With this decision, several other restaurants followed suit and the Civic Interest Progressives focussed their efforts on the remaining establishments.
In 1963, members of the Civic Interest Progressives, a civil rights organization led by Marshall students and Huntington community leaders, challenged racial discrimination at local eateries such as Bailey's and the White Pantry Inn. After students waging a sit-in were attacked at the White Pantry, they changed their strategy and held a series of "share-ins." In these protests, liberal white students who wanted to help challenge the color line would enter a restaurant and order a meal. After the meal was delivered, they would invite black students to join them at their table. Although these protests led to the end of Jim Crow at many Huntington restaurants prior to the spring of 1963, the owner of the White Pantry turned violent and attacked one of the black students with a cattle prod. The second video clip below shows a young woman on the ground gasping for air after the owner of the White Pantry Inn lit sulfur cakes to force black students to leave his restaurant.
A statue of a Union soldier was once located on the southwestern corner of 5th Avenue and 9th Street in Huntington. The statue stood above a public drinking fountain, across the street from Hansford Watts' Fifth Avenue Hotel, and in front of Carnegie Public Library. Although sources vary, it appears that the statue was vandalized and removed in 1915 which was around the same time that Confederate sympathizers announced plans to create a monument to Southern soldiers.
The Guaranty Bank Building is a high-rise office building on the central block of Ninth Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in downtown Huntington. Originally called the Robson-Prichard Building after its owners, Frederick Prichard and Houghton A. Robson, the building opened in 1910 with a bank on its first floor and offices of various businesses on its upper floors. After the bank failed during the Great Depression, the Guaranty Bank and Trust operated on its first floor until it moved locations in the 1950s. During the 1940s, the building was sold to Sheriff Don Chafin, who lived in the guarded penthouse until his death. Since his passing, the building has changed owners several times, and many different local businesses and banks have been housed in this historic piece of Huntington’s skyline. As of September 2019, the first floor now houses United Bank. Although it has changed hands and names many times over the years, the historic building remains a staple of Huntington’s skyline.
Collis P. Huntington was a famous railroad tycoon and one of the "Big Four" promoters of the Central Pacific Railroad that became part of the Transcontinental Railroad. Huntington later became the President of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway which completed a line from Richmond to the Ohio River Valley. The new railroad led to the creation of an industrial city along the Ohio River which was named Huntington in his honor. The statue was created in 1924 by Gutzon Borglum, a sculptor most famous for creating Mount Rushmore.
At this location from 1911 to 1915, Wyatt Hamilton “W. H.” Thompson published the Socialist and Labor Star, a newspaper published in Huntington during the height of the Socialist movement in West Virginia during the early twentieth century. The paper's headquarters was a former building on Seventh Avenue and the paper was printed under the name of the Socialist Printing Company. The paper covered issues related to the labor movement and commented frequently on the 1912-1913 Paint Creek-Cabin Creek Strike. The political views of the Labor Star and its harsh criticism of Governor Henry Hatfield led local officials to order the police to raid the newspaper office on the morning of May 9, 1913. Under the orders of governor Hatfield, editor W. H. Thompson was arrested and the Labor Star's printing press was destroyed by state militia. The paper recovered from the incident and continued publication until it merged with a Socialist paper in Charleston to form the Argus Star in 1915.
Ebenezer Methodist Church is one of the earliest African-American churches established in Huntington. The church was established in the early 1870s on Norway Avenue before it relocated to its current building at 1651 8th Avenue in 1917. In 1965, Ebenezer Methodist Church was integrated, becoming the first in the city, and possibly the state, to have done so. During the 1970s, the church established the Ebenezer Community Outreach Center Inc. to provide children with a safe learning environment and address issues of literacy, racism, economic conditions and spiritual hopelessness. The church also operates an affiliated medical clinic, Ebenezer Medical Outreach Inc., that provides medical services to the Fairfield community.
This location/address (1614 8th Avenue) is listed in the Negro Motorist Green Book (1954 edition), and was categorized as a restaurant which went by the name of "The Spot."
Carter G. Woodson, known to many as "the Father of Black History,” was born to former slaves and worked in the mines of West Virginia before graduating from Berea College, the University of Chicago, and Harvard University, where he earned his Ph.D. Woodson believed that educating the populace about black history had the power to transform society, improve race relations, and benefit people of all races. Woodson was educated in the segregated public schools of Huntington, West Virginia, and became the principal of his former high school after completing a teacher certification program at Kentucky's racially integrated Berea College. He went on to earn a M.A. from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. from Harvard University. Woodson founded Negro History Week in February of 1926, and his efforts to grow this annual celebration of black history and culture led to the creation of Black History Month. Woodson also created the Journal of Negro History and the scholarly and community organization known today as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. These institutions, together with his scholarly and popular books, journals, and articles, provided a platform for educating others about African American history with works written by black and white scholars. Woodson was among one of the first scholars to research and publish works on slavery from the perspective of the enslaved.This statue was commemorated in 2003, and is said that Woodson's line of sight is directly pointed at the first location of Douglass High School.
The A.D. Lewis Community Center dates back to the establishment of the first municipal pool for African Americans in the era of segregation. Today, it is a full-service community center named in honor of Baptist Minister Reverend A.D. Lewis (1858-1943). Prior to the creation of the Center's pool, there were no municipal pools open to African Americans. In 1967, the community center was added and a new building was opened. Today, the center has a pool, basketball courts, and other sports facilities along with after-school activities. The center also holds fairs, festivals, and programs for the community at large. Since its foundation, A.D. Lewis Community Center has been a fixture of the Fairfield West community, providing valuable resources to the neighborhood’s youth.
The Emmons Apartments were built by Arthur S. Emmons in 1911. Emmons was the son of a Delos W. Emmons, who was a prominent figure in Huntington and Collis P. Huntington's brother-in-law. The first building became known as Emmons Sr. once the second building, Emmons Jr., was built in 1924, and they quickly became known as luxurious places to live. In 2007, a fire started in the closet of Emmons Jr., quickly spreading and ultimately claiming the lives of nine people. The buildings were damaged and subsequently demolished, and the lot currently remains empty.
Singer Mary Smith McClain was born on August 27, 1902, in Huntington, West Virginia. Living in an abusive environment, Mary left home at the age of 13, hopped a train, and joined the Rabbit Foot Minstrels in Memphis, Tennessee. From this point on, Mary became known as "Walking Mary," singing for the traveling minstrel show. From the 1920s to the 1940s Mary's career took off and she crisscrossed the country and performed alongside numerous blues and jazz legends. She also toured Europe three times. Mary passed away in 2000, and per her request, her ashes were scattered along the railroad tracks in her hometown of Huntington where she hopped a passing train to pursue her dreams. Mary is one of only a handful of West Virginians who became blues legends. Her career was long, but it wasn’t until she was in her 80s and 90s that she received widespread recognition. In those years, she performed at Carnegie Hall, the White House, and the Apollo Theatre.
This former Baltimore & Ohio Railroad depot was built in 1887, and served Huntington until the mid-1960s. Concerned citizens worked to preserve the historic railway station during the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1973, the B&O depot was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. With the support of the Urban Renewal Authority, the facility was repurposed in 1977 as Heritage Station, a center for artisans and other retail outlets. Today, Heritage Station is a hub for local businesses and events, while the original depot building serves as the headquarters for the Huntington Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. In front of the Depot stands the Elk River Coal & Lumber Company #10 Steam Locomotive, also on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Bank of Huntington was established in 1875 on the eastern side of downtown Huntington. A local legend claims that the infamous James-Younger gang robbed the bank that same year, but sources indicate the heist was coordinated by two relatively unknown men who may have been assisted by Cole Younger and Frank James. As Huntington’s population grew, larger banks were founded and began to draw customers away from the Bank of Huntington, leading it to merge with another bank and close its doors in the early 1900s. Following its closure, the first floor of the building was utilized by local businesses while an apartment occupied the second floor. In the 1970s, the building was in danger of being destroyed until the community decided to relocate it to Heritage Station. The former Bank of Huntington building is once again an active business, with a local shop on the first floor and a B&B on the upper floor.
Huntington became a city with two sides during Prohibition, with a lively nightlife lurking behind the appearance of a quiet town. Located along 4th Avenue in downtown Huntington, “The Strip” was a popular location where residents could buy liquor, gamble, and go to speakeasies and brothels. Although these activities were illegal, law enforcement rarely disturbed the people and businesses of the Strip due to bribes and payoffs. An interview with William Allen Cross, who served as the manager of several downtown theaters at the time, allows for a glimpse of life during Prohibition and the Strip’s heyday. After Prohibition ended in 1933 with the ratification of the 21st Amendment, the Strip’s popularity declined once residents were able to purchase alcohol legally.
The Frederick Hotel opened in 1906 and was one of the most elegant hotels in both Huntington and all of West Virginia. The luxurious Edwardian Renaissance style building contained 150 guest rooms, 65 office spaces, and a host of amenities. The Frederick Hotel hosted many prominent visitors over the years including President Richard Nixon, musician Liberace, and comedian Bob Hope; Sid Hatfield was arrested here in 1920 for his involvement in the Battle of Matewan. The hotel closed in 1973 and the building today houses offices, apartments, and retail stores. The first floor of the Frederick maintains its original appearance, displaying artifacts and ornamentation from the hotel's glory days. The Frederick was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986 as part of the Downtown Huntington Historic District.
Ming’s Restaurant was a mainstay of the Huntington food scene for decades, from its original home in the historic Frederick Hotel to its final location at the Stone Lodge motel on U.S. 60 East. The restaurant was owned and operated by Ming Eng, who immigrated as a teenager from China to Canada, where he became the head chef at a Toronto restaurant within ten years. In 1969, Eng met hotel owner Harold Frankel, who convinced him to come to Huntington to be the chef at the Makiki Club at his Holiday Inn. Eng worked at the Makiki Club for eleven years before opening his own restaurant in the former Elephant Walk Club of the Frederick Hotel. There, Ming’s became a popular eatery that served a combination of Chinese and Polynesian dishes. In 1998, Ming’s relocated to the Stone Lodge Motel, where it operated for another ten years before closing in 2009. Today, Ming’s original location is home to 21 At The Frederick, and the Stone Lodge motel has become the Prestera Center for Mental Health.