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Darden Mill was built in 1902 to serve the burgeoning rail lines in Elkins. The building continued to operate as a mill until 1943, when it was sold and served as a retail space for several more decades. In the early twenty-first century, the Mill was acquired by Citizens for Historical Opportunity, Preservation, and Education (C-Hope). C-Hope restored the historic building, which is one of two original structures that remain of the Elkins rail yard. The Mill houses two organizations; the West Virginia Railroad Museum and the Appalachian Forest Discovery Center. The West Virginia Railroad Museum gathers, conserves, restores, and interprets the history of the railroad in West Virginia. The Appalachian Forest Discovery Center is devoted to educating the public about the culture and natural resources of sixteen counties in West Virginia and two in Maryland.
Backstory and Context
Senators Henry Gassaway Davis and Stephen B. Elkins, after whom Elkins is named, developed railroad lines, coal mines, and timber operations throughout Randolph County. Together they built the WV Central and Pittsburgh Railway to run through Elkins. This opened a vast territory to industrial development in the late 1890s. By the early 1900s, Elkins had begun to grow rapidly. The city attracted hundreds of rail and timber workers along with business entrepreneurs all looking to make Elkins their new home. Without the arrival of the railroad, the coal and timber industries would never have rapidly become the powerful economic forces they came to be in West Virginia. Due to railroad expansion in the early twentieth century, Elkins was able to experience the luxury of passenger train service. "In 1930, eighteen passenger trains were arriving and leaving Elkins daily."1 However, in the late 1950s, the passenger service was discontinued and by the end of the 1980s, commercial rail services also ended. At the turn of the twenty-first century, the rail yard began to return to life. Now, there is a redeveloped depot area and tourist train service in Elkins.
Darden Mill, the only remaining original building on the railyard other than the depot, was built in 1902 by Elkins Milling Company. The Mill was operated by the Company until 1919, when it was sold to local businessman Ralph Darden. The grain produced at the Mill was transported all over the state. Darden operated the mill until 1943. After 1943, the Darden Mill building was used for various businesses such as a farm supply store, a furniture store, and a junk shop. The structure has survived at least two fires, marks of which are still visible on interior beams. The Mill was purchased in the early twenty-first century by Citizens for Historical Opportunity, Preservation, and Education (C-Hope). The organization has put forth endless efforts to restore the Mill to its historical glory. In 2014, Darden Mill reopened as a historic building that hosts local non-profit community focused organizations.
The West Virginia Railroad Museum is a small museum located in Darden Mill and dedicated to preserving and archiving the history of the railroad and its workers in West Virginia. The purpose of the West Virginia Railroad Museum is to educate visitors and the community about West Virginia's railroad history. The museum's mission is achieved through the collection and preservation of significant locomotives, artifacts, photographs, and memorabilia that are related to the railroads and railroading in West Virginia. In addition to these exhibits, select pieces of equipment in the collection were restored to working order. Now, they are operated throughout the year to demonstrate steam, gasoline, and diesel technology. Also, visitors are provided with a first-hand experience of railroad history with a train ride.
The Appalachian Forest Discovery Center also resides in Darden Mill. This organization promotes ecological and cultural awareness of portions of West Virginia’s landscape. The Center hosts a new exhibition each year. Objects are sourced through the community and acquired by soliciting donations. The Center also acts as a welcome center for the Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area, which encompasses sixteen counties in West Virginia and two in Maryland.
Brinker, Ruth A. Elkins Milling Company, National Register of Historic Places. December 17th 2003. Accessed November 13th 2020. http://www.wvculture.org/shpo/nr/pdf/randolph/04001595.pdf.
City of Elkins, West Virginia, Accessed March-April 2015, http://www.cityofelkinswv.com/index.php/our-town/history.
The Darden Mill - Appalachian Heritage Area Discovery Center, Mountain Music Trail. Accessed November 13th 2020. https://mountainmusictrail.com/the-darden-mill-appalachian-forest-heritage-area-discovery-center/.
1. H. Borstel (personal communication, March 27, 2015)
Rice, William H. Historical Notes on the Elkins Milling Company and Darden Mill, Citizens for Historical Opportunity, Preservation, and Education. May 8th 2003. Accessed
November 13th 2020. https://www.c-hopewv.org/millhistory.htm.
Swailes, Molly. Darden Mill Schedules Grand Opening, Growth Rings. January 1st 2014. Accessed November 13th 2020. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5dc428f0a2f25b37decb3f57/t/5e2b24b80d037176a312caa2/1579885756501/Vol.13+No.1.pdf.
Visit, Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area. Accessed November 13th 2020. https://www.appalachianforestnha.org/visit.
West Virginia Railroad Museum, Accessed March-April, 2015, http://www.wvrailmuseum.com/.
West Virginia Railroad Museum, Elkins-Randolph County Tourism. Accessed November 13th 2020. https://elkinsrandolphwv.com/place/west-virginia-railroad-museum/.
Mountain Music Trail. Accessed November 13, 2020. https://mountainmusictrail.com/the-darden-mill-appalachian-forest-heritage-area-discovery-center/.
Elkins-Randolph County Tourism. Accessed November 13, 2020. https://elkinsrandolphwv.com/place/west-virginia-railroad-museum/.
Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area. Accessed November 13, 2020. https://www.appalachianforestnha.org/visit.