Elkins: Yesterday & Today
Located in West Virginia’s Allegheny Highlands, Elkins—a community of about 7,000—is the seat of Randolph County.
In addition to serving as a tourism and outdoor-adventure basecamp within easy reach of numerous recreation opportunities and cultural events, the city is home to a regional hospital complex (Davis Medical Center), a small liberal arts college (Davis & Elkins), the headquarters of the Monongahela National Forest, the Jennings Randolph Federal Building, and an excursion train company that hosts about 30,000 visitors a year (the Durbin & Greenbrier Railroad). Each fall, some 75,000 people attend the Mountain State Forest Festival—the state’s largest and oldest festival—which features carnival rides on downtown streets, two major parades, and the coronation of Queen Silvia, the queen of the forest.
Elkins, which was incorporated as a city in 1890, was founded by Henry Gassaway Davis (1823-1916) and his son-in-law, Stephen Benton Elkins (1841-1911). These two men, who were also business partners and at different times served as U.S. senators, developed railroad lines, coal mines, and timbering businesses in this area. They brought their West Virginia Central and Pittsburgh Railway into Elkins in 1889, opening a vast territory to industrial development by the late 1890s. In 1901, Elkins merged with what had been the separate town of South Elkins.
For much of the twentieth century, Elkins was a train town. The railroad established by the town’s founders merged with the Western Maryland Railway in 1905, and, by 1930, 18 passenger trains were arriving and leaving Elkins daily. Passenger service was discontinued in 1958, but Elkins continued to be a major freight hub, providing a vital transportation link for the area’s booming timber industry. Today, the city’s once busy railyard is the site of existing and planned commercial development. The West Virginia Railroad Museum, located at the railyard’s southeast corner, preserves the history of railroading in Elkins and statewide.
Despite the city’s small size, Elkins has an abundance of structures and neighborhoods on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Downtown Elkins Historic District, the Wees District, the Graham-Davis District, and the Davis & Elkins Historic District. The latter comprises the mansions, outbuildings, and grounds of the grand estates once home to the city’s founders and later transferred to Davis & Elkins College.
Downtown Elkins is a business and retail district with an eclectic variety of locally owned shops, restaurants, and bars. The Rotary Amphitheater, located in the Elkins Railyard, hosts a farmer’s market, festivals, and concerts. Live music can also be found at the Randolph County Community Arts Center and other venues. Elkins Main Street, the Elkins-Randolph County Chamber of Commerce, and a business-owners organization work hard to keep the city’s downtown vibrant and attractive to businesses and visitors alike.
Elkins benefits from a strong spirit of community volunteerism. The city is fortunate to have multiple voluntary, fraternal, and service organizations that complete beneficial projects each year (see section 9.2, below), in addition to the many volunteers who help at community events, serve on nonprofit and governmental boards, and assist with other worthy efforts around town.
In 2018, the Elkins council adopted the city government’s first strategic plan. (See: www.bit.ly/Elkins-Strategic-Plan) The plan expressed goals such as even more walkable city streets; further growth in the tourism, healthcare, and wood-products industries; and a robust community of artists, artisans, and tradespeople who call Elkins home. Accomplishing this plan’s goals will take work, but the people of Elkins have achieved big things before. We’re glad you’re here to help—and to enjoy the community we are all building together.