Group discusses new survey

Residents living in Elkins’ Graham neighborhood need not be alarmed if they see two men taking pictures of their home and writing down notes on a clipboard – they are simply Robert Whetsell and Jeff Smith working with the Elkins Historic Landmark Commission to complete an intensive survey of historic properties in the district.

The two will be working through March to survey the properties within the Graham district, which is located in East Elkins behind Kroger. The area is bounded by 11th Street and the Tygart Valley River to the south, John Street to the west, and Randolph Avenue to the east and north.

To explain how the survey will work and why it is important to residents, the Elkins Historic Landmark Commission held a public meeting last week in the Randolph County Courthouse Annex.

“We wanted to make sure we communicated with anyone in the neighborhood who was interested in what we were doing,” said Logan Smith, Landmark Commission representative.

Work to begin the survey of the Graham neighborhood began when the Landmark Commission filed for a survey and planning grant through the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, State Historic Preservation Office in November 2011. The commission received the grant in the summer of 2012 totaling $16,000, with a required match of $4,800.

The commission hired local professional historian Whetsell, an independent contractor, to complete the survey, with Smith volunteering his assistance to the project.

Work is already underway to get an inventory of all of the historic homes and structures (e.g. garages) built during or before 1963 in the Graham neighborhood. To submit information to the Historic Preservation Office, the team must fill out a West Virginia Historic Property Inventory form for each house.

The form requires photographs to be taken of the front and back elevation of the house. Whetsell warned attendees of Thursday’s meeting that he might have to ask permission to enter their property if a good photograph cannot be obtained from a public area, like a sidewalk or alleyway.

Whetsell said he might also ask homeowners to help him identify the building materials used on the house for inventory purposes. The form also requires the identification of the architectural style of the house as it will often reveal the era it was built in.

The only sensitive information that will be present on the form is the name of the current homeowners, Whetsell said.

“We’re always looking for photographs of the buildings during their historic period,” Whetsell said.

“Any property owners who are interested in this process and want to provide additional information will be most welcome,” Landmark Commission member Phyllis Baxter said.

The first draft of the historical survey will be turned into the State Historic Preservation Office by April 1. After the Historic Preservation Office reviews the survey and the commission makes edits recommended by the office, the final draft of the survey will be on record at the State Historic Preservation Office and at the Elkins Historic Landmark Commission, located within the Darden House at 421 Davis Avenue.

The historical survey of the Graham neighborhood continues the commission’s goal to “survey and support local historic properties,” Smith said. Previous surveys by the Landmark Commission include the Elkins downtown area, the Wees neighborhood and Davis & Elkins College.

Although no one has declared intentions to try to place the Graham neighborhood as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places, completing the historical survey is always the first step to making such a designation a reality.

“Our goal eventually will be to do surveys of the entire city,” Smith said. “(But) by the time we get done with this project there will be a whole new group that will have entered into the historic genre and will be historic by then.”