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Historical quarrel makes for interesting summer visit

June 27, 2009
By CARRA HIGGINS, Staff Writer

A bitter feud between Beverly and its young northern neighbor, Elkins, about the location of the Randolph County seat altered the future of the small community. It's been more than 100 years since Beverly lost that battle, but the allure of its rich history and intact structures pre-dating West Virgina's statehood is bringing life back to this centuries-old town.

For the last 11 years, Historic Beverly Preservation, with the help of many other organizations and donors, has been working to rehabilitate former homes, businesses and the first county courthouse into a museum, regional research facility and tourist attraction to tell the story of Beverly. All but one of the four "core" buildings (Beverly Bank, Courthouse, Hill Building and Bushrod Crawford Building) are completed and exhibits installed.

In 1998, Chelley Depp assumed the executive director's position for Historic Beverly Preservation and the Rich Mountain Battle Field Foundation. At the time, the organization owned only the Bushrod Crawford Building, which served as Gen. George McClellan's headquarters during the Battle of Rich Mountain. Those first few years were spent on behind-the-scenes work, such as coming up with a plan for the buildings and securing funding.

Article Photos

(CU?and The Inter-Mountain/Carra Higgins)
HISTORICAL STREETS – Constructed in 1900, the Beverly Bank once stood as a financial institution in the small Randolph County town. The once deteriorating structure is now part of the Beverly Heritage Center and home to the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike Exhibit.

"When we started this project, it was a huge dream for all of us," Depp said. "It was a mission to save the buildings, but in order to save the buildings we had to know what we wanted to do with them afterward."

After adding more buildings to its list, creating specific goals and receiving some money, renovations began around six years ago, but not without raising some eyebrows.

"When we acquired the bank and the courthouse, all the nay-sayers in town told us to tear them down because they were so deteriorated," Depp remembered. "You could walk into some of the properties and fall through the floor into the crawl space underneath. Through the magic of restoration, we were able to save all of these buildings and turn them into something that we are very proud of."

The former Beverly Bank is now home to the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike Exhibit, which tells the story of the route's use from Indian paths through the motorized vehicles and how settlers arrived in the region. The turnpike exhibit connects all the stories that are and will be told at the Beverly Heritage Center, Depp explained.

From the Turnpike Exhibit, travel through the door and into Randolph County's original courthouse, built in 1908. The displays in the courthouse tell the story of how the railroad came and changed the region, its services as seat of justice and the infamous dispute with Elkins.

"For us that story (the feud) is good and bad," Depp said. "It was bad that the county seat moved, but it's good because Beverly shrank down to the quiet little community that it is today and the historic buildings were saved because of that."

Currently the Civil War exhibit is in the Crawford Building, however, it will be updated for the 150th anniversary of the war.

The sounds of renovation echo through the Hill Building, located between the Crawford Building and courthouse. When work is finished on the last of the four adjacent structures, it will host the "Beverly's Heyday" exhibit. "Beverly's Heyday" will explain about those who lived in the town and how it was once a "bustling center of commerce," filled with shops, taverns and hotels.

"We want to put a new spin on the old adage that West Virginia is nothing but hillbillies and coal mines," Depp said. "There's so much more."

Adjacent to the back of the four core buildings is a predominately glass gallery that's nearing completion. Just off the gallery, the organization has plans to plant a garden with heritage flowers and vegetables. Depp explained the gallery addition enables the Beverly Heritage Center to be ADA compliant, host receptions and welcome guests to facility.

"It's going to be a really nice feature of the center," she commented.

The three open exhibits shed light on topics that many may not know a lot about. AmeriCorps member Joan Pitts created a way for children to learn about the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike, with a little help from Lemuel, the museum cat. The cat's name was inspired by Beverly resident and famous bridge builder Lemuel Chenoweth. Lemuel has studied the exhibit and thinks there are important facts kids should know. He's created a list of questions and left a paw print where the answers can be found.

Lemuel isn't the only way to learn at the Beverly Heritage Center. Education programs for schools, groups, organizations and the community are also offered at the facility or at a selected on-site location.

Depp hopes to encourage local teachers and those across the state to use the Beverly Heritage Center as an educational resource.

"It takes a village" to ensure dreams become reality in Beverly, Depp said. Among the organizations that have contributed to the project or have a partnership with the Beverly Heritage Center includes: Historic Beverly Preservation, Randolph County Historical Society, Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike Alliance, Beverly Historic Landmarks Commission, Randolph County Convention and Visitors Bureau, West Virginia Association of Museums, The Preservation, West Virginia Historic Preservation Office, other landmark commissions, OnTrac and West Virginia Re-enactors Association.

Funding for the projects has been obtained through federal, state, private grants and individual donors. Johnny Allen and his family, including John and Joyce Allen, have been especially generous to the Beverly Heritage Center, Depp said.

Various others have donated a variety of materials and artifacts.

"That's really exciting to us because that not only helps us do the museum exhibit, but also becomes part of the archive that people can come here and research," Depp added.

Although there have been donations and grants, the center is still lacking about $500,000 before projects can be wrapped. Depp explained the organization is still actively seeking funding and donors, and is launching a capital campaign in the fall to retire debt on the project and match grant funding.

Throughout the summer, the center is open seven days a week, even while it's still under construction.

"Beverly is one of those towns that you drive through and go ... how nice is this," Depp said. "When you drive into this town, you just feel it."

Depp says those who haven't experienced Beverly should stop and visit unique specialty shops, great museums and find out about the history in their own backyard.

Visit or call the Beverly Heritage Center at 304-637-7424 for more information.



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