Thomas, WV: Once upon a time, the coal and coke, railroad, and timber industries were a huge part of Thomas, West Virginia’s economy—and while it may not be the boomtown it was in the past, you can still find plenty of artifacts and notable locations that highlight the area’s unique history and heritage to this day.
One such historic place is the Davis Coal & Coke Company Administration Building, also known as the “Engineering Building”, built in 1900 after the company’s main field office exploded (due to an accidental furnace-oil fire in October 1899). While it’s been unoccupied and dormant since about 1982, the building’s core structure retains a high degree of integrity and remains an important landmark—representing the history and operations of the Davis Coal and Coke Company, which once employed between 1,300 and 1,500 people in Thomas alone.
In July 2019, The Vandalia Heritage Foundation was awarded a multi-partner grant from the West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office to stabilize and restore this historic building, in collaboration with Friends of Blackwater and the City of Thomas. Additionally, a separate grant from the Hart Family Fund allowed them to work with Cheryl Hargrove, international expert in heritage tourism, to conduct an economic feasibility study of the building. These study results will help inform redevelopment plans for this historically significant property.
Cheryl visited Thomas in February 2020 to tour the building and meet with local business owners, get their perspective about the region’s economy, what they feel is needed, and what may be lacking. This wasn’t her first visit to the area, however—in 2004 she participated in a local “Share Your Heritage” workshop, sponsored by Vandalia, as an expert panelist in historic preservation and cultural heritage tourism.
“Revisiting Thomas after more than a decade was positively eye-opening,” said Cheryl. “I certainly appreciated the great heritage of the community and region, as well as the wonderful natural and historic assets, during my first trip in 2004. However, community improvements were noticeable in 2020. In particular, the downtown revitalization – sparked by the art galleries and Purple Fiddle along Front Street – now offers a superb foundation for additional community enhancements and attractions to grow tourism. With the reopening of the Buxton & Landstreet Building as a gallery/gathering place, the neighboring Davis Coal & Coke Building represents an additional economic development opportunity for Thomas. With the addition of this attraction complex and other enhancements, Thomas can establish itself as a year-round destination for recreation enthusiasts as well as cultural heritage travelers.”
Overall, preserving the area’s coal and coke heritage, as Friends of Blackwater has done with signage along the Blackwater Rail Trail and Vandalia does through the Buxton & Landstreet Building (the former Davis Coal & Coke Company store), is a priority. More plans are anticipated to be available sometime in April 2020.