Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Graceland Mansion in Elkins

The mansion on the Davis & Elkins College campus was the summer home of Henry Gassaway Davis, a United States Senator (1871-1883), and an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Vice President of the United States.Graceland, built by Henry Gassaway Davis and his wife, was completed in 1893. Graceland was designed by the renowned architectural firm of Baldwin and Pennington of Baltimore, MD. The farm on which the Inn was built originally consisted of approximately 360 acres. The exterior of the building is constructed of native sandstone in the Queen Anne style of architecture. The interior is decorated in native hardwoods, notably quartered oak, bird's eye maple, cherry and walnut.

It is amazing at the restoration that has been completed. This structure was used at one time by a local college fraternity. Stories abound about students dropping mattresses from the second floor balconies and jumping from the railings, motorcycle riding in the house, and playing basketball in the entry room. I remember seeing the mansion after this period. It was boarded up with plywood. Graceland has indeed returned to its former glory.

The house was first named the Mingo Moor and then Mingo Hall, the name being derived from Mingo Flats, an area south of Elkins. In the end though, Davis named the house in honor of his youngest daughter, Grace. She was thought to be Davis's favorite daughter and had considerable influence regarding the decoration of the house. The original name is still remembered today by the restaurant, the Mingo Room that is in Graceland.

Following the death of Davis's wife in 1902, Grace became her father's hostess and she and her family spent summers in Graceland. Davis conducted political and business affairs from his office in Graceland until his death in 1916. After his death, Grace and her husband continued spending summers in Graceland. In 1925 Grace's husband died and in 1931 Grace was killed in a car accident. The house was passed on to their children. The last owners of the house were Ellen Bruce Lee and her husband, John A. Kennedy.

Senator Davis' life was more than a mere illustration of the practicability of the Ciceronian and Plantanian theories of true happiness attended by success and contentment. "In his mellow old age," he was able to look out from the porch of his home on the commanding hill, adjoining the lusty young city of Elkins, and witness the day dreams of the Piedmont station agent transformed into perpetual realities that are redounding in innumerable benefits to multitudes of his fellow men, and to enjoy the satisfaction of gazing upon "that what he had wrought."

The house was sold in 1939 and was acquired by the West Virginia Presbyterian Education Fund in 1941 and presented to the college. Until 1970, Graceland was used as a men's residence hall but in 1971 it was closed until the early 1990's when restoration began. The Inn received its first guests in 1996.

Room rates are reasonable and the food is wonderful. There is a Sunday brunch from 11:30 to 2:00.


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