Relic of burned Capitol Annex back in public eye
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A bit of West Virginia history returned home Friday morning when contractors used a boom truck to guide a chunk of limestone into place beside the Huntington Banks Building in Charleston.
The intricately carved piece -- roughly a 3-foot cube -- once crowned one of the Ionic columns of the old Capitol Annex, which later became the Charleston Library and then the Kanawha County Public Library.
The building stood along Lee Street between Hale and Dickinson streets until its demise in 1967. When it was torn down, scavengers saved some of its best parts. You can find a few relics on the lawn of the University of Charleston, said local history buff Richard Andre.
Another piece wound up in the hands of Gene Jordon, the late real estate entrepreneur and antiques dealer. Jordon put it in the back yard of a house he owned on Quarrier Street, near Bradford Street.
"That was his office for a long time," said his son, George, who oversaw the moving of the relic Friday. "It's been near the alley behind 1413 [Quarrier] for at least 40 years. It's been used as a picnic table. Kids would sit around it. They put flowers on it."
Several years ago, at Andre's urging, members of the Kanawha Valley Historical and Preservation Society started rounding up pieces of the old Victorian state Capitol building and its Annex, which anchored the downtown more than a century ago.
They retrieved a rough-hewn capital (the architectural term for the top of a column) that had been lying, unmarked and nearly forgotten, near Daniel Boone Park, and gave it a new home in the Lee Street Triangle. Then they turned to the Annex.
Judging from old hand-colored postcards, the Annex must have rivaled the brick Capitol in grandeur. It stood three stories tall, topped by a dome, with twin curving stairways leading to an elevated entrance.
It was built in 1902, designed by Harrison Albright, the official state architect. Albright, a Philadelphia native, designed a number of structures across West Virginia -- a miner's hospital in Fairmont, an asylum in Huntington -- before earning greater fame in California.
The Annex housed a number of state agencies, including the auditor, treasurer, Supreme Court, state law library and Department of Archives and History. Its fireproof construction probably came in handy in 1921, when fire ravaged the Capitol across the street.
For an even longer period -- 1926 to 1966 -- the building served as the Charleston/Kanawha Public Library, and for a dozen years, it did double duty as home to Morris Harvey College (now the University of Charleston).
Seeking larger quarters, the library moved to Capitol Street and sold the Annex property to the National Bank of Commerce, which tore it down and built Commerce Square, the bank tower you see today. The National Bank of Commerce later merged with Huntington Banks.
Negotiations with Huntington Banks took far longer than expected, said Henry Battle, the society's president. The society ended up signing a multi-page agreement and buying liability insurance, he said.
A bank spokesman said he was aware of the project but had no comment.
As it did for the nearby relic from the old Capitol, the society has designed a commemorative plaque, with an image of the Annex and a few descriptive words, that will be placed beside it. It includes the year of the installation.
"When I first had the plaque made up, it said 2011," said Russ Young, head of the society's plaques and monuments committee. "Then it was 2012." He met again recently with folks from Curry Brothers Monuments of Alum Creek to check on the plaque.
"When I got ready to sign off on it I said, 'Oh, we need to get it changed to 2013."
Getting the stone relic from the East End to downtown was no easy task, either, Young said. "It's not something where you can get three men and pick it up."
That's where George's brother, Andrew, owner of Pritchard Mining, pitched in. He donated heavy equipment and some laborers -- the father and son team of Allen and Dewaine Parsons.
They backed the boom truck close to the relic's new home -- a concrete pad in the center of a raised circular planting bed. With the crane, they ever so carefully lifted the piece from the back of the truck, set in on the sidewalk, flipped it over and raised it into place.
"It's so heavy, it's sucking the battery down on this vehicle," Allen Parsons said, so he hooked up booster cables to a pickup truck. "That thing weighs about 4 1/2 tons."
As he and others brushed dirt off what had been the stone's base for the past 40-plus years, Parsons found a rectangular slot in the center.
"This is the lift eye," he said. "Apparently they made a bunch of these. That's what they would have used to [as an attachment point] to move them around and set them."
George Jordon said he's not sure how his father acquired the capital. "He had a story for everything." But when folks from the historical society came calling, he and brother Andrew were glad to give it away, he said.
"Mr. Battle, he knew the significance of it. He wanted it. Nobody could see it when it was in the alley.
"The man who lives there now is a little upset. He lost his grill base."
Reach Jim Balow at email@example.com or 304-348-5102.