Historic Elkins mansion is at a crossroads

Chris Dorst
Herman G. Kump, governor of West Virginia from 1933-37, built his Neo-Federal Revival house in the mid-1920s in Elkins. The public can tour the house Sept. 1 during a fundraiser.
Heather Biola reveals a secret drawer in a dresser. When closed, the front of the drawer is disguised as molding. A granddaughter of Gov. Kump, Biola found her great-grandmother's ring in a similar hiding place.
A photograph in the governor's den shows President Franklin Roosevelt greeting the Forest Festival queen. Gov. Kump smiles in the background.
The dining and living rooms are the furnished as they were when Kump and his family lived in the 26-room mansion. Jacob Kump brought the corner cupboard when he came from Amsterdam in 1737 and settled in the Romney area.
Meredith Leep, from Delaware, scrapes paint from the galvanized metal columns on the front entrance. Leep is a historic preservation worker with AmeriCorps, which is a partner with the Kump House Project.
Water leaks have damaged plaster in many rooms, including this bedroom furnished with pieces made by George Latham, a Buckhannon furniture maker in the early 20th century.
Derrick Smith, with Allegheny Restoration and Builders, in Morgantown, repairs windows on the Kump House. The youth bed dates from the 19th century.
Heather Biola said her grandmother, Edna Kump, would sit this chair in the hallway waiting for her children to return from dates. There, she had views of the front and side entrances.
Sisters Scottie Roberts (left) and Heather Biola hold up an old campaign banner of their grandfather's. The banner would go up the very day of Kump's every appearance; hence "today" was always accurate.
A community garden is planted in the rear of the Kump House that sits on about 5.5 acres at the crossroads of U.S. 33, U.S. 219, U.S. 250, W.Va. 55 and W.Va. 92.
Kump and his family would have listened to FDR's fireside chats on this Depression-era radio in the enclosed porch.
Boards stabilize the ceiling in one of the third-floor bedrooms.
ELKINS, W.Va. -- On Sept. 1, we will have our chance -- those of us who have passed through Elkins, heading north on U.S. 33 to Canaan Valley or south on U.S. 219 to Snowshoe -- a rare chance to look inside the stately brick mansion that sits at the crossroads.The Kump House and Farm will be open to the public for the first time during an all-day event that will feature food, traditional music, a pie auction and historical impersonators."Activities include tours of the historic home," a flier says, "which appears as it did when Eleanor Roosevelt visited Gov. and Mrs. Kump in the 1930s."Well, not quite. Yes, much of the original furniture, rugs, lamps and artwork are still there. But the Kump house has no heating or water. Plaster is peeling from the walls and ceilings in most of its 26 rooms, where the musty smell of dampness lingers.
"Preservation is an ongoing process," said Heather Biola. "When you let it sit, there's 50 years of worth of work to do."Biola is the coordinator of the Kump House Project for the city of Elkins, which owns the house. She also is a granddaughter of Herman G. Kump, who served as governor of West Virginia from 1933 to 1937.Growing up in Elkins, she has memories of visiting her grandparents for Sunday dinners, and she can point out what bedroom belonged to what aunt or uncle."Halloween was the most fun. Granddaddy's birthday was on Halloween. There would be a big family dinner."Biola also knows how to open the secret drawers in several bedroom dressers. "People didn't trust the banks then," she explained. "They had to hide their money."It was during President Franklin Roosevelt's term that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. was created and the Glass-Steagall Act was passed. Now, with the repeal of the part of the act that separated commercial and investment banking, Biola says the accomplishments of the New Deal are under fire.Many political issues, such as Social Security, are the same then as now, said Biola. Hence the theme of this Labor Day weekend event, "New Deal at the Crossroads." "We're at a crossroads; we have to make a decision," said Biola."Herman Guy Kump was the man of the hour at the time of the worst economic crisis in West Virginia history," wrote John G. Morgan in "West Virginia Governors." Morgan credited Kump with guiding "the state from the brink of financial ruin to high, solid, fiscal ground.""To Democrats at least, he was to the state what Franklin D. Roosevelt was to the nation. He was the New Deal, West Virginia style."Unlike Roosevelt, Kump could serve only one term. He did accompany FDR when the president visited the Forest Festival while campaigning for re-election in 1936. There's a photograph in the music room of a Queen Sylvia shaking the president's hand with Kump smiling in the background."I've never met a president before," said the pretty, young girl. The president was overheard to reply, "Well, I've never met a queen before."
The Kump family knew Eleanor Roosevelt much better. She visited more often because nearby Dailey was part of a homestead community she founded in West Virginia. Kump was a lawyer and banker in Elkins, where he served as mayor, prosecuting attorney and circuit judge. He was 48 when he employed Washington, D.C., architect Clarence Harding to design the Neo-Federal Revival house in 1924.Biola said Kump needed a large house for his family of six children plus other young relatives who lived with the family. There wasn't much money left over to furnish the house.George Latham, a well-known furniture maker from Buckhannon, made many of the beds, tables and dressers still in the house. Although they are unsigned, Biola said it's obvious which are his: the solid, sturdy walnut pieces with spindle legs and posts rather than the curved arms and legs of commercially made furniture.After Kump's death in 1962, his youngest daughter bought out the other heirs, but she rarely lived in the house. Biola said her aunt, Mary Gamble Kump, taught at military dependents' schools in Europe and, for 16 years, in the Philippines. When she retired to Elkins, Biola said her aunt confined her living quarters to a few rooms that she kept heated.Mary Gamble Kump died in 2008, leaving Elkins the house to be used for educational purposes and the property to provide a place to develop good citizenship for children and youth.
While bank trustees exercised due diligence in settling the estate, public meetings were held to decide the fate of the Kump house, which had been put on the National Register of Historic Places 25 years earlier. It was decided that the mansion would serve "as a center for educators to improve and support the success of West Virginia students for the 21st century."Biola said the Kump Center has received four grants totaling $250,000 from the State Historic Preservation Office. The first grant was to the Mills Group for a plan on how to adapt the house into a center over a 10-year period.The second grant went to replace the asbestos-laden roof, and the third paid for much needed masonry work.
"I think we have stopped the water from coming in," said Biola, who actually is amazed that the woodwork and floors are in fairly good condition.For fiscal year 2012, a fourth grant was given to preserve the windows. To come up with money to match the grants, the Kump Center has had yearly fundraisers including the upcoming New Deal activities.Multiple fundraisers are scheduled for 2013 when the 10-year plan calls for installing geothermal heat for the house, a project under study by the Sustainability Studies Program at Davis & Elkins College.The college program uses the Kump grounds to demonstrate environmentally friendly development. So far, the program has created a community garden, where gardeners pay $20 for a plot, and has planted apple trees where the original orchard was.Each of the next six years calls for another major project -- painting; meeting plumbing, electrical and fire codes; and restoring the furniture.The finish line is set for 2019, when teachers can stay for multiday conferences in the Kump House, with its 11 bedrooms and six baths on the second and third floors.Before then, Biola said the center hopes to expand professional development opportunities to educators. "For our teachers, it's a real struggle to continue to develop ... to get the things they need to be at their best," said Biola."We would like to bring in classes from WVU, so only the professor would have to travel."Additional possibilities include national board certification, graduate classes, student tutoring and more. "If there are six people who need something, we could start it," explained Biola, who has a doctorate in English education and is retired from D&E.She said six of the 18 Kump grandchildren were teachers as were three of his children. Early in his career, he taught in the one-room school he attended in Hampshire County. And it was under his administration that the county unit school system was established.As coordinator of the Kump Education Center, Biola's unpaid position combines her interests of history and teaching. The other four grandchildren in the Elkins area have contributed in various ways to help with the mansion's preservation, she said."We're glad the house is having a wider audience," she said.Kump House event has tours, music and moreELKINS, W.Va. -- The New Deal at the Crossroads fundraiser will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 1 at the Kump House and Farm, 401 S. Randolph Ave.On the main stage, Jump Start will play swing and early jazz music at 10 a.m.; Michael and Carrie Kline will sing songs of West Virginia at noon; and Elm Street Alley Cats will perform old-time music at 1 p.m.At 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., Randall Reeder will appear as Will Rogers, the cowboy commentator of the Depression era.Pies made by 30 of the area's best bakers will be auctioned at 3 p.m.Actors posing as West Virginia Gov. Herman G. Kump and U.S. first lady Eleanor Roosevelt also will take the stage during the day.Crafts and antiques vendors will be on the grounds. In the children's tent, puppet shows will be given at 12:30 and 2:15 p.m.All the outdoor activities are free.Tours of the Kump House are $10. Inside, artisans will demonstrate 1930s crafts, such as tatting, quilting and weaving.Refreshments will be for sale on the grounds. Rotarians will sell roast chicken in the nearby Kroger parking lot.For more information, call 304-636-3590 or visit www.facebook.com/kumpcenter.Email Heather Biola at kumphouse@gmail.Reach Rosalie Earle at earle@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5115.
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