Both hotels are included as contributing structures in historic districts recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, and both share the common history of having been built in the footprints of their original hotel namesakes soon after they were destroyed by fires.
The first incarnation of the Pence Hotel had been operating only a short time before it was gutted in a January 1910 fire that destroyed much of that Mercer County town’s downtown area. The owner, Mrs. Jenny Pence, rebuilt and reopened the three-story red brick building on its original Main Street location by the end of the following year, as the town’s fortunes continued to rise.
The community, linked by rail to Eastern Seaboard cities and illuminated by what may have been the nation’s first streetlight systems, catered to coal operators who preferred not to live in the coal camps they built for their workers. As a result, Bramwell boasts a disproportionate number of elegant mansions, and once had one of the nation’s highest per-capita income levels.
The grant from the Preservation Alliance will help pay for the first of a four-phase restoration plan for the Pence Hotel.
Once restored, the hotel will house a replica coal company store on its ground floor, and guest rooms for visitors to the town, including Hatfield-McCoy Trail riders. According to Mercer County Commission President Gene Buckner, the restored hotel will “provide an economic boost to the town and region.”
The Wyoming Hotel was built in 1920 in the Wyoming County town of Mullens, a commercial hub for coalfields along the Wyoming-Raleigh county border, after its original version, built in 1918, was destroyed by fire the following summer at the same location.
The hotel was designed by Bluefield architect Alex Mahood, who also designed the Mercer County Courthouse, the U.S. Post Office in Beckley, and numerous dormitories, libraries and classroom buildings from Bluefield to Morgantown, including the Fine Arts Center at West Virginia University and the Concord Student Union.
The five-story hotel featured 68 rooms, a dining room capable of seating 250, and a mezzanine level overlooking its lobby. It was built by coal operator and banker J.C. Sullivan. Its guests over the years have included John F. Kennedy during his 1960 presidential campaign, along with reported visits by United Mine Workers President John L. Lewis, baseball legend Babe Ruth, boxer Jack Dempsey and humorist Will Rogers.
“The Wyoming Hotel was a source of community pride and community history,” said the building’s owner, Samuel E. Webster. “Saving it would again lift community spirits and potentially be a centerpiece for rural economic redevelopment.”
Development plans for the hotel call for a commercial-residential mix, catering to outdoor recreation tourists.
The Preservation Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving historically significant properties throughout the state, is accepting donations for its Saving Historical Places program. Donations of $500 or more may be eligible for Neighborhood Investment Program tax credits.
Each of the two hotels received $6,000 grants, according to Danielle Parker, the Preservation Alliance’s director, who added there were grant applications totaling more than $40,000, “which is why we’re still fundraising to support other projects in the future.”
Read More: Two hotels from southern coalfield’s boom days awarded preservation grants | News