The following is taken from the National Register Nomination Narrative form:
St. Albans downtown Main Street had substantial growth following the 1906 fire. Two severe fires in 1906 destroyed the mostly wood-frame downtown which resulted in the area being rebuilt with more fire-resistant brick and concrete. This substantial rebuilding testifies to the importance of the downtown area to local commerce and business.
The Coal River that flows through St. Albans and joins the Kanawha River there was observed in 1742 by explorer John Peter Salley and named for its nearby vast outcropping of coal. Starting in Virginia, Salley eventually paddled his buffalo skin canoe all the way to New Orleans and returned by ship to Virginia and wrote of his travels in his diary.
The community of Coalsmouth, named for its location where the Coal River enters the Kanawha River, was established near the site of Fort Tackett, built in 1786. By the 1790s, around thirty people had settled on the site that would evolve into modern-day St. Albans. A quite notable early citizen was George Washington’s nephew, Samuel Washington, who lived here for several years and is buried in the Bangor Cemetery in town. His tombstone has recently be “re-discovered” after being buried for over 70 years. Samuel inherited 2,000 acres at present day Dunbar/Institure and his cousin, Elizabeth Spotswood inherited the 2,000 acrea which is now St. Albans. Samuel inherited a famous battle sword from George Washington and Benjamin Franklin’s gold-headed cane, which was presented to Congress in 1843 and can be seen at the Smithsonian today. Another early settler was Phillip Roots Thompson who settled in 1816 in present downtown St. Albans and his estate stood where Main St. is now located. He purchased the property from Spotswood.
Coalsmouth developed rapidly, as it was wisely located where several transportation routes came together. The famous James River & Kanawha Turnpike passed through Coalsmouth, and ran along what is now Main Street. This turnpike would eventually evolve into US 60, now known as the Midland Trail. During the early nineteenth century, the turnpike supported two Inns at Coalsmouth, and a covered bridge was built in 1832 to cross the Coal River west of town to facilitate easy travel. Following the Confederate retreat from the nearby Battle of Scary Creek in 1861, the bridge was burned and destroyed. Another important transportation link could be found on the nearby Coal River, as eleven locks and dams were constructed in 1855 under the supervision of Captain Wm. Rosecrans (later General) and continued in use until the early 1880s.
Thus Coalsmouth very early in its history stood at the convergence of a turnpike, the Coal and the Kanawha Rivers, and later, a major railroad.
St. Albans was incorporated in 1872 and named by the chief counsel of the C&O railroad and close friend and railroad builder Collis P. Huntington, H. C. Parsons, in honor of his hometown in Vermont. By 1910, St. Albans was a thriving city and an important shipping point for both lumber and coal. The Coal River Locks had ceased operation by the1880s fro transporting coal, but the Coal River soon became an important means of floating logs to the lumber mills in St. Albans. Many of the virgin timber logs came from the headwaters of the Coal River in Boone and Kanawha counties. The Bowman Lumber Co., Mohler Lumber Co., and the Weimer Lumber Co. were among the major companies that shipped their products from St. Albans to the outside world via the C&O railroad. The shipping of coal on the railroads coming from Coal and Kanawha River valleys also made this an important railroad town. The nearby C&O Railroad Depot, while not within this Historic District, is already on the National Register of Historic Places.
Since Main Street was a growing and thriving business district at the center of an important transportation corridor, it was quickly rebuilt after the disastrous fires of 1906. The new brick buildings that replaced the frame buildings included two banks, a furniture store, 2 lodges, a general mercantile store, and later a theater and drug store, as well as several clothing stores, a hotel, churches and several specialty shops. The people of St. Albans rebuilt their town in a manner that reflected its new found prosperity.
Among the new construction, two institutions vital to the growth of the town would appear soon after the fire: The Bank of St. Albans, and The First National Bank. The Bank of St. Albans was built in 1906 by C. A. “Doc” Zerkle, the local pharmacist. His drug store was destroyed in the fire along with his vault, which was used as the town bank before the fire. The Bank of St. Albans served as City Hall from the 1960s until 1992, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. The other downtown bank was the First National Bank, located nearly across the street from the Bank of St. Albans. The First National Bank was constructed in 1910 and stayed in business until the depression of the 1930s. It is still in use today and has been subdivided for a variety of businesses.
In the years following the 1906 fires, several specialty buildings would appear downtown, reflecting new developments in entertainment, health-care, and socialization. The Alban Theater opened in 1937 to replace the old Isis Theater which closed. The Masonic Lodge (Washington Lodge), designed by local architect Walter Martens, was constructed in 1926 in the Georgian Revival style. The Hamrick Hospital was constructed on Main Street in 1938 and included beds for seven patients. Two hotels were located one block from Main Street, but were demolished in the 1960s.
One block of Main Street was closed to vehicular traffic in the 1970s and turned into a brick paved pedestrian mall, with a fountain, trees, clock tower and gazebo. This area was recently re-opened to traffic. The architecture of downtown generally features two to three story brick buildings that display attributes of many styles, including Romanesque Revival, Georgian Revival, Neo-Classical Revival, Art Moderne, and Commercial.
Downtown Main Street in St. Albans was an active center of town with Friday and Saturday nights attracting throngs of shoppers and movie-goers. Today, it remains a fairly active business district with nearly all of the buildings occupied. It boasts several specialty offices, financial services, beauty shops, a furniture store, two churches, craft shops, flower shop, a restaurant, pub, music store, and a Masonic lodge. The Alban Theater is now home to the new Alban Arts and Conference Center, operated by the City of St. Albans.