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  • Horace Trumbauer in Fairmont
  • Frederick Platt

Whether mansion or office tower, all the diverse structures that architect Horace Trumbauer erected in West Virginia were built in the same city for the same family. Fairmont was that city, the largest in Marion County and its county seat. Less than twenty-five miles below the Pennsylvania border, the city had arisen on the western bank of the Monongahela River as it meanders up to Pittsburgh. What is more, Fairmont was the site of the state's largest coalfield, fuel for the industrialization that gripped the nation after the Civil War. Railroads that hauled the local variety of bituminous coal would in addition find it ideal for powering their locomotives, so that many an eastern line ran on Fairmont coal. Whoever controlled this coalfield could expect great wealth, and that was the Watson family.

Often called "father of the West Virginia coal industry,"1 James Otis Watson would gather thirty-seven mines into his Fairmont Coal Company. Soon after he died in 1902 at age eighty-seven, his holdings became the farther-flung Consolidation Coal Company with his youngest child, Clarence, as its president. This switch is symbolic of the one taking place in American business around the turn of the century, the handover from the fathers, wildcatters who founded the family fortune, to the sons, who introduced rudiments of modern management. Simultaneously came a change in how the generations hoped to be housed. By and large their parents were content in their provincial if commodious dwellings, but their more worldly offspring dreamt of palaces. Even those elders who built themselves new residences had most often been egged on by their children. With the United States entering the mainstream of leading nations, its architecture from homes to museums to libraries to banks took on Old World garb.

Horace Trumbauer stood in the first rank of his era's tastemakers who adapted the European past to the American present. From his birth in l868 to his death in l938, he was a steadfast Philadelphian, although his buildings north to Maine and south to Florida, west to Colorado and east to England made him far from a local architect. After apprenticing in the city,2 he started his own office in l890 as soon as he reached the legal age of twenty-one. [End Page 53] At home his landmarks would include the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the central Free Library of Philadelphia. Beyond the region he created townhouses on Fifth Avenue in New York City and summer residences in Newport, Rhode Island, together with the Widener Library at Harvard and the dual campuses of Duke University. Right from the start he had attracted the well-to-do, although, to his credit, clients less wealthy than the Watsons likewise received their proportional share of his attention.

Farm Group for C. W. Watson, 1907-1909

The first of the Watson properties to involve Horace Trumbauer had already been in the family more than six decades. Three years after Matilda Lamb became his bride in 1841, James Otis Watson purchased a farm two miles from the center of Fairmont. With the land came a log house of two stories, built around 1817 and likely the oldest house still standing today in Marion County. Six sons and four daughters would fill the house to its limit. Using early profits from coal plus his Civil War earnings made selling horses to the Union army, Watson erected during 1865 a three-story dwelling of brick, respectably Victorian with eyebrow dormers and a belvedere. He named the place La Grange after the home in Maryland that his grandfather had left behind upon settling in these parts. Upon the death of James Otis Watson, ownership transferred to Clarence Wayland Watson, that youngest child who now ran the family business.

Renaming his new estate Fairmont Farms, the son immediately enlarged the residence, calling in not yet Trumbauer but another architect3 to update it outside and in, so that it approximated Spanish Mission style with multiple porches and overhanging eaves. At the same time and in the same style, the same architect put up an elaborate stable around three sides of a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-5057
Print ISSN
0043-325X
Pages
pp. 53-74
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-31
Open Access
No
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