KEYSER THEN AND NOW: What is the oldest building on the PSC campus?

Denny Avers and Betty Bane Dzubba
Special to the News Tribune
The home of the president of WVU Potomac State College is the oldest building on campus.

KEYSER - Yes, it’s the residence of the president of Potomac State College. A tangle of wires in the air and a large sign in the small front yard now distract our view, but they haven’t always been there. We’ve driven past this lovely home countless times, but know little about its history.

Read on – it’s an interesting story.

The Feb. 11, 1942, issue of The Pasquino, the PSC student newspaper, published an excellent account of the campus history. It noted that the land occupied by the main campus was donated by Thomas B. Davis in June 1901. Davis was a wealthy farmer, land owner and businessman who lived in the nearby “mansion” on the property where the old monumental Keyser High School was built in the early 1920s.

The first building on the new hilltop campus was the administration building, erected in 1901-1902. Next to come was Davis Hall, the men’s dormitory, in 1916. The original administration building was destroyed by fire in 1917, leading many to conclude that Davis Hall is the oldest building still standing on the campus.

The Pasquino article goes on to say, “This tract is now the Potomac State campus with the exception of the corner on which the president’s home is located and which was acquired by the state from a different owner in 1924.”

So what was going on here before 1924?

On June 30, 1899, T. B. Davis sold the undeveloped 100x100 ft. lot on the southwest corner of Mineral Street and Fort Avenue, across the street from the Grace Methodist parsonage, to Mr. Sidney VanAuken for $700. Construction of a home on the property began immediately. Seven weeks earlier, newspapers had noted that Mr. VanAuken, of Oswego, New York, and investors from Philadelphia and Delaware had incorporated the Keyser Door and Box Company and were constructing a new factory to house the business.

VanAuken was not a young man, having served in the Pennsylvania 151st Infantry during the Civil War. He and his wife Eliza and two children who were still living with their parents moved into their new home in the late summer of 1899. By mid-1900, his business venture failed and went into receivership. In October of that year it was re-opened as the Keyser Furniture Company, under new ownership. The VanAuken family left Keyser shortly thereafter.

James Henry Trout purchased the VanAuken residence on March 12, 1901, for $1,000 cash plus $2,000 to be paid later. Trout was the son of Henry Trout, an early innkeeper at Ridgeville. He married Susan Jane Caldwell. For many years, the James H. Trout family had lived about three miles south of Keyser in an old stone house that stood on property now owned by the Kesecker family. The family moved to town in the early 1890s.

Upon his death in 1911, Mr. Trout’s obituary noted the following: “He was a member of the Legislature that organized the State of West Virginia; he was deputy sheriff of Hampshire County, Virginia, and the first High Sheriff of Mineral County. He was a decidedly Union man and served on the government detective staff during the Civil War.”

Following Mrs. Trout’s death in 1922, their two surviving daughters, Miss Willie Trout and Mrs. Sarah Elizabeth Turner, sold the residence. Acting upon the urging of Joseph W. Stayman, president of Potomac State College, the West Virginia State Board of Control purchased the residence on Sept. 28, 1925, for $8,600. The Stayman family lived there until Ernest E. Church became president of PSC in 1936.

Now, when you drive past this residence, you will remember… It’s the oldest building on the Potomac State College campus.