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Henry Gassaway Davis (1823-1916) Papers

Collection Number: A&M 0013

Scope and Contents

Correspondence and business papers of Henry Gassaway Davis (1823-1916), a successful businessman and politician from West Virginia. He was the Democratic Party's nominee for Vice President of the United States in 1904. The collection largely documents his business and political career, although there are personal papers in the collection as well. His business interests were largely concerned with coal mining, timber, and railroads. Types of documents include letters, reports, account books, and maps, among other material. Much of the correspondence is arranged alphabetically. The scope and content note of each record series provides substantial detail regarding content.

Series include:
Series 1a. Business Papers, 1882-1909 (boxes 1-29)
Series 1b. Banking Records, 1886-1916 (boxes 30-33)
Series 2. Coal Company Operations, 1799-1915 (boxes 34-48)
Series 3. Miscellaneous Papers, 1855-1916 (boxes 49-62)
Series 4. Miscellaneous Letters, 1872-1915 (boxes 63-65)
Series 5. Miscellaneous Bills and Receipts, 1872-1918 (boxes 66-82)
Series 6. Miscellaneous, 1872-1916 (boxes 83-115)
Series 7. Alexander Shaw Lawsuit, 1880-1894 (boxes 116-118)
Series 8. Personal and Political Papers, 1870-1916 (boxes 119-145)
Series 9. Railroads, 1862-1916 (boxes 146-189)
Series 10. West Virginia Semi-Centennial Commission, 1911 August 9–1913 July 26 (box 190)
Series 11. T.B. Davis Papers, 1879-1915 (box 191)
Series 12. Davis Memorial Hospital and Church, 1898-1916 (boxes 192-193)
Series 13. H.G. Davis and Brother, 1868-1905 (boxes 194-197)
Series 14. Real Estate and Timber, 1869-1915 (boxes 198-202)
Series 15. H.G. Davis Letter Books, 1865-1916 (boxes 203-231)
Series 16. West Virginia Central and Pittsburg Railway Company Letter Books, 1880-1903 (boxes 232-240)
Series 17. Minute, Letter, and Other Books, 1881-1914 (boxes 241-247)
Series 18. Oversized Ledgers, 1884-1913 (boxes 248-260)

Among Davis's correspondents are:
U.S. Representative John D. Alderson
West Virginia Governor George W. Atkinson
U.S. Senator William Henry Barnum
U.S. Ambassador to the U.K. Thomas F. Bayard
U.S. Minister to the Netherlands August Belmont, Sr.
U.S. Senator James G. Blaine
U.S. Senator Calvin S. Brice
U.S. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan
U.S. Senator Johnson N. Camden
industrialist Andrew Carnegie
President of Mexico General Porfirio Díaz
U.S. Secretary of War Stephen Benton Elkins
U.S. Minister to France Charles J. Faulkner, Sr.
Baltimore and Ohio Railroad President John W. Garrett
Olympian Robert S. Garrett
James Cardinal Gibbons (Cardinal, Archbishop of Baltimore)
U.S. Senator Arthur Pue Gorman
U.S. President Benjamin Harrison
Confederate cartographer Jedidiah (Jed) Hotchkiss
Maryland Governor Elihu Emory Jackson
U.S. Senator John E. Kenna
U.S. Secretary of War Daniel S. Lamont
U.S. Congressman Adam Brown Littlepage
U.S. Representative James Tilghman Lloyd
President of the WV Supreme Court of Appeals Daniel Bedinger Lucas
Consul General of Wurttemberg Charles F. Mayer
West Virginia Governor William A. McCorkle
U.S. Senator John R. McPherson
U.S. Commissioner of Internal Revenue Joseph S. Miller
Baltimore and Ohio Railroad President Oscar G. Murray
Pennsylvania Railroad President George Brooke Roberts
Southern Railway President Samuel Spencer
U.S. Senator Thomas Taggart
U.S. Senator Daniel W. Voorhees
U.S. Senator Thomas J. Walsh
U.S. Secretary of the Navy William Collins Whitney
Maryland Governor William Pinkney Whyte
U.S. Secretary of the Treasury William Windom


  • Creation: 1799-1919


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

No special access restriction applies.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. For more information, please see the Permissions and Copyright page on the West Virginia and Regional History Center website.

Biographical / Historical

Henry Gassaway Davis

Henry Gassaway Davis (11/16/1823-03/11/1916) was a successful businessman and politician from West Virginia. He was the Democratic Party's nominee for Vice President of the United States in 1904.

He was born near Woodstock, Maryland on November 16, 1823, and was the second son of four children. He received a limited public-school education and left school at age 15 to support his family after his father's contracting business failed and left the family destitute. Davis first worked at a local quarry, as a water boy, and then as the caretaker of the Waverly Farm, the nearby farm owned by former Maryland Governor George Howard.

Davis began his railroading career in 1842 at age nineteen as a brakeman for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, then still under construction. He eventually advanced to the position of freight conductor, and then passenger conductor. Reportedly at Davis's request, he was appointed station agent for the Piedmont Station at Piedmont, [West] Virginia, because he wanted to explore the timber and coal resources of the Upper Potomac River region. About this same time, Davis established a mercantile lumber and coal business with his younger brothers Thomas B. Davis and William R. Davis at Piedmont. This business was known as H.G. Davis and Company (later H.G. Davis and Brother). Davis left the B&O in 1858 to focus on his business concerns. One of these concerns was the Piedmont Savings Bank, which he founded in 1858 and for which he served as president. Davis, like so many entrepreneurs, made extraordinary profits during the Civil War. Profits from the sale of horses to the federal government and timber and ties to the B&O Railroad enabled H.G. Davis and Company to invest in several thousand acres of coal and timber lands in the Upper Potomac and Cheat rivers region, at a cost said to be as cheap as one dollar per acre.

Davis founded the Cumberland and Piedmont Coal and Railway Company to provide railroad access to his coal and timber lands. In 1866 the West Virginia State Legislature, by a special act, incorporated the Cumberland and Piedmont Coal and Railway Company, granting the incorporators the right to mine coal, build factories and sawmills, buy and sell real estate, and build a railroad. It would be several years before Davis acted on the charter. Construction of the railroad finally began in 1880 at Bloomington, Maryland, and by 1881 the line had reached his mines at Elk Garden, West Virginia. Davis shipped the first Elk Garden coal to Baltimore in October 1881. A new railroad charter was granted in 1881 and Davis renamed the line the West Virginia Central and Pittsburg Railway (WVC). By 1884 the line had reached present-day Davis, then Parsons in 1888, and Elkins (then Leadville) in 1889. Meanwhile in 1886, Davis created a subsidiary railroad, the Piedmont and Cumberland Railway Company (P&C). The P&C connected the WVC with the Pennsylvania Railroad at Cumberland. In 1902 Davis sold the WVC and P&C to George J. Gould, a railroad magnate, who was purchasing and consolidating rail lines to create an intercontinental railroad.

Davis desired to expand his rail network and in 1899 decided to construct a rail line connecting the WVC at Elkins with the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad at Durbin, West Virginia. This line became the Coal and Iron Railway (C&I) and was completed in 1902. Davis used the profits of the sale of the WVC to fund construction of the C&I. Not finished yet with railroad construction, Davis incorporated the Coal and Coke Railway Company (C&C) in 1902 to exploit his Roaring Creek coal properties located in Randolph County. This new line ran from Elkins to Charleston via the Elk River through some of West Virginia’s most difficult terrain. The C&C connected the Western Maryland at Elkins with the Kanawha and Michigan Railroad at Charleston, providing new markets for West Virginia coal. Construction commenced in 1903 and was completed in 1905, requiring twelve tunnels and thirty steel bridges. The town Gassaway, in Braxton County, was located at the mid-point of the rail line and became the divisional headquarters of the line. Ultimately, the WVC, P&C, and C&I were acquired by the Western Maryland Railroad and the C&C was absorbed by the B&O.

Early on in his career, Davis recognized that being in politics would further his business. Consequently, Davis ran for office on the democratic platform and was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates in 1865 representing Hampshire County. Davis was very influential in the creation of Mineral and Grant counties in 1866, an effort which advanced his business interests. He was elected to the West Virginia Senate in 1868 and served in that capacity until 1871, when he was elected to the United States Senate. Davis served as a West Virginia Senator from 1871 to 1883.

Davis retired from politics in 1883 and returned to West Virginia to oversee his coal and banking interests. He then formed the Davis Coal and Coke Company with his son-in-law Stephen B. Elkins in 1886. The company controlled 135,000 acres of coal and timber lands, employed 1600 workers, operated nine mines, and furnished coal to be coked in its more than 1000 coke ovens. By 1892 Davis Coal and Coke was one of the largest coal producers world-wide.

Reluctantly, Davis was nominated as the vice-presidential candidate in the 1904 presidential election with Alton B. Parker as his running mate and presidential candidate. They lost to the Roosevelt-Fairbanks ticket by a wide margin. In running for office at the age of 80 Davis had become, and remains, one of the oldest candidates to have ever run for vice president of the United States.

Although retired from public service, Davis was appointed to represent the United States at the Pan-American Conferences (1889-1902) and later was appointed permanent chairman of the Pan-American Railway Committee, which he served from 1901 to his death in 1916. (The Pan-American Railway was a failed intercontinental railroad scheme. Promoters wanted to connect the capitals and principle cities of South and Central America with North America by rail). Davis also served as Chairman of the West Virginia Semi-Centennial Commission in 1913, the group tasked with planning the "Golden Jubilee" or 50th anniversary of West Virginia statehood.

Davis's philanthropic legacy was notable. His charitable activities included funding the Davis Children's Shelter in Charleston, West Virginia, a shelter for orphaned and neglected children (1896); the Davis Memorial Presbyterian Church, a church built in memory of his wife Katherine Bantz Davis; and the Davis Memorial Hospital in Davis, also constructed as a memorial to his deceased wife. Perhaps most notably, he donated the land for Davis and Elkins College in 1904, a liberal arts college named in honor of H.G. Davis and Stephen B. Elkins.

Davis married Katherine Ann Salome Bantz on 22 February 1853. The couple had eight children, three of whom died in infancy. The oldest child, Mary Louise "Hallie" Davis, married US Senator Stephen B. Elkins on 14 April 1875, linking the names Davis and Elkins forever.

Daughter Grace Thomas Davis became the namesake of Graceland, Davis's country mansion in Davis, West Virginia, and after his wife died she became his hostess for events held at the mansion. His older son Henry Gassaway Davis was something of a troubled soul, and was lost at sea in 1896. His youngest son John Thomas Davis worked closely with his father, was later associated with Davis and Elkins College, and became a coal operator and banker.

Henry Gassaway Davis passed in Washington D.C. on 11 March 1916 at the age of 93. He is interred at Maplewood Cemetery, Elkins, West Virginia.


Clarke, Alan. The West Virginia Central and Pittsburg: a Western Maryland Predecessor. Lynchburg: TLC Publishing. 2003.

Hicks, W. Raymond. “The West Virginia Central & Pittsburgh Railway. The Railway and Locomotive Historical Society Bulletin. JSTOR.

Lewis, Ronald L. Transforming the Appalachian Countryside: Railroads, Deforestation, and Social Change in West Virginia, 1880-1920. Chapel Hill: University off North Carolina Press, 1998.

Rice, Donald L. "Coal & Coke Railway." The West Virginia Encyclopedia.

Ross, Thomas Richard. “Henry Gassaway Davis.” The West Virginia Encyclopedia.


105.9 Linear Feet (105 ft. 11 in. (249 document cases, 5 in. each); (3 document cases, 2 1/2 in. each); (14 ledgers, 18 in.); (6 oversize folders, 1/2 in.) )

Physical Location

West Virginia and Regional History Center / West Virginia University / 1549 University Avenue / P.O. Box 6069 / Morgantown, WV 26506-6069 / Phone: 304-293-3536 / Fax: 304-293-3981 / URL:

Related A&M Collections

13, 717, 1028

Henry Gassaway Davis (1823-1916) Papers
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Revision Statements

  • 2017/10/26: This collection has been disambiguated

Repository Details

Part of the West Virginia and Regional History Center Repository

1549 University Ave.
P.O. Box 6069
Morgantown WV 26506-6069 US