The Forest Service Building in Elkins, West Virginia was part of the depression-era Works Progress Administration (renamed as the Works Project Administration, WPA, in 1939). The WPA was the New Deal agency that employed millions of unemployed people to carry out public works projects, including the construction of the Forest Service Building. The building houses employees from the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service for the Monongahela National Forest. The Forest Supervisor manages the 921,150 acre Monongahela National Forest.
Designed by the U. S. Treasury Department's Supervising Architect Louis A. Simons with Supervising Engineer Neal A. Melick, the Forest Service Building served as a prototype for a federal building in Laconia, New Hampshire that houses the White Mountain National Forest. The Neo-Classical Revival style building is a three-story u-shaped brick structure with stone ornamentation.
The U.S. Forest Service Building is a contributing element of the Wees Historic District, a predominantly residential historic district located on the northwest side of the city of Elkins, Randolph County, in north-central West Virginia. Of the 382 structures located within the district, 286 contribute to the character of the district. Contributing resources are those that both date from within the period of significance of the district (1890-1950) and retain individual integrity. The main Forest Service Building and the garage are listed as separate resources with descriptions as follows:
325. rear, U.S. Forest Service Building, Sycamore Street, governmental dependency
Description: 1-story 10-bay brick garage building, built in conjunction with Resource No. , below
1 contributing building
326. 200 Sycamore Street (U.S. Forest Service Building), governmental
Description: large-scale Neo-Classical Revival-style flat-roofed brick governmental office building, built by the WPA; symmetrical 11-bay facade with centermost five bays defined by concrete pilasters and a frieze bears the inscription U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE; flat-topped fenestration; full cornice extends around perimeter of building; cornerstone bears the following inscription:
HENRY MORGENTHAU, JR., SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY, HENRY A.
WALLACE, SERETARY OF AGRICULTURE, LOUIS A. SIMONS, SUPERVISING
ARCHITECT, NEAL A. MELICK, SUPERVISING ENGINEER, 1936
(Photo No. 19)
1 contributing building
The Wees Historic District is eligible under Criteria A, B, and C, however, the U. S. Forest Service Building is eligible as a contributing resource under National Register Criterion C. The National Park Service defines Criterion C as follows:
Property embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction or represents the work of a master, or possesses high artistic values, or represents a significant and distinguishable entity whose components lack individual distinction.
In addition to the significance of the Neo-Classical Revival-Style design, the Depression-era WPA building represents the work of Louis A. Simons and Neal A. Melick. Louis Simons started working for the Supervising Architect's Office in 1896 and succeeded James Wetmore as Acting Supervising Architect in 1934. Simon favored simplified classical architecture with an emphasis in regional design. During his tenure, Simon designed hundreds of buildings and oversaw many projects designed by private architects until his retirement in 1941.
The significance of the Forest Service Building is further strengthened by its association with the illustrator Stevan Dohanos. Dohanos, a nationally famous illustrator and painter, was one of the Saturday Evening Post's most prolific cover artists. He also painted murals for numerous federal buildings and post offices. A letter dated November 5, 1937 states that Stevan Dohanos was commissioned by the Treasury Department Section of Painting and Sculpture to execute a mural for the Forestry Service Building and would be visiting to look over the building and meet with citizens to consult about appropriate subject matter . Although two murals, "Forest Service" and "Mining Village" reside in the Forest Service Building, only one was specifically designed for this location. The mural "Mining Village" was originally painted for a post office but deemed too depressing. The mural was installed in the Forest Service Building along with the "Forest Service" mural depicting a fire lookout tower . Both murals were part of the Federal Art Project, a division of the WPA created under Federal Project One. The Federal Art Project created over 5,000 jobs for artists and produced over 225,000 works of art. Dohanos painted several murals for post offices from the Virgin Islands to Florida.
During WWII, the U.S. Army used the mountainous terrain of West Virginia for combat training as the conditions were similar to those in portions of Europe. In 1943, the Commanding General of the thirteenth Army Corps decided to locate Director Headquarters in Elkins and space was secured in the Forest Service Building. This program, named the West Virginia Maneuver Area, took place between July 1943 and July 1944.
The Forest Service Building is architecturally significant as a fine example of simplified Neo-Classical Revival style popular in the second quarter of the twentieth century. The building is a symmetric composition based on a u-shape plan. The three-story building's structural frame is sheathed in red brick and limestone with a concrete base. Classically inspired accents such as stone pilasters, cornice, window sills, and lintels provide decorative enhancements to the exterior. The structure continues to function as it was originally designed: an office building for the supervisors of the Monongahela National Forest.
The Forest Service Building retains a high level of integrity. The building sits in its original location adjacent to Davis and Elkins College and near Elkins City Park within the Wees Historic District. The setting includes open spaces, large trees and historic houses, as originally intended. The brick and limestone exterior articulate the Neo-Classical Revival style design that was popular in the 1930s. Although there have been modifications to the building, the overall integrity of the structure is intact. The most significant modifications include the addition of the garage, new windows, additional egress stairs, the addition of an accessible ramp and new entrance doors.
The overall feeling of the building has been maintained. The addition of window air-conditioning units scattered across each facade minimizes the original formal, and clearly structured, arrangement of the building's parts but the addition of window units is a reversible modification.
The physical features of the Forest Service Building continue to convey a sense of the building's historic character and its association with Depression-era development, the Forest Service, and architectural styles in government office buildings.