February 29, 1888: Stephen B. Elkins Gives His First Political Speech in W.Va.
On February 29, 1888, Stephen B. Elkins gave his first political speech in West Virginia—at a rally in Wheeling. He soon bought into the state’s leading Republican newspaper and built a summer mansion in the Randolph County town that would bear his name.
In the post-Civil War years, Elkins had been a political official in the New Mexico Territory. On a trip to Washington, D.C., he’d met his future wife, Hallie Davis—the daughter of Henry G. Davis, a U.S. senator and one of West Virginia’s richest men.
The Republican Elkins and Democrat Davis made a fortune developing West Virginia’s coal, oil, and timber resources. Despite being from different parties, they shared similar political interests and forged a dynamic team.
Three years after his Wheeling speech, Elkins was named President Benjamin Harrison’s secretary of war. In 1895, Elkins was elected to the U.S. Senate from West Virginia. More than any other person, he built West Virginia’s Republican Party into a powerhouse that dominated state government from the 1890s until the Great Depression.
Davis and Elkins are also remembered for the college they helped found in Elkins.