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November 19, 1909: Lincoln County Court House is Completely Destroyed by Fire

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W. Bailey, HABS photographer

On November 19, 1909, the Lincoln County Courthouse in Hamlin burned to the ground. While devastating fires were fairly commonplace in the early 20th century, it has been widely speculated that the Lincoln County Courthouse was an act of arson.

Lincoln—one of five counties formed after West Virginia became a state—was always agricultural in nature. In particular, it was one of the state’s most productive farming regions for tobacco.

The arrival of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway in the first years of the 20th century began to change the county’s economy. The C&O led to booms in the oil, gas, and timber industries. Relatively inexpensive farmland skyrocketed in value virtually overnight. Much of this land was owned by poor farmers who had little or no knowledge of real estate law.

For more than a century, Lincoln Countians have speculated that land speculators and lawyers had the courthouse torched to destroy land records and confuse titles. After the fire, speculators rushed in to file claims on mineral-rich lands as native Lincoln Countians lost titles to land that had been in their families for generations.

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