Death of Henry Gassaway Davis

The Elkins Inter-Mountain
March 13, 1916


To enumerate all the charities and beneficences of Henry G. Davis would be a herculean attempt as simplicity and a lack of ostentation always characterized his public and private gifts.

Mr. Davis developed and received as a reward a very large share of this world's goods, but no conscientious critic can accuse him of having ever been penurious in his philanthropies.

He undoubtedly contributed more than any other individual to the Senator Davis. Upon his own State the blessings of his life have fallen and the mountain state has received a most liberal heritage from her distinguished son, who in addition to opening up her markets to the world saw his way clear to bestow upon her citizens a long array of public and private benefactions.

Mr. Davis always manifested a particular interest in the welfare of the towns along the line of the Western Maryland which largely owe their existence to him, and it is chiefly these towns that profited from his many philanthropies.

The existence and prosperity of the towns of Elkins, Piedmont, Davis, Thomas, Keyser, Elk Garden, and Deer Park, Maryland, are largely due to his efforts.

Mr. Davis was always a man of charitable impulses and he gave development of West Virginia. He played a leading part in the evolution of the State from a small and undeveloped mountainous region into one of the wealthiest of the National sisterhood of a wealthy nation. As a result of this work of development, Mr. Davis ultimately reaped a vast fortune, and his beneficences were made upon the principle that "a good deed should be remembered." West Virginia was the source and producer of Senator Davis' fortune. In return West Virginia profited largely by concrete expression of these feelings in many practical ways. At Piedmont where he lived for so many years he erected and gave to the town a handsome and commodious brick school building, now known as the Davis Free School; this along costing twenty-three thousand dollars. At Henry, a mining town on the Western Maryland, he built and gave to the people a brick school building. He also bore a large share of the expense in the erection of the handsome high school at Davis; he donated a beautiful brick structure to the citizens of Gassaway, Braxton County, to be used for school purposes. In Elkins, where he made his home upon leaving Piedmont, Senator Davis built in connection with his brother Thos. B. and gave to the Presbyterian congregation as a memorial to his parents, a beautiful, light stone church, the cost of which was twenty- five thousand dollars. It is known as The Davis Memorial Church. The colored people of Elkins having, at that time, no place to worship he built for them an attractive frame structure.

A work in which Mrs. Davis deeply interested herself, but which was not completed till after her death, was the building of a hospital at Elkins. This is now a modern brick and stone building, which when first built, was capable of caring for about forty patients, but as the growth of Elkins became rapid, and the town's expansion assumed much larger proportions, in the summer of 1910 the building was found to be inadequate for the accommodation of its patients and its site was more [t]han doubled by the addition of two large brick and concrete wings. The most up-to-date instruments known and applicable to the practice of the twentieth century surgeon were purchased and to-day the city of Elkins boasts of a hospital costing over one hundred and ten thousand dollars, with the most complete and modern equipment of any similar institution in the State. The hospital now accommodates comfortably from ninety to one hundred patients. After the death of Mrs. Davis, Senator Davis chose to dedicate it to her memory as she had always, up until the day of her death, manifested such a lively interest in its erection, and the institution which is a tangible but practical illustration of Mrs. Davis' love for the sick and unfortunate, is now known as the Davis Memorial Hospital.

Probably on account of his own struggles in early years and the cares that fell upon his mother and family, his sympathies have always gone out to the widow and the orphan.

To enable the Children's Society of West Virginia to perform greater service in the field of its endeavors he presented it with property in Charleston which cost him about twelve thousand dollars, consisting of a large brick building surrounded by ample grounds, and known as the Davis Child Shelter. It is used to shelter friendless children until suitable homes can be procured for them. To the support of this institution he contributed regularly one hundred dollars each month.

In fact almost every community in the State has felt the favor of his kindly interest and he endowed many of the institutions which he was instrumental in establishing.

The student of Mr. Davis' philanthropies will notice about them a marked characteristic, in that nearly all are designed to help either the cause of education or the care of the sick, and the crowning feature of his long list of charities was when in 1902, in conjunction with the late Senator Elkins who gave thirty acres as a site, he commenced the construction of the Davis-Elkins College, expending over fifty thousand dollars in buildings and equipment. The institution, which appropriately bears the name of the David-Elkins College, was dedicated to the classics and the cause of higher education, surrounded by an atmosphere of spiritual influence and with a faculty of University trained men, was turned over to the Presbyterian Church and formally opened in the fall of 1904. Senator Davis manifested a lively and intelligent interest in the affairs of the College and contributed annually from six to eight thousand dollars in equipment and endowments of chairs. In 1907, the College, through the efforts of its former President, Marshall C. Allabens[?], became the joint property of the Northern and Southern Presbyterian Churches, it, prior to that time being owned and controlled by the Southern Church alone. Senator Davis took great satisfaction in the accomplishment of this joint control and always looked upon it as a step toward permanent union of the northern and southern divisions of those who embrace the faith of Calvin.

The College from its inception has enjoyed a steady but healthy growth, always maintaining collegiate and classic standards that are the peer of any institution of learning in the State.

In July, 1911, the Senator announced that he would provide by will for the College at least $100,000. Later, in February, 1912, he wrote Dr. Robert McKenzie, Secretary of the College Board of New York, that he would give in cash $50,000 or any part thereof to the College when the trustees of the College should have deposited in the bank an equal amount.

Many men have remarked that it is indeed strange that a man of Mr. Davis' early raising and training as a youth, whose only school was really the school of hard work, of practical experience in the art of manual labor, should devote so much of his time, money and energy to the establishment of a college which lays stress chiefly upon the classics, upon the old fashioned college education. Senator Davis easily explained his motives in educational work by acknowledging plainly and with a tinge of pathos that he, himself, was never able to enjoy the advantages afforded by the study of the classics and a higher education that while active in political life he had been brought into contact with men who have enjoyed these advantages, that he has envied them, realized his own shortcomings, and thereupon determined that the people living through eastern and central West Virginia should have that which he lacked the chance for a college education and as a result of Mr. Davis' desires the Davis-Elkins College stands as a concrete example, as a perpetual monument, to be worshipped by future generations, to the farsightedness of a man who could realize his own shortcomings equally as well as his attributes, and who was unselfish enough to cheerfully give to others the opportunity to drink of the fountain of knowledge which was even denied him as a youth. It was indeed a unique sight to look upon the nonagenarian on the chapel rostrum each fall, at the convening of the annual session of the college which bears his name and receives his blessing, urging upon the new students the importance of their taking up the study of the classics, such as Latin and Greek, whose very fruits of knowledge which it was never his privilege to imbibe.

It studying the career of Henry Gassaway Davis, one is constantly reminded by his life of the old Roman idea of contentment as expounded through the philosophies of Plautus, Livy, Horace and Cicero, in short, to have lived, to have lived well, to have passed over the paths of prosperity and success, to have gained a comfortable livelihood, a small fortune, to have become prominent as a statesman engaged in promoting and encouraging measures that have for their purpose the good of one's country, and in old age to impart the priceless knowledge acquired only by years of experience, to the younger generations, is indeed a true practice of the old Horation philosophy that the Romans "of old" endeavored to adhere to and embrace its teachings in their old age.

Senator Davis' life was more than a mere illustration of the practicability of the Ciceronian and Plantanian theories of true happiness attended by success and contentment. "In his mellow old age," he was able to look out from the porch of his home on the commanding hill, adjoining the lusty young city of Elkins, and witness the day dreams of the Piedmont station agent transformed into perpetual realities that are redounding in innumerable benefits to multitudes of his fellow men, and to enjoy the satisfaction of gazing upon "that what he had wrought." Towns, mills, railroads, villages, cities[,] churches and schools, stood as monuments to meet the quiet gaze of the man who had brought them into thriving existence, and who dies, as he had lived, the architect of his own fortunes, the originator of his own dreams and their transformer into possibilities, bidding them, as he left, Godspeed, and bequeathing them as a heritage for unborn generations who will reap the harvest of "what he had wrought."

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