Fires change course of Logan’s history

By Dwight Williamson

Dwight Williamson, Logan County MagistrateFires have always taken their tolls on historical sites in Logan County, including two Logan County courthouses. However, two significant fires of interest which some people will remember occurred at very historical sites: the Aracoma Hotel in November of 2010, and the Chafin Building (formerly known as the Guyan Valley Bank) also in November, but in the year of 1962. While most people remember the loss of the Aracoma Hotel, the local younger generation probably is unaware of the significance of the fire in 1962, which burned what was the first bank ever in Logan County. For others, the following account may bring back some pleasant memories prior to the fire: a fire that led in 1965 to the opening of the current banking institution that is Logan Bank and Trust.

The “Old Stone Bank” building, as it was referred to by the locals, took up the entire block on Jefferson Street across from the Logan courthouse. Built from stone that was brought from a rock quarry that existed at Stratton Hollow in Logan, the bank opened for business in 1905 even before the coal fields had begun to relinquish its “black gold” that eventually would make the southern coal fields the richest coal producing area in the world. John Cary Alderson is credited with the bank’s creation after first opening the bank in a one room 18 by 20 wooden structure in 1900 on Stratton Street across from the courthouse.

Alderson’s bank was highly responsible for the development of Logan County and was a two-story building with a basement. Some years later, law offices, a drugstore and a barber shop were also opened there. Unfortunately, the Great Depression caused the bank to fail and it closed in 1931. The Miners and Merchants Bank of Man (organized in 1921), the First National Bank of Logan, which opened in 1906, as well as the Bank of Logan and Trust Company, all went out of business as result of the troubling economic times.

Even though legendary Logan sheriff Don Chafin had lost considerable monies he had invested as a stockholder in the Guyan Valley Bank, (referred to as the Old Stone Bank) he would become owner of the property sometime later and the building was remodeled with several offices and businesses being opened. Chafin had his own office on the second floor where he was once arrested for illegal possession of liquor during a political battle with his nemesis, Tennis and Joe Hatfield, two sons of Devil Anse.

Chafin left the political battlefield of Logan for Huntington where he set up residence and lived the remaining days of his life. The building’s name was changed to the Chafin Building, and Chafin’s heirs owned it when the tragic fire struck A Logan Banner report November 5, 1962 described it this way:

“A disastrous early morning fire stunned residents of Logan today as they watched the heart of the downtown business section go up in flames, causing damages expected to exceed a million dollars. The raging fire, believed to have started in the Patti-Dot factory shoe outlet, engulfed the entire Chafin building, which housed 14 business establishments and offices in addition to the Joan Apartments.

The building, one of the largest in the city, was completely destroyed along with inventory of the various businesses and offices and the furnishings of the apartments. Virtually nothing was saved, according to Fire Chief Fred Thompson.”

Thompson said an investigation was to be launched in an effort to determine the cause of the fire, described as “the worst in the city’s history.” The fire chief said a night dispatcher for a local taxi cab service reported that he heard an explosion in the vicinity of the Patti-Dot Store and rushed to the scene to find the front of the building engulfed in flames. The fire quickly spread and knocked out telephone service throughout the area, according to The Banner report, which said that the only casualties were firemen Drury Peyton and Carlos Marcum. Peyton suffered an arm injury and was admitted to a local hospital; while Marcum sustained injuries when he fell down a flight of steps.

Investigators were said to be probing a report from the night dispatcher at the cab stand, who was said to be checking the oil in his cab at the time of the explosion, when he saw a car speed away from the scene of the fire shortly before the blaze was discovered.

The fire left six families homeless and destroyed nearly all their possessions, according to Chief Thompson, who said that fortunately no one was seriously injured. The business establishments completely destroyed included the Kopy Kat, Shoe Box, Johnson’s Men’s Shop, Thrifty Shop, Guyan Barber Shop, the vacant Western Life Restaurant, Patti-Dot Factory Outlet and Mayday’s. Of these businesses, at least three—Kopy Kat, Thrifty Shop and Mayday’s—later opened at other locations in the town.

Also destroyed were the law offices of attorneys Glenn Dial Ellis and Paul Bottome, the United States Marine Corps and Air Force Recruiting Offices, and the Stylette Beauty Shop. Ellis later opened his office at his home at 535 Main Street between what was the Moose Lodge and the Guyandotte Apartments. Bottome also relocated his offices.

The gutted building, according to assessor’s records, was jointly owned by Don Chafin Real Estate (the Don Chafin heirs) and Mrs. Nettie McCormick and the Thalheimer heirs.

The important building, which had served the town and county so well for 57 years prior to the fire, undoubtedly had been the home of many well kept secrets over the years. It was at this location— when it was the Guyan Valley Bank—that banker Harry Robertson worked alongside the woman who would become his lover, and later be brutally murdered—Mamie Thurman. It was also on the steps of the old bank in 1932 that Clarence Stephenson, convicted killer of the young woman, was seen the night of her disappearance awaiting the mistress to come from the Holland Building on Stratton Street. Stephenson testified at his own trial that he had been instructed by his landlord and boss, Harry Robertson, to wait there to see if Mrs. Thurman came from the building. According to Stephenson, Mamie did not exit the building that evening.

The historical Pioneer and Aracoma Hotels also were mentioned in the murder trial of Stephenson, who was also seen walking on Cole Street between the two hotels the same night of Thurman’s disappearance. Mamie Thurman, in testimony presented during the trial, was said to have last been seen walking on Dingess Street beside of another historical building, which was then the Midelburg Theatre. Today, that structure still stands as a vacant brick dinosaur of the past.

Most of the buildings in Logan, either vacant or with tenants, were build many years ago. And each structure has its own history, but none quiet like the Aracoma Hotel and the Old Guyan Valley Bank building

They were true historical treasures.

Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.

*Published with the author’s permission.

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