"What can you tell me about the old building near Beckley with the swastikas on it? Was it built by nazis?" I'm asked some version of this often as spring comes on — I suppose because people are out exploring more as the weather warms, and they find the building.
Yes, I can tell you a good bit, and no, it has nothing to do with such darkness, though it is interesting.
The "swastika building" was built about 1915 — more than a decade before the cross-shaped symbol was adopted by the German Nazi party.
The building may be most notable left in the former coal camp at Raleigh, which was established by the Raleigh Coal & Coke Co. in 1909, according to historian Chris Dellamea.
The camp quickly grew into the largest community in Raleigh County, long rivaling Beckley, the adjacent county seat and economic center of the south-central state.
Raleigh mined and exported so much coal, labelled Black Knight Coal, that officials soon established the Black Knight Country Club, only recently disassembled and purchased by Beckley as a recreation center and convention venue.
The jaw-dropping swastika building, which is also one of the community's most ornate, was simply an electrical sub-station, which is perhaps surprisingly mundane. Its purpose was to locally transmit electricity received from a larger generation station — possibly at the mouth of Cabin Creek near Charleston.
Inside, and on the building's northern yard, stood massive transformers used to change voltage between high transmission voltages and lower distribution voltages.
The emblems that turn so many heads today follow a belt course around the building, and were, in the 1910s, common symbols of good luck.
It wasn't until the National Socialist German Workers' Party adopted the Hakenkreuz, or hooked cross, that the symbol's happy connotation of providence was eclipsed.
I've found no record, yet, of when the substation fell out of use. Today the property is privately owned and secured. Though local children have intermittently entered the building, it's bronze doors are tightly closed.
The building was added to the Raleigh County Register of Historic Places in 1987, though there are no special designations in place to help protect the building or interpret it for visitors.