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Andrew C. Lyons


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Andrew C. Lyons,

By M. Raymond Alvarez, DHA, MPA

Andrew C. Lyons can best be described as the primary architect of Fairmont's transition from a sleepy county seat with one or two story frame buildings to a bustling commerical center in the early 20th C. He was responsible for many of the city's unique and picturesque buildings as well as beautiful homes throughout the region at the time of great prosperity due to the wealth generated by coal mining in North Central West Virginia. A versatile designer, his working drawing and layouts for schools and churches int her egion were spacious, modern and well-conceived.

Lyons was born in Somerset County, PA in 1873 to James A. and Mariah Chatinor Lyons. When he was still an infant, his parents moved to Pittsburgh. In 1880 the family briefly resided in Huntington, WV where Andrew's father was superintendent of Stavo Works. The family moved again back to Pittsburgh where Andrew finished his education. By the late 1890s he was apprenticed at the firm of Musch and Huemme, one of the leading architects in the city. Andrew attended a school of architecture in the evenings. His work at Musch and Huemme was largely drafting and supervising construction, but his talent was still noticed by Solomon Musch.

During this time, although Fairmont was still a small hamlet of only 2000 persons. This rapidly changed as Fairmont became the center of the richest bituminous coal district in the world. Coal brought great wealth and furnished abundant capital for the great real estate enterprises soon to be carried out.

Musch, aware of the potential in the developing northern WV coalfields, dispatched Lyons who was only 19 years old to West Virginia. There Lyons opened a branch office in 1892, and a year later became a partner in the firm.

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Central School 1908
Central School 1908
Dr. John Cook house
Dr. John Cook House
Fairmont Normal School
Fairmont Normal 1908
George Jacobs House
George Jacobs House
Jacobs Hutchinson BuildingJacobs Hutchinson Building

Jacobs HardwareJacobs Hardware
Meredith House
W. Scott Meredith House
James Otis Watson House
James Otis Watson House
Currently For Sale: $290K
These photographs are used with permission of the West Virginia and Regional History Center, WVU Libraries.

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web design by Mountain Mama Studio • ©2013 Woman's Club of Fairmont, WV

























One of Lyon’s first projects was the Skinner Building on Adams Street and the Merchants and Mechanics Bank in Grafton, both completed in 1894. By 1895, additional growth in building began on the Southside Fairmont area. In addition to many fine homes, this included Lyon’s designs for the Methodist Episcopal Church (South), the Yost Flats and the McCoy Building. These projects were followed in 1896 by the Yeager Building at the corner of Adams and Madison Street. This building featured a Roman Arch on the upper floor designed with ornate windows creating a floor to ceiling fan of glass which was almost the width of the entire building. By 1897, Lyons designed bank buildings including the large Victorian structure that housed the Merchants and Mechanics Bank in Grafton and the Home Savings Bank in Fairmont. He also designed the Monongah Opera House around this time.

Lyons continued to divide his time between Fairmont and Pittsburgh until the death of Musch around 1898; afterwards, he abandoned the Pittsburgh branch in order to give all attention to his interests in Fairmont which was just beginning its height of building, expansion and gilded age.

By 1900, his designs included the Carr Building (Cleveland and Adams). In 1901, he began work on his largest project to date: the Jacobs-Hutchinson block, which would become the center of Fairmont’s business district. Completed in 1902, it housed offices and in a five story commercial structure known for its ornate and decorative Renaissance Revival. The beige Roman-shaped press brick building was envisioned as four separate business units. It had decorative highlights including trimmed blue stone, extensive terra cotta cornices with large glazed areas while measuring 92 feet side along Adams Street, 80 feet deep along Monroe Street and 84 feet high.

When the Adams Street building opened on November 20, 1902, the J.M. Hartley & Son department store occupied the eastern half nearest to the courthouse. W.H. Billingslea, a furniture dealer, occupied the corner, and Casterline and Hoge, proprietors of the Racket Store, occupied the quarter in between Hartley & Son and Billingslea. One year later, Peoples National Bank, later known as Union National Bank, purchased Billingslea’s unit and built its new bank that opened on March 29, 1905. The upper floors were rented to offices, including the Consolidated Telephone Company, H.H. Lanham realty and Pickering and Earle who were brokers. The Jacobs Building, completed in 1906, faced Monroe Street, housed the West Virginian Newspaper.

People’s Bank considered this building the ‘most desirable location in the very heart of the city on the principal street.’ Marble and mahogany were the principal materials used in the construction of the bank facilities within the building. The Fairmont Times reported on February 12, 1903 that a canvass of architects and buildings of the city revealed much more building and improvements than in any prior year. In fact, Lyons was quoted as saying there was more work on hand than he could do.

By 1904, Lyons was commissioned to design a wing to Fairmont Normal, which had relocated from downtown Fairmont to Fairmont Avenue’s growing Southside only two years earlier. His addition carried along the ornate features of the original three story building considered as one of the finest educational facilities in the state with its stone lintels and sills, and described as “imposing and grand.” The Lyons wing opened in 1906 and had sufficient room for 40 female students in 22 rooms as well as seven rooms for the teachers and three rooms for the housekeeper. It had a parlor, reception and study hall. Prior to this project, Fairmont Normal’s principal J. Walter Barnes had Lyons redesign the original building’s Italianate wooden bell tower to hold a massive, four sided clock in a red brick tower designed to match all the structures. This clock and bell were visible thoughout the town. In 1924, when the building was razed, the clock and bell were removed and installed in a tower constructed during the expansion of East Fairmont High School. It remained there until the mid-1960s when it was hit by lightning. The Board of Education dismantled the tower but the bell was placed near the entrance of the high school in 1971.

He was also the architect for the Southside mansions of George and J. M. Jacobs, and their grand homes included many of the architectural design work (brickwork, embellishments) as did their grand structure on Adams Street. Lyons would also design homes for Judge J. F. Morgan, coal operators M. L. and Clyde Hutchinson. Clyde Hutchinson later moved his family to a larger mansion known as Sonnencroft of Fairmont East’s side, not designed by Lyons and razed in 1957.

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At the age of 24, he married 22 year old Mary Katherine (“Katie”) Fleming on November 17, 1897 in Fairmont. Rev. Alfred Fletcher officiated. She was born on Sept. 27, 1875, daughter of Thomas L. and Lucy Dunnington Fleming, and granddaughter of Marshall T. and Catherine Ebert Fleming. The resided on Locust Avenue and in 1900, had a lodger, his early partner, John Tibbetts. The 1901 Fairmont City Directory listed the firm of Lyons and Tibbetts at 106 Main Street.

By 1905, the population of Fairmont was 15,000 and new school facilities were needed. Lyons was chosen to design two schools in Fairmont, one in Grafton and one in Elkins. The Fairmont Schools included First Ward (Central School) in the East Fairmont School District. This housed grades 1-13 until 1921 when a separate high school building was constructed. The 5th Ward (White School) was more ornate as the Fairmont School District had resources to invest in the $60,000 project which included design features such as lintels. First Ward did include an element of ornamental brickwork which was to be a feature in Lyons work. Fifth Ward, Grafton (West Side) and Elkins (2nd Ward) were also beautifully designed and became city landmarks. In 1908, he designed the Thoburn Elementary School in Monongah along the simpler lines of First Ward on the East Side. These facilities were Georgian-Revival style and some featured well apportioned auditoriums on the top floors of the school. Using a modified “H” style, the buildings were considered the most modern and well designed in WV.

On May 10, 1905, a Fairmont Times article by Levi B. Harr described Fairmont as ‘a thriving city with great possibilities.’ Harr noted that Fairmont had been a village 10 years prior. “Through the enterprise of her people in utilizing their environment by building industry and developing coal, its growth has been little less than phenomenal.” A special publication entitled "Industrial Fairmont 1908" (compiled and edited by G. A. Mitchell and published by the Fairmont Times in 1908) included this information on Mr. Lyons: "To A. C. Lyons, perhaps more than to any other architect in Fairmont, is due the large number of fine public buildings and ornate residences the city possesses. Mr. Lyons has devoted his best efforts to the beautifying of his adopted city by the designing of exceptionally picturesque and artistic buildings.” The article also described him as a ‘busy man who is still a close student of architecture in its continuous development and improvement and never loses an opportunity whereby he can gain new and advanced ideas of architectural construction.”

As Fairmont prospered, Lyons also diversified his business in Fairmont. His draft registration in September 1918 indicated he was general manager of Lyons Coal Company and resided at 213 Watson Avenue, in a house he designed. In 1910, he planned the addition to the City Building. By 1925, Lyons was the most prominent of the five local architects: John C. Burchinal, William P. Nuzum, Coy H. Snider and William Gillis. In 1929, the City Directory listed him as secretary/treasurer of Cement Products Company.

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While his life in Fairmont was marked with success, his personal life was marked by tragedy. Kate had difficult pregnancies, some resulting in miscarriage. She gave birth to four children, but three died in infancy or within months of birth. An infant daughter, 4 months, died December 27, 1898. R. L. Cunningham, undertaker. The records at Woodlawn Cemetery indicate that Thomas Fleming paid for a grave for the first Lyons child but doesn't indicate location. A premature birth resulted in the death of another infant on October 1, 1912. Andrew paid $2.00 for grave of infant, but no location is indicated at Woodlawn. A third stillborn infant died February 2, 1918. Fairmont physician Dr. Howard physician attended Mrs. Lyons at Cook Hospital. Records indicated that Lyons paid $1.00 for a third small grave. A marker exists in the Fleming family section that carries the name “Frances Lyons, daughter of Andrew and Mary Lyons.”

Only one daughter survived childhood. Beatrice Rolena Lyons, born September 30, 1900, resided with her parents in a home Lyons designed and built on Watson Avenue. She graduated from Fairmont High School in 1919 and later became a stenographer for the law firm of Haymond and Haymond. The family prospered in Fairmont for the next 30 years.

With the demise of Fairmont’s booming coal industry by mid 1920s, the demand for grand homes and ornate commercial buildings came to a halt. C. E. Smith, editor of the Fairmont Times, wrote a 1936 weekly column that recalled the era: “Fairmont was in the throes of the Great Depression long before the rest of the country. Fairmont’s depression actually started about May 1, 1924 when the mining and shipping of coal ceased to be profitable and in order to meet the changing conditions in the coal trade and to meet lower prices, the producers decided to break their tie with the Union and thus was precipitated a long and disastrous labor war.” The demise would continue until the demand for coal production during World War II would revive the local economy some 20 years later.

Lyons, described by G. A. Mitchell at the age of 25 as one who ‘never loses an opportunity whereby he can gain advanced and new ideas,’ turned to other business ventures at the age of 50. He relocated the family to Pittsburgh around 1933. They resided at 428 Rochelle Street. There he formed a partnership with J. Hubert Wagner and established a river transport (barge) called Lyons River Transportation. Beatrice now served as stenographer for the transport company in Pittsburgh, and no doubt that Mary Katherine had some influence in business operations.

In 1935, Lyons purchased the 130 foot sternwheeler-towboat “The Chickie” which the company operated until it sank in the Allegheny six years later and was dismantled. The company also purchased the Verona (later known as U-No). Originally built from a former packet boat, the Betty Wright, it was a 73’ diesel sternwheeler with a wood hull built in Parkersburg, WV by Earl Cooper in 1937.

After a long illness, Mrs. Lyons died on February 10, 1940 in Pittsburgh. The family returned her body to Fairmont for the funeral and burial in Woodlawn Cemetery, where her Fleming ancestors were. The obituary carried in the Fairmont Times on February 11th, noted that she was the first young woman to be married in the Methodist Temple when it was built on Monroe Street in 1897. Her parents were the first couple to be married in the former Methodist church which stood on Quincy Street. The obituary noted that “she descended from a family prominent in the development of the Monongahela Valley” and that “the announcement of her death was received here with much regret.”

After her death, the company acquired a ‘most modern towboat,’ christened ‘The Katie Lyons,’ in honor of Mary Katherine. It was a 532 ton sternwheeler and measured 150 feet in length. It was to become the flagship of Lyons River Transportation.

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The company prospered with Andrew serving as the captain until a tragic accident claimed his life. On March 16, 1942 in the late afternoon, the “Katie Lyons” was en route from Pittsburgh to Point Pleasant, WV with a cargo of steel loaded on three of the nine barges. The Ohio River had reached a 32.6 foot level, 3.4 feet from flood stage when the towboat, caught by the swift current and hampered by heavy fog, smashed sideways into one of the piers of the railroad bridge between Benwood, WV and Bellaire, Ohio. The boat split in two and the sank rapidly while the pilot house broke off and was washed away with Captain Lyons, the pilot Harry McGuire, and second engineer Charles Danner trapped inside as they had been attempting to steer the boat away from impending disaster shortly around 4:15 p.m.

On March 17th, The Charleston Gazette’s front page story claimed that there were 14 members of the crew accounted for, but reports of the total complement varied from 17 to 22 staff. Fairmont’s evening paper, the West Virginian, reported that the members of the crew on board, including two women, saved themselves by clinging to the barges or wreckage until rescuers could bring them ashore. Joseph McLaughlin, another pilot, was rescued with other crew members, most of whom he had been arousing from sleep to seek safety.

Guards on the railroad bridge reported that the towboat was struggling against the current and was too close to the pier. Fireman Edward Gibbs stated that he ‘had just coaled up and was talking to Foster Eberly (58 year old engineer from Pittsburgh) when she hit.’ “Both of us were thrown across the boat. We ran forward and could hear the boat cracking up.” Gibbs jumped to a barge and said the towboat ‘must have gone down about three minutes after we hit.’ He stated that he and others jumped from the front end of the boat as the back half went down into the muddy water.

“There was an explosion as the boiler hit the water and sent up a big cloud of steam. Then the front end sank.” Gibbs, Foster Eberly and two other men leaped to one of the barges as they nine broke away and floated rapidly downstream. They pulled four additional crew members out of the water including one of two women, who had just signed on as maids three days before. Gibbs told reporters that the fog was so thick, ‘we couldn’t tell bodies from driftwood.’
Employees of Lock 13 about 2 miles below the bridge as well as the crews of tugboat “Dixie,” owned by Standard Sand and Gravel, and “Arthur Hicer” of the American Board Company moved into action, pulling out those either swimming or clinging to wreckage. A retired Bellaire river man, Captain J. W. Manley, told reporters he had ‘never seen a boat sink so fast. In 5 or 10 minutes, it was under water.” The remaining barges drifted past Powhatan Point, 14 miles south of Bellaire by the next day.

The West Virginian reported that rescued crew members were taken to Bellaire Hospital to be treated for shock and exposure and held overnight. This included deckhands and engineers James M. Saunders, Cliff Bigenho, Walter Jeffords, Elvin Jeffords, John Tandy, Dan Dwar, Edward J. McDonald and Robert S. McIntire. The remaining surviving crew included two maids, Mary Murvis and Dorothy Bachman, as well as the cook, Samuel McCloud. It was the first river trip for Ms. Murvis and Backman.

The first Associated Press article about the sinking was carried in the New York Times and nearly every major newspaper in the country the following morning. Originally, AP reports stated that eight or nine fatalities occurred but in the end, only the three persons in the pilot house drowned. Two hours after the wreck, the body of Charles Danner was washed ashore at Weegee, Ohio, about five miles downriver. The AP noted that the accident resembled the wreckage of another towboat, G. W. McBride, that claimed the lives of 16 persons on February 22nd in Cincinnati, Ohio.
By March 18, the bodies of Lyons and McGuire were not recovered, according to the Fairmont Times. Beatrice Lyons was enroute to the hospital in Bellaire, Ohio to check on the survivors and await the location of her father’s body. The next day, C. R. Hill, lockmaster at Benwood, told the press that he believed their bodies were still trapped in the pilot house which was about 50 yards downstream from the bridge. The high water hampered dragging of the river to recover the bodies for the next two days. The Times stated that “Mr. Lyons did not often make the trips on the boat but on this voyage, which was an important one—to Point Pleasant for the shipment of steel—he decided to go.”

The West Virginian had also reported that Lyon’s sister in law, Mrs. J. Frank Ritchie and her son Robert of Fairmont had ‘motored to Wheeling’ and would probably continue to Pittsburgh. Later that week, the bodies were finally recovered. Lyons’ death was recorded as Tyler County, WV and the R. C. Jones Funeral Home in Fairmont handled Lyons’ interment. McGuire, aged 76, was one of the oldest active pilots in Pittsburgh. Fairmont newspapers cited his earlier days as a prominent local architect, and noted that Lyons ‘had always taken an interest in the river, and when he took up the towboat business, he frequently came to Fairmont.’

On March 20, the Fairmont Times carried an AP bulletin from Pittsburgh that stated the Marine Casualty Investigation Company would begin its investigation, chaired by a member of the Department of Justice from Washington, DC. The story listed the official death toll at 4. The Pittsburgh Press announced on March 28th that the wreckage of the Katie Lyons would be cleared from the Bellaire channel by the first of April as the water levels were falling. The Post-Gazette also reported that the derrick boat Monallo began work to remove the sunken steamer about 150 feet downstream from the B&O bridge crossing at Bellaire, Ohio. Following his tragic death, Beatrice returned to Fairmont to bury her father on April 12, 1940 beside his wife and infant children at Woodlawn Cemetery.

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After Andrew’s death, the remaining towboats including the U-No were sold to W. F. Archey of Pittsburgh. Beatrice eventually relocated to Washington, DC area. She died in on June 25, 1997 in Gaithersburg, MD. She was buried at Woodlawn, near her parents and siblings. Lyons’ home at 213 Watson Avenue remained in the family, and eventually was purchased by John Stuart in the 1970s. Stuart’s wife, Judy, recalled that the house still had its original color scheme of yellow paint, white columns and brown shingles at the time of the purchase. They relocated from Fairmont to Maryland in the 1980s and the house was again sold. Today, the house has been converted to apartments.

Most of Lyons’ work in Fairmont was largely forgotten until Debra Ball McMillan, a professor of architectural design at Fairmont State College, published An Ornament to the City in 1996. Dr. McMillan researched the major buildings in the historical district of Fairmont and highlighted Lyon’s contributions. She also was responsible for the designation of the Jacobs-Hutchinson block on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1996. The Marion County Commission had purchased the Jacobs building, which was used mainly for record storage for many years. Plans were made to remodel the building for additional county offices as well as for the WVU Extension Service. Between the roof and the 5th floor, workers discovered an attic space that was previously overlook. It was Lyon’s store room and repository for many of his architectural drawings from 1895 to 1903.

Fairmont architect James Blackwood, along with county commissioner Cecily Enos, recognized the value of the working drawings, blueprints and elevations. Joseph Yerace, director of Purchasing for Marion County, became the third member of a team that categorized all the drawings. Blackwood's inventory of the drawings noted them as “A. C. Lyons,” “Lyons and Tibbetts,” or “Musch, Heumme and Lyons, Fairmont, WV and Pittsburgh, PA.” Eventually these were donated to the West Virginia University Archives, where they reside today. The working drawings and studies were drawn with pencil on heavy paper that would have been thumb tacked to a drafting table. Others, such as foundation or floor plans, were drawn with ink on linen type paper and some color coded with pencil or red and black ink. They included private residences of Fairmont’s prominent families and coal barons, stables for the Miner’s Hospital on Guffey Street, business or commercial structures, churches, bridges and even a prototype ‘modest home’ and ‘row houses’ for Virginia Avenue.

His clients included the sons of James Otis Watson, the Hartleys, the Hutchinsons, C. E. Reed, Dr. John Cook and many prominent physicians as well as Judge Showalter to name a few of the members of Fairmont’s society around the turn of the 19th century.

Over 200 items were catalogued and taken to the WVU Library where they remain today in the West Virginia and Regional History Collection. Located in the Charles C. Wise, Jr. Library on the WVU Downtown Campus, this is the largest historical archives/library relating to West Virginia in existence. Sadly, the majority of his fine buildings and homes no longer dominate the landscape of Fairmont and Grafton. The residence of W. E. Reed, an oil and gas promoter, on Fairmont Avenue and 6th street was razed in 2012 for an urgent care clinic. In 1908, Reed’s house was described as “one of the most beautifully appointed homes in Fairmont.” In Elkins, preservation efforts are underway for the two schools he designed as well as some of the other buildings that still stand today. The Skinner Building in Fairmont houses the Marion County Chamber of Commerce. White School is still in use as an adult learning center. First Ward School (Central) is now the Marion County Opportunity Workshop and one of the first sites visible from the Gateway Connector linking I-79 to downtown Fairmont. While Lyons and his wife are buried on a hilltop overlooking Fairmont, with only simple flat markers noting their names and dates, his contributions, like those of other visionaries who came to Fairmont at its turning point into the 20th century, must be remembered and appreciated.

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There are many existing structures in NC WV designed by Andrew C. Lyons:
1st Ward School, South Davis Avenue, Elkins, WV (1907):
In 1910, the school’s architecture was described as ‘one that should be emulated in cities across the state” in a publication by the West Virginia Department of Free Schools. The building was retired as a school in 1976. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.

Nathan Building, 123 Third Street, Elkins, WV
The Nathan Building is still one of the largest commercial buildings in downtown Elkins and features elaborate metal cornice with alternating rows of molded brackets.

Randolph Hotel, 4th and Railroad Avenue, Elkins, WV
This 1893 building underwent alterations in 1904-1905 that changed the facade to a neoclassical appearance. The hotel featured 94 bedrooms, steam heat, reading parlors, a dining room, bar, kitchen and later a laundry. The hotel served patrons of the railroad until 1946 when it became a medical clinic.

First United Methodist Church, 315 Kerens Avenue, Elkins, WV
Built in 1904, this is the only church in Elkins built in the Romanesque Revival style. The largest of two towers is three stories high with an open belfry.

The Jacobs Hutchinson Block, Fairmont, WV:
The Jacobs Building facing Monroe Street houses the WVU Extension Service and County Magistrate offices; a commercial business occupies the bulding facing Adams Street. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.

Residence of Clyde Hutchinson, 701 Benoni Avenue: This 1904 residential structure was designed for local coal baron Clyde E. Hutchinson, his wife Lydia, and their eight children. Mr. Hutchinson moved to a larger mansion on the East Side in 1912.The Hutchinson House was purchased in 1998 by the Fairmont Community Development Partnership, a non-profit group whose goal is the rehabilitation and revitalization of residential communities in the Fairmont area. The property was rehabilitated for the Vandalia Heritage Foundation, which focused on revitalization projects and programs throughout the region. Blackwood Associates of Fairmont was selected to provide architectural services for the historic rehabilitation.

Residence of Judge Showalter, Locust Avenue: Mr. and Mrs. Howard Westwood Showalter, Sr. and family. Showalter, Sr., was a businessman involved in banking, coal and the Monongahela Rail and River Corporation.

Residence of Dr. John Howard, Maple Avenue:
Seated at the top of Pennsylvania Avenue, this residence now houses a local community center for the neighborhood of Maple Avenue.

Residence of Winfield Scott Meredith, Fairmont Avenue:
Mr. Meredith was considered the foremost attorneys in Northern WV. Today it is a private residence.

Residence of Sam R. Nuzum, Locust Avenue:
Mr. Nuzum was president of People’s Bank; today it is a private residence.

Grafton, WV: Merchants and Mechanics’ Bank Building, Main Street
Though the cupola roof has been removed, this building today anchors Main Street and awaits rehabilitation. Curving windows at the corner of the building still contain the original glass.

West End School, 306 Beech Street: No longer used as a school, this grand structure is partially renovated and houses P.U.R.R West Virginia, a no kill, all volunteer, cat only shelter/rescue.

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