Folklife Center to Host Author's Talk on "The Normal on Fairmont Avenue"

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Fairmont State University’s roots reach back to the formation of public education in the state of West Virginia. In 2015, students, faculty, staff, alumni and the community are celebrating Fairmont State’s 150th birthday with special remembrances and events.

As part of the Sesquicentennial Celebration, author Dr. M. Raymond Alvarez will present a talk about his recent book “The Normal on Fairmont Avenue.” The event will take place at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 11, at the Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center on the main campus.

“This publication focuses on people, progress and panache during the time the Normal’s grand edifice anchored Southside Fairmont from 1893 until 1924, when it was torn down and quickly forgotten,” Alvarez said.

Dr. Beth Newcome, Director of Special Programs and Program Coordinator for Applied Design at Pierpont Community & Technical College, and students from her “History of Fashion” class will showcase and discuss period items from the Historic Masquers Costume Collection (1895-1915).

“The turn of the century era was a time of prosperity for the Fairmont region, as coal drove the engine of change and wealth. The fashion on the avenue was rather ‘well-to-do’ and featured many of the latest styles from Paris,” Newcome said.

A reception will follow the talk with savory and sweet refreshments and music from the Kennedy Barn String Band. Alvarez also will be on hand to sign copies of his book. While attending the event, guests can tour “On a Hill by a Dream,” a Sesquicentennial exhibit that features FSU history, traditions and lore from the past 150 years.

Fairmont State University’s changes in location in Fairmont reflect its continued growth. Today’s University traces its origins to 1865 when a private normal school was organized by citizens of Fairmont. On February 27, 1867, the normal school became a state institution. Construction began on a brick building on the northwest corner of Adams and Quincy streets later that year. Ownership of the school transferred to the state on March 4, 1868, as a branch of the Normal School at Marshall College.

The new annex facing Adams Street opened in the spring of 1869, housing a public graded school as well as a Normal School. The Normal curriculum culminated with a diploma granting the privilege to teach. It also provided an academic course that prepared students for continued education at a University. 

As the Normal’s enrollment and reputation grew over the next three decades, it prospered as a source for training well-qualified teachers for the state. However, the need to separate the Normal from the graded school was evident by 1892. Principal J. Walter Barnes led the movement to secure adequate appropriations from the Legislature to establish a new Normal school on a two-acre block in Fairmont’s Southside. In 1893, the school moved into a new building on Second Street and Fairmont Avenue.

By the late 19th century, Southside Fairmont was the location of grand homes, mansions and fine buildings that graced a tree-lined Fairmont Avenue. Horse drawn buggies sauntered along the brick street either to town or toward the Beverly Pike. This idyllic setting in Fairmont served as the site for innovations in higher education during the country’s Progressive Era, a period of social activism and political reform that lasted until the 1920s. Noted for support of Prohibition and women’s suffrage, this era also signified much modernization of old ways. Many advances in public education locally were not only important for Fairmont, but also for the region and state as well. 

In early 1917, the Fairmont State Normal College moved to the building now called Hardway Hall and became “The College on the Hill” overlooking Locust Avenue, beginning its third and largest campus. In fact, 100 years ago in October 1915, a special ceremony commemorated the placing of the cornerstone for Hardway Hall.

The book includes information on the growth of the institution over the years and the people who focused on teacher training and practical experiences: Barnes, Miss Montana Hastings and others such as William Buckey. Some items of note include the story of Principal Barnes’ quest to instill punctuality on students assembling for chapel at the start of each day, the expansion of the Fairmont Avenue campus by local architect Andrew C. Lyons and the story of the demise of the building. Barnes’ legacy and his continued contributions to growth of the school and progress of the region have been preserved.

The publication also features panache, a look at the styles of clothing worn not only by students, but by the wealthy families in the Southside area. Fifty-nine photographs and illustrations provide a unique retrospect of students, faculty and the neighborhood.

Alvarez has more than 40 years of health care experience on a local, state and national level. He has been an adjunct professor at West Virginia University since 1991. He also serves as an adjunct professor at Central Michigan University. He is a published author and conference presenter on variety of health care research, leadership and other topics. In addition to published research in healthcare journals, he has published 10 articles on local history in Goldenseal Magazine and several articles in Wonderful West Virginia. He has published a novel, and three local historical books: “Art and Architecture of Fairmont” (2013), “Greetings from Fairmont/100 Years of Postcards” (2004) and “Doddridge Farm Diary” (2002). He received numerous awards including Regency Hospital Company’s President’s Award (2010), the Fairmont Arts and Humanities Council Historical Writer Award (2008), the Marion County Chamber of Commerce Education Award (2002) and the Chamber Service Award (2001). He has undergraduate and graduate degrees from WVU and a doctorate in healthcare administration from Central Michigan University. He was project director for a 2013 WV Humanities project for the GFWC Woman’s Club of Fairmont. In 2015, He conducted extensive research about the history of the Normal School of Fairmont from 1893-1917 that also received a Humanities grant.

Newcome has served as Dean of the School of Human Services at Pierpont. She also is professor, advisor and program coordinator for Applied Design, which offers an associate degree in Fashion or Interior Design. Newcome holds a B.S. and an M.S. from West Virginia University in Family and Consumer Sciences Education and a doctorate in Human Ecology from Ohio State University, with a major in educational administration with minors in historic textiles and educational technology. She has been curator of the Masquers Vintage Clothing Collection since 1998. The collection of nearly 10,000 items is made up of clothing and artifacts dating from 1850-1950. Newcome is the recipient of a Fairmont State Faculty Achievement Award and the WVAFCS Outstanding Faculty in Higher Education Award. She received the West Virginia Division of Culture and History 2007 History Hero award. Newcome was selected as the 2012 Pierpont award recipient of the Outstanding Contributor to the Community College at the annual state conference. She is also the recipient of the 2012 B.B. Maurer Research Scholar award from the Folklife Center for her work as curator for the Historic Textiles and Costume Collection.

The Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center, located on the shared main campus of Fairmont State University and Pierpont Community & Technical College, is dedicated to the identification, preservation and perpetuation of our region’s rich cultural heritage, through academic studies, educational programs, festivals and performances and publications. For more information about the Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center, visit