The Kimball World War Memorial was the first memorial built in the United States to honor African-American veterans of World War I. The Classical Revival style building designed by noted West Virginia architect Hassel T. Hicks of Welch was completed in 1928 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. The War Memorial became the headquarters of the nation’s first all-black American Legion Post and hosted some of the state’s first NAACP meetings.
Unknown today by many Americans, over 400,000 African Americans volunteered to serve in combat during the Great War. 50,000 of these soldiers actually served overseas-one-third of the total U.S. fighting forces-and 1,500 of these came from McDowell County. While discriminatory military practices were still prevalent, when allowed to fight, these black soldiers did so with honor, demonstrating their valor in combat with French forces at the Battles of Argonne, Chateau Thierry, St. Mihies, Champagne, Vosges, and Metz, for which 171 were awarded the Croix de Guerre for “gallantry in action”. 1,300 were eventually commissioned as officers in the U.S. Military for their service during World War I.
The War Memorial was designed in the classical Greek style by Hassell T. Hicks, a noted Welch architect, also a World War I veteran, and was dedicated on February 11, 1928. Originally the building housed an auditorium with a small stage, a library, meeting rooms, kitchen facilities, a billiard room and a trophy room, with displays of plaques dedicated to veterans, and wartime memorabilia. It was a multi-purpose facility, hosting such diverse activities as American Legion meetings, high school proms, wedding receptions, and performances by Cab Calloway and other well-known entertainers of the day.
The Kimball War Memorial was a focal point of community life for decades, serving as a cultural and social center for all residents of McDowell County.
Over time, deterioration, abandonment and finally a fire in 1991 crippled the beautiful structure, leaving only its exterior shell.
For over 30 years, a group of citizens had been pursuing the dream of restoring the Memorial to its former glory. With the financial and other support of many, the dream became a reality. The memorial was the recipient of a 2007 Honor Award presented to by the West Virginia Chapter of the America Institute of Architects and was also featured in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s forum as a Preservation Solution. The Memorial was also honored in 2006 with a Congressional Black Caucus Veterans Braintrust Award.
Presently, The Kimball World War Memorial was serves as a living community resource and is available for a wide variety of functions, including tours, training sessions, classes, organizational meetings, organizational dinners and receptions as well as social events.
The two-story, light-brick building stands on a sturdy cut-stone foundation. Its plan is a rectangular box with a small entrance vestibule on the east side. The facade faces south and displays a monumental classical portico centered in the middle. Four terra cotta columns stand on brick bases and support a tall terra cotta entablature. Laurel reliefs decorate the frieze section over each column. A band of dentils extends across the portico just under the cornice. Historic photographs of the building reveal a terra cotta extension over the entablature that held the words "World War Memorial". This section of the entablature has crumbled and no longer displays the building's name. A simple terra cotta parapet at the roofline flanks the centered portico and extends along the other two sides of the building.
Three pairs of door openings stand between the columns and open onto a shallow balcony, each separated by the columns' brick bases. The original doors were wood-framed, multipaned double doors with metal-framed transoms. On the second level centered over each doorway are tall, metal-framed multipaned windows in arched openings. flanking the portico are single multipaned windows on each level.
The Memorial Building's main entrance stands on the east side behind an entrance vestibule that has an arched opening. Concrete stairs with wrought iron railings ascend from the street level to the entrance. An arched window identical to the windows on the facade, is located directly above the entrance. The rear of the building holds two second-level doorways that open at ground level to the steep grade behind. The building's west side simply has a narrow chimney and two windows on each level.