Downtown Morgantown is a mixture of small retail businesses, professional services, restaurants, and residential units. Most buildings have been in place since the turn-of-the-century. As the City grew, the historic downtown remained the focal point of the City and County.
Downtown Morgantown includes :
35 Restaurants, Cafes, Clubs, & Taverns
100 Professional Businesses
An 88-room Historic Hotel
Historic Metropolitan Theatre
Over 1,675 public parking places
an award winning Main Street Organization
A constant boost to the downtown is the fact that the Historic Downtown Morgantown borders the main campus of West Virginia University with an average 22,000 students and 5,000 employees. Along with the University, there are over 2,500 downtown employees in local businesses and City & County public offices, creating an average count of 3,000 pedestrians per day.
The face of Downtown has been altered over the years, reflecting the changes that Morgantown itself has undergone. A visitor to the city would have seen, through most of the nineteenth century, a tiny, quiet town where one and two-story houses and stores were concentrated on a tree-lined High Street and its connecting streets down to the river. The town changed very little until the railroad came in 1886 and gas and oil production began nearby a few years later. Industries sprang up in the outlying areas and Morgantown experienced an economic and population boom. High Street changed from unpretentious little buildings to imposing, ornate, structures. Downtown was still the place to live, however, and the wealthy built bigger and grander houses, developing Spruce Street and moving farther south on High, which in a burst of patriotism or perhaps simple conformity, was briefly re-named “Main” Street. The re-naming didn’t take; High Street it remains, with its echoes of the main street of English villages.
These were the twilight years of Morgantown’s existence as a “walking city” where inhabitants lived close to their places of employment and the center city housed the affluent. During the years 1890 to 1900, the population more than doubled and more and more people were living in the industrial areas, such as Seneca and Sabraton. Downtown was booming as a commercial district.
By 1903, streetcars brought a public transportation system to town and it became efficient to live outside the city center and commute to work or make shopping trips. The bustling, noisy, downtown area became less attractive for residential use and the suburbs, such as South Park and Durbannah became fashionable. Downtown Morgantown ceased to be a place for one family dwellings and became what it is today, a commercial district peppered with apartments above the shops, whose occupants are more likely to be students from the University than the owners of the shops.
Architecturally, Morgantown is typical of small-town America in that its builders preferred traditional forms to high style.This gives High Street the eclectic charm characteristic of Main Street, U.S.A.
“Almost all the architectural beauty of Morgantown is due to the skill and progressive ideas… of our resident architect.” So said the
Morgantown “New Dominion” of the Preston County native who came to Morgantown by way of Pittsburgh in 1894. Elmer F. Jacobs virtually single-handedly renovated High Street and its environs, replacing the modest buildings of an earlier era with Romanesque and Queen Anne Revival structures. By the early 1900s, he had designed over 400 buildings, many of which may still be seen in the downtown area.
Much of old Morgantown remains visible to the pedestrian who looks above the stucco or metal facings of altered first-floor entrances to discover bracketed eaves or carved stone columns. In addition, greater appreciation of our architectural heritage has resulted in a growing number of these buildings being preserved and accurately restored rather than being demolished or modernized beyond recognition.