RALEIGH COUNTY, WV (LOOTPRESS) – West Virginia created a State Police force in 1919, and dispersed units statewide early the next year. The detachment assigned to Beckley was initially headquartered in the Hotel Willis, formerly located at the intersection of McCreery and South Heber Streets—now a city parking lot.
Law enforcement operations directed from there soon came to focus heavily on pursuit and apprehension of prohibition violators—moonshiners, bootleggers and rum runners. See attached backgrounder.
The Raleigh County Historical Society will hold a ceremony to dedicate a bronze memorial plaque mounted on the Heaberlin Building at 207 South Heber, across McCreery Street from the Beckley Water Company. The plaque commemorates the former headquarters site and prohibition operations.
A bronze plaque recently mounted at the Heaberlin Building, 207 South Heber Street, marks the site of the first West Virginia State Police (WVSP) headquarters in Beckley, and also recalls one of the agency’s primary missions here.
In the first week of February 1920, Sergeant Clarence M. Jones led Privates Grade Cook, William H. Harrison, Charles F. Milbee and Samuel I. Taylor into town. He opened “Beckley Sub-station, Provisional Company, Department of Public Safety,” in the Willis Hotel, which stood at the intersection of McCreery and Heber Streets. Today, the site is a city parking lot.
The new lawmen quickly made their presence felt throughout Raleigh and nearby counties. On the night of February 28, ten troopers accompanied by the Beckley police chief, raided and “cleaned out” the “notorious” Dixie Hotel in Raleigh.
Over the next few weeks, the troopers made scores of murder, vice and moonshining arrests. More officers were assigned here until, by May 1920, the provisional unit was replaced by newly activated Company B. Captain Grover C. Rippetoe commanded a corporal and 29 privates.
Most famous among the early Beckley troopers was Sam Taylor. The first man enlisted in the State Police, he was destined to become its iconic figure. Taylor served in several of the department’s hottest actions—notably the prolonged mine war in Mingo County. His career was cut short when he lost a leg in a near-fatal motorcycle accident while patrolling in Cabell County. Taylor was invalided out of the service as a lieutenant in July 1927.
Being more numerous and more widely deployed than the state’s miniscule force of prohibition officers, the State Police became heavily involved in enforcing prohibition laws. Tracking down armed moonshiners was dangerous enough, but the greater risk came pursuing motorized rumrunners and bootleggers. As early as 1922, Colonel Jackson Arnold noted that Raleigh County’s highways provided “the chief gateway into West Virginia for the bootlegging fraternity.” Intercepting this traffic frequently required troopers to man roadblocks along precipitous mountain highways, and to engage in high-speed pursuits and gun battles while apprehending whisky runners.
The commemorative plaque carries Colonel Arnold’s pronouncement, along with data on Beckley headquarters foundation. It is embellished with the first-pattern State Police badge, in full color. The agency’ original title, “Department of Public Safety,” is inscribed on the badge. That title stuck until 1995, when WVSP finally became the official designation.
The plaque was donated by the Raleigh County Historical Society (RCHS) and funded by a Beckley Area Foundation (BAF) Community Grant. Ward One councilman and RCHS president Tom Sopher expressed the Society’s appreciation to James G. Anderson III of Anderson and Stansbury, L.C., for permission to mount the plaque on the Heaberlin Building.
Sopher noted this is the twenty-second marker RCHS has installed since initiating its program in 2016.
Merle T. Cole, “Beckley Stabs: Leaders and Locales of the State Police in Beckley, 1920-1950,” West Virginia Historical Society 34 (Fall 2015):1-11
———-, “New Database Illuminates Early Years of West Virginia State Police Organization,” West Virginia Historical Society 30 (Spring 2016):11-13
———-, “Troop 7: Culmination of the Highway Patrol Mission,” West Virginia Historical Society 30 Fall 2016):1-14
W. Va. Archives and History, West Virginia Department of Public Safety (State Police) Pay and Muster Rolls, 1919-1924 (Ar2056), Muster and Pay Roll, Company B, May 1920 http://archive.wvculture.org/history/collections/ar/ar2056.html