Vintage Elevator Gives Ride Through Bluefield’s History

Last updated: August 30, 2021

West Virginia’s Little New York features one of the most intriguing elevators in the city.

Exploring the city of Bluefield, West Virginia, is, in many ways, like opening a time capsule.  Recognized by its century-old skyline, the southern town echoes with the appeal and vintage feel of a Little New York. 

Since 1932, Kammer Furniture Company has been a staple of Bluefield’s historic downtown. But just beyond the multi-floored establishment’s selection of home furnishings and appliances, the building itself offers something unexpected: a chance to snap a photo in — and ride —  one of the city’s oldest elevators. 

“When customers think Kammer’s, they think of the elevator,” said Harry Kammer, president of Kammer Furniture Company and grandson of the establishment’s founder. “It’s a unique characteristic of the business and shopping experience.”

When Kammer Furniture Company opened in November 1932, the store was situated on the lowest floor of a building that also hosted a dental lab and several apartments. Eventually business grew – as did the establishment’s need for space. In time, the furniture store took over the second, third and fourth floor. 

“It’s old school,” Kammer said. “It’s a different kind of elevator, and you don’t see them like that anymore. The building has been remodeled, but the elevator has never been replaced.”

Built for freight and passengers, the elevator can appear unassuming from the outside. When the doors open, however, it’s as if time stopped at the turn of the century. 

Just inside the retracting gate, visitors are greeted by soft green walls and a vintage trimmed sign reading, “Welcome to Kammer’s.” As they venture up and downward through each of the floors, they can view the passing exposed internal walls through the gate. 

“All the elevators around here were like that when I was a kid,” Kammer recalled. “Most had gate operators, and the gate operators would open and close the gate behind you. ”

Kammer, a Bluefield native, graduated from West Virginia University in 1976 with a degree in business, and he relocated to Pittsburgh for a job at Kauffmann’s department store. After three years in the business, he returned home with his sights set on the family furniture store.

That was 1979, and he’s been carrying on the family’s legacy ever since. 

With a business so deeply rooted in the community, Kammer said he’s been “blessed” that the store has had great career employees. The average employee has been at Kammer’s for at least 20 years and the longest serving current employee has been with the store for 52 years. 

Though times have changed, the Kammer family has made it a point to preserve the store’s history and legacy – including its original elevator. 

Kammer Furniture Company is located on 400 Bland St. Bluefield, W.Va. 24701. Business hours are Monday and Friday 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.