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Investigation: Three historic desks missing from West Virginia Supreme Court

This is the historic Cass Gilbert Executive Desk which until recently resided at the home of State Supreme Court Chief Justice Allen Loughry. After being asked about the location of the desk a couple of weeks ago, Loughry had it moved from his home to the court's Kanawha City warehouse. (WCHS/WVAH)

In the course of our investigation into the spending and policy practices of the West Virginia Supreme Court, we ran across the story of the Cass Gilbert desks.

This is the historic Cass Gilbert Executive Desk which until recently resided at the home of State Supreme Court Chief Justice Allen Loughry. After being asked about the location of the desk a couple of weeks ago, Loughry had it moved from his home to the court's Kanawha City warehouse.

It is one of five desks the state capitol building's architect selected for the supreme court chambers in the 1920s.

“He may have had the approval of the design. You know, looked at them and said yes, this is worthy to put into my building. Or, no I would rather see something different. But I suspect when people are talking about a Cass Gilbert desk it probably is an original desk once the building opens completely,” Debra Basham, with West Virginia Archives and History, said.

This is the original contract between the state and Cass Gilbert to build the capitol. The project was completed in stages and was finished in 1932. In addition to the building, Gilbert's company selected pieces of furniture to be used throughout the complex. The court received 10 desks for the justices and their assistants.

One is still in use by a justice, Menis Ketchum has one of the Gilbert desks in his chambers. Two others are being used by court employees with the fourth at the warehouse.

“But the fact, you know, that's 90 years now that we've had that part of the building opened, so they're historical pieces in their own right in that regard. Plus, they probably, if they're new to the capitol building, you know they're part of his overall vision of what a capitol should look like,” Basham said.

However, only three of the five secretary desks remain at the capitol.

“Well, I think we should certainly try to remember our history. Because it is important for us to know what's come before us to help us know where we're going in the future. That helps to tell the story of who we are as West Virginians,” Basham said.

While seven of the court's 10 Cass Gilbert desks are accounted for, the location of three remains a mystery.

Karen Gresham, with the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, said she is not aware of any rules governing the removal of historic pieces of furniture from the capitol complex.

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