West Virginia, state of the eastern United States. West Virginia lies in the very heart of the Appalachian Highlands, and its predominantly mountainous terrain and picturesque scenery have led to its nickname as the Mountain State. The state’s unusually irregular boundaries, formed largely by rivers and mountains, give it the shape of a large pan with two handles, one in the north and one in the east. For this reason it is sometimes called the Panhandle State.
West Virginia is known for its magnificent scenery and its abundance of natural resources, including coal, oil, gas, and timber. It is one of the leading producers of bituminous coal among the states and is also noted for the manufacture of fine glass. West Virginia, plagued for many years by economic stagnation, has recently attempted to diversify its industrial activity. Yet the state remains one of the poorest in the United States.
West Virginia entered the Union on June 20, 1863, as the 35th state. It was part of Virginia until the American Civil War (1861-1865), when its inhabitants, loyal to the Union, formed a separate state after Virginia became part of the Confederacy. Charleston is West Virginia’s capital and largest city.
West Virginia ranks 41st in size among the states, with a total area of 62,755 sq km (24,230 sq mi), including 376 sq km (145 sq mi) of inland water. The maximum distance from north to south is 380 km (236 mi); the maximum extent from east to west is 425 km (264 mi). Its mean elevation of 460 m (1,500 ft) above sea level makes West Virginia the highest state east of the Mississippi River. Elevations range from 73 m (240 ft), along the Potomac River in the northeast, to 1,482 m (4,861 ft), atop Spruce Knob in the east. Much of the land is mountainous. Flatlands are scarce, located mainly along the major river valleys.
West Virginia lies within the general geographic region of the eastern United States known as the Appalachian Mountain System, which extends from Vermont to Alabama. Within the state are parts of two natural regions, or physiographic provinces: the Ridge and Valley province and the Appalachian Plateau.
The Eastern Panhandle lies in the Ridge and Valley province of the Appalachian Mountains. Here, long parallel mountain ridges, running from northeast to southwest, are separated by narrow valleys. The ridges are heavily forested and rise to between 900 and 1,200 m (3,000 and 4,000 ft). Soils of the Ridge and Valley province are rich and are used for agriculture or as grazing land for livestock. Included in the province is the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, which embraces the extreme Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. About one-sixth of West Virginia lies within this province.
Immediately to the west of the Ridge and Valley province, and including about five-sixths of the area of West Virginia, is the Appalachian Plateau. The northern part of the boundary between the Ridge and Valley province and the Appalachian Plateau is marked by the rugged mountains of the Allegheny Front. Numerous peaks in the front, which includes Spruce Knob, exceed 1,200 m (4,000 ft) in elevation. To the west of the front, elevations average more than 300 m (1,000 ft). Here is located the Kanawha section of the plateau, which rises and falls irregularly across a succession of deep V-shaped river valleys that are separated by steep-sided upland areas. This section of West Virginia contains deposits of coal, oil, gas, salt, and iron ore.
|B||Rivers and Lakes|
The Allegheny Front is the principal drainage divide in West Virginia. It separates rivers draining into the Ohio River and its tributaries from those draining across the Eastern Seaboard to Chesapeake Bay. East of the front the rivers form a trellislike pattern, flowing for many miles along narrow valleys before making nearly right-angled bends across ridges into adjoining valley lowlands. On the western side of the front the rivers form a dendritic system, which resembles the branches and trunk of a tree.
The most important river is the Ohio, which is navigable for its entire length along the state’s western border. Its principal West Virginia tributaries are the Monongahela, Little Kanawha, Kanawha, Guyandotte, and Big Sandy rivers. The Monongahela River drains much of north central West Virginia, and the Kanawha and Big Sandy rivers collect most of the waters in the southern half of the state. The Potomac is the most important river east of the Allegheny Front. Its principal West Virginia tributaries are the North Branch and the South Branch. The Shenandoah River drains the northeastern part of the state.
There are no large natural lakes in West Virginia. The largest reservoir is Summersville Lake, on the Gauley River. Other reservoirs, most of them built to control floods, include Bluestone Lake, on the New River; Sutton Lake, on the Elk River; Tygart Lake, on the Tygart Valley River; and East Lynn Lake, on Twelvepole Creek.
The climate of West Virginia is characterized by warm humid summers and cold humid winters. However, the weather is subject to sudden changes at all seasons. The growing season ranges from less than 150 days along the northern border of the state to more than 190 days, principally in the south.
Average January temperatures range from less than -2° C (28° F) near the Cheat River to more than 3° C (38° F) along sections of the border with Kentucky. July averages range from less than 20° C (68° F) along the North Branch of the Potomac to more than 24° C (76° F) in the western part of the state. It is cooler in the mountains than in the lowlands.
Annual precipitation ranges from less than 810 mm (32 in) in the eastern lowlands to more than 1,400 mm (56 in) in higher parts of the Allegheny Front. Slightly more than half the rainfall occurs from April to September. Dense fogs are common in many valleys of the Kanawha section, especially the Tygart Valley. Snow usually lasts only a few days in the lowlands but may persist for weeks in the higher mountain areas. An average of 86 cm (34 in) of snow falls annually in Charleston, although during the winter of 1995-1996 more than three times that amount fell as several cities in the state established new records for snowfall.
The soils most suitable for farming in the state are the gray-brown inceptisols that cover much of the eastern lowlands and some of the narrower valleys of the western section of the Ridge and Valley province. Despite leaching, these soils are productive when properly managed. They consist mostly of clay and silt loams. In addition, there are fertile alluvial soils in the major river valleys. Thin, infertile, and stony soils cover most of the remainder of the state. These soils are difficult to farm. Soil erosion has occurred in many upland areas.
Forests, mostly of hardwood varieties, cover 79 percent of West Virginia. The principal commercial species are the oak, yellow poplar, maple, birch, beech, black walnut, hickory, and gum. Softwoods include pines and hemlock firs. Flowering trees include the wild crab apple, dogwood, hawthorn, and redbud. Among the many flowering bushes and plants are the rhododendron, which is the state flower, the laurel, blueberry, hepatica, wild geranium, and black-eyed Susan.
Insects and disease, mostly introduced from other continents, have done enormous damage to West Virginia trees. By 1926 a chestnut blight had killed most of the state’s chestnut trees. Dutch elm disease attacked elm trees, and the oak wilt later did serious damage to oak trees. The gypsy moth has destroyed trees in an ever-expanding area. By setting aside timberlands and introducing new management techniques, however, both the federal and state governments have done much to conserve the forests. By the 1990s two plants, the Buffalo running clover, in Fayette and Webster counties, and the harperella, in Hardy County, were considered endangered.
When the state was a Native American hunting ground, buffalo, elk, bears, cougars, deer, and other large mammals, roamed the territory. Most of these large species have since disappeared from the state. However, deer are very numerous and black bear have increased in number in recent years. Conservation measures have insured the survival of many smaller animals, including beaver, otter, marten, raccoon, mink, skunks, opossums, squirrels, rabbit, bobcats, foxes, and groundhogs.
The state’s many birds include migratory grebe, loons, ducks, and geese. Herons and the American bittern fly up annually from the South. There are also plover, quail, woodcocks, snipes, and sandpipers and such predatory birds as owls, hawks, eagles, falcons, ospreys, and turkey vultures. Among the numerous songbirds are the cardinal, which is the state bird, and the wood thrush, brown thrasher, and scarlet tanager.
Game fish include trout, bass, and pike in the mountain streams and in the rivers. There are two poisonous snakes, the timber rattlesnake and the copperhead, and 18 species of nonpoisonous snakes.
Species of West Virginia animals that are threatened or endangered include the eastern cougar, the northern flying squirrel, the three-toothed land snail, two species of mussels found in the Kanawha and Ohio rivers, the Virginia big-eared bat, and the Indiana bat. Among the birds of West Virginia, the passenger pigeon, once so numerous that flocks broke down trees in which they roosted at night, is now extinct. The bald eagle and the peregrine falcon are threatened species.
West Virginia’s most pressing conservation concerns are soil and forest conservation and the regulation of strip mining. Soil erosion was severe until federal conservation programs were initiated in the 1930s. Since then, it has been reduced by strip-cropping, contour plowing, and terracing. Severe erosion problems have resulted from strip mining. Although West Virginia laws require coal companies to restore the land to its original contours after stripping, regulation of stripping operations has frequently been ineffective.
An increased public awareness of the importance of conservation and environmental protection began to develop in the 1960s. In 1961 the legislature created the Natural Resources Commission, with responsibilities including maintenance of forests, protection of fish and game, beautification of the state and its highways, and development of land, mineral, and water resources. In 1964 the lawmakers established the Water Resources Board, charged with protection and development of the state’s water supply and given the power to fine corporations and individuals convicted of polluting the state’s waterways. In 1989 the Bureau of Environment was created as part of the new Department of Commerce, Labor, and Environment, one of seven major departments reporting directly to the governor. Associated with the bureau are numerous boards and commissions with specific conservation and environmental responsibilities.
In 2006 West Virginia had 9 hazardous waste sites on a national priority list for cleanup due to their severity or proximity to people. Progress was being made in efforts to reduce pollution; in the period 1995–2000 the amount of toxic chemicals discharged into the environment was reduced by 48 percent.
In spite of the progress West Virginia made in dealing with conservation and environmental affairs, many problems remain. In 1990, when state authorities failed to enforce restrictions on strip mining, the federal government threatened to take over the regulatory functions of the West Virginia Department of Energy. The legislature then provided more funds for the department, allowing additional inspections, thereby averting intervention by the federal government. In 1996 a national conservation organization declared that the Cheat River, West Virginia’s largest free-flowing river, was so polluted with acidic mine drainage that it was the second most threatened river in North America, surpassed only by the Blackfoot River in Montana and followed closely by the Florida Everglades. Two serious floods of the free-flowing Greenbrier River in the spring of 1996 led to calls for one or more flood-control dams that would reduce property damages in the future but at the cost of changing the character of the stream.
The economy of West Virginia is based mainly on manufacturing and mining. Agriculture is a supplementary source of income, and some lumber production is carried on. The state’s early economic development was closely linked to the exploitation of its raw materials: coal, timber, and oil and natural gas. In the last decades of the 19th century and into the 20th century the production of the extractive industries reached its peak. Manufacturing began to grow rapidly early in the 20th century and, stimulated by World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945), became the leading element in the state’s economy. In the second half of the 20th century, the coal industry rapidly mechanized and surface mining increased. These changes, together with the shift made by many consumers from coal to oil, led to severe unemployment among coal miners. By the mid-1960s unemployment had dropped considerably, largely through the migration of workers from the state. However, West Virginia continued to be plagued by pockets of severe poverty and underdevelopment.
In 2006, 807,000 people held jobs in West Virginia. Employment in the state’s traditionally strong sectors of mining and manufacturing declined during the 1980s and early 1990s, while the number of jobs in the service industries grew. By 2000 services, which includes such positions as restaurant workers and those catering to tourists, employed 38 percent of jobholders. Another 19 percent worked in wholesale or retail trade; 19 percent in federal, state, or local government, including those in the military; 8 percent in manufacturing; 5 percent in construction; 19 percent in transportation or public utilities; 12 percent in finance, insurance, or real estate; 4 percent in mining; and 2 percent in farming (including agricultural services), forestry, or fishing. In 2005, 14 percent of West Virginia’s workers were members of a labor union.
Agriculture is an important supplement to the livelihood of some West Virginians, particularly mining families. In 2005 there were 20,800 farms in West Virginia. Only 17 had annual sales of more than $10,000. Many of the others were sidelines for people who worked away from the farm when jobs were available. Farms covered 1.5 million hectares (3.6 million acres), or about one-quarter of the state’s land area.
The principal commodities produced for cash are livestock and related products, especially poultry and poultry products, beef cattle, and dairy products; nursery and greenhouse crops; and orchard fruits. Crop sales, which account for only 18 percent of farm income, include corn, soybeans, hay, apples, tobacco, and peaches. Hay and corn are grown mainly as feed crops. Commercial agricultural operations center largely in the Eastern Panhandle. Elsewhere in the state, farms are predominantly part-time operations.
Lumbering is a minor source of income and employment. It is most important in the ridges and valleys adjacent to the Allegheny Front and in the southern plateau. In addition to lumber, the most important forest products are pulpwood, mining timbers, and charcoal. Almost all lumber is hardwoods.
The most important mineral in West Virginia is the extensive bituminous coal deposits that cover much of the state. The major producing areas are in the southern plateau and north central regions. The state is the second leading bituminous coal producer in the nation, with production of 138.2 million metric tons in 2006. Natural gas and petroleum are found in the hills in the central and west central regions and in the upper Ohio and Little Kanawha valleys. Limestone is quarried, principally in the southern and eastern regions. Sand and gravel are mined in many locations, and salt is produced along the Ohio River. Pottery clays and excellent quality sand, used in glassmaking, are generally found in the eastern part of the state, particularly in the Eastern Panhandle.
Manufacturing contributes more to West Virginia’s gross product than any activity. In terms of production value, the leading manufacturing sectors are chemical industries, which make products for other industries and agriculture; primary metal industries, which include blast furnaces and aluminum plants; firms producing fabricated metals, such as metal plates, sheet metal, and components of metal buildings; glass manufacturers; and lumber and wood products industries, including lumber mills and manufacturers of prefabricated buildings.
The most important industrial concentration is in the Kanawha River valley, in and around Charleston. Charleston is the center of the state’s chemical industry and has benefited from the nearby resources of coal and natural gas and from the availability of water transport to the Ohio River. The Northern Panhandle is also highly industrialized. It contains most of the state’s primary metals production, principally of iron and steel, and a large number of establishments making pottery. The state is known for its glassware, including plate glass, tableware, blown glass, stained glass, and structural glass. Other industrial areas center on Huntington, Parkersburg, Fairmont, and Clarksburg. Ravenswood, in the lower Ohio River valley, has a large aluminum plant.
By the last decades of the 20th century, many of the once-flourishing industries of West Virginia, such as coal mining, steel production, and glass manufacturing, had either changed greatly in their nature or declined. By the 1990s scores of new businesses and industries were to be found throughout the state. At Alloy is a large ferroalloy plant and an important silicon metal facility. Automobile parts makers opened factories at Pocatalico and Silverton, and a plant in South Charleston was making parts for four of the world’s six largest automobile and truck manufacturers. In 1996 Toyota Motor Corporation announced that it would construct a plant at Buffalo, where it would produce about 200,000 engines a year for its line of automobiles. In 1995 another firm made public plans for an aircraft manufacturing plant at Martinsburg.
By the mid-1990s other industries that made use of or promoted modern technologies held forth the promise that West Virginia might be better able to cope with its chronic economic problems and population losses as the state entered the 21st century. An area between Morgantown and Clarksburg has become known as Software Valley, where numerous computer software companies have located at the urging of state leaders and with the assistance of the federal government. As a leading member of the United States Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Robert C. Byrd has been instrumental in moving several government operations from the Washington, D.C., area to West Virginia. Among them are the large Federal Bureau of Investigation Fingerprint Center, now a major employer at Clarksburg, and the Internal Revenue Service Computing Center, at Martinsburg, which updates and centralizes all federal taxpayer information from throughout the United States.
Almost all of West Virginia’s electricity is produced in plants fueled by the state’s extensive coal resources. Less than 1 percent comes from other sources, including thermal plants burning oil or natural gas and hydroelectric facilities.
For many years the rugged terrain was a barrier to exploration and settlement. Water transportation was important in West Virginia’s early development, and during the late 19th century the railroads were the key to the exploitation of timber and mineral deposits located away from the rivers.
Water transport remains important. The greatest amount of freight is carried on the Ohio River. The Monongahela, Kanawha, and Big Sandy rivers also carry considerable tonnage.
The first important rail service began in 1853 when the Baltimore & Ohio reached Wheeling. After the economic depression of the 1870s, there was a rail boom aimed at exploiting the state’s coal, timber, and agricultural resources. West Virginia had 3,634 km (2,258 mi) of track in 2004. Coal makes up 95 percent of the tonnage of rail goods originating in the state.
The chief north-south highway routes in West Virginia are interstates 79 and 77, while the principal east-west route is Interstate 64, although interstates 68 and 70 are also important. Interstate 81 passes through the state’s Eastern Panhandle. In 2005 the state was served by 59,591 km (37,028 mi) of highways, including 892 km (554 mi) of the federal interstate highway system.
The state is served by 8 airports, some of which are private airfields. Yeager Airport near Charleston receives the most traffic, although none of the state’s airports are considered busy by national standards.
|IV||THE PEOPLE OF WEST VIRGINIA|
In the 2000 federal census, West Virginia ranked 37th in the nation in population. It had 1,808,344 inhabitants, 0.8 percent more than in 1990. The state had a population density of 29 persons per sq km (76 per sq mi). West Virginia is among the least urbanized states, with only 46 percent of its inhabitants living in cities or towns.
The four largest cities of West Virginia lost population during the 1980s and 1990s. The largest city is Charleston, the state capital, with a population (2006) of 50,846. Located at the confluence of the Kanawha and Elk rivers, it is the center of a highly industrialized region that includes South Charleston. Huntington, a center of industry and trade with 49,007 inhabitants, is a transportation hub on the Ohio River near the mouth of the Big Sandy River. Parkersburg (31,755), on the Ohio River at the mouth of the Little Kanawha River, developed during the oil boom of the late 19th century and has grown as a manufacturing center. Wheeling (29,330) is, together with Weirton, a center of iron and steel manufacturing located in the Northern Panhandle. Morgantown, Fairmont, and Clarksburg are shipping centers for coal, but also have some manufacturing. Morgantown is also the seat of West Virginia University. Beckley and Bluefield are centers of the southern coalfields.
The pioneer stock of West Virginia was largely Scots-Irish, German, and English. There were also a few blacks. Many settlers before the American Civil War lived in isolated mountainous sections. Cut off from surrounding regions, they retained customs and speech patterns that sometimes dated from England during the time of Queen Elizabeth I.
After the Civil War, many blacks left the South for jobs in the coal mines of West Virginia. The coal, lumber, and manufacturing industries also drew immigrants from Italy, Poland, Hungary, and Germany.
At the time of the 2000 federal census whites constituted 95 percent of the population, blacks 3.2 percent, Asians 0.5 percent, Native Americans 0.2 percent, and those of a mixed heritage or not reporting race 1 percent. Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders numbered 400. Hispanics, who can be of any race, are 0.7 percent of the people.
By religion, the earliest settlers were Presbyterian, Lutheran, German Reformed, Quaker, Mennonite, and Dunkard. Evangelism spread, however, and by the time of the Civil War, 80 percent of the churches were Methodist and Baptist. With the arrival of immigrants in the late 1800s, a sizable Roman Catholic population developed in industrial and urban areas. The Disciples of Christ Church originated in West Virginia, and Salem was the first settlement of Seventh-Day Adventists west of the Allegheny Mountains.
The largest religious group today is the Baptist church. Other churches with a large membership are the Methodists, Roman Catholics, and Presbyterians.
|V||EDUCATION AND CULTURAL INSTITUTIONS|
The early schools in West Virginia were financed by subscription, with the exception of a few schools supported by various religious organizations. In 1863 the state constitution established a free public school system. A new constitution, passed in 1872, made provision for a system supported by state funds. At that time, state funds were also appropriated for teacher training in normal schools. In 1890 the West Virginia legislature approved a plan for the grading of rural schools, known as the Wade Plan, which gained wide acceptance in rural schools throughout the country. Until state aid for high schools began in 1908, private academies were responsible for secondary education in the state. The 20th century saw the consolidation of rural schools and the general upgrading of education, particularly vocational education. The state system of public education is supervised by a state board of education and a state superintendent of schools.
School attendance in West Virginia is compulsory for all children age 6 to 16. Of those children, 5 percent attend private schools. In the 2002–2003 school year West Virginia spent $8,936 on each student’s education, compared to a national average of $9,299. There were 14 students for every teacher (the national norm was 15.9 students). Of those older than 25 years of age in 2006, 81 percent had a high school diploma, compared to the national average of 84.1 percent.
West Virginia has 21 public and 22 private institutions of higher learning. These institutions include West Virginia University, in Morgantown; Marshall University, in Huntington; Fairmont State College, in Fairmont; Glenville State College, in Glenville; Concord University, in Athens; Shepherd University, in Shepherdstown; and West Liberty State College, in West Liberty. All opened initially as state normal schools. What is now West Virginia University Institute of Technology, in Montgomery, and Potomac State College, in Keyser, were established as preparatory branches of West Virginia University. In 1996, after a century as a separate degree-granting college, West Virginia Tech merged with West Virginia University to become West Virginia University Institute of Technology. Potomac State continues as a two-year branch of West Virginia University. West Virginia State University, in Institute, and Bluefield State College, in Bluefield, were established as black colleges and remained so until after the United States Supreme Court mandated school desegregation in 1954. In the early 1970s the state legislature established several independent community colleges.
Bethany College (1840), in Bethany, is West Virginia’s oldest private college. Other major private colleges include West Virginia Wesleyan College, in Buckhannon; University of Charleston, in Charleston; Davis & Elkins College, in Elkins; Salem International University, in Salem; Alderson-Broaddus College, in Philippi; Wheeling Jesuit University, in Wheeling; Ohio Valley College, in Vienna; Appalachian Bible College, in Bradley; and the College of West Virginia, in Beckley.
The West Virginia Higher Education Interim Governing Board is the governing board that oversees the public colleges and universities in the state. The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission is responsible for developing, establishing, and overseeing the implementation of a public policy agenda for higher education.
West Virginia’s 97 tax-supported library systems annually circulate an average of 4.2 books for every resident. The West Virginia library commission, established in 1929, aids in the development of public library facilities. Major college and university libraries are found at West Virginia University and Marshall University, both of which include state historical collections, as does the West Virginia Archives and History Library, in Charleston.
Fine arts museums include the Huntington Museum of Art, in Huntington. A number of county historical societies maintain museums displaying collections of West Virginia memorabilia. There is a unique collection of archaeological relics at the Delf Norona Museum in Moundsville. The Sunrise Museum of Charleston includes a science hall and an art museum.
There were 21 dailies among the 97 newspapers published in West Virginia in 2002. The first newspaper published in what is now West Virginia was the Potomak Guardian and Berkeley Advertiser, which was established at Shepherdstown in 1790. Among the leading West Virginia daily newspapers are the Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail, the Huntington Herald-Dispatch, the Wheeling Intelligencer, and the Wheeling News-Register.
There were 51 AM and 72 FM radio stations and 11 television stations in West Virginia in 2002. The state’s first radio station was WSAZ, in Huntington, which began operations in 1923; the first television station, WSAZ-TV, in Huntington, started broadcasting in 1949.
|E||Music and Theater|
The mountains of West Virginia are famous for their folk music. Many of their songs were brought from the British Isles and Germany. Along with traditional folk music, country music has had an important place in West Virginia. In the 1930s and 1940s, radio stations in Wheeling, Charleston, Fairmont, and other cities began to regularly feature country music, boosting its popularity. Several popular country music entertainers have roots in West Virginia. Charleston and Wheeling support symphony orchestras.
The state’s first acting troupes traveled aboard steamships that plied the Ohio. After the peak of this movement in the 1860s, theaters were built in Wheeling and Charleston. New theaters grew up at about the turn of the 20th century. The little-theater movement came to West Virginia in 1922, when the first community group was formed in Charleston.
|VI||RECREATION AND PLACES OF INTEREST|
West Virginia’s beautiful mountain areas afford fine recreational opportunities. Favorite sports include fishing and hunting. The state also has winter sports areas for skiing, tobogganing, and ice skating. Mineral springs, principally those at White Sulphur Springs and Berkeley Springs, have attracted visitors since colonial times.
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park has been the backdrop to several themes of American history (see Harpers Ferry). The city developed as an important transportation crossroads, and it was here in 1859 that abolitionist John Brown led a raid on a national armory and arsenal in the hopes of securing weapons for slaves he was certain would then rise in rebellion. Set amidst striking scenery, many of the buildings in the town are part of the national park. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park preserves another transportation facility important during the country’s early development. In addition to many of the canal’s original structures, the old towpath provides a nearly level trail through spectacular scenery along the Potomac River on West Virginia’s border with Maryland.
Several stretches of West Virginia’s rivers have been set aside for recreation or to preserve their beauty. Under supervision of the National Park Service are the Gauley River National Recreation Area, the New River Gorge National River, and the Bluestone National Scenic River.
|B||National and State Forests|
The federal government administers three national forests in West Virginia that have facilities for outdoor recreation. Monongahela National Forest includes Spruce Knob. George Washington National Forest, which is shared with Virginia, includes part of the Appalachian Trail. A small part of Jefferson National Forest, most of which is also in Virginia, is located in Monroe County.
Most of the nine state forests have facilities for outdoor activities. The largest, Cooper’s Rock State Forest, covers a large expanse on Cheat Mountain. Kumbrabow State Forest in east central West Virginia features a skyline drive over Point Mountain.
West Virginia’s state parks system, regarded as one of the finest in the nation, had its beginnings in 1929 with the establishment of Droop Mountain State Park, which includes the site of one of the major Civil War battles fought in the state. With the help of the Civilian Conservation Corps and the National Park Services during the Great Depression in the 1930s, West Virginia began to capitalize upon its abundance of scenic locations and historic sites through the development of a system of state parks and vacation areas.
The largest of the state parks is Watoga State Park, which includes Brooks Memorial Arboretum. Blackwater Falls State Park, in northeastern West Virginia, offers year-round recreation. The park includes a wooded canyon into which the Blackwater River drops 19 m (63 ft). Babcock State Park is a rugged area providing scenic views along the spectacular New River Canyon. The great forest at Cathedral State Park has been entered in the National Registry of Natural History Landmarks. The stand of virgin hemlock and hardwoods constitutes one of the most accessible stands of old growth forest in North America.
Grave Creek Mound Historic Site is noted for the Adena burial mounds. Not only is it the largest example of construction by the Native American Mound Builders civilization, but it is the largest conical type of such structures. On November 6, 1863, the largest Civil War engagement of West Virginia’s history occurred on Droop Mountain Battlefield, a mountain plateau overlooking the Greenbrier Valley. Part of the battlefield is restored and marked for visitors, and a small museum contains Civil War artifacts. One of the most interesting of the historical parks is Blennerhassett Island, located in the Ohio River a short distance below Parkersburg. The island is the site where it was alleged former Vice-President Aaron Burr and Harman Blennerhassett conspired in 1805 to seize land in the Southwest to create a new republic. Visitors reach the island, which features Blennerhassett’s elegant mansion, by way of a sternwheeler.
West Virginia has a number of state monuments. Morgan Monument at Bunker Hill marks the site traditionally considered the first settlement in the state. In Shepherdstown, Rumsey Memorial Monument commemorates the construction and successful demonstration of a steam-propelled boat by the inventor James Rumsey in 1787. A monument in Tu-Endie-Wei Park at Point Pleasant commemorates the bloody battle of Point Pleasant, fought between settlers and Native Americans in 1774.
|D||Other Places to Visit|
Historic places in West Virginia include Jackson’s Mill, near Weston, the boyhood home of the Confederate general Stonewall Jackson. At White Sulphur Springs is Greenbrier Resort, one of the world’s great resorts. The area developed as a fashionable resort for rich planters of the Old South. In the 20th century the Greenbrier has attracted visitors from all parts of the world. During the 1950s bunkers were constructed beneath the Greenbrier Hotel for members of the United States Congress to use in the event of a national emergency. The existence of the shelter was once one of the nation’s best-kept secrets. Near Malden is the African Methodist Church where noted educator Booker T. Washington taught Sunday School as a young man. The church is now undergoing restoration.
Seneca Rocks, in Pendleton County, is a mass of white sandstone towering to almost 300 m (1,000 ft). Nearby Seneca Caverns contains many beautiful rock formations.
Numerous factories in the state offer guided tours to observe the glassmaking process. Real miners lead visitors to Beckley on a tour through mines where workers dug out their living with picks and shovels. Bramwell community, with its fairy tale architecture featuring turrets, gables, and leaded and stained glass, is a well-preserved example of the mining boomtowns of West Virginia’s Gilded Age. At Beckley is Tamarack, an arts and crafts center designed to give the state’s artists a new outlet for their products. Visitors may also tour the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, a space-research center at Green Bank.
Music is always a feature for festivals in West Virginia. Each August, Lewisburg hosts the West Virginia State Fair which includes traditional events as well as live music. The West Virginia State Folk Festival, in Glenville, and Summersville’s Bluegrass Country Music Festival draw music lovers from all around in the summer months. Daredevils and spectators attend the October Bridge Day celebration at the New River Gorge. While parachute jumpers and rappellers fling themselves over the bridge’s sides, visitors can enjoy entertainment, food, and crafts on the world’s longest steel arch bridge. Civil War Weekend at Summersville is celebrated with a reenactment of the Battle of Carnifex Ferry and living history demonstrations. Meanwhile, in early June troops muster in Philippi to commemorate the first land battle of the Civil War. Fort New Salem Heritage Workshops, held each summer at Salem, feature blacksmithing, textile work, hearth cooking, and other skills from the pioneer period. Festivals recognizing the role of immigrants in West Virginia include the Italian Heritage Festival, in Clarksburg, and the Helvetia Community Fair, both in September. Two popular events held in Charleston each year are the Vandalia Gathering, celebrating the state’s multiple heritages, during the Memorial Day holiday, and the Charleston Sternwheel Regatta, held during the Labor Day holiday.
West Virginia’s first constitution was adopted in 1863, at the time of statehood. A second constitution went into effect in 1872. Amendments to the constitution may be proposed in either house of the state legislature and must initially be approved by two-thirds of the membership of each house. To be adopted, they must then be approved by a majority of those voting on the amendments at a special election or the next general election. The legislature, with the approval of the electorate, may call conventions to make extensive revisions of the constitution. All of the revisions proposed by such conventions are subject to ratification by the people.
The state’s chief executive, the governor, is elected for a four-year term. The governor may be reelected any number of times, but may only serve two terms consecutively. The governor appoints many officials with the approval of the state senate and may veto laws or individual items of appropriations passed by the state legislature. The governor also has the chief responsibility for drafting the annual budget for consideration by the legislature. Other elected executive officials are the secretary of state, auditor, treasurer, attorney general, and commissioner of agriculture. All are elected for four-year terms and may be elected for successive terms. There is no lieutenant governor in West Virginia. If a vacancy occurs in the governorship, it is filled by the president of the state senate, who retains the position until a gubernatorial election can be held.
West Virginia’s state legislature consists of a 34-member Senate and a 100-member House of Delegates. State senators are elected for four-year terms, and delegates are elected for two-year terms. The legislature convenes annually on the second Wednesday in January. Regular sessions are limited to 60 days. Following each gubernatorial election, the legislature convenes briefly in January in order to organize. It then recesses until the second Wednesday in February, when the session begins. A two-thirds vote in each house is required to extend regular sessions. Special sessions may be called by three-fifths of the membership or by the governor. The legislature can override the governor’s veto by a majority vote in both houses.
The highest court of West Virginia is the Supreme Court of Appeals. The lower state courts are circuit courts, family courts, magistrate courts, and municipal courts. The Supreme Court of Appeals supervises and administers all lower state courts except municipal courts, which are administered locally. While most of the cases heard by the Supreme Court are appeals from lower courts, it can give original consideration to some cases. It also has the power of judicial review and can rule on whether actions of the executive and legislative branches of government are constitutional. The Supreme Court of Appeals has five justices, who are elected for 12-year terms.
Circuit courts are trial courts of general jurisdiction, handling a broad array of cases including all felonies and misdemeanors. Circuit courts also hear appeals from lower courts, as well as appeals from family courts (with some exceptions). Each circuit serves from one to four counties. The number of judges in each circuit varies from one to seven depending on the size of the population served. Circuit court judges are elected for terms of eight years.
Family courts are trial courts of limited jurisdiction, handling matters such as divorce, child custody, and domestic violence. Family court judges are elected for terms of eight years. Family courts have existed in West Virginia since January 2002 and were created in accordance with a constitutional amendment that voters approved in November 2000. Previously, family matters had been handled by family law masters, who were appointed by the governor.
At the lowest level of the state’s court system are magistrate and municipal courts. Magistrates, elected to four-year terms, may decide civil suits involving no more than $2,000 and have no appellate function. Civil suits involving less than $100 must be tried in magistrate courts. Municipal courts can be established by any city, town, or village with its own government. The jurisdiction of municipal courts is limited to cases involving ordinance violations. For example, municipal courts often deal with minor offenses such as traffic violations.
The chief governing body in each of West Virginia’s 55 counties is the county commission. Each commission is composed of three commissioners, who are elected for six-year terms. Commissioners perform both administrative and judicial functions. Other elected county officials include the sheriff, who serves as the county treasurer, as well as the chief law enforcement officer, and the prosecuting attorney, assessor, circuit clerk, county clerk, and surveyor of lands. All are elected for four-year terms. Most municipalities, including all towns and villages in the state, have the mayor and council form of government. Some cities have a combined council and manager form of government.
West Virginia elects two U.S. senators. As a result of the 1990 census, the number of seats allotted to West Virginia in the U.S. House of Representatives dropped from four to three; the number had earlier been decreased based on the result of the 1970 census. West Virginia now has five electoral votes in presidential elections.
The first Native Americans in present-day West Virginia are known to archaeologists as Paleo-Indians and lived in the area 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. They were nomads who pursued buffalo and other large game animals, some of which are now extinct. Most Native American remains, however, are from the Adena and Hopewell cultures, also called Mound Builders, which spanned the years from about 500 bc to about ad 800. Mounds, earthworks, and other relics have been found throughout the state. The Grave Creek Mound at Moundsville, 90 m (295 ft) around and 21 m (69 ft) high, is the largest in the United States. The Bens Run earthworks in Tyler County, with mounds, walls, and enclosures, are the most extensive of their kind.
In about the 1640s the powerful Iroquois Confederacy drove the weaker groups out of much of the Ohio Valley, leaving West Virginia almost unpopulated. The region became a hunting ground and a source of salt for tribes north of the Ohio. When the first European settlers arrived about 1730, a few Tuscarora, Mingo, Shawnee, and Delaware (all members or subordinates of the Iroquois League) lived in the state, and their claims to the land delayed settlement. In 1744 the Iroquois relinquished their claims east of the Allegheny Mountains. In 1768 they gave up their remaining claims to West Virginia by the Treaty of Fort Stanwix. The Cherokee surrendered their claims by treaties in 1768 and 1770. The movement of pioneers into the region continued to be opposed, however, by other peoples, especially the Shawnee, until 1794.
|B||Early European Exploration|
West Virginia was part of Virginia until 1863. Although Virginia’s revised charter of 1609 from the king of England left its boundaries open on the west, the mountain ranges—the Blue Ridge and, west of them, the Alleghenies—made an effective barrier to expansion. No concerted effort was made to cross them for more than 60 years.
The first European to see West Virginia may have been John Lederer, a German physician commissioned by Virginia’s governor, Sir William Berkeley, to explore beyond the mountains. He made three trips in 1669 and 1670, at least two of which carried him to the top of the Blue Ridge.
English explorers were the first to penetrate the area. Thomas Batts and Robert Fallam were sent by Colonel Abraham Wood, a fur trader, to find out whether the waters of western Virginia drained into the Pacific Ocean. They crossed the Alleghenies in 1671 and found a river that flowed into the Ohio River. This was probably New River, or it may have been Tug Fork. This discovery of waters flowing into the Ohio provided a basis for England’s claim to the Ohio Valley.
|C||The 18th Century|
In 1716 Governor Alexander Spotswood of Virginia led an expedition over the Blue Ridge to determine the feasibility of crossing and settling beyond the mountains. Spotswood’s party brought back glowing reports of the fertile valleys that inspired people to cross the mountains. The first settlements in West Virginia were connected with Virginia’s desire to establish a buffer colony between its plantations and the French and Native Americans to the west. Virginia began about 1730 to grant tracts of land to speculators on the condition that they bring in one family for each 1,000 acres (equivalent to 405 hectares) granted. Immigrants were promised religious tolerance and other advantages. Among the settlers were large numbers of Germans and Scots-Irish, many of them from the Pennsylvania and New Jersey colonies.
According to tradition, the first permanent settler in West Virginia was Morgan Morgan, originally from Wales, who moved from Delaware to Bunker Hill, Berkeley County, in 1730 or 1731. However, a German settlement at Mecklenburg (now Shepherdstown) had apparently already existed for several years. At the outbreak of the French and Indian War (1754-1763) between France and the United Kingdom of Great Britain (a union of England, Scotland, and Wales), about 8,000 settlers lived along the Shenandoah, Potomac, and other streams of the Eastern Panhandle. Many of them lived on lands of Lord Thomas Fairfax, whose estate of about 2.14 million hectares (5.28 million acres) was one of the largest in Virginia.
Although the Blue Ridge barrier was broken, no settler crossed the formidable Alleghenies until 1749, when two New Englanders, Jacob Marlin and Stephen Sewell, settled in Pocahontas County. By 1755 the Greenbrier Company had settled about 200 families along the Greenbrier River.
|C2||Native American Troubles|
During the French and Indian War, which began with clashes between Virginians and the French in the Ohio Valley, attacks by the Native American allies of the French were so frequent and severe that hundreds of settlers in the western area fled back across the Blue Ridge. Emboldened by the defeat of British General Edward Braddock in July 1755, the Native Americans terrorized settlements along the entire frontier. Virginia constructed a chain of forts to protect the settlers, but settlers continued to be killed until 1758, when the British captured Fort Duquesne, the French fort at present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This victory broke French power in the Ohio Valley and undermined French influence among the Native Americans.
The end of the French and Indian War did not immediately open trans-Allegheny regions to settlement. In 1763 a confederacy led by Chief Pontiac of the Ottawa people launched a war against the British. The Greenbrier settlements were destroyed, and the upper Potomac settlements were attacked. As a result, the British King George III issued a proclamation that year forbidding white settlement west of the Alleghenies. Although it is often asserted that the Scots-Irish colonists defied the proclamation and the Germans ignored it because they could not read English, in fact only a few settlers ventured over the Alleghenies in the early 1760s.
The great movement of settlers into trans-Allegheny Virginia began in 1769, after the signing of the treaties with the Iroquois and Cherokee. Pioneers streamed into the Greenbrier region, the Monongahela and upper Ohio valleys, and, after 1773, the Kanawha Valley. Many of them fell victim to the Shawnee, who still claimed western Virginia. Atrocities were committed on both sides. In 1774 Governor Dunmore undertook a retaliatory expedition after a raid by the Shawnee, which itself had been in retaliation for several brutal murders of Shawnee and Mingo by white settlers. The Shawnee were defeated in a day-long battle at Point Pleasant on October 10, 1774, and their chief, Cornstalk, signed a peace treaty. Later, in a meeting in Pittsburgh in September 1775, the Shawnee, Delaware, and five other important Native American nations promised to remain neutral in the war of the American Revolution (1775-1783), which had broken out that spring between Britain and its American colonies.
|C3||The American Revolution|
The nations kept their pledge of neutrality for almost two years, but continued friction with American settlers finally enabled the British to turn them against the Americans. West Virginians experienced three major Native American invasions from 1777 to 1782, and during the “Bloody Year of the Three Sevens” (1777), more depredations occurred in West Virginia than at any other time. Virginia endeavored to provide protection by constructing Fort Henry at Wheeling and Fort Randolph at Point Pleasant. With Fort Pitt at Pittsburgh and numerous small private forts, they formed the western perimeter of Virginia’s frontier defenses. But even after the revolution was over, the raids continued, encouraged by the British, until the decisive victory by General Anthony Wayne at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, in Ohio, in 1794.
In spite of Native American raids, the settlement continued and population increased, especially in the Eastern Panhandle. Shepherdstown became a busy industrial town, contributing to the revolutionary cause with its manufacture of clothing, rifles, wagons, and saddles. After the revolution, rapid expansion from the coast helped increase West Virginia’s population to 78,000 by 1800. Despite the rugged terrain, most of the settlers took up farming. They grew corn, wheat, potatoes, and garden vegetables and also raised livestock. Many farmers attempted improvements in the breeding of livestock, and the South Branch of the Potomac became an important cattle-raising area. Sheep-raising also became profitable in Central and Northern Panhandle counties. Nevertheless, what eventually drew most settlers to West Virginia were the natural resources: timber, salt, iron, coal, gas, and oil. These resources enabled West Virginia to industrialize.
|D||The 19th Century|
A small lumber industry began when the water-powered sawmill was introduced and the packhorse trails from the east were widened into wagon roads. Along with the rivers, these provided avenues to markets. The opening of the Mississippi River to American trade after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the development of the steamboat, and the construction of roads and turnpikes, beginning with the National Road to Wheeling in 1818, further opened the area.
West Virginia’s first large industry was salt making. After 1808 it was a major enterprise in the Kanawha Valley, which became one of the world’s great salt-producing centers. Smelting of iron increased toward the end of the 18th century and later was centered in the Northern Panhandle and the Monongahela Valley. Peter Tarr, who built the first iron furnace west of the Alleghenies, supplied cannonballs used by Commodore Oliver H. Perry in the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813, during the War of 1812. Wheeling, a major iron smelting center, was known as the Nail City. The beginning of service on the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad to Wheeling in 1853 gave its iron industry a great boost. Coal, West Virginia’s basic resource, had been discovered on the Coal River in 1742 by two explorers, John Peter Salling and John Howard, but its industrial potential was not realized until saltmakers in the Kanawha Valley began to use it in 1817 as fuel for their salt furnaces. A short boom in the mining of cannel coal (used to make coal oil for lamps) started in 1848, but dropped off after petroleum was found in 1859.
West Virginia was also a rich source of other fuels. Salt makers drilling for brine often struck gas or oil, to their annoyance. In 1841 natural gas was first put to industrial use, and in 1859, digging for oil began. A well drilled at Burning Springs in May 1860 started one of West Virginia’s first oil booms. A slightly earlier oil strike on the Little Kanawha River made that area a target for Confederate raiders during the first years of the Civil War.
|D2||Conflicts With Virginia|
By 1860 West Virginia was a land of small farms and growing industry; it was very different from the Virginia lands to the east, where large tobacco plantations were worked by black slaves. Large numbers of immigrants had come west of the Alleghenies, many of them Irish people who had come to the United States after the potato famine in the 1840s. These immigrants, along with the rugged, hardworking frontiersmen and women, most of whom came from Pennsylvania, were very different from the wealthy planters of eastern Virginia.
The mountain barrier prevented any strong economic ties with the rest of Virginia. The trans-Allegheny waters emptied into the Ohio River, and rail connections were with Baltimore, Maryland. People of western Virginia felt more closely allied with Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Ohio than with the South. Proposals to separate Virginia’s western counties had been made as early as 1820.
During the 19th century western Virginians increasingly resented the political domination of their state by the eastern planters. They complained that they were overtaxed and underrepresented in the legislature. They deplored the lack of public education and felt they were not getting their fair share of internal improvements. Their clamor for reform resulted in a constitutional convention in 1829-1830. Their demands were not met, and talk of separation grew louder. Some westerners wanted to attach themselves to Maryland or Pennsylvania, and others wanted separate statehood for trans-Allegheny counties. Continued western indignation finally resulted in a new constitution in 1851 that corrected some grievances by giving the vote to all adult white men, providing for more equitable representation in the legislature, and making county and major state officials elective. But major criticisms were directed at provisions giving slaveholders great advantages in taxation, hampering education and internal improvements, and obstructing the creation of new counties.
By 1860 discontent in western Virginia was again high. A further irritant was the fact that the westerners were mostly against slavery and thus did not sympathize with the gathering movement in Virginia and the rest of the South to secede from the federal Union. One of the events that propelled the South toward secession was the 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry, Jefferson County, by outlawed abolitionist John Brown. Brown intended to establish an independent free state in the Virginia mountains that would be a refuge for runaway slaves. With 21 men, he captured the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry and waited for black recruits to join him. They did not arrive, and his force was surrounded and captured by local militia and a detachment of the U.S. Marines under Colonel Robert E. Lee. Brown was tried by the state of Virginia for treason and murder and was executed. His action sharply divided the nation into proslavery and antislavery factions, and his death made him a hero to the cause of the abolition of slavery.
In the national election of 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected president as the candidate of the Republican Party, which opposed the spread of slavery. The Southern state of South Carolina had threatened to secede if the Republicans won, and in December 1860 it did so. Other Southern states followed, including Virginia on April 17, 1861. When the westerners learned that the eastern Virginians had taken them out of the United States, they held mass protest meetings and proceeded to create their own state.
The Constitution of the United States forbids the division of a state without its own consent. To meet this requirement, delegates from the western counties met at Wheeling on June 11, 1861, declared the offices of the state government at Richmond to be vacant, and formed the Restored Government of Virginia with Francis H. Pierpont as governor. On the day of his election, Pierpont asked President Lincoln for military support. Lincoln recommended to the Congress of the United States that it grant the request, in effect recognizing the Restored Government at Wheeling as the legal government of Virginia.
In a public referendum in October 1861, the western counties voted overwhelmingly to form a new state. They elected delegates to a constitutional convention, which met in Wheeling on November 26 and completed the constitution in February 1862. It differed greatly from Virginia’s constitution, following the model of Northern states. It provided for a system of free public schools, thereby correcting an old grievance of West Virginians. It was amended in February 1863 to provide for the gradual abolition of slavery, as required by Congress. On June 20, 1863, West Virginia became the 35th state in the Union.
Wheeling was the temporary capital. In 1870 the capital was moved to Charleston, but it lacked a railroad and other advantages considered essential for a state capital. Five years later, the legislature moved the capital back to Wheeling. The decision created intense rivalry between Wheeling and Charleston. Finally, in 1885, the capital returned to Charleston, where it has remained.
The seceded states organized as the Confederate States of America and started the American Civil War by bombarding a Union fort on April 12, 1861. Without federal military aid, the formation of West Virginia would have been impossible because the Confederates fought for control of the state during the first year of the war. Both sides wanted the B&O Railroad and the state’s agricultural and mineral resources. In a series of small engagements in 1861, including those at Philippi, Rich Mountain Pass, Corrick’s Ford, Scary Creek, and Carnifex Ferry, the Union forces routed the Confederates. In 1862 and 1863, the Confederates attempted to regain control of parts of northwestern West Virginia. They did not succeed, but their troops often raided the state, disrupting communications, destroying oilfields, capturing prisoners, and helping themselves to salt, military supplies, and thousands of horses and cattle. The Eastern Panhandle, through which the B&O Railroad passed, bore much of the fighting. The town of Romney changed hands 56 times.
In many of West Virginia’s southern and eastern counties, Confederate sympathies were so strong that local government could not function. In some areas, guerrilla bands roamed at night, pillaging and killing. Conflicting loyalties split families and friendships. It has been estimated that West Virginia contributed 28,000 to 36,000 soldiers to the Union Army and 9,000 to 12,000 to the Confederate Army. Recent studies maintain that the numbers were closer than this 3-to-1 ratio.
After the Civil War, possession of the border counties, especially Berkeley and Jefferson, became a matter of controversy between Virginia and West Virginia. West Virginia’s boundaries had been determined largely by military considerations. The Eastern Panhandle, which was not originally part of West Virginia, was annexed in 1863 to ensure the inclusion of the B&O Railroad. After the war, Virginia took the matter to the Supreme Court of the United States. In 1871 the Court ruled in favor of West Virginia. The two states also quarreled over West Virginia’s share of Virginia’s prewar debt. This controversy was resolved in 1915, when the Supreme Court directed West Virginia to pay nearly $12.4 million. The debt was finally paid off in 1939.
Divided feelings about the lost Confederate cause affected West Virginia politics for many years. In 1866 the Republicans disfranchised (denied the vote to) all who had supported the Confederates. This act caused a wave of bitterness that increased membership in the Democratic Party. When the Democrats came to power in 1871, they abolished the disfranchisement law and called a convention to write a new state constitution. Intense partisan feeling resulted in drastic changes in the state government and a new constitution (1872) that was similar to Virginia’s. Conservative Democrats, known as Bourbons, won the governorship and most major state offices in 1876. The Bourbons held fast to the traditions and values of the Old South, but they believed that the state’s future depended on development of its natural resources and encouragement of industry. Henry M. Mathews, the first Bourbon governor, had been a major in the Confederate Army, but he acted quickly to attract Northern industry and capital and to draw immigrants to the state.
The campaign of 1876 saw many former Confederate soldiers elected to office, and the Democrats retained complete control for the next 20 years. During that time, however, industrialization drew in Southern blacks and laborers from neighboring Republican states, thereby increasing Republican strength. In 1897 Republican George W. Atkinson became governor. Except for four years when Democrat John J. Cornwell was governor (1917-1921), Republican governors were in control until 1933. In 1924 the Democratic Party nominated John W. Davis, a native of Clarksburg with a distinguished career in law and government, for president of the United States. President Calvin Coolidge was reelected, and Davis failed to carry even West Virginia. To date Davis has been the only West Virginian to be nominated for president by a major political party.
West Virginia was transformed in the late 19th century by a great industrial expansion. An increased demand for its natural resources attracted outside capital and led to large-scale development. Locks and dams were constructed on the major rivers. Improvements in the Kanawha River gave it a navigable depth of 1.8 m (6 ft) from Point Pleasant to Deepwater, 145 km (90 mi) upstream. Many new railroads were built into nearly every part of the state, tapping the timber areas and previously untouched and fabulously rich coal fields. A spiral of prosperity began as the railroads stimulated industries that, in turn, increased the need for coal.
Steam power replaced waterpower in the sawmills in 1881, and by 1909, West Virginia was the largest lumber-producing state in the Union. New and more scientific methods of drilling, introduced about 1890, started a new oil boom, and West Virginia soon became one of the most important oil-producing regions in the world, reaching a peak in 1900 with 16 million barrels. The industrial use of natural gas rapidly increased, and by 1906 West Virginia ranked first among all states in gas production.
West Virginia industries required thousands of laborers. Large numbers of immigrants arrived from southern and eastern Europe, especially Italy, Austria, Hungary, Poland, and Russia, and black workers moved in from the Southern states.
|E||The 20th Century|
|E1||Growth of Manufacturing|
Until World War I (1914-1918), extractive industries dominated the nonfarm economic life of West Virginia. These endeavors, especially coal mining, continued to be important after the war, but manufacturing, stimulated by the war, increased in prominence. On the eve of the war, West Virginia had 2,749 manufacturing establishments, with 71,000 workers. The major manufacturing industries, with the value of their products, were iron and steel, $21 million; tinplate and terneplate (a lead-tin alloy plate), $15 million; glass, $14.5 million; and flour and grist mills, $7 million. In number of employees, glass held first place with 9,000. It was followed by car and general repair work, 8,500; iron and steel, 4,300; and grist mills, 3,300. By 1914 thousands of West Virginians had left the farms for work in industry. World War I stimulated most existing industries in the state and also gave birth to new manufacturing industries, the most important of which were chemical production and electric power.
During the war, when chemicals could not be imported from Germany, chemical plants were established in the Kanawha Valley, which in time became a world center for the manufacture of basic chemicals. The federal government constructed a high explosives plant at Nitro and a mustard gas plant at Belle. Nitro, a town of about 25,000 people and 3,400 buildings, sprang up almost overnight in 1918. The chemical industry later expanded along the Ohio River and into the Northern Panhandle. It depended largely upon rich brines in the Kanawha Valley and great beds of rock salt on the upper Ohio and extending eastward to Monongalia County. In addition to the chemicals, the plants manufactured many other products, including compounds used to make rubber, plastics, and antifreeze. At Nitro and Parkersburg, raw cotton and wood pulp were processed into rayon. At Belle, beginning in the 1930s, E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company used coal, water, and nitrogen to manufacture nylon, which replaced silk for many purposes.
West Virginia’s industrial boom was accompanied by labor unrest, especially in the coal mines, where, despite the industry’s spectacular success, wages remained low and working conditions poor and dangerous. The industry was plagued with accidents. The worst disaster, an explosion at Monongah in 1907, killed 361 people. Mine owners stoutly resisted the miners’ attempts to unionize and bargain collectively. Numerous strikes throughout the state had little effect until 1912, when an extended strike at Paint Creek and Cabin Creek brought a year of violence, during which miners and mine guards were killed, martial law was declared, and about 100 people were sent to prison. When Henry D. Hatfield became governor in 1913, he persuaded the owners to guarantee the miners a nine-hour workday and to concede them the right to organize.
During World War I, miners and owners cooperated to ensure maximum production to meet the country’s fuel needs. Membership in the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) grew to about 50,000 in West Virginia by 1920. After the war, the owners strove to tap West Virginia’s huge supply of coal by opening new mines and improving mining methods, despite the decreased demand for coal. By 1923 West Virginia was capable of producing more coal than the nation could use. With such overexpansion, owners kept wages low in order to undersell their competitors.
In 1920 a UMWA attempt to organize in Logan and Mingo counties came up against the owners’ determination to revert to prewar conditions and defeat the union at any cost. Violence broke out, federal troops were called in, and martial law was established. During the winter of 1920-1921, tension grew between police and strikers, who had been evicted from their company-owned homes and were living in tents. Armed conflict began on May 19, 1921, and Governor E. F. Morgan proclaimed a state of war in Mingo County, which was now being called Bloody Mingo. That summer about 3,000 miners from Paint Creek and Cabin Creek marched to Logan to assist the Mingo County miners. On August 31, 1921, a force of 1,200 state police and armed guards faced miners entrenched along a mountain ridge. A four-day battle ensued, with miners coming from Kentucky, Ohio, and northern West Virginia to help the embattled workers. This Battle of Blair Mountain ended with the arrival of 2,100 federal troops and a squadron of U.S. Army bombers. The miners’ defeat discouraged workers throughout the state. During the next decade, court injunctions crippled the labor movement, and the miners lost confidence in the union’s ability to help them. Paid membership in the UMWA in West Virginia dropped from a peak of about 50,000 in 1920 to a few hundred in 1932.
|E3||The Depression and World War II|
The Great Depression, the hard times of the 1930s, ended the coal boom, leaving thousands of miners unemployed and contributing to a major political change as Democrat Herman Guy Kump became governor in 1933. His election ended a long period of Republican dominance.
The New Deal of President Franklin Roosevelt brought a new era for workers. Federal agencies provided much of the money required for relief of the depression and for priming the economy. Thousands of jobless men and women were employed in projects undertaken by the Public Works Administration (PWA) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The state government attempted to balance the budget and to find new sources of taxation, among them a consumers’ sales tax. The state succeeded in attracting new industries, and a back-to-the-farm movement added 114,000 people to farm ranks in five years. Experiments of the Resettlement Administration in establishing self-sustaining communities, based on small-scale manufacturing, at Eleanor, Arthurdale, and Tygart Valley were special interests of the president’s wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, and were models for the nation. West Virginians were staunch supporters of President Roosevelt and helped elect him to an unprecedented four terms. The momentum given the Democratic Party carried it through the election of 1952, although the Republicans came close to capturing the governor’s seat in 1940. At the urging of the UMWA, U.S. Senator Matthew M. Neely gave up his seat that year to run for governor, and the Democrats retained control of the office.
The New Deal also brought improvements in working conditions. The National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) of 1933 guaranteed workers the right to bargain collectively. Union membership rapidly increased, and most unions affiliated with either the American Federation of Labor (AFL) or the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). At the same time, the legislature abolished the mine guard system, by which local sheriffs or bosses had the power to deputize—with funds provided by the coal companies—scores of people whose job it was to keep out unions by any means. The legislature also extended the benefits of the workers’ compensation law and approved a prevailing wage law. Industrial workers made significant gains in wages, labor hours, and working conditions.
|E4||Industrial Changes Since World War II|
World War II (1939-1945) brought renewed prosperity. The war increased the demand for coal, and production mounted steadily to an unprecedented level of about 160 million metric tons in 1947.
World War II further encouraged the growth of the state’s chemical industry, and from 1947 to 1952 it grew at nearly twice the rate of the industry in the United States as a whole. With the exception of Jackson County, every West Virginia county bordering the Ohio River had at least one chemical plant by the 1970s.
Electric power also became a significant industry in West Virginia following World War II. Plants with much greater generating capacity replaced those built earlier in the century. The John E. Amos generating plant on the Kanawha River is one of the world’s largest. By 1977 West Virginia electric power production had increased 900 percent over that of 1940.
The steel industry of West Virginia, which had begun to develop before World War I, also experienced new growth between the two world wars. Wheeling, Charleston, Parkersburg, Huntington, Clarksburg, and other towns had foundries that turned out a variety of iron and steel products. The factory of the Kelly Axe Manufacturing Company at Charleston was the largest of its kind in the world. In 1932 a large iron alloy plant was built at Alloy. It produced more than 50 alloys used in making high-grade steel and ferrochrome alloy. After World War II, the Kaiser Aluminum Company built a plant at Ravenswood. Primary metals industries in West Virginia employed about 25,000 in the 1970s, but the number fell to 19,500 in 1991. The decline was part of general cutbacks in the United States. The heavy or “smokestack” industries suffered from competition by foreign companies, which had newer equipment and techniques and a large supply of cheap labor. In 1984 the hard-pressed National Steel Company sold its Weirton Steel Division, at Weirton, to its employees. Weirton Steel became the largest employee-owned business in the United States.
The growth of industry in West Virginia required suitable transportation. During the first half of the 20th century, railroads and rivers were the principal movers of heavy and bulky goods. Major railroads serving the state in the World War I era were the B&O, Chesapeake and Ohio, Kanawha and Michigan (later the New York Central), Norfolk and Western, Virginian, Western Maryland, and Coal and Coke.
Rivers were equally essential to the transportation of industrial products. By 1900 the Monongahela River had 15 locks and dams, which gave it a navigable depth of 2.7 m (9 ft) from Pittsburgh to Morgantown and 1.8 m (6 ft) from there to Fairmont. In the 1920s, the Monongahela carried the largest volume of freight of any river in the United States and was second only to the Rhine among the rivers of the world. Its traffic, mostly in coal, was greater than that of the Panama Canal. The Kanawha River, which at 1.8 m (6 ft) navigable depth was becoming increasingly choked, was modernized in 1934 with new locks and dams at London, Marmet, and Winfield, which provided a depth of 2.7 m (9 ft). Improvements to these tributaries created a need for improvements in the Ohio River. A new dam and locks at Gallipolis, the largest in the world when they were built in 1938, were obsolete within 20 years. From the 1950s to 1970s, a new series of high-lift dams was built on the Ohio to take care of its ever-growing traffic.
The automobile age came to West Virginia about the time of World War I. In 1917 the legislature designated 7,403 km (4,600 mi) of roads that crossed county lines as Class A highways and provided money to counties on the basis of their Class A mileage. Another major step was in 1933, when the state took responsibility for 50,157 km (31,166 mi) of roads and put them under the supervision of a state road commissioner. An amendment to the constitution in 1942 earmarked all revenue from motor vehicles and motor fuels for road construction and maintenance. Later, other amendments provided further support for highways.
The West Virginia Turnpike, a span of 142 km (88 mi) between Charleston and Princeton completed in 1954, was built through some of the state’s most rugged terrain. At completion the turnpike was called a marvel of engineering, but it soon proved obsolete for the amount of traffic it handled. By 1996 the state had completed 884 km (549 mi) of interstate highways and 449 km (279 mi), out of a projected 633 km (393 mi), of Appalachian Corridor highways. These modern highways have had a great influence on the growth of the tourist industry and the expansion of the trucking business in the state. They have also contributed to numerous other industries, including many service occupations.
|E6||Mid-Century Economic Problems|
In the years following World War II the basically rich state of West Virginia became a paradox of squalor alongside plenty. Its industries prospered, its mineral reserves remained seemingly inexhaustible, and national leadership in coal production continued. However, the increasing mechanization of coal mining brought disaster to miners throughout the Appalachian states. West Virginia was hit the hardest. Scores of small operations closed, and ghost towns grew in number. Conditions resembling the very worst times of the Great Depression developed, as 80,000 unemployed miners, with 170,000 dependents, lived a marginal existence. State relief laws had no adequate provisions to help them.
West Virginia’s other industries could not absorb the vast numbers dismissed from the mines. During the 1950s the state’s unemployment rate was the highest in the country, at three times the national average. While most state populations boomed, West Virginia suffered a loss of 7.2 percent as thousands fled in search of employment.
|E7||John F. Kennedy and the 1960 Primary Election|
No election in West Virginia has attracted more attention than its 1960 Democratic primary, where U.S. Senators John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota vied for the state’s electoral votes for president of the United States. Humphrey had a long record of fighting political battles for the nation’s workers and those who had not shared fully in the opportunities of the United States, while Kennedy was a member of one of the country’s wealthiest families. Humphrey was a Protestant and Kennedy a Catholic, and it was widely held that a Catholic could not win in overwhelmingly Protestant West Virginia. Some members of the national press even suggested that West Virginians were so hopelessly bigoted and intolerant that Kennedy had little chance.
Humphrey conducted an intense campaign in West Virginia, traveling over much of the state by bus. Kennedy, for whom money was no object, spent lavishly. He and his family held scores of teas and parties. Kennedy won, and Humphrey withdrew from the race. Kennedy went on to win a narrow victory over Richard M. Nixon, his Republican opponent. Kennedy’s victory in West Virginia has been regarded as a key point on his road to the White House, and it ended the notion that a Catholic could not be elected president of the United States.
While campaigning in West Virginia, Kennedy was deeply moved by the poverty and distress that he found in the coal-mining regions, and he made a promise that, if elected, he would take steps to improve conditions. During his brief administration more than $100 million was poured into the state, about $45 million of it in direct relief for the needy. Efforts to relieve the deep-rooted problems of West Virginia and Appalachia were continued under President Lyndon B. Johnson as part of his Great Society programs. One contribution was the establishment of the Appalachian Regional Commission, which took numerous steps to improve the quality of life in Appalachia. West Virginia also took steps of its own to ease its problems. Of special interest to coal miners were the federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1977 and state legislation for funding, research, and treatment of black lung disease, which frequently afflicted miners.
|E8||Late 20th Century Political and Economic Affairs|
In contrast to the past, control of the executive branch of government in West Virginia regularly shifted between Democrats and Republicans after 1968. In that year Arch A. Moore, Jr., a popular six-term Republican congressman, won the governorship. Two years later, voters approved the Governor’s Succession Amendment to the state constitution, which allowed a governor to serve two consecutive terms and unlimited nonconsecutive terms. In 1972 Moore defeated his Democratic rival, John D. Rockefeller IV, becoming the first two-term governor of the state in 100 years.
In 1976 Rockefeller became governor by defeating former Governor Cecil H. Underwood, his Republican opponent. Four years later, Rockefeller was elected to a second term with a victory over Moore. The election created great attention, and Rockefeller reportedly spent about $11 million of his personal fortune in retaining the office. Moore remained highly popular and was elected to a third term in 1984, when Rockefeller was elected to the U.S. Senate. In 1988, however, W. Gaston Caperton, III, a Democratic newcomer to politics, also spent heavily and ended Moore’s hopes for a fourth term. Caperton was reelected in 1992. Underwood was elected governor again in 1996 when he defeated Democrat Charlotte Pritt. In 2000 Democrat Robert Wise, Jr., was elected governor. In 2004 Democrat Joe Manchin was elected governor. The state’s best-known political figure is Robert C. Byrd, who was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1958 and later became Democratic majority leader (1977-1981; 1987-1988).
From the 1970s to the 1990s, parts of West Virginia faced depressed economic conditions similar to those of the 1950s. When Moore began his third term as governor in 1985, the unemployment rate in the state was 15 percent, the highest in the nation, and the population was again declining. In an effort to improve the economic conditions, a much-disliked Business and Occupations Tax was removed on all businesses except utilities, and coal company contributions to the workers’ compensation fund were reduced. More importantly, tax credits were extended to new industries coming into the state and to existing industries that expanded their number of jobs or modernized their operations. The total tax credits to businesses amounted to $48 million a year at that time. Unfortunately, coal companies, which received the largest share of the benefits, actually cut the number of their employees by 1,650.
The management of the tax credit system was found to be corrupt, with the result that Governor Moore and several high-ranking officials were convicted of extortion, bribery, or other offenses and sentenced to prison terms. Moore was sentenced in 1990 to five years and 10 months in prison.
By the late 20th century, many West Virginians realized that over the years their state’s natural heritage had been badly damaged. Great piles of worked-out drift-mine wastes, known as “gob dumps,” marred the landscape and, by spontaneous combustion, ignited forest fires and polluted the air. Far worse were the leavings after World War II, when surface mining technologies, including stripping and longwall techniques, changed the face of many mining regions. Mountains were leveled, valleys were filled in, streams were laden with silt and deadly acids, luxuriant hillsides were turned into barren knolls, and animal life was devastated. The small fees charged for licenses and the inadequate provisions for reclamation of damaged land left irresponsible mining operators with inadequate restraints. Environmentalists repeatedly called for stronger laws to regulate strip mining, and some insisted that it be abolished.
A disaster, such as critics had long predicted, occurred on Buffalo Creek, Logan County, in 1972. Without warning, 114 million liters (30 million gallons) of water and the mine-waste dam that had held it back rushed in a wave, 9 m (30 ft) high, through the valley with speeds up to 48 km/h (30 mph). The deluge wiped out 16 small communities and took the lives of at least 125 people. In response the legislature passed a Dam Control Act, but, because of the state’s continuing economic problems, it was not as strong as it might have been.
Air quality was another matter of concern. In 1990, amendments to the federal Clean Air Act (first enacted in 1970) required electric power plants to reduce their emissions over a five-year period. The requirement to use low-sulfur coal was a blow to the high-sulfur coal producers in northern West Virginia but a boost for low-sulfur coal producers in southern counties.
Community waste has been another threat to the environment. During Moore’s tenure as governor, steps were taken to allow rural areas to set up public service districts for water and sewage services. In 1989, after out-of-state waste disposal companies had begun to transport garbage to landfills in West Virginia, the legislature tightened the law regarding garbage disposal. The new law limited the amount of wastes that might be deposited at individual locations and set higher standards for environmental protection. Much remained to be done, however, by both industry and the citizens to preserve the resources of the state and to capitalize on its natural beauty, which remains one of its greatest assets.
The West Virginia constitution of 1872 required the legislature to provide a “thorough and efficient” system of free (but racially segregated) public schools. That mandate has often proved more of a dream than a reality, since neither the legislature nor the people have always been willing to give the financial support necessary for schools of high quality.
The 1954 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Brown v. Board of Education marked another milestone in education in West Virginia. The Court held that racially segregated schools, such as those in West Virginia, did not ensure equality of opportunity for all pupils and that the nation’s schools must be integrated. Within a year, 12 West Virginia counties integrated their schools, and others soon followed. West Virginia schools were integrated with only minor opposition to the Supreme Court decision.
The population decline of recent decades has caused lower enrollment in elementary and secondary schools. The establishment of public kindergartens and special efforts by high schools to lower their dropout rates, however, partially offset the losses. There was a rapid increase in school consolidations in many counties, and in the 40 years after 1938 one-room schools almost disappeared, the last remaining one being at Auburn, Ritchie County.
Many West Virginians viewed the changes in education with deep concern. They feared that consolidation would undermine their influence over the education of their own children. Some believed that the new curricula and teaching materials were threats to traditional American values and to the moral influence of home and church. Such worries lay behind a Kanawha County textbook controversy, which in 1972 received nationwide attention. Alice Moore, a member of the board of education, denounced modernism and called for a “back to basics” approach to education. The controversy did much to draw critics of the public schools together and to foster the growth of private religiously-oriented schools.