The Mountain State. Wild, Wonderful West Virginia. Almost Heaven, West Virginia. Hillbilly Heaven. West—by God!—Virginia. Country Roads, Take Me Home—Home to West Virginia.
These mottoes, fondly invoking images of nature, rural comfort, even the deity, provide inklings of how West Virginians feel about their state. Images that arise when outsiders think about West Virginia are not always so reverential. Mother Jones, saint to some, devil to others, invoked the hills and the deity in no uncertain terms during her attempts to unionize the state's coal industry in the early twentieth century: “Medieval West Virginia! With its tent colonies on the bleak hills! With its grim men and women! When I get to the other side, I shall tell God Almighty about West Virginia!” 1West Virginia, both a state and a state of mind, conjures some of the most controversial images of any state in the Union. In fact, it was born of controversy. Unlike most states, it did not enter the Union as the result of westward expansion or population increases. The thirty-fifth state, born on June 20, 1863, was a child of the Civil War, the youngest state east of the Mississippi by a long shot. Far to the west, Kansas, admitted in 1861 as the thirty-fourth state, and Nevada, admitted in 1864 as the thirty-sixth, provide more accurate indicators of the nation's midnineteenth-century development.
West Virginia is one of the smallest states in the Union. Its topography encompasses some 24,231 square miles, ranking it forty-first in area. It is, however, the highest state east of the Mississippi River, with an average elevation of 1,500 feet. Will Rogers, in referring to its rugged mountain landscape, declared it to be the only state where, when you get tired, you can lean up against it and rest. Another saying—”it's in damn good shape for the shape it's in”—refers to West Virginia's phenomenally irregular outline. Its configuration includes two of those curious geographical/geopolitical appendages known as panhandles. The boundaries of the Northern Panhandle were established by royal proclamations during the colonial era as well as by the course of the Ohio River; those of the Eastern Panhandle were determined by Civil War exigencies and the passage of the Potomac. Because of the panhandles, West Virginians can claim that they live in the most northern of the southern states (the Northern Panhandle extends farther north than Pittsburgh) and the most eastern of the western states (Harpers Ferry, at the tip of the Eastern Panhandle, is only fifty miles from Washington, D.C.).
Perhaps surprisingly, at least to outsiders, West Virginia consistently ranks as one of the nation's most rural states. Although its popular image is hardly one of expansive, open farmlands, citizens in most of its fifty-five counties live outside urban areas, many in small, unincorporated settlements, where country roads take them home. No city has ever reached, much less exceeded, a population of 100,000. Huntington came closest half a century ago, with a 1950 count of 86,353. The state reached its own population peak in 1950 with a figure of 2,005,552. Not until half a century later, when the 2000 census counted 1,808,344, was a fifty-year pattern of decline reversed. The 2000 figure, however, was a bare .8 percent over the 1990 count.
Many West Virginia images—hillbilly log cabins, elegant nineteenth-century spas, coal company towns, the magnificent state capitol—are architectural. As with other images, these run the gamut from good to bad, with the real West Virginia somewhere in between. The history of the state's built environment, which commenced long before the first colonial settlers set foot on its soil, begins with an earthen mound.
In his Journal of a Tour into the Territory Northwest of the Alleghany Mountains, published in 1805, Massachusetts clergyman Thaddeus Mason Harris described “a most astonishing mound” he had seen two years earlier:
We measured the perpendicular height, and it was sixty-seven feet and a half.… The diameter of the top is fifty-five feet: but the apex seems to have caved in.… The mound sounds hollow. Undoubtedly its contents will be numerous, curious, and calculated to develop in a farther degree the history of the antiquities which abound in this part of our country. 2
Harris was one of many early travelers who visited the site now known as the Grave Creek Mound, a phenomenal prehistoric relic near the banks of the Ohio River, in Moundsville, its namesake and the Marshall County seat. Like Harris, many measured it, speculated on its meaning, and wondered who had built it. Joseph Tomlinson, the mound's first “owner,” had “discovered” it in 1770. Although his cabin was but three hundred yards away, the forest cover was so dense that he never noticed it until he came upon it while chasing a wounded deer. That he was not the first to climb its summit was indicated by the numerals 1734carved on a beech tree growing from the summit.
Tomlinson may be regarded as the state's first conscious preservationist. Joseph Doddridge admired his principles:
The present owner … has expressed his determination to preserve it in its original state during his life. He will not suffer the axe to violate its timber, nor the mattocks its earth. May his successors to the title of the estate forever feel the same pious regard for this august mansion of the dead, and preserve the venerable monument of antiquity from that destruction which has already annihilated, or defaced, a large number of the lesser depositories. 3
Tomlinson's progeny had no such pious regard. In 1824 his son Jesse inherited the property, and in 1838 the Tomlinsons conducted an archaeological dig. Their excavation proved that it was, as had been surmised, a burial tumulus. A complete report of the excavation, written by Abelard Tomlinson and printed in the May 1843 issue of American Pioneer, noted that the group also “erected a three-story frame building, which we call an observatory,” on top of the mound. Resembling a telescope, the round structure had a first story measuring 32 feet in diameter, a second 26 feet, and a third 10 feet. The unusual design provided “the visitor with a walk quite round on the top of each story.” Visitors who came to walk around and to see the relics uncovered in the excavation had to pay an admission fee. West Virginia's first recorded example of historic preservation had become its first commercial tourist attraction.
The Grave Creek Mound, now a National Historic Landmark and the center of a state park, was built by people of the Adena culture and named for type site, the Ohio mound where artifacts characterizing their society were first identified and analyzed. The Early Woodland, or Adena, culture dominated the mid-Ohio Valley for a thousand years before the birth of Christ. Its people lived in villages consisting of circular houses 15 to 45 feet in diameter, constructed of poles covered with bark or a combination of bark and wickerwork. They grew corn, hunted, and fished. Not surprisingly, they are known familiarly as the Mound Builders, though this term refers to a number of cultures spanning about twenty centuries. The Grave Creek Mound was built in stages encompassing a century or more, likely c. 250 to 150 B.C.
The Grave Creek Mound was only one of many antiquities that early pioneers, settlers, and travelers found. In 1808 Thomas Ashe reported that “the banks of the Great Kenhaway [ sic] were once the favorite resort and residence of several Indian tribes and that “the ruins of their little empires every where abound.” 4The state's second-largest mound, which endures in a small park near the southern bank of the Kanawha River in South Charleston, was obviously part of one of these “little empires.” Known as the Criel Mound, it is the sole remnant of a group of about fifty mounds and a dozen earthen enclosures on both sides of the river. The Criel Mound is thought to represent both the Adena and its successor, the Hopewell, or Middle Woodland, culture.
The deeply stratified St. Albans site, downstream on the Kanawha from South Charleston, has proven to be one of the earliest places of human occupation in the state and one of the most important sites in the eastern United States representing Early Archaic culture. Its several well-defined layers have provided information on a number of distinct periods of settlement. Artifacts uncovered 37 feet below the present land surface date from c. 7000 B.C. to 2000 B.C. Unlike the aboveground mounds that the first settlers found, this site was not discovered until 1963, when erosion of the riverbank revealed its treasures.
Tantalizing references abound to other evidences of prehistoric and protohistoric settlement that have now disappeared. In 1796 Greenbrier County pioneer John Stuart sent Thomas Jefferson the bones of a large, clawed animal that had been discovered in a cave about five miles from his house. Stuart thought the animal was a lion, having been “induced to think so from a perfect figure of that animal carved upon a rock near the confluence of the Great Kanawha, which appears might [have] been done many centurys ago.” Stuart's kinsman, Archibald Stuart of Staunton, corroborated the report, adding that it was “a fact well ascertained that on a rock on the bank of Kanawha the figures of many animals most of which are known to be common in that country have been carved out many years ago & among these that of the lion & that from the rudeness of the execution it is clearly a work of the natives.” 5Unfortunately, such pictographs were often held in little esteem. Henry Howe, writing about Kanawha County in 1845, reported: “A short distance below the Big Lick was, some years since, a rock called the pictured or calico rock, on which the natives had sculptured many rude figures of animals, birds, etc. This rock was finally destroyed to make furnace chimneys.” 6
An Ohio River site that straddles the Cabell–Mason county line at Green Bottom is perhaps the most amazing evidence of ancient settlement within the bounds of present-day West Virginia. Howe described it “before the plough of civilization had disturbed the soil”: “The traces of a regular, compact, and populous city with streets running parallel with the Ohio River, and crossing and intersecting each other at right angles, covering a space of nearly half a mile, as well as the superficial dimensions of many of the houses, are apparent, and well defined.” 7Later archaeological investigations determined that the townsite, now known as the Clover Site and designated a National Historic Landmark, was not as ancient as earlier observers had thought, though the name of the culture it represented, Fort Ancient (from the village type site in Ohio), would lead one to think so. The Clover Site, believed to date from 900 to 1,000 years ago, was occupied by the Shawnee tribe, who represented the protohistoric phase of the Fort Ancient culture in West Virginia. The town was semicircular in plan, with a central plaza. Still later in time, the Buffalo Site, upstream on the Kanawha River some twenty-five miles from its confluence with the Ohio, was another Shawnee village. Artifacts discovered during investigations undertaken in 1963–1965 indicated a seventeenth-century occupation.
As Thaddeus Mason Harris concluded, antiquities indeed abounded in the land that would became West Virginia. When the first colonial settlers arrived, however, the numbers of Native Americans were small. Scarcity of game and epidemics that hastened the demise of entire settlements have been postulated as causes, but a more likely reason had to do with human nature: politics. The powerful Iroquois, who sought control of the profitable inland fur trade with Europeans, formed a confederation that virtually dominated the Ohio Valley by the end of the seventeenth century. Smaller tribes, such as the Shawnee and the even less numerous Delaware, concentrated in today's Braxton County, became virtual vassals of the Iroquois. More than anything, the land had become a seasonal hunting ground, with well-marked trails traversing the mountains.
But although latter-day historians have concluded that the first white visitors found few Indians as they explored the Alleghenies, few of those visitors would have agreed. Conflicts between the two cultures, one advancing, one retreating against its will, were inevitable and bloody. “The Virginians will come like the trees in the forest in number and drive you from the hunting grounds so dear to you,” chief Logan warned his people. 8West Virginia, as much as any colonial frontier, would experience the full brunt and range of atrocities from both sides.
The Woods behind Virginia
Expeditions from Tidewater Virginia penetrated the Appalachian hinterland in the late seventeenth century, but the identity of the first explorer who set foot in what is now West Virginia remains a subject of speculation. In the summer of 1671, at the behest of Virginia's colonial governor William Berkeley, Thomas Batts and Robert Fallam ventured from Fort Henry, now Petersburg, Virginia, hoping to ascertain “the ebbing and flowing of ye water behind the mountains in order [to discover] the South Sea.” Along with others who tried, they failed to find the elusive goal. Instead, they “discover'd a Rivulet that descended backwards.” 9They had come upon the New River, which, unlike other streams they crossed, flowed westward instead of eastward. Whether they pressed far enough to set foot in West Virginia is uncertain.
Colonial Virginians were not alone in attempting to find the South Sea. Before Batts and Fallam set out, the French had sent René Robert Cavelier de La Salle to find a passage leading to it. Although he paddled up several branches of the Ohio River in 1669, he, too, fell short of his goal. Others were content with what the land itself had to offer. Fur traders from New York and Pennsylvania traveled so often to transmontaine Virginia in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries that Conestoga Indians meeting in council with Governor William Keith of Pennsylvania in 1717 complained they had recently come upon a group of strangers while hunting beyond the “furthermost Branch of the Potomack.” They then inquired “what Christians were settled Back in the Woods behind Virginia and Carolina.” 10Even so, William Byrd, who surveyed the dividing line between the two colonies, lamented in 1729 that, in spite of all the explorations, “We hardly know anything of the Apalatean mountains that are no where above two hundred and fifty miles from the sea.… The sources of the Potomac, Roanoke and even of the Shenandoah are unknown.” 11
For many years it was thought that a Welshman with the alliterative name of Morgan Morgan was the first colonial to settle in present-day West Virginia. Morgan was said to have arrived in the Eastern Panhandle around 1726, but his claim to primacy lost credence when later research revealed that he was living in Delaware at the time. It was not until November 1730 that he acquired land near present-day Bunker Hill in Berkeley County, and probably not until the next year that he came to stay. The small log house he built c. 1731–1734 (rebuilt 1976) has been called the first house in West Virginia, but the claim can hardly be verified.
It can be verified, however, that the Eastern Panhandle was the part of West Virginia where colonial settlement first occurred. It was also where land titles were most in disarray. Colonial scribes who duly recorded grants to settlers just as duly penned an inscription on each: “Rob't Carter, esqr., agent for the Proprietors of the Northern Neck,… claimed the said land now peticoned [ sic] for as within the limits of the said proprietor's Grant.” 12Robert Carter—colonial Virginia's “King” Carter—was agent for Thomas, Lord Fairfax, inheritor of one of the most extensive and extraordinary land grants ever made in colonial America. The Northern Neck Proprietary, as it came to be known, included much more than the Eastern Panhandle. It included all the territory between the headwaters of the Potomac and the Rappahannock. The problem was that at the time the grant was given in 1649, and for many years afterward (witness William Byrd's 1729 complaint), no one knew where the headwaters of those rivers were. Determining the proprietary's bounds would be a bone of contention for more than a century.
In the spring of 1748, in an effort to ensure precise property lines for leases within his proprietary, Lord Fairfax sent a surveying party to the panhandle and the South Branch of the Potomac. His twenty-three-year-old nephew, George William Fairfax, who represented his uncle, took along a sixteen-year-old friend anxious to hone his recently learned surveying skills. The teenager would come to know the territory that is now West Virginia on this and subsequent visits and would later buy some of its best land and build a number of houses there. In addition, he recorded all that he saw and did on his expeditions. In studying the early settlement of West Virginia, one could hardly ask for a better guide than George Washington.
Washington left Mount Vernon on March 11, 1748, and during his month-long sojourn in western Virginia saw his first Indian war party. Fortunately, the participants were not on the warpath; in fact, they performed a dance for the Fairfax group. Washington also took time to visit the “Fam'd Warm Springs,” now Berkeley Springs, then owned by Lord Fairfax. It was the first of several trips he would make to the spa. By the time he began serious surveying in the fertile South Branch Valley in the Potomac Highlands, word had gotten around that strangers had arrived. On April 4, 1748, he recorded being “attended by a great company of People Men Women & Children that attended us through ye Woods as we went showing there Antick tricks I really think they seem to be as Ignorant a Set of People as the Indians they would never speak English but when spoken to they speak all Dutch [German].” 13At the time Washington visited, Moravian missionaries were journeying from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to proselytize in the valley. Their records not only confirm the “Dutch” settlements; they express surprise at the numbers of Germans who lived there. Although the Moravians observed that “the houses [were] all very small and poor,” they found one of the recently built stables at a German farm large enough to accommodate religious services. 14
Vast mountainous areas south and west of the Eastern Panhandle and the South Branch Valley were not yet settled, but they were at least being explored by this time. In March 1742, at the instigation of William Gooch, Virginia's lieutenant governor, John Howard and John Peter Salley crossed the Allegheny Mountains and descended the Kanawha River. According to Salley, they “found plenty of coals,” and they called one of the rivers they discovered Coal River, a name it still bears. Ninety-two miles downstream, according to Salley's calculations, where the Kanawha entered the Ohio, was “a large spacious open country” with clover “as high as the middle of a man's leg.” He was describing the area around today's Point Pleasant. As his commission had directed, Salley was trying not to find the South Sea but to ascertain the nature of the land and the best places for settlement. 15Farther south, Dr. Thomas Walker explored the Greenbrier region in 1750 on his return from Kentucky, where he was seeking land for a newly formed consortium named the Loyal Company. To his disappointment, he found the best land was already “chiefly bought.” 16Early settlers in the Greenbrier territory belonged to an extraordinary concentration of Scots-Irish who first came “up” the Valley of Virginia through the Eastern Panhandle to Rockbridge and Augusta counties, then spilled over the front range of the Allegheny Mountains. William Byrd, writing in 1736, was appalled by the “Scots-Irish from Pennsylvania, who flock over thither in such numbers, that there is not elbow room for them. They swarm like the Goths and Vandals of old & will over-spread our continent soon.” 17While the French did not exactly swarm, they, too, continued to explore. Thomas Hutchins's 1778 map, one of the first to depict the region in detail, designated its major waterway “Ronceverte or Green Briar River.” The French had given the first, their equivalent of Greenbrier, years earlier.
Colonial settlement beyond the Appalachians was encouraged in the summer of 1744, when the Treaty of Lancaster was signed in the Pennsylvania town of that name, with commissioners from Virginia and Maryland in attendance. By its terms, Indians of the Six Nations, or the Iroquois Confederacy, ceded to King George II their claims to lands between the Appalachian Mountains and the Ohio River. The French would have none of it. In 1749 they sent a detachment to press their own claims to the Ohio Valley by burying lead plates. The plates attested to their “renewal of the possession … of all the lands on both sides” of what they called “la rivière oyo autrement belle rivière.” 18The renewal would lead to war, and France would lose its claim to the beautiful river.
Securing the Frontier
Unlike most conflicts, the French and Indian War is named not after its combatants, but after two allies who fought against a common enemy: the British colonials. In 1753 Virginia's governor, Robert Dinwiddie, sent twenty-one-year-old George Washington to protest recent French advances in the Ohio Valley. Realizing that warfare was imminent, Dinwiddie promised to reserve 200,000 acres of land “on or near the River Ohio” to be given “over and above their pay” to officers who would serve. 19The ensuing conflict raged with varying degrees of intensity over the colonial frontier from 1754 to 1763. In August 1755 Washington was put in charge of all Virginia forces. A year later, Indian attacks had increased to the extent that settlers were in full retreat, and Washington feared that the Blue Ridge Mountains, to the east, rather than the Alleghenies, would become the colony's frontier. 20In March 1756 the General Assembly ordered a chain of forts to be built along a 350-mile stretch from Maryland to North Carolina and authorized Dinwiddie to ascertain how many forts were needed, select the sites, and determine the number of men required to garrison them. The governor hastily and gratefully transferred authority to Washington, who proposed twenty-two forts, nine in present-day West Virginia. Washington assigned more than half of the 2,000 soldiers he requested to garrison those nine, concentrating his efforts along the South Branch of the Potomac, where he had surveyed eight years earlier. A portion of one of the forts is thought to remain at Fort Ashby in Mineral County.
In addition to those established by the colony, frontier fortifications included private forts that many settlers erected as family or communal efforts both during and after the French and Indian War. In 1774 Joseph Tomlinson, who had built “a small sapling cabin” when he first arrived at Grave Creek four years earlier, built a fort “upon the same ground on which his cabin was erected.” 21In later years, Joseph Doddridge provided a generic description of forts along the Virginia frontier. They typically “consisted of cabins, blockhouses, and stockades,” all constructed of logs.
A range of cabins commonly formed one side at least of the fort.… The walls on the outside were ten or twelve feet high, the slope of the roof being turned wholly inward.… The blockhouses were built at the angles of the fort. They projected about two feet beyond the outer walls of the cabins and stockades.… In some forts, instead of blockhouses, the angles of the forts were furnished with bastions.… The stockades, bastions, cabins, and blockhouse walls, were furnished with port-holes at proper heights and distances.… In some places, less exposed, a single blockhouse, with a cabin or two, constituted the whole fort. Such places of refuge may appear very trifling to those who have been in the habit of seeing the formidable military garrisons of Europe and America,” wrote Doddridge, “but they answered the purpose, as the Indians had no artillery. They seldom attacked, and scarcely ever took one of them. 22
Even if the Indians seldom attacked, settlers so frequently resorted to these defenses that the word “fort” became a verb as well as a noun on the frontier. 23Two of West Virginia's late-eighteenth-century forts have been reconstructed in recent years and are open to the public: Fort Prickett (originally dating from 1774) in Marion County and Fort New Salem (reportedly the state's last fort, dating from 1793) in Harrison County. Both accord well with Doddridge's description, which was used as a basis for both reconstructions. With modification, the generic form described by Doddridge would develop into two other West Virginia building types.
The French and Indian War came to a close in 1763 when, by terms of the Treaty of Paris, France ceded its claims to the Ohio Valley. Five years later, in 1768, the Cherokee ceded their claims to land south of the Ohio by approving the Treaty of Hard Labor. The Iroquois relinquished their claims the same year, when they agreed to terms of the Treaty of Fort Stanwix. Settlers took advantage of the new status quo by crossing the mountains in droves. Huge land consortiums were formed to assist colonization, as well as to pad the pockets of investors. Virginia's colonization policies allowed large-scale speculators to receive multi-acre grants on condition that they settle a family for each 1,000 acres within two years. A further requirement, guaranteed to increase the colony's population rather than simply redistribute it, stipulated that families must previously have lived outside Virginia. Several consortiums, among them the previously cited Loyal Company, had been established earlier. The Indiana Company dated from 1768, and what grew into the Vandalia Company began in 1769. The last consortium sought to control practically all of what is now West Virginia, as well as eastern Kentucky. It planned what would have been essentially a fourteenth colony, with its seat of government at or near Point Pleasant. All of the companies were ultimately unsuccessful in their ventures, largely because of the Revolution. Their claims, however, clouded Virginia, and later West Virginia, land titles for years.
Although large-scale speculators and promoters were required to find settlers from outside the colony, many Virginians who crossed the mountains could, and did, purchase smaller parcels for themselves. It has been estimated that Virginians made up approximately 40 percent of the colonial population of the Eastern Panhandle counties of Jefferson and Berkeley, while Germans and Scots-Irish coming southward from Pennsylvania through Maryland accounted for some 30 percent each. The latter two groups had been lured in part by cheaper land prices than those prevailing in Pennsylvania.
The times of trouble were not yet over. The Shawnee, party to neither the Cherokee nor the Iroquois treaty, went on the warpath in an attempt to protect their traditional hunting grounds. John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, now Virginia's royal governor, went on the warpath himself, and the short-lived conflict he instigated has ever since been called Lord Dunmore's War. Devising a pincer movement for his attack, Dunmore led a contingent of troops down the Ohio from Fort Pitt (present-day Pittsburgh), while Andrew Lewis marched westward from today's Lewisburg. The two groups planned to meet on the Ohio, but on October 10, 1774, Shawnee attacked Lewis's troops, encamped at Point Pleasant, before Dunmore's party arrived. After a day of hard fighting the Indians retreated and sued for peace. By the terms of the Treaty of Camp Charlotte, the Shawnee joined with other tribes in agreeing not to hunt on the Virginia side of the Ohio, nor to molest settlers. Even so, as evidenced by the dates of Prickett's Fort and Fort New Salem, mentioned earlier, it was not until almost the end of the eighteenth century that settlement was considered safe.
By then, the Ohio River had become Virginia's northwestern boundary. In January 1781 the Virginia General Assembly had resolved to convey “unto the United States in Congress assembled for the benefit of the sd. States, Virginia inclusive, all right, title & claim … to the territory … lying & being to the Northwest of the river Ohio. 24As part of its agreement to cede this area, known as the Northwest Territory, Virginia wisely insisted on guaranteed title to all lands southeast of the Ohio, thus annihilating the claims of the huge Indiana and Vandalia land companies. The companies naturally protested, and it was not until three years later that a final agreement was made. On March 1, 1784, Congress accepted the Northwest Territory, and the Ohio River became “the utmost limits of Virginia.” The commonwealth stipulated that it would hold title to “the bed and banks of the Ohio River to the low water mark on the Ohio side,” thus keeping for itself all the numerous islands. With the terms of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, the Ohio also became the border between slave states and free states, as slavery was to be forbidden north of the river after 1800. This boundary, moral as well as legal, would stand until 1863 when, with the formation of West Virginia, the “utmost limits” of Virginia, the Old Dominion, would move far to the southeast.
Dwellings Made with the Trunks of Trees
Although West Virginia's initial settlers represented many groups, it is astounding how alike their initial dwellings were. To say that log construction was the prevalent mode of building is an understatement. Universalwould come closer to the mark. Albeit the ethnic origins of log construction in colonial America have long been debated, by the time western Virginia was settled, it had become common to all. Witness young Joseph Doddridge, who traveled along the disputed border between western Virginia and Pennsylvania in the late eighteenth century and described his first encounter with a stone tavern with plastered walls: “I had no idea that there was any house in the world which was not built of logs, but here I looked round the house and could see no logs, and above I could see no joists; whether such a thing had been made by the hands of man, or had grown so of itself, I could not conjecture.” 25
Had Doddridge settled a few years earlier, he might well have spent his first winter in a house that had indeed “grown so of itself.” It would not have been made with the trunks of trees, but within the trunk itself. Innumerable pioneers found their first shelter in the hollow boles of ancient trees, almost invariably huge sycamores that grew tall and straight alongside riverbanks. Writing early in the nineteenth century, in The Navigator, Zadok Cramer observed that “the sycamore seems to be the king of the forest on the banks of the Ohio.” 26It was also king on the banks of the Greenbrier, Turkey Run, and the Kanawha.
Col. John Stuart, in his 1833 Memoirs of Indian Wars, was the source of a muchrepeated story of two settlers, one of whom got things backward by moving from a cabin to a tree: “Two men from New England, of the name of Jacob Marlin and Stephen Sewell, took up a residence upon Greenbrier River” in today's Pocahontas County, about 1749. They lived at first in a cabin, but after quarreling, apparently about religion, Sewell, “for the sake of peace, quit their cabin, and made his abode in a large hollow tree.” General Andrew Lewis found the two antagonists still living in their respective abodes in 1751. 27The Pringle brothers, John and Samuel, stayed even longer in their sycamore. After deserting Fort Pitt in 1761, they eventually reached a spot near present-day Buckhannon in Upshur County, close to the geographical center of the state. There, near where Turkey Run enters the Buckhannon River, “they took up their abode in the cavity of a large sycamore tree,” where they lived from 1764 until 1768. 28The Pringle tree was said to have been twelve feet in diameter. By the standards of early building requirements in eighteenth-century Virginia towns, which seldom stipulated that property owners build a dwelling larger than twelve feet square, the brothers Pringle were relatively comfortably housed. In 1845 Henry Howe reported that the stump of the Pringle tree still remained. A descendant tree is now the centerpiece of a memorial park that marks the site.
The saga of the Kincaid clan warms the heart of an architectural historian, puts a new spin on the term “treehouse,” and provides a delightful instance of an almost seamless transition between living in a log and in a log house. In 1812 the family moved from Greenbrier County into what would become Fayette County. Near present-day Gauley Bridge on the Kanawha River, they found a sycamore with a hollow space “large enough that you could turn inside of it with a rail eleven feet long.” To make it livable, they cut a hole on one side for a door, and carved a small window for ventilation opposite it. As time went on, and as the family increased, the Kincaids built a log pen attached to the tree, which they continued to use as part of the house until 1840. Several of the family's seven children later reported that they had been delivered in the sycamore, others that they had been born in the log wing. 29
Log construction was familiar to all who settled western Virginia, but apparently not to all of their friends “back east,” and certainly not to European observers or their readers. François André Michaux noted that one third of the inhabitants “westward of the Allegheny mountains” lived in log houses and went on to explain, “These dwellings are made with the trunks of trees … placed one upon another.” Both he and Edouard de Montulé, another Frenchman, felt it necessary to emphasize to their readers that Americans built houses “from [tree] trunks laid horizontally,” since the typical French way of building with logs was to stand them vertically. 30In 1791 Laurence Butler, having returned to eastern Virginia from Sweet Springs, wrote an English friend about the accommodations at the spa:
Our lodgings was in Logg Cabins.… I suppose you do not know what kind of a house is meant by Logg cabbin. Therefore I must describe it to you. They are generally about 20 feet long and about 16 feet wide, with … round logs piled upon each other … and after they get them up about seven feet high they keep laying them up and drawing them in, which forms a roof after this they cover it with slabs or boards of about four feet without the help of a nail. Then they lay a plank floor and then they sop the body of the house between the loggs with mud to keep the air out. After this gets dry they generally whitewash the whole house inside and out, in each of these cabbins there's generally about three people lodges and thus we are accommodated at the Sweet Springs. 31
Many log dwellings were larger than those that Butler described. On a journey made during the first decade of the nineteenth century, Fortescue Cuming and his party arrived “at the residence of one Crumps,” near the confluence of the Guyandotte and Ohio rivers, in Cabell County, where they “were desired to sit down in an open space which divides two enclosed ends from each other, but all covered with the same roof, and which is the usual style of the cottages in this part of the country.” The house was a dogtrot, a familiar type consisting of two separate log pens connected by an open passage, or dogtrot, with all the components under one roof. Cuming's remark that it was “in the usual style of the cottages in this part of the country” indicates that there were many like it. Speculating a bit, he correctly observed that “the space in the middle is probably left unenclosed, for the more agreeable occupancy of the family during the violent heats of summer.” 32Had he arrived several years later, he might well have found that Crumps had enclosed his dogtrot to provide usable year-round space.
In all likelihood, Crumps had no architectural advice in building his dogtrot, but many early log structures were carefully crafted according to detailed specifications and—on occasion—plans. On April 8, 1777, justices of the newly formed Ohio County in the Northern Panhandle, having taken “unto their Consideration the Expediency of having a Courthouse erected,” ordered
A Dimond Cornerd house of Dimentions Twenty-Two by eighteen feet in the Clear; one Story & one half high; a floor above & below of hewd or sawn plank; ten joice in the upper floor, nine or ten feet high; in the Lower Story a Coart's Bentch & Clark's Table; Two windows of eight lights each eight by ten Inches; a pair of stairs & Cabbin Roof; a plain Door & hinges of Iron; likewise plain window Shutters, with Iron hinges. 33
The same court was equally precise in specifications for a jail, which was to be
Twenty by sixten feet on the outside, the Loggs of the walls to be round & Close laid the loft; floors & partitions to be of loggs squarid to eight inches thick; Two Rounds of Loggs above the Loft; Cabbin Roof d; Doors & windows agreeable; a Stone Chimney with Iron Grates, the doors done with nails; Lock sufficient; the Loft & floor to have each a Large Summur [beam] Supporting them in the middle. 34
In May 1778, Charles Yates of Fredericksburg, Virginia, contracted with a builder in Bath (Berkeley Springs), in present-day Morgan County, West Virginia:
The Kind of House or Cabin I would propose is to have it of Loggs or Poles 18 feet long & 12 wide & the pitch 8 feet from the Floor. The Loggs to be well heart Crammed & hewed on the outside after they are put up the ends to be notched in Diamond way, as is the method over the Ridge & also to be well filled with Dirt between the Loggs to make it watertight … and [as] this building may in future be turned into a kitchen it should be placed on the Lott as to be convenient to a better House & which will stand on the best front in the Lott. 35
Just as Fortescue Cuming inadvertently informed latter-day historians that dogtrot houses were common, both the Ohio County justices and Yates provide evidence that diamond notching was a typical construction technique in western, later West, Virginia.
Although Yates told his builder that he would likely build a “better house,” probably of frame or brick construction, West Virginia's log tradition continued throughout the nineteenth century. As late as 1872, justices in McDowell County, far to the south, specified a two-story log courthouse. From most accounts, however, it seems that log construction became more and more slovenly as time went on. In 1845 Jonathan Cross, a colporteur with the American Tract Society, visited a cabin in which “many of the spaces between the logs were wide enough for the dogs and cats to pass out and in at pleasure. 36In 1856, in reporting on living conditions in the isolated hills of Randolph County, Charles Lanman found that “the common loghouse is almost the only kind of habitation here met with, and the majority of these are poorly and carelessly built. They usually contain but two rooms, one comprising the whole of the first floor, and a garret to which you ascend by a common ladder.” 37David Hunter Strother, who wrote under the name Porte Crayon, penned inimitable sketches of West Virginia mountaineers and their cabins. In his Virginia Illustrated (1857), he described a log house that “was a specimen of rural architecture not noticed by Downing, nor characterized by any of the writers on that subject” and declared that it appeared to be “the connecting link between a hut and a woodpile.” 38
With descriptions like this, it is easy to see how the image of the West Virginia hillbilly in his mountain cabin evolved. But while some disparaged and ridiculed the typical log cabin, or house, others began to see it as a symbol of history and heritage. Soon after the state was created in 1863, legislators appointed a committee to oversee the design of a state seal. Joseph H. Diss Debar, a native of Alsace, then resident of West Virginia, was selected as artist. He accompanied his design, which the committee approved without change, with written explanations of each detail. Describing the landscape on the reverse side of the seal, he wrote: “In the distance, on the left of the disc, a wooded mountain, and on the right a cultivated slope with the log-frame house peculiar to this region.” 39Few states have felt so strongly about a characteristic architectural image that they have incorporated one on the state seal.
A New Country
Ironically, once settlement in western Virginia could advance without external interference, growth slowed. Virginia's former Northwest Territory beckoned after 1784, and once the immense territory included in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 was opened, western Virginia became for many little more than a station on the way west. It was a place almost forgotten in the rush to find better land, flatter land, land unencumbered by title problems, and land free from the taint of slavery. There were, of course, exceptions. Some stayed, and the houses they built show that prosperity was not always elusive. Thaddeus Mason Harris described Shepherd Hall, later Monument Place, erected on the outskirts of Wheeling in the Northern Panhandle in 1798, as “one of the best built and handsomest stone houses … on this side of the mountains.” 40Downstream on an island in the Ohio River, Harmon Blennerhassett built the state's most phenomenal early wood-frame house in 1798–1800, providing an almost miragelike vision of civilization to voyagers navigating that then largely unsettled river valley. Christian Schultz, writing in 1807, was one of many who rhapsodized over it: “The house being large and spacious, and the grounds laid out with a great deal of taste and elegance, afford a very striking contrast to the rest of the country, which, being still in a state of nature, conspires to render this little elysium the most enchanting spot I ever saw.” 41
The Blennerhassett mansion was the exception, not the norm. As settlement advanced along the river during the nineteenth century, the Virginia shore began to afford a glaring contrast to the opposite side. Thaddeus Mason Harris not only observed the Grave Creek Mound and Shepherd Hall on his 1803 trip down the river; he wrote in judgmental terms of what he regarded as two distinct civilizations:
The industrious habits and neat improvements of the people on the west side of the river, are strikingly contrasted with those on the east. Here, in Ohio, they are intelligent, industrious, and thriving; there, on the back skirts of Virginia, ignorant, lazy, and poor. Herethe buildings are neat, though small, and furnished in many instances with brick chimneys and glass windows; therethe habitations are miserable cabins. Herethe grounds are laid out in a regular manner, and inclosed by strong posts and rails; therethe fields are surrounded by a rough zig-zag log fence. Hereare thrifty young apple orchards; therethe only fruit that is raised is the peach, from which a good brandy is distilled! 42
Along with most observers who reported such differences, Harris attributed the contrast to the ill effects of slavery, outlawed on the Ohio shore, legal on the Virginia side and on the islands.
Long before Blennerhassett built his wilderness seat, members of the Washington family and others had begun to embellish the Eastern Panhandle with elegant buildings. George's brother, Samuel, was responsible for Harewood, every bit as refined in its proportions and details as Georgian mansions farther east, although its builders used native limestone instead of brick or wood in its construction. Nearby, a visitor described the stone St. George's Chapel, the Anglican church where the Washingtons and their neighbors worshiped, as “the most elegant Building, for a Place of Worship, that I have yet seen in this Colony.” 43
Shepherd Hall, Harmon Blennerhassett's island home, Harewood, and St. George's Chapel all had one thing in common. They stood on the very perimeters of what became West Virginia. For the most part, throughout the late eighteenth and well into the nineteenth century, accounts tell of a very different hinterland—a greatly underpopulated western Virginia, one not of mansions but of hovels, one of hardships and an isolation that was sometimes almost ludicrous. Jonathan Cross, previously mentioned in connection with his description of a log cabin, began his work near Fairmont in 1845, preaching in a church “built of round logs [that] had no floor but the ground, and was neither chinked nor daubed.” Because of its construction, it was used only in warm weather. One Sunday, Cross noted that over half his congregation was barefooted, and that the men had arrived with guns and game they had shot on the way. He preached on the subject of Christ on the Cross, dying for the sins of all. Not only had his listeners not heard of the event; they attempted to excuse themselves by claiming they were so isolated that they seldom heard any news at all. 44
In his 1845 volume, Historical Collections of Virginia, Henry Howe began a chapter titled “Life in West Virginia” with the statement, “Much of western Virginia is yet a new country, and thinly settled; and in some of the more remote and inaccessible counties, the manner of living and the habits of the people are quite primitive.” It was not the fault of people like Jonathan Cross, nor of the many ministers, mostly Baptists and Methodists, who did their best to spread the gospel in the hinterlands. Writing the same year that Cross was preaching, Howe drew and described “a religious encampment in a western Virginia forest”:
The roads are here too rude to transport tents, hence the Methodists and Baptists, in this country, build log structures which stand from year to year, and afford much better shelter than tents. This encampment was formed of three continuous lines, each occupying a side of a square, and about one hundred and fifty feet in length. Each row was divided into six or eight cabins, with partitions between. The height of the rows on the inner side of the enclosed area, was about ten feet; on the outer about six, to which the roof sloped shedlike. The door of each cabin opened on the inner side of the area, and at the back was a log chimney, which came up even with the roof. At the upper extremity of the enclosure formed by these three lines of cabins, was a shed, say thirty by fifty feet, in which was a coarse pulpit and log seats; a few tall trees were standing in the area, and many stumps scattered here and there. The whole establishment was in the depth of a forest, and wild and rude as can well be imagined. 45
If Howe's account sounds familiar, compare it to Joseph Doddridge's description of a western Virginia fort of a previous generation. There were differences, to be sure: cabin roofs in forts sloped inward, whereas in campgrounds they sloped outward. Deflection of rain and snow was now more important than deflecting enemy arrows. Instead of a communal building or storehouse in the center, there was now a preaching space with a pulpit on a platform. But the basic form served equally well for defense or discourse, protection or preaching. As a remembered form, it would soon re-emerge to serve yet a third function.
While the mountain hinterlands remained in an arrested state of development through much of the nineteenth century, signs of prosperity were apparent in other parts of western Virginia in the first decades after 1800. Salt from Malden, just upstream from Charleston, had become nationally known by the early nineteenth century and would become the foundation for later industrial developments in the Kanawha Valley. After manufacturers exhausted the area's available supply of timber, which they used as fuel for boiling the brine, they began to burn the convenient supplies of coal in the surrounding mountains for the same purpose, becoming the first large-scale commercial users of West Virginia's “black diamonds.”
In 1830, in his View of the United States, Rev. Hosea Hildreth concluded that “the only town of much importance in the western division of Virginia is Wheeling,” which he declared “a growing place of much trade.” 46Wheeling also became a center of industrial development, especially after the mid-century arrival of German settlers. But early Wheeling existed in part—in great part—to serve the needs of travelers and settlers on the way farther west, especially after it became the western terminus of the National Road in 1818.
The National Road benefited Wheeling but did little to help the rest of western Virginia, as it traversed only sixteen miles across the Northern Panhandle. The lack of good roads had been one of the long-standing barriers to development in transmontaine Virginia. In 1835 Joseph Martin wrote in his News and Comprehensive Gazetteer of Virginiathat western Virginia's “fossil and mineral wealth [was] nowhere equalled,” but he realized that these products would never be commercially viable unless the commonwealth became “aroused to the necessity of following our sister [states] in opening additional and much-needed lines of commercial intercourse.” 47Actually it was during the decade Martin wrote, the 1830s, that Virginia finally began to establish turnpikes to serve its western lands and citizens. The James River and Kanawha Turnpike, finished to Guyandotte (now Huntington), on the Ohio River, in 1832, traversed the southwest. The Northwestern Turnpike, connecting Winchester and Parkersburg, was completed in 1838 and the StauntonParkersburg Turnpike in 1847. Still, the commonwealth's efforts to provide adequate means of transportation for people and goods were inadequate. As late as 1851, William Meade, Episcopal Bishop of Virginia, observed:
The improvements in the roads, already made from Winchester, Staunton, and other places, to the Ohio River, have done something for the comfort of the traveller and the improvement of the country; but it is only necessary to travel these roads in order to see in how wild and uncultivated a condition large portions of Western Virginia still are; while those who traverse it on horseback, by the crossroutes, will see a far more rugged state of things. 48
The Springs of Virginia
Those who traveled the James River and Kanawha Turnpike in Greenbrier and Monroe counties saw more of comfort and improvement. During the first half of the nineteenth century, the Springs of Virginia, as they were generically termed, attracted the cream of southern society. Wealthy planters and their families first came in serious guise, as health seekers, but soon merriment eclipsed medicine as the main reason to “take the waters” during the summer months. From the 1830s through the 1850s a veritable frenzy of construction was undertaken in order to accommodate the increasing number of visitors. The antebellum structures that survive at several West Virginia springs compose some of the state's most appealing architectural assemblages and are among some of its most important examples of regionally indigenous architecture.
In 1837 Harriet Martineau visited the springs, arriving via the new James River and Kanawha Turnpike. The road, she declared, was good “for so wild a part of the country” but was so new that many of “the stopping places seemed to have no names.” Upon her arrival at White Sulphur, she noted that “upwards of two hundred visitors were accommodated … and cabins were being built in all directions.” 49Guests were housed in numerous cottage rows, consisting of connected units fronted by expansive porches, hugging the hillsides and surrounding the lawn, spring, and communal buildings. A number of keen observers compared the layout to a religious campground. Once again, a familiar building form had been adapted to serve a new function. No longer was there any need for outward defenses, nor for a preaching platform in the center. Instead, porches, or piazzas, took the place of perimeter palisades, and a pavilion covering the spring substituted for the pulpit.
There were cottages at rival Sweet Springs in Monroe County, but instead of continuing to add row upon row as business increased, Dr. John B. Lewis, proprietor, decided to build a proper hotel. The building was so refined architecturally that for many years Thomas Jefferson was credited with its design, even though it postdated his death by a decade. Recent discoveries have revealed that William B. Phillips, one of Jefferson's talented contractors at the University of Virginia, built it, and in all likelihood designed it as well. His mentor's spirit obviously stood him in good stead.
Early White Sulphur Springs was largely of wood-frame construction and Sweet Springs largely of brick. Salt Sulphur Springs, in Monroe County, housed its visitors, which always included a large contingent of South Carolinians, in rugged stone buildings. Guests could worship in a stone chapel, buy supplies at a stone store, and bathe in stone bathhouses.
To the north, the oldest of the spas, Bath, or Berkeley Springs, also benefited from the antebellum surge of pleasure seekers, so much so that a huge new hotel was built there in the 1840s. Soon a quite similar hotel opened for guests at Capon Springs in Hampshire County. Though neither hotel remains, both spas continue to welcome guests. Capon Springs, with its virtually pristine setting in a narrow wooded valley hemmed by mountains, can still be reached via an unpaved road that transports guests back in spirit to a time when crowds came the same way by stage or horseback. Soon after the hotels were completed at Bath and Capon, visitors had another option—the B&O—which could at least transport them to stations not too far away before they proceeded in more traditional ways to the resorts.
J. H. Diss DeBar's depiction of a log house on the West Virginia state seal was a conscious look backward. The artist also included a structure symbolizing a look forward. It was, according to the official description of the seal, “a representation of the viaduct on the line of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in Preston County, one of the great engineering triumphs of the age.” The B&O was inaugurated when Charles Carroll, last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, ceremoniously turned the first spadeful of dirt in Baltimore on July 4, 1828. That symbolic act would have great consequences for West Virginia. The railroad's aim, implicit in its name, was to connect Maryland's metropolis with the Ohio River. An obvious obstacle was the fact that Maryland did not extend westward to the Ohio. The route would have to go through either Pennsylvania or Virginia. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh had no intention of letting Baltimore usurp trade and revenue from the Keystone State, but the Old Dominion was more amenable. The line entered Virginia when it crossed the Potomac River at Harpers Ferry in 1837, then, after traversing the Eastern Panhandle, reentered Maryland. At that state's western boundary, it once more went through Virginia before arriving on the banks of the Ohio River in Wheeling in 1853.
Along the way, engineers virtually invented techniques and technology previously unheard of. The viaduct shown on the state seal carried the railroad across Tray Run where that tributary enters Cheat River. Fabricated of cast iron, with wrought iron bolts and rods, it stood 300 feet above the river and stretched 445 feet, making it the world's longest structure of its type. German artist Edward Beyer was so impressed that he not only drew and described it in his Album of Virginiabut also took the occasion to laud its creators: “This beautiful and substantial Viaduct was designed by Mr. Albert Fink, assistant engineer, and built under the direction of B. H. [ sic] Latrobe, chief engineer.” 50John H. B. Latrobe, who also designed the Baltimore Row cottages at White Sulphur Springs, was a son of the famous architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe. Like both Latrobes, Albert Fink practiced architecture as well as engineering, designing a new courthouse for Berkeley County. Two other members of the B&O's initial work force, chief draftsman John R. Niernsee and surveyor J. Crawford Neilsen, designed the first Wheeling depot and likely the first station-hotel at Grafton. The two joined forces after their railroad work to become one of Baltimore's largest architecture firms.
Not only did the B&O give a jump start to engineering and architecture; it literally helped determine the shape of West Virginia. As the nation's only major eastwest railroad link during the Civil War, it became known as “Mr. Lincoln's Lifeline.” Initially, when West Virginia was admitted to the Union, the Eastern Panhandle's easternmost counties, Jefferson and Berkeley, were not included within its bounds. They were added within the year to ensure that the railroad, which traverses them, would remain in Union hands. Throughout the war, most battles that took place in West Virginia were related to Confederate attempts to capture the B&O and Union attempts to protect it.
Had it not been for the Civil War, western Virginia, in spite of its long-harbored, long-simmering differences with eastern Virginia, would never have been born as West Virginia. Over the years the two regions had grown apart in outlook, in sectional affiliations, and in economic orientation. What especially rankled westerners was the continued control of the legislature by eastern interests, even when population figures should have dictated otherwise. Also galling was the callous disregard the government had shown in providing few public works west of the Alleghenies. It wasn't taxation without representation, but it was certainly taxation without much tangible benefit.
The birth occurred at the height of the conflict, after a long and difficult pregnancy. Some contend that West Virginia's genesis violated the U.S. Constitution, though few said it as rudely as Alexander Wise, Virginia's pre–Civil War governor. He called the issue “the bastard child of an illegitimate union.” Section 3 of Article 4 of the constitution declares that “no new State shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other State … without the consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned.” Only after Virginia seceded from the Union in May 1861 did its western counties secede from Virginia, or rather, declare the eastern counties the secessionists, and then establish what they termed the Restored Government of Virginia. Convened in Wheeling in June, delegates from the western counties proclaimed that the Confederate-allied state government in Richmond could no longer claim legitimate power. Obviously Confederate Virginia would hardly consent for a new state that would turn against it to be lifted by Caesarean section from its corporate body. The Restored Government of Virginia could, and did. In August 1861 the Wheeling delegates adopted an ordinance calling for the formation of a new state, to be named Kanawha, after its principal waterway, and summoned a constitutional convention to meet in November. Wisely concluding that Kanawha was too difficult to pronounce and spell, the next convention soon determined to name the new state West Virginia. In May 1862 the Restored Government, Francis H. Pierpont, governor, gave its assent. The U.S. Congress and the president then had to act. Congress approved the motion and sent the bill to President Lincoln. Not until the last day of December 1862 did he sign the bill, to become effective June 20, 1863.
“Glory to God in the Highest! West Virginia has been admitted into the Union of States.” So proclaimed the Wheeling Daily Intelligencerin reporting Lincoln's decision. Sentiments throughout the new state were not so clear. West Virginia contributed 36,530 soldiers to the Union and about 7,000 to the Confederacy. Mason County, bordering on the Ohio, even though it contained a number of farms dependent on slaves, sent 1,000 soldiers to serve the Union and fewer than 100 to fight for the South. Hampshire County, bordering Virginia to the east and the oldest county in the new state, did just the opposite. Civil War monuments stand in county seats throughout the state, some honoring Confederates, others Union soldiers. Nowhere are the divided loyalties illustrated more clearly than on the lawn of the state capitol in Charleston. There one statue memorializes “soldiers, sailors and marines contributed by West Virginia to the Union,” while another, of native son Stonewall Jackson, is a tribute to Confederates.
Some of the first and most important needs the legislators had to address involved architecture. The only major structure that the parent state of Virginia had built in what was now West Virginia was the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum at Weston. A monster of a building, it had been started several years before the war began. Renamed the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane, it opened in 1864 with nine patients, but the huge building was not completed until 1881. Meanwhile, the legislature had to think about providing for a state capitol, establishing a state educational system and university, and erecting a state penitentiary. The capitol could wait, inasmuch as Wheeling's Linsly Institute, a private academy, could serve for the time being. The university, in Morgantown, was also housed initially in existing academy buildings that had been donated to the new school. The penitentiary and elementary schools were more urgent. The West Virginia State Penitentiary was established in 1866 in Moundsville, and the first unit was built across the road from the Grave Creek Mound. The institution ultimately evolved into a mock medieval fortress, a grim Gothic Revival pile that clearly carries the visual message, “Abandon hope all ye that enter.”
In spite of arguments over the years from proponents of free education, chief among them Thomas Jefferson, Virginia had never taken seriously the task of providing public schools. By 1860 only four western counties had established free schools under an act of 1845, which dictated a process so onerous that few jurisdictions bothered to comply. Fortunately, West Virginia saw things differently. The new state's constitution mandated that public schools be established in each county. To accomplish that goal, the legislature appointed W. R. White Superintendent of Free Schools, and to no one's surprise he reported: “The old regime left us a legacy of dilapidated buildings.” 51White distributed to county superintendents copies of a publication referred to in his third annual report (1867) as Barnard's School Architecture, which showed plates and plans of model schools. In addition, he illustrated his annual reports with designs furnished by G. P. Randall, a Chicago architect, in the hope that these, too, might be emulated. By 1865 schools were operating in twentytwo counties, and in his 1867 report, White boasted that “in regard to school houses … three hundred and fifteen have been erected during the year … [and] there are at present two hundred school houses in course of erection.” Few, however, followed designs by Barnard or Randall; in fact many counties were unable to build anew. Marshall County's predicament, announced in the 1867 report, was typical: “Several of the old buildings, 20 × 22, between floor and ceiling 6 and ½ or 7 feet—very small windows, and furniture indescribable, have been temporarily repaired for schools until more suitable ones can be built.” 52Nor were some of the new ones much better. The first school in Oak Hill in Fayette County, inaugurated in the fall of 1865, has been described as
mostly of logs polished on two sides to form a contrast. These logs were set on edge, lapping at the four corners of the building and notched down with a poleax until its several parts fitted so nicely that ample space was left through which a boot-jack could easily be thrown. It had two windows, eight by ten, one door, no fire place and a hard wood pavement floor, made of slabs or hewn clapboards, and the roof seldom leaked a drop—in dry weather. 53
By 1868 two jurisdictions, Parkersburg and Clarksburg, established free schools for black students, something that would, of course, never have happened under the old regime. According to a state guide published in 1870, West Virginia had 1,306 schoolhouses. Of them, “653 [were] frame, 51 brick, 7 stone, and 595 log.” Of the latter group, the author was careful to add that “many of these log houses are a great improvement on the old style of log structures,” whatever that meant. 54Log schoolhouses continued to be built throughout West Virginia and as late as 1890, according to the WPA guide, some 1,000 were still in use. Several early schools, both log and frame, and, in a few instances, brick, are now preserved as mementoes of bygone days. As a type, they are usually about 40 feet by 30 feet, with two or three windows on each long side and a central entrance on one short end. Above a shallow gable roof a louvered belfry is usually perched. These simple buildings, which differ little from their ilk throughout the rural United States, are examples of one of the most cherished American icons—the one-room schoolhouse.
West Virginia Welcomes All
The 1870 guide that counted the state's schools and put a positive spin on the new log buildings was the West Virginia Hand-Book and Immigrant's Guide. On March 2, 1864, legislators had passed an act “for the encouragement of immigration to this State.” J. H. Diss Debar was appointed commissioner of immigration the next day and authored the Immigrant's Guidesix years later. By then, some 17,000 foreigners had become citizens; of these, 60 percent were from various German principalities and Switzerland, 30 percent from Ireland, and 10 percent from other Western European countries. Most of the Swiss settled in a remote mountainous section of Randolph County and appropriately named their colony Helvetia.
The 1870 census tallied 442,014 West Virginians. Wheeling, with 19,280 inhabitants, was by far the largest city, followed by Parkersburg, with a population of 5,546. Parkersburg, seat of Wood County, had grown rich on profits from the state's oil industry, which developed just as the Civil War began. That West Virginia was, for a short time, the nation's leading oil producer is little known beyond its borders, but Parkersburg's elegant nineteenth-century mansions show how comfortable a lifestyle liquid gold afforded. Charleston, having just become the state capital, had an 1870 population of only 3,162, while Huntington, which would soon eclipse all the others, was, in 1870, only a gleam in its founder's eye.
Wheeling's initial role as West Virginia's state capital lasted less than a decade. In March 1870, officials moved to Charleston, where practically the entire populace joined a well-organized parade to greet them. The procession had sixteen segments, beginning with the Charleston Brass Band and ending with “the Citizens generally.” 55Later that year, legislators moved into the capitol, an Italianate structure somewhat resembling a large schoolhouse that served until 1875. In that year officials returned to Wheeling to occupy a magnificent capitol the city had provided to entice them. When the peripatetic state government returned to Charleston in 1885, legislators occupied a capitol that was similar in size and disposition to its Wheeling predecessor but far more eclectic in its details. Designed by Wheeling architects C. C. Kemble and A. Peebles, it served until January 1921, when it was destroyed by fire. Several years before it was constructed, Kemble, who was Wheeling's—and by extension the state's—leading architect, had designed another state building that was seen and admired by throngs of visitors. It was neither in Charleston nor in Wheeling, however, but in Philadelphia.
When the nation's Centennial Exposition opened in Philadelphia in 1876, West Virginia was the third youngest state in the Union. Thirteen years old, the typical teenager was eager to brag to its older siblings. The State Board of Centennial Managers, appointed in August 1875, first applied for space in one of the large buildings erected by the fair's sponsors, but when they learned that minerals would be displayed in one hall, grains and woods in another, and manufactured items in a third, they determined to erect a state pavilion where all the exhibits could be shown together. In December 1875 the state appropriated $20,000 for the building and its exhibits, selected a site, and instructed architect Kemble to prepare plans.
Architecturally, Kemble's pavilion was a cross between an Eastlake house and a Swiss chalet. Both were popular styles at the time, and both found their most prominent expressions in wooden construction. The two-story frame pavilion was in the shape of the letter V, with each arm measuring some forty feet. A one-story porch with simplified Tudor arches filled the interstices between the arms, and above, where the roofs intersected, a jaunty tower projected. Near the front door, which opened onto the porch, a panel carried the inscription “West Virginia welcomes all; the latchstring is always out.” 56
As befitted one of its purposes, to showcase forest products, the pavilion was built of nine different varieties of West Virginia lumber. Inside, far-ranging displays were arranged by county. Barbour sent iron, Berkeley corn, Boone cannel coal. Many counties chose to display buildings and building materials. Ohio County sent photographs of the public schools in Wheeling; Lewis County exhibited a sample of sandstone then being used to construct the Insane Asylum at Weston. All in all, West Virginia did itself proud. Western neighbors Colorado and Kansas outfitted a joint exhibit that cost each state more than the total West Virginia expended and won first prize among the state exhibits. West Virginia came in second.
“Coal in diversity is displayed not only in the building, but in pillars outside on the grounds,” wrote a contemporary observer of the pavilion. 57Even though West Virginia had barely begun to profit to any real degree from its coal deposits—had barely scratched the surface, as it were—coal was the first thing visitors to its pavilion at the fair saw. It would soon be the first thing anyone would think of in connection with West Virginia.
Mines and Forests
Exactly a month after the last spike connecting the country by rail was driven at Promontory Point, Utah, on May 10, 1869, one of the men most responsible for that accomplishment embarked on another railroad venture. Collis P. Huntington's Chesapeake & Ohio Railway, the C&O, would have just as lasting an effect on West Virginia as the Baltimore & Ohio, the B&O. As chief executive, Huntington directed every aspect of the operation, including the selection of the site for its western terminus, which was named for him. Unlike the B&O, which skirted the state's northern boundary, the C&O traversed its southern counties, snaking through some of the Mountain State's most rugged terrain. Although the terrain was then a virtual wilderness, it contained some of the nation's richest coal deposits. The C&O's own last spike was driven near Hawks Nest in Fayette County on January 29, 1873, less than five years after Huntington began his work. The first train, which originated in Richmond, arrived in his namesake city on the Ohio River soon afterward. On its return trip to Virginia's capital, the inaugural train carried four carloads of West Virginia coal. Huntington's—and West Virginia's—futures and fortunes were assured.
Coal has come to be virtually synonymous with West Virginia, as well it might. Seams lie under 17,000 of the state's 24,231 square miles, and of the estimated 117 billion tons of minable coal that once existed in the state, some 100 billion tons still remain. Coal had long been known and talked about, witness John Peter Salley's finding “plenty of coals” in his 1742 explorations. By the time J. H. Diss Debar designed the state seal, coal's potential was sufficiently recognized for him to include in the design a miner, indicated by a pickaxe on his shoulder, with barrels and lumps of mineral at his feet.” Now, with railroads traversing the state, coal could at last be efficiently transported to outside markets. In 1870, before the C&O was completed, the state's annual coal production was approximately 600,000 tons. By 1890 it had grown to 6.3 million tons, and in 1900 to 21.5 million. By then, in addition to the B&O and C&O, the Norfolk & Western (N&W) had opened up the state's southernmost fields, and by 1909 the Virginian Railway would tap even deeper into the mountains. In the north, entrepreneurs Henry Gassaway Davis and his son-in-law Stephen Benton Elkins financed several shorter connector lines to carry coal from fields there.
While coal lay underground, an aboveground resource had also waited for adequate transportation before it could become another mainstay of West Virginia's extractive economy. On September 15, 1883, Manufacturers Record, a Baltimore-based weekly reporting on the “New South,” published an article on West Virginia's resources, which accurately stated that “the wealth of West Virginia is mostly in her undeveloped coal and timber.” The mountains were literally covered with extensive stands of virgin timber, which for many years ranked second to coal as the state's most lucrative natural resource.
Concomitant with the production of timber and coal was the establishment of company towns, among the most maligned and misunderstood of West Virginia's architectural legacies. Because the richest reserves of both resources, especially in the south, were in areas that were unsettled, companies were forced to furnish housing for the sudden influx of workers and their families. As with other ventures of the sort, in their provisions for workers some company towns were very bad, some were very good, and most were somewhere in between. The worst consisted of little more than strings of hastily built, uninsulated shacks strung alongside a creek and a railroad track. The best, such as Gary—actually several individual communities in McDowell County carefully planned by a subsidiary of the United States Steel Corporation—reflected a sincere desire on management's part to do right by its captive work force. Today, now that the mines they served have been exhausted, many of the worst company towns have literally disappeared from the face of the earth. Even the wellplanned towns, including Gary, are now but pale reflections of what they once were. Fortunately, at least one example remains to give future generations a glimpse of what living in such communities was like. Cass, a lumber company town in Pocahontas County, has been lovingly restored as part of a state park.
Around the turn of the twentieth century, a flurry of huge fairs beckoned visitors throughout the nation. Among them were the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 (the well-known Chicago World's Fair), the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904 in St. Louis, and the Jamestown Exposition of 1907, held in Norfolk, Virginia. As at the 1876 Centennial Exposition, the various pavilions provided vivid images of how states perceived themselves and how they wanted others to see them. West Virginia provided impressive images for all three.
Several years before the Chicago fair opened, Manufacturers Recordurged southern states to get on the bandwagon, but in October 1891 it reported that only West Virginia's governor had “been able to give any assurance of a State exhibit worthy of the South's vast resources.” In May 1892, MRstated that “with the exception of the Illinois State Building, which is nearly finished, the West Virginia building at Chicago is farther advanced than that of any of the States.” Chicago architect J. L. Silsbee designed the West Virginia pavilion, which was described as “strictly colonial in its style of architecture [with] wide-spreading piazzas.” 58Two stories tall, it measured 123 feet by 58 feet and cost $20,000. Though not designed by a West Virginia architect, it was built of native sycamore, and all the materials used in decorating the interiors were home grown or home manufactured. Rooms finished in oak, cherry, curly maple, and sycamore were topped with ornamental iron ceilings made in Wheeling.
There was another West Virginia building at the fair, one that stood just outside the entrance gates. It was a small brick building that had been taken from its original location at Harpers Ferry and rebuilt as a commercial attraction. It was John Brown's Fort, and this was the first of many moves the peripatetic little building would undergo. Sad to relate, it was not a success at the fair and languished in Chicago for many years before it came back home.
St. Louis was next, and although West Virginia had no ostensible reason to celebrate the Louisiana Purchase, the state truly outdid itself in Missouri. Twelve state architects competed for the honor of designing its pavilion, and the prize went to the Wheeling team of Giesey and Faris. Their design, combining Colonial Revival and Beaux-Arts elements, was masterfully summarized in a photo caption in the official guidebook: “West Virginia's building might very well do for a State capitol.” Perhaps the verandas were more domestic than governmental, but the domes certainly were not. Four small circular Ionic colonnades supported domes on each corner, while a much grander dome, similarly supported, crowned the hipped roof. As at Chicago and Philadelphia, the interior spaces were finished in various woods, and the ornamental metal ceilings are said to have attracted a great deal of attention. Manufacturers Record, however, was not as pleased as it had been with the Chicago pavilion, because the state building did not house all of West Virginia's exhibits. For mineral displays, fairgoers had to go to the Mines and Metallurgy Building, where they could see, among other things, a scale model of a coal mine with models of miners' houses, provided by the Fairmont Coal Company.
Officials of the Jamestown Exposition, held in Norfolk to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the first permanent English settlement in America, insisted that state pavilions should form “a harmonious grouping of Colonial buildings, representing architecturally the homesteads and public buildings of historic interest of early America.” 59Maryland replicated Homewood, the Carroll mansion in Baltimore, and Pennsylvania built a copy of Philadelphia's Independence Hall. West Virginia chose not to replicate any particular structure but entrusted Charleston architects Rabenstein and Warne to design something that would “be of colonial style and cost about $20,000.” 60Warne, the firm's design partner, conceived a Colonial Revival mansion fronted by a giant Doric portico, with prominent arched dormer windows lighting an expansive attic. When the United States entered World War I in 1917, the Jamestown Exposition grounds were bought for the U.S. Navy, and the Norfolk Naval Base was established at the site. Many state buildings, including West Virginia's, survive as impeccably maintained officers' quarters.
West Virginia's agricultural exhibit at Norfolk, housed in another building, was, as described in Manufacturers Recordon September 19, 1907, “confined entirely to a display of hundreds of fresh apples on plates.” According to that report, the state's display of another product more than made up for any skimping in the food department:
The feature of the exhibit of West Virginia is the monument of coal erected on the grounds near the water's edge. It is 123 feet 6 inches high, 16 feet square at the base and 12 feet square at the top, and represents the average thickness of 19 distinct coal seams now being mined commercially in the State. The seams are placed in regular geological order, the oldest being at the base.
Though always referred to as “the coal column,” the monument was actually more a Gothic obelisk (admittedly something of an architectural anomaly), or tower. Designed by Warne, it rose in three distinct stages. The tall third stage was capped with a battlemented parapet, surmounted by the letters WVAon two faces and the word COALon the other two. A plaque attached to the base identified the various companies that had contributed their products to build the column. It was a bravura display that clearly expressed West Virginia's identification with coal.
Housing Industrial Workers
In 1903, four years before building the Jamestown coal column, West Virginia became the third-ranking coal-producing state in the nation. In 1911 it achieved second place, and in 1927 it became first, a distinction it held for more than four decades. During those heady times the West Virginia Coal Association proudly advertised the state as “America's Coal Bin.” The U.S. Navy gave a huge impetus to expansion when it specified that the excellent steam-producing coal mined in the southern fields would be used exclusively in its ships during World War I.
That was only one of the benefits the war bestowed on West Virginia. After chemicals formerly imported from Germany became unavailable, the U.S. government and private industry cooperated in establishing and expanding huge chemical complexes in the Kanawha Valley, near the natural gas and coal resources required for their operation. Located both up- and downstream from Charleston, these operations soon earned for the area the sobriquet Magic Valley. As had been the case a decade or two earlier, companies had to provide quickly for the sudden influx of workers. This time, however, the company was the United States government. The most impressive development was Armor Park, designed to house upper-echelon workers at the U.S. Naval Ordnance Plant in South Charleston. Across the Kanawha at Nitro, Huntington's Minter Homes Corporation provided prefabricated housing for workers at the massive federal munitions plant. Ironically, the well-built Armor Park was demolished in recent years and its site is now a shopping mall, whereas most of the Nitro prefabs, intended only as temporary housing, remain well tended and in good condition, long beyond their expected life span.
At war's end, West Virginia entered the prosperous twenties with the same enthusiasm as the rest of the nation. Suburban enclaves in Charleston, Huntington, Parkersburg, Wheeling, and Bluefield sported period revival houses in a medley of styles: Georgian Revival, Tudor Revival, Mediterranean Revival, and, in a few instances, a genre very appropriate to West Virginia: Log Cabin Revival. For the most part, each city depended on its own talented architects to design such houses. Charleston architects H. Rus Warne and Walter Martens specialized in the Georgian Revival mode, while Wheeling's Frederic Faris branched out to show his skill with Mediterranean modes in several notable instances, particularly in Sistersville. Carl Reger designed a convincing replica of a French country manor in Morgantown, while Alex B. Mahood embellished Bluefield with the whole panoply of period revival possibilities.
On occasion, especially for their largest commissions, West Virginians went out of state for architectural services. In the previous decade Fairmont coal magnate James E. Watson had selected fashionable Philadelphia architect Horace Trumbauer to design High Gate, the state's preeminent example of a half-timbered Tudor Revival manor. In the early 1930s, the William E. Chiltons of Charleston commissioned New York architect William Lawrence Bottomley to design their superb Georgian Revival mansion in South Hills, the capital city's most exclusive residential area.
Period revival churches accompanied period revival houses. In the early teens, Cincinnati architects Weber, Werner and Adkins furnished members of Charleston's First Presbyterian Church with a clone of Stanford White's seminal Madison Square Presbyterian Church in New York. A decade later, New York architect Ernest Flagg was less specific in his design for the nearby First Baptist Church, marrying traditional Georgian Revival detailing with an innovative and expansive plan. West Virginia's Roman Catholics benefited from the immense architectural talents of Pittsburgh architect Edward J. Weber. Basing his designs on medieval Italian precedents, Weber provided elegant churches for Bluefield, Clarksburg, Parkersburg, Wellsburg, and Wheeling. Both his Church of the Immaculate Conception, serving Clarksburg's large Italian population, and his St. Joseph Cathedral in Wheeling were featured in the national architectural press.
West Virginians also went out of state to find an architect for a new state capitol, a building made necessary when the old capitol burned in January 1921. Soon after his selection, Cass Gilbert announced his intent to create “a splendid architectural monument,” and he did just that. The new building has obvious borrowings from the United States Capitol, but its dome proudly rises several feet taller than the prototype. Gilbert copied himself when he later designed the United States Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. There he used the supreme court room in the West Virginia capitol as his model.
Construction on the capitol took eight years, from 1924 to 1932. Begun in the state's most prosperous period, it was completed during its darkest, the Depression. The Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), the Hoover administration's lastditch effort to ameliorate the nation's growing economic crisis, made loans to all but two of the state's fifty-five counties. As RFC teams evaluated loan applications and determined needs, they accumulated statistics that provide a vivid picture of the trying times. Most of Monongalia County's 5,000 coal miners were out of work. In neighboring Preston County, 2,100 miners were laid off, and thirty-six of the forty-six coal mines in operation in the county in 1928 had closed by 1932. At the opposite corner of the state, the C&O Railway laid off 5,200 of its 6,000person work force in Cabell County. In adjoining Wayne County, a smaller number but an even higher percentage prevailed: 550 of 600. In Wyoming County, heart of the southern coalfields, some 11,000 miners had been employed in fifteen coal mines in 1927. Five years later, seven mines remained open, but only part time, and employed only 600 miners. Summing up the situation, the RFC determined that almost half of West Virginia's households needed federal assistance.
Even the West Virginia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, created with great enthusiasm in December 1922 with sixteen of the state's leading architects as founding members, barely survived the Depression. Several neglected to pay their annual membership fees, and by 1938, only seven members were left.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office as president of the United States on March 4, 1933. Two days later, Congress began its special “Hundred Days” session, which would result in a plethora of New Deal alphabet agencies. On March 21 the president proposed to Congress the creation of “a Civilian Conservation Corps to be used in simple work, not interfering with normal employment, and confining itself to forestry, the prevention of soil erosion, flood control, and similar projects.” 61The program, known familiarly by its initials, CCC, was established to give employment to unmarried men eighteen to twenty-five years old. Roosevelt told Congress, “250,000 men can be given temporary employment by early summer if you will give me the authority to proceed within the next two weeks.” He received the authority, and on April 7 the first worker enlisted. More than 55,000 West Virginia men participated in the program from 1933 to 1942. Most worked out of state, as the CCC intended to broaden workers' experiences by assigning them to projects outside their home states. In West Virginia, teams from other states built structures throughout state parks and state and national forests. Babcock and Hawks Nest in Fayette County, Watoga in Pocahontas County, Holly River in Webster County, and, far to the southwest, Cabwaylingo in Wayne County, contain notable examples of CCC buildings. All are in excellent condition and most continue to be used as originally intended. The many log structures that the young men built, with design assistance and supervision from the National Park Service, appear just right in their natural settings, although pioneers would have blanched at the exaggerated rusticity and purposefully irregular notching techniques they display.
Another 1933 New Deal program, the Bureau of Subsistence Homesteads, was established to improve the plight of hard-hit miners. That August, Eleanor Roosevelt visited derelict coal camps along Scotts Run, near Morgantown, and promised to help. The immediate result was Arthurdale, the nation's first subsistence homestead community. Located in Preston County, Arthurdale contained 165 houses, each on a plot of two to five acres. Near each house were a barn and poultry house, a corn crib, and a root cellar. As the first of many such projects across the nation, Arthurdale attracted more than its fair share of attention, so much that one homesteader complained that “it got so a man couldn't set down to his sow belly and turnip greens without some stranger peeking in at the window or walking in to ask fool questions.” 62Arthurdale's long-term success is evident: it continues today as a vital community, as do the two other West Virginia homestead projects: Tygart's Valley, in Randolph County, and the appropriately named Eleanor, in Putnam County.
Federal largesse flowed into West Virginia in other forms during the Depression. The U.S. Post Office built or enlarged post offices all across the state during the 1930s. Supervising Architect of the U.S. Treasury Department Oscar Wenderoth and his successor, Louis Simon, who served from 1934 until he retired in 1941, provided most of the designs. Their buildings were often embellished with murals painted under auspices of yet another New Deal program, one providing relief to unemployed artists. Simon was also responsible for the Federal Correctional Institution for Women near Alderson, the nation's only female penal institution. Eschewing traditional approaches to prison architecture, he conceived a group of Georgian Revival buildings resembling a small college campus in layout and design. Colleges also received federal assistance during the Depression. John C. Norman, West Virginia's first licensed black architect, served on the faculty at West Virginia State College in Institute and designed ten houses on Faculty Circle, built in 1934–1935 with New Deal funding.
In spite of the Depression, West Virginia participated in two more fairs in the 1930s: the Chicago Century of Progress (1933) and the New York World's Fair (1939). Charleston architect Ludwig Theodor Bengston designed the exhibits and may have designed the building, a chaste Adamesque structure, for the New York fair. West Virginia's building at Chicago was a more modest frame structure, quite domestic in appearance and scale. It contained twenty varieties of West Virginia hardwoods, supplied by Greenbrier County's Meadow River Lumber Company. Inside, a single two-story exhibition hall displayed examples of the state's minerals and manufactured wares. The exhibits remain, in a building that was designed and built after the fair to house them, at Jackson's Mill in Lewis County.
Another project that saw fruition near the end of the Depression was the 1941 publication of West Virginia: A Guide to the Mountain State, one in the series of state guides compiled by the Writers' Program of the Work Projects Administration. The guide contains a chapter on the state's architecture written by Rexford Newcomb, then dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois. As the guide's editors noted in their introductory chapter, “West Virginia presents striking contrasts.” 63That succinct summary of the state's many diverse images continues to hold true.
In 1940, with a population of 1,901,974, West Virginia ranked twenty-seventh in population among the states. Population density was 72 people per square mile, contrasting with a national average of 41.3. As coal mines, chemical plants, and other industries geared up for production after the United States entered World War II, population continued to increase, reaching a figure of 2,005,552 by 1950. Then the bottom dropped out of the coal bin. Although coal has continued as the economic mainstay, fewer miners are now needed to bring it to the surface, much less to market. McDowell, West Virginia's southernmost county and one of its major coal producers, saw its population drop from 98,887 in 1950 to 27,329 in 2000. From 1980 to 1990, a decade during which more than 30,000 of the state's coal miners lost their jobs, West Virginia's population decrease, the largest in the entire country both in number (148,019) and in percentage (7.6 percent), resulted in the forfeiture of one of the state's seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
In addition to population losses, other statistics help paint a picture that bolsters the all too negative image of West Virginia today. The author of a 1975 volume titled The Border South Statessubtitled his chapter on West Virginia “the saddest state” and noted that “chronically depressed” are the two words most frequently used in describing it. 64Later statistics help prove his contention. In 1994 only Florida exceeded the state in per capita federal payments in the form of Social Security, Food Stamps, and Medicare. Also in 1994, 22.3 percent of West Virginians lived below the poverty line. That percentage ranked the state third in this dubious distinction, behind Mississippi and Louisiana. As noted earlier, the 2000 census recorded a slight increase in the state's population, but the continuation of that trend is by no means assured. In 2002 the Census Bureau announced that West Virginia was the only state that experienced more deaths than births in the fifteen months since the release of the 2000 figures. In addition, the state now has the third highest percentage of residents over the age of sixty-five, ranking behind Florida and Pennsylvania.
West Virginia is the only state generally regarded as being entirely within the bounds of the somewhat mystical Appalachia. In 1965, during President John F. Kennedy's administration and largely at his instigation, Congress established the Appalachian Regional Commission. The commission's purpose was to provide aid to a 165,000-square-mile area encompassing ten states. Only certain portions of nine states (one critic called them the states' backyards) were included, but all of West Virginia was. A major part of the commission's effort to pull Appalachia out of the mire and to bring it up to an economic parity with the rest of the nation was to construct a network of regional highways, or corridors, as they were designated. In West Virginia, some have been built and some are still being built. One, Corridor H, remained on the drawing boards and in the courts for years, having been delayed by citizens concerned that it was not only not needed, but would do untold damage to the environment.
Abandoned coal towns, derelict downtowns, and decaying residential neighborhoods are among the negative architectural presences that continue to sustain West Virginia's image as the epitome, and epicenter, of Appalachia. The state is still home to the stereotypical mountaineer, or hillbilly, and home to all too many West Virginia jokes that, as someone has accurately summarized, generally involve incest or imbecility. These modern-day hillbillies live not in log cabins but in trailers. By 1970 it was estimated that 6 percent of the state's dwellings were mobile homes, and the proportion has increased in subsequent decades. Jefferson County, now included in the Washington-Baltimore Metropolitan Statistical Area, and Putnam County, strategically located between the state's two largest cities, Charleston and Huntington, contained the greatest number of mobile homes in the 1970s. The two counties have another distinction: they are among the few in the state that have shown population increases in recent decades.
On the other hand, any number of recent buildings strongly contradict West Virginia's traditional Appalachian image. Walter Gropius's last work is in the state, as is a little-known building by Marcel Breuer. Michael Graves has graced the campus of West Virginia University with one of his playful postmodern structures. U.S. Senator Robert Byrd, although not an architect, has greatly influenced the built environment in recent years with his amazing ability to steer federal projects to his state. Outsiders may criticize his projects as “pork,” but West Virginians have benefited from them. The massive U.S. Courthouse in Charleston, designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, harks back to one of the most exotic architectural revivals, the Egyptian, in its details. In the Eastern Panhandle, the area of the state first settled, the recently completed U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Conservation Training Center, by architects KCF/SHG, relies on traditional farm structures for its inspiration and materials and rests easily in its bucolic setting.
Much is changing in West Virginia, and much remains the same. Environmentalists, preservationists, and others who appreciate and value the traditional way of life are convinced that there are benefits in being cut off by the mountains from the rampant development that is altering so much of the rest of the nation. They deplore the new highways—the Appalachian corridors—that now slice through mountains and leap over valleys, making once-isolated areas accessible and invariably bringing with them roadside architecture indistinguishable from its type in the rest of the country. On the other hand, West Virginia annually outranks many of its neighbors, including Virginia, in the amount of public funding it provides for historic preservation. “Wild, wonderful West Virginia,” even if not as wild as it once was, is still wonderful, whether one arrives as a visitor via interstate highway or as a native, returning home along country roads.
Mary Harris Jones, Autobiography of Mother Jones (Chicago: C. H. Kerr and Company, 1925), 235.
Thaddeus Mason Harris, Journal of a Tour into the Territory Northwest of the Alleghany Mountains… (Boston: Printed by Manning & Loring, 1805), 63.
Joseph Doddridge, Notes on the Settlement and Indian Wars of the Western Parts of Virginia and Pennsylvania, From 1763 to 1783 Inclusive … (1824; reprint, New York: B. Franklin, 1973), 70, 71.
Thomas Ashe, Travels in America, Performed in 1806… (London: R. Phillips, 1808), 1:59.
John Stuart to Thomas Jefferson, April 11, 1796; Archibald Stuart to Jefferson, August 19, 1796; both in Tucker-Coleman Papers, Earl Gregg Swem Library, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia. Jefferson exhibited the bones at Monticello and reported on them to the American Philosophical Society. They belonged to a prehistoric sloth, appropriately classified in 1799 as Megalonyx Jeffersonii. See also Dumas Malone, Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty, vol. 3 of Jefferson and His Time (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1962), chap. 22, “Honors and Embarrassments of a Scientist,” 340–356.
Henry Howe, Historical Collections of Virginia (Charleston, S.C.: Babcock and Company, 1845), 345, 346.
Quoted in Edwards Park, “A Little War for His Lordship,” Colonial Williamsburg 13, no. 1 (autumn 1980): 26.
Quoted in William M. Darlinton, Christopher Gist's Journals (Pittsburgh: J. R. Weldin and Co., 1893), 18.
Otis K. Rice, The Allegheny Frontier: West Virginia Beginnings, 1730–1830 (Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, 1970), 18.
Quoted in Darlinton, Christopher Gist's Journals, 22.
Charles E. Kemper, ed., “The Early Westward Movement of Virginia, 1722–1744,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 13, no. 2 (October 1905): 113, 128. The Fairfax Proprietary is discussed in Douglas Southall Freeman, George Washington, a Biography (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1948–1957), vol. 1: Young Washington, appendix 1–1.
John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Diaries of George Washington, 1748–1799, vol. 1 (1748–1770) (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1925), 9, 10.
Rev. William Hinke and Charles E. Kemper, eds., “Moravian Diaries of Travels through Virginia,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 12:1 (July 1904): 56, 57.
Fairfax Harrison, “The Virginians on the Ohio and the Mississippi in 1742,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 30, no. 2 (April 1922): 213, 214.
Harry E. Handley, “Beginnings of the Occupation of the Greenbrier Area by the English,” The Journal of the Greenbrier Historical Society 1, no. 1 (August 1963): 5.
William Byrd, comp., “Letters of the Byrd Family,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 36, no. 4 (October 1928): 353–355. That the Scots-Irish were also prevalent in the Eastern Panhandle was attested to later in the century by Charles Lee; see Freeman Hart, The Valley of Virginia in the American Revolution (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1942), 109.
Joseph H. Essington, “The French Claims to the Ohio Valley,” West Virginia History 8, no. 4 (July 1947): 378.
Robert Dinwiddie to George Washington, January 1754, in W. W. Abbot, ed., The Papers of George Washington; Colonial Series, vol. 1 (1748–August 1755) (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1983), 67 n. 12.
Washington's letters of the time express the sentiment in various ways. See George Washington to Robert Dinwiddie, July 18, 1755, Fulham Papers, Lambeth Palace Library, London, 13:189; Washington to Dinwiddie, September 23, 1756, in Abbot, ed., Papers of George Washington, 3:416.
A. B. Tomlinson, “First Settlement of Grave Creek,” American Pioneer, 2, no. 5 (August 1843): 348.
Doddridge, Notes, 144.
When Fortescue Cuming visited the Grave Creek Mound in July 1807, he noted that Joseph Tomlinson, the owner of the property, had “been settled here thirty years, but always forted until the conclusion of the Indian War by General Wayne.” Fortescue Cuming, “Sketches of a Tour to the Western Country,” in Reuben Gold Thwaites, ed., Early Western Travels, 1748–1846 (Cleveland: A. H. Clark Co., 1904–1907), 4:115.
William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; being a collection of all the laws of Virginia, from the first session of the Legislature in the year 1619 (New York: Printed for the editor, 1819–1823; repr. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1969), 10:564 and 11:326.
Doddridge, Notes, 139.
Zadok Cramer,] The Navigator (Pittsburgh: Cramer and Spear, 1821), 26.
Colonel John Stuart's Memorandum,” in The Journal of the Greenbrier Historical Society 2, no. 3 (October 1971): 5–6; William T. Price, Historical Sketches of Pocahontas County, West Virginia (Marlinton, W.Va.: Price Brothers, 1901), 105.
Howe, Historical Collections of Virginia, 187.
J. T. Peters and H. B. Carden, History of Fayette County, West Virginia (Charleston, W.Va.: Jarrett Print. Co., 1926), 687.
F. A. Michaux, Travels to the West of the Allegheny Mountains (London: D. N. Shuty, 1805), 29; Edouard de Montulé, Travels in America, 1816–1817, Indiana University Publications, Social Science Series, no. 9 (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1950), 140.
Lawrence Butler to Mrs. Anna Chadoik, quoted in Barbara Ruth Kidd, “The History of Sweet Springs,” West Virginia History 21, no. 4 (July 1960): 234, 235.
Fortescue Cuming, “Sketches,” 153, 154.
Charles A. Wingerter et al., eds., History of Greater Wheeling and Vicinity (Chicago and New York: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1912), 2:420.
Charles Yates Letterbook, 1773–1783, Alderman Library, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.
Jonathan Cross], Five Years in the Alleghanies (New York: American Tract Society, 1863), 61.
Charles Lanman, Adventures in the Wilds of the United States and British American Provinces (Philadelphia: J. W. Moore, 1856), 500.
Porte Crayon [David Hunter Strother], Virginia Illustrated (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1857), 19, 20.
Quoted by state historian and archivist Virgil A. Lewis in First Biennial Report of the Department of Archives and History of West Virginia (Charleston, 1906), 83. Lewis's quote used the wording “the logframe house peculiar to this region.” Most, if not all, later descriptions, among them brochures issued by the state describing the flag, seal, state flower, and bird, call it “farm house.” Inasmuch as log houses were certainly not confined to farmhouses, I have opted to follow Lewis in using the word frame.
Harris, Journal, 48.
Christian Schultz, Travels on an Inland Voyage … in the Years 1807 and 1808 (New York: Printed by Isaac Riley, 1810), 168.
Harris, Journal, 58.
Hunter Dickinson Farish, ed., Journal and Letters of Philip Vickers Fithian (Williamsburg, Va.: Colonial Williamsburg, 1957), 182. Inasmuch as Fithian, a Carter family tutor and missionary, was familiar with Tidewater Virginia's colonial churches and gentry houses, his remark on St. George's must be given credence.
Cross,] Five Years in the Alleghanies, 60, 61.
Howe, Historical Collections of Virginia, 155.
Hosea Hildreth, View of the United States (Boston: Carter and Hendee, 1830), 58.
Joseph Martin, A New and Comprehensive Gazetteer of Virginia (Charlottesville, Va.: Joseph Martin, 1835), 297.
William Meade, “Address of Bishop Meade … on a Proposition to Divide the Diocese,” in George W. Peterkin, A History and Record of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of West Virginia (Charleston, W.Va.: The Tribune Company, 1902), 807.
Harriet Martineau, Society in America (London: Saunders and Otley, 1837), 248.
Edward Beyer, Album of Virginia (Richmond, Va.: Virginia State Library, 1980), n.p.
J. R. Dodge, West Virginia: Its Farms and Forests, Mines, and Oil-Wells (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1865), 19.
[W. R. White,] Third Annual Report of the State Superintendent of Free Schools of the State of West Virginia (Wheeling, 1867), 35.
The Fayette Journal, special issue, November 2, 1911, 44.
J. H. Diss Debar, The West Virginia Hand-Book and Immigrant's Guide (Parkersburg: Gibbens Bros., 1870), 163.
Stan Cohen and Richard Andre, Capitols of West Virginia: A Pictorial History (Charleston, W.Va.: Pictorial Histories Publishing Co., 1989), 7.
Westcott, Thompson, Centennial Portfolio (Philadelphia: T. Hunter, 1876), 33.
Buildings and Art at the World's Fair (Chicago: Rand McNally and Co., 1894), unpaginated.
Charles Frederick Stansbury, “State Buildings at Jamestown Exposition,” Ohio Architect (October 1906).
Manufacturers Record, November 15, 1906.
Stan Cohen, The Tree Army: A Pictorial History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933–1942 (Missoula, Mont.: Pictorial Histories Publishing Co., 1980), 6.
West Virginia History (October 1974), 30.
[Writers' Program of the Works Projects Administration,] West Virginia: A Guide to the Mountain State (New York: Oxford University Press, 1941), 4.
Neal R. Pearce, The Border South States (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1975), 151.