St. Albans is near the western edge of Kanawha County, where the Coal River flows into the Kanawha and where the hills begin to recede from the broadening river valley. George Washington, knowing fertile bottomland when he saw it, laid claim to the site in the late eighteenth century. By the early nineteenth century, ferries crossed both rivers, and in 1817 settlement at what was called Coalsmouth had grown sufficiently to warrant a post office. Joseph Martin observed in his New and Comprehensive Gazetteer of Virginia and the District of Columbia (1835) that “a portion of the land at this place has lately been laid off in half acre lots, with a view of establishing a town, and some of the lots have already been sold, and many buildings are in progress of erection.” After experimenting with three other names during the nineteenth century, the community was designated St. Albans in 1871. Colis P. Huntington, whose Chesapeake & Ohio Railway was then wending its way through the state, chose the name to honor the railroad's chief counsel, a native of St. Albans, Vermont.
Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, lumber and coal drove the local economy. Both were brought from the hinterlands and shipped at the confluence of the two rivers, first on river barges, then on railroad cars. During World War II, as the Kanawha valley continued to expand as a major chemical and industrial center, St. Albans began to enjoy the growth that upstream communities had already experienced. Scattered vestiges of early days remain, but a 1970s urban renewal project, Olde Main Plaza, wreaked havoc with the original downtown street pattern. This pedestrian-oriented commercial mall occupies the center of the small business district on Main Street. The 2000 census counted a population of 11,567, making St. Albans the state's thirteenth-largest city.
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