At the suggestion of a Virginia legislator, Boone County, formed in 1847, was named for Daniel Boone. The noted pioneer had rescued the legislator's mother from Indians in the late eighteenth century. John Peter Sailing (Salley) explored the area in 1742 and recorded in his journal that he came to a river where he “found great plenty of coals, for which we named it Coal River.” The rugged terrain, hopelessly confused land titles (a characteristic shared with other counties in coal country), and lack of transportation prevented settlement for years following Sailing's visit. In 1866, more than a hundred years later, J. R. Dodge, in his West Virginia: Its Farms and Forests, Mines, and Oil-Wells, noted that the county “named in honor of Daniel Boone … is yet to a great extent as wild a forest as that adventurous pioneer could desire.” As late as 1908, Manufacturers Recordreported that Boone “has been until quite recently one of the backwoods counties of West Virginia.”
During the late nineteenth century lumber was floated down the Big Coal and Little Coal rivers to St. Albans on the Kanawha. The arrival of railroads in the twentieth century spelled the end of Boone's backwoods status, as its rich coal deposits were mined and transported to market. Along with the mines came men, and during the third decade of the twentieth century, when the state's population increased 18 percent, Boone County's increased a phenomenal 60.5 percent, from a 1920 figure of 15,319 to a 1930 count of 24,586.
By the 1940s the lumber industry was declining, with only Huntington's Ritter Lumber Company maintaining a major presence. Coal was still in the ascendancy, and though Boone ranked only ninth in coal production in the state, according to the West Virginia Reviewin 1942, “geologists estimate that [it] has the largest reserves of minable coal in any county.” By 1960, when more than six million tons were mined, the county's population peaked at 33,791. Though coal production continues (almost fourteen million tons were produced in 1980), the population has declined to a 2000 figure of 25,535. In recent years U.S. 119 (also known as Appalachian Corridor G, or the Robert C. Byrd Freeway) has been widened and straightened between Charleston and Williamson, making Boone far less isolated than formerly. Recent development centers around Madison and nearby Danville.
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