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Logan County

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Logan County was named for a chieftain of the Mingo Indian tribe, whose name in turn had honored James Logan, secretary of colonial Pennsylvania and a friend to the Indians. Established in 1824, the county initially comprised a far larger area than it now does. Even so, its 1830 population was only 3,368, and in 1835 Joseph Martin declared it “generally mountainous and incapable of close settlement.” Henry Howe echoed that sentiment ten years later when he described Logan as “one of the largest, wildest, and most sparsely inhabited counties in the state, with a population of less than 2 persons to a square mile.”

The virtually impenetrable terrain was only part of the reason settlement came so late. Unclear land titles were another. All of Logan County was included in the vast land warrants that Virginia granted to Robert Morris, financier of the American Revolution. It was not until 1921 that the U.S. Supreme Court rendered a final decision against claims of his heirs.

Logan County attained its present configuration in 1895, when Mingo, the state's youngest county, was carved from it. Though the rich coal reserves of both counties had long been known, and though coal companies had been organized during the late antebellum period, for years the only means of transporting the product to market was by boat down the Guyandotte River. In 1904 the Guyandotte Valley Railroad arrived, shipped Logan's first carload, instead of boatload, of coal, and paved the way for the county's future development. Its population grew from 6,955 in 1900 to 14,476 in 1910 to 41,006 in 1920. Logan County achieved its highest recorded population in 1950 with a figure of 71,391. A half century later, with the enormous decrease in coal-related employment, the 2000 census counted only 37,710.

Logan and Mingo counties share the dubious distinction of serving as the site of the infamous Hatfield-McCoy feuds of fact and fiction (see LO7). The two counties were also the epicenter of West Virginia's mine wars, the bitter struggles between management and labor that culminated in the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain. Thanks to Logan's sheriff, Don Chafin (see LO5), the five-day skirmish and the trial that followed ended with management still in control.

The county was particularly devastated by the Buffalo Creek disaster of February 1972. When heavy rains caused a dam made of mine “gob,” or refuse, to fail, some 135 million gallons of water flooded the hollow below, killing 125 people and destroying countless homes, most of them remnants of a string of coal company towns that filled the narrow valley.

In the 1990s U.S. 119 (Appalachian Corridor G) was straightened and widened, providing a measure of employment and making the region more accessible than before. The flip side of progress, however, has been the highway's negative impact on Holden ( LO6), once the most admired coal company town in the nation. Now both bisected and dissected by this partially elevated highway, Holden presents a picture of desolation that, in miniature, reflects much of the county's current appearance.

Writing Credits

Author: 
S. Allen Chambers Jr.

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