At the time of its establishment in 1776, Ohio County occupied the entire Northern Panhandle and extended southward as well. The formation of later counties reduced its boundaries, and now, with only 106 square miles, Ohio County is West Virginia's third smallest. Until recent years, it was one of the most populous, thanks primarily to its county seat, Wheeling. The National Road and the B&O Railroad made Wheeling a center of commerce and transportation, and the panhandle's rich coal reserves stoked the city's foundries into industrial prominence. By 1840 Ohio County had 13,357 inhabitants, of whom more than half (7,885) lived in Wheeling. The county's population peaked a century later, in 1940, when the census counted 73,115. By 2000, the population had declined to 47,427. Almost three-fourths of the county's citizens now reside within Wheeling.
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