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Northern West Virginia

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This six-county area is as diverse as any in the state. Both mountains and flatlands provide the topographic background, and both agriculture and industry form the economic base. No easily identifiable architectural images characterize northern West Virginia, but it is home to some of the state's most notable individual structures.

Settlement postdated that in the panhandles to either side, but Indian threats were still present when the first pioneers arrived. Two reconstructed forts, Prickett's ( MA15) in Marion County and New Salem ( HR33) in Harrison County, attest to the rugged conditions in the late eighteenth century when this region was a frontier. Watters Smith State Park ( HR34), also in Harrison County, has a restored farmstead that provides an equally authentic portrait of the next phase of settlement.

Virginia's Northwestern Turnpike, connecting Winchester and Parkersburg, was completed through the region in the 1830s. Noted builder Lemuel Chenoweth obtained the contract for bridges on part of the route. His Philippi Covered Bridge ( BA1) in Barbour County, rebuilt after a 1989 fire, is one of the state's most cherished historic structures and one of the nation's most impressive covered bridges. Travel became easier still when the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad traversed the region in the 1850s. Soon a branch line, the Northwestern Railroad of Virginia, left the main route at Grafton on its way to Parkersburg. For years thereafter, Grafton, the Taylor County seat, was an important railroad repair shop and transportation center. The city is much reduced in size and influence today, but its major building complex, the B&O Railroad Station and Hotel ( TA1), proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was once a place of some consequence.

Morgantown successfully opposed a proposal to route the B&O Railroad through the community, focusing instead on becoming an early center of education. When West Virginia became a state, Morgantown easily secured the honor of becoming the seat of the state university. Over the years, West Virginia University has sponsored some of the state's most impressive structures.

Northern West Virginia's vast coal deposits were mined extensively in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Consolidation Coal Company, one of the nation's largest mining and distributing companies, was headquartered in Fairmont in a handsome building designed by Philadelphia architect Horace Trumbauer ( MA7). Trumbauer was also responsibl

e for the design of the house of the company's chief executive, James E. Watson. His Tudor Revival High Gate ( MA12) is one of the state's premier examples of high-style, period revival architecture.

Although Watson, through his company, provided above-average housing for miners in his employ, other corporations were not so generous. By the 1930s a number of mines were virtually exhausted. Companies with no conscience abandoned the mines, leaving miners and their families stranded in housing that had long since been declared substandard. In an attempt to provide relief, the federal government launched its first Subsistence Homestead project at Arthurdale ( PR8PR12) in Preston County in 1933. More recently, Clarksburg and nearby Bridgeport have benefited from federal largesse. Senator Robert C. Byrd secured the FBI's Fingerprint Identification Center ( HR26) for Harrison County in the early 1990s.

Writing Credits

Author: 
S. Allen Chambers Jr.

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