Although settled earlier as Boothe's Ferry, Philippi was not officially established until 1844, a year after Barbour County was created. It is said to have been named, like the county, for Philip Pendleton Barbour, but the name may refer to the Philippi of the New Testament. The first courthouse, a handsome Jeffersonian building with a Doric portico modeled on the then ten-year-old Hampshire County Courthouse, was completed in 1846. Philippi's fifteen minutes of fame occurred on June 3, 1861, less than two months after the firing on Fort Sumter began the Civil War. General George B. McClellan, attempting to end Confederate raids on the B&O Railroad, launched an attack, and the resulting skirmish, which claimed three casualties, ended in a Union victory. Much of the action took place in and around the covered bridge ( BA1) the Confederates had used as a barracks. Thanks to the glowing account McClellan sent to Washington, his achievement was heralded as a major triumph and became known as the first land battle of the Civil War. The battle, also known as the “Philippi Races” because the Confederates retreated so hurriedly, not only saved the railroad but also secured this section of western Virginia for the Union.
Most of Philippi is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district. The 1990 nomination form captures the town's essence in calling it a “charmingly nostalgic community.” Beautifully situated on a level plain on the eastern bank of the Tygart Valley River, Philippi is surrounded by steep, forested hills. Main Street leads southeastward from the bridge, past the courthouse, and continues through a small business district and the chief residential area. Philippi's 2000 population was 2,870.
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