Tucker County, created in 1856 from northern Randolph County, was named to honor Virginia jurist Henry St. George Tucker. The first county seat, St. George, bears his middle name. The 1860 census counted a population of only 1,428, the smallest in any of the counties that would soon make up the new state of West Virginia.
The rugged terrain and wilderness flora, mostly impenetrable thickets of laurel, initially impeded settlement. In 1746 a surveying party seeking to establish the bounds of the Fairfax Proprietary—and by extension the boundary between colonial Maryland and Virginia—hacked their way into the area. One of the group, Thomas Lewis, claimed the “dismal appearance of the place” was “sufficen [ sic] to strike terror in any human.” Even as late as 1853, Philip Pendleton Kennedy called the region “as perfect a wilderness as our continent contained.”
Circumstances changed dramatically in the 1880s when Henry Gassaway Davis's West Virginia Central and Pittsburgh Railroad bisected Tucker County to join the B&O's main line in Mineral County. The railroad provided the necessary ingredient—transportation—to open the county's timber and mineral resources to full development. Once foresters harvested aboveground resources, miners began to tap the rich deposits underneath. Davis and Thomas, the county's two largest towns of the time, grew alongside the railroad, but although they were only two miles apart and named for brothers, they were different: Davis depended on wood, Thomas on coal. Parsons, another lumber town that prospered with the railroad, wrested the designation of county seat from St. George in 1893.
With the rapid economic development, the county's population naturally increased. In 1910 it stood at 18,675, but there it stopped. Almost all succeeding counts have recorded decreases, and the 2000 population was only 7,321. Although a great deal of construction has occurred in recent years, especially in Canaan Valley, most of the new houses are second homes related to the valley's development as a ski resort. Consequently, owners are not counted as part of the permanent population. Tourism and recreation, based on the same rugged terrain and climate that once precluded settlement, are now the county's leading industries. The increasingly grand vacation houses that have begun to dot the mountainous landscape are among the county's most prominent architectural resources.
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