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Piedmont owes its existence to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, which reached the townsite on its way westward in June 1851. David Hunter Strother, writing for the April 1857 issue of Harper's New Monthly Magazine, described what Piedmont was all about: “This remote village has sprung up in its solitude at the steep base of the Alleghanies, as a sort of breathing-place, where the fiery horse is to pause, gird up his loins, and renew his strength for a struggle with the giants that stand before him in all their grandeur.” In more prosaic language, the wellnamed Piedmont is where lighter engines were replaced by heavier locomotives for the steep seventeen-mile climb up the front range of the Allegheny Mountains. Strother illustrated his article with a drawing showing two roundhouses, machine shops, a number of auxiliary buildings, and a board-and-batten depot with a decorative cornice.

In May 1864, Piedmont fell to the Confederates, thanks to Captain J. H. McNeill and his Rangers. McNeill proudly bragged that his troops not only burned the railroad facilities and a number of cars, but also “sent six engines under full head of steam toward New Creek.” Confederates also captured 104 Union soldiers. After McNeill's Rangers left, the shops were hastily repaired, only to be destroyed again in November 1864. Ten years later, the railroad relocated to New Creek, soon to become Keyser. Although Westvaco (formerly the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company), which first opened a mill across the Potomac in 1888, dominates the local economy, Piedmont today shows little evidence of prosperity. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who wrote of growing up in Piedmont in the 1950s in his bittersweet memoir Colored People, bemoaned the fact that to his children it must seem “a graying, dessicated town, rotting away brick by brick.” Once the county's largest town, it reached its population peak of 2,835 in 1920. The 2000 census counted 1,014 residents.

Writing Credits

S. Allen Chambers Jr.

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