Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/West Virginia

WEST VIRGINIA, one of the North-Eastern Central States of the American Union, lying between 37° 6' and 40° 38' N. lat, is bounded on the N. by Pennsylvania and Maryland, on the E. and S. by Virginia, and on the W. by Kentucky and Ohio, and has an area of 24,780 square miles.

The form of the State is extremely irregular. It may be roughly likened to an ellipse, the greatest diameter of which lies nearly north-east and south-west. Its boundary upon the east and south is made up of the irregular line which limited the counties which were set off from Virginia for the formation of this State. Upon the west the boundary is low-water upon the further shore of the Big Sandy and Ohio rivers. A long narrow strip, known as the “Panhandle,” projects northward some sixty miles along the Ohio,—the boundary being the continuation of the straight line which separates Ohio and Pennsylvania. To the east of this the northern boundary follows Mason and Dixon's line; then, dropping in a due south direction to the “Fairfax Stone,” it follows thence easterly the course of the Potomac to its junction with the Shenandoah.

The entire State is mountainous or hilly, being comprised within the region known as the Cumberland or Alleghany plateau. The highest land in the State is upon the eastern and southern boundary, where the plateau in many places reaches elevations exceeding 4000 feet. Thence the country has a general slope to the north-west, and is lowest along the Ohio, where the elevation is but 600 to 800 feet. This plateau has been subjected to stream erosion until it has become a network of narrow crooked ridges with deep gorges or narrow valleys. The height of the ridges and the depth of the valleys, together with the ruggedness of the country, diminish towards the north-west, until near the Ohio the hills become rounded and softened in outline, and the valleys are broad and fertile.

The drainage system of the State is in some respects peculiar. Although the general slope is towards the north-west, the Potomac, which flows south-easterly to the Atlantic Ocean, has cut its way far back into the plateau, and drains, by means of numerous long branches, the north-eastern quarter of the State. The remainder of the State is drained to the Ohio by means of several large branches which flow in a general north-westerly direction. Heading in the south-west is the Big Sandy, forming a portion of the State boundary. Fourteen miles above its mouth enters the Guyandotte, and 50 miles above the Guyandotte comes the Great Kanawha, one of the principal branches of the Ohio. This large and powerful stream has cut its way back beyond the crest-line of the plateau, tapping numerous streams in south-west Virginia and western North Carolina, so that its sources are now against the Blue Ridge in the latter State. It is known in North Carolina and Virginia, and in West Virginia to the Great Falls, by the name of New River. In West Virginia it has numerous large tributaries—the Big and Little Coal rivers, Piney, and Bluestone from the south, and the Pocotaligo, Elk, Gauley, and Greenbrier from the north. The next branch of the Ohio, proceeding northward, is the Little Kanawha, which empties into the Ohio at Parkersburg. The north-western part of the State is drained by the Monongahela, one of the two head branches of the Ohio, and its tributaries, the principal of which are the Tygart's Valley, Cheat, and Buckhannon rivers. Of these streams the Ohio is navigable for river steamers at nearly all stages of water. The same may be said of the Kanawha to a point near the Kanawha Falls, while the Big Sandy, the Guyandotte, and the Monongahela are navigable for flat boats for long distances, and these, as well as numerous other streams, are largely used for the floating of lumber. All the streams of the State, and especially the smaller ones, have a rapid fall, but their enormous water-power has as yet been utilized only to a trifling extent.


The climate is nowhere severe, although, owing to the range in elevation within the State, there is a considerable range in temperature. The mean annual temperature ranges from 54° to 55° F., being highest in the neighbourhood of the Ohio, in the western part of the State, and lowest upon the high mountains in the eastern and north-eastern portion. The maximum is rarely above 95° in any portion of the State, while the minimum occasionally reaches 10° in the more mountainous section. The rainfall may be given broadly at between 40 and 50 inches annually. It also varies with the elevation, being less in the lower portions and greatest upon the high mountains.


The fauna of the State is that common to the whole southern Appalachian region. Much of the area being as yet in a state of nature, deer of the white-tailed species are still abundant, and black bear are not unfrequently met with in the more rugged and remote portions. Wild turkeys are still found in some localities, and the mountains have long been a popular resort for hunters, while the streams, abounding in trout, afford an equally attractive field for the angler.


The timber resources of the State are enormous, and a small proportion of its area, amounting to only about 25 per cent., has been cleared. The remainder is covered with virgin forest. This consists mainly of broad-leafed trees of the most valuable sorts for lumber, such as chestnut, black walnut, cherry, ash, poplar, hickory, locust, maple, oak, &c. Considerable areas of white pine are found in the highest portions of the plateau, being practically the only original forests of this wood left in the United States. Besides these there are considerable quantities of yellow pine, hemlock, spruce, and cedar scattered through the State.


Viewed broadly, the geological structure of Vest Virginia is extremely simple. Practically the entire State is overlaid by nearly horizontal beds of the Carboniferous formation. The coal of West Virginia forms its principal mineral wealth. It is estimated that of its entire area not less than 16,000 square miles are underlaid by workable beds of coal. The Report of the United States Geological Survey upon mineral resources defines the general boundaries of the coal fields of the State as follows:—“The eastern boundary begins at the south on the mountain range just east of the Bluestone River, and proceeds east to Little Sewell Mountain; . . . . . thence with the common boundary of Nicholas and Greenbrier and of

Webster and Pocahontas counties to Rich Mountain in Randolph county; following this last-named ridge to Laurel Mountain, the dividing line between Upshur county on the west and Randolph and Barbour counties on the east, and thence with the Briery Mountain into Preston county, and soon to the Pennsylvania State line.” All the area to the west of this line is underlain by coal. To the east of it there are small outlying patches, as in Greenbrier, Meadow Mountain, and possibly in Pocahontas, Tucker, Grant, and Mineral counties, but these are unimportant as compared with the vast areas in the west. In the gorge of every large stream flowing through this area are seen outcropping beds of coal, easily accessible to the miner, and requiring only facilities of transportation to render the mineral of commercial value. In the matter of coal production the State is rapidly acquiring prominence. From a production in 1873 of 600,000 tons, it reached in 1886 a production of over 4,000,000 tons, being exceeded by only four of the States, viz., Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, and Iowa. The production is limited only by the demand, as the supply is almost inexhaustible. The coals of the State are of every variety except anthracite, and are noted for their purity for coking, steam, and gas purposes and for domestic fuel.

Iron ore is abundant in various portions of the State, but is worked only to a comparatively limited extent.

Mineral springs.

Salt springs are found in the valley of the Kanawha and in that of the Ohio, and there are extensive evaporating works in both these localities. The production, however, has been retarded by the competition of those in Michigan, owing to the greater cheapness of fuel and better facilities for transportation in the latter locality. The production of salt in West Virginia in 1886 amounted to 250,000 barrels. West Virginia contains numerous valuable mineral springs, among the best known of which are the Greenbrier White Sulphur springs in Greenbrier county, Capon springs in Hampshire county, Irondale springs in Preston county, and Red Sulphur springs and Salt Sulphur springs both in Monroe county. These are well-known and popular summer resorts in the mountains, and the waters from them are shipped to all parts of the United States.


While the entire State may be said to be either mountainous or hilly, it contains a large extent of arable land. Nearly all of the lower hill country can be cultivated, while in the mountainous region there are numerous broad valleys of excellent soil, and everywhere the hill and mountain sides can be cultivated if the slope is not excessively steep. The tenth census (1880) reported an area of 10,193,779 acres of land in farms, of which 3,792,327 acres, or about one-fourth the area of the State, was improved land, this being mainly in the lower and less mountainous portion. The average size of farms was 163 acres, showing as compared with the average 10 years earlier, viz., 214 acres, a decided decrease. The value of farms and farming implements was very nearly $136,000,000. The numbers of live stock upon farms, as distinguished from animals owned for business purposes in cities, consisted in January 1888 of 138,231 horses, 6475 mules, 474,933 sheep, 432,778 hogs, 171,273 milch cows, and 780,892 other cattle,—showing that the live-stock interests of the State are very large. The estimated value of all farm products sold, consumed, or on hand, as returned in 1880, was $19,360,049. The principal agricultural products are wheat, Indian corn, hay, tobacco, oats, and garden vegetables. The cereal products for 1887 consisted of 12,516,000 bushels of corn, 2,840,000 of wheat, and 2,531,000 of oats.


The manufactures, which are not extensive, are concentrated mainly at Wheeling, the largest city, on the Ohio, in the northern part of the State; they consist mainly of manufactures of iron and steel, glass, flouring and grist mill products, lumber, and leather. There were in 1880 2375 manufacturing establishments, employing a capital of $13,883,390 and 14,351 persons. The value of manufactured products was $22,867,126.


There are 1200 miles of completed railroads, with several branches and one trunk line in process of construction. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad traverses the State from Parkersburg and Bellaire on the Ohio, the two branches meeting at Grafton, and running thence eastward to Washington, Baltimore, and New York. The Newport News and Mississippi Valley Railroad runs across the State from the mouth of the Big Sandy on the west to the Alleghanies near White Sulphur springs, and thence extends to Richmond and Newport News. The Ohio River line runs from Wheeling to Huntington on the Ohio. The West Virginia Central extends from Piedmont on the Baltimore and Ohio line to a point in Randolph county, and is now in process of construction south-westward to intersect the Newport News and Mississippi Valley line. The Clarksburg and Weston, intersecting the Baltimore and Ohio at Clarksburg, extends to Weston in Lewis county, and this has two branches, one to Glenville in Gilmer county, and the other to Buckhannon in Upshur county. The Grafton and Greenbrier Railroad, intersecting the Baltimore and Ohio at Grafton, extends up the Valley river to Belington in Barbour county. The Norfolk and Western Railroad, one of the main trunk lines of the Atlantic States, has a part of its lines in the southern portion of

West Virginia. Railway construction is exceedingly active in all parts of the State, several new lines and numerous branches of existing lines being under construction and in contemplation.

Education. The State early in its history (December 1863) adopted a liberal system of free schools. The plan is known as the township or district system,—the magisterial district or subdivison of each county being taken as the unit for taxation, and the general control of all the school interests of the district being placed in the hands of a district board of education elected by the people, and authorized among other duties to levy taxes, to determine the number of months of school and the number of sub-districts, to plant and build schoolhouses, and to manage the financial and other school interests of the districts. There is likewise in each county a superintendent, and in the State a general superintendent. This system has since been maintained and strengthened by legislative enactment till from 133 schoolhouses and 431 public schools of all grades in 1865 there were in 1887 4587 schoolhouses in the State. In 1865 the amount expended in support of free schools was $7722; this gradually increased till in 1887 the amount was $1,087,674. The number of teachers employed by public appropriation was 387 in 1865; in 1887 it was 5106. The estimated value of schoolhouses in the State, 140,000 in 1865, was 2,000,000 in 1887. The average attendance in 1865 was 44 days; in 1887 it was 108. The school system of the State is made permanent by the constitutional enactment referred to, which requires that the legislature shall provide by general law for a thorough and efficient system of free schools. The general school system involves the education of teachers, and with this object from 1867 to 1872 the legislature provided for the establishment of six normal schools, which are in successful operation. In these schools tuition is free to all who desire to prepare themselves for teaching. They are popular among the people, and have done much to elevate the general standard of education. They prescribe courses of three years; nearly all of them have preparatory courses; four of them give collegiate training, and in all of them the study of ancient and modern languages is optional. The school system involves also what is known as the irreducible school fund. The principal, which now amounts to $600,000, is permanently invested. This fund is constantly augmented from sources provided by law and by voluntary contributions.

Public institutions.

The United States Government has erected public buildings for its judicial, postal, and revenue departments within the State at Wheeling, Clarksburg, Parkersburg, and Charleston, the capital of the State. While Wheeling (q.v.) was temporarily the capital, a building was erected by its citizens for the uses of the State, which is now used for city purposes. The six normal schools already referred to have suitable buildings at Fairmont, Glenville, Huntington, Concord, Shepherdstown, and West Liberty. The hospital for the insane at Weston in Lewis county and a branch asylum in course of construction at Spencer in Roane county, a deaf-mute and blind asylum at Romney in Hampshire county, a penitentiary at Moundsville in Marshall county, and a university supported by the State at Morgantown in Monongalia county may be mentioned among the other public institutions of West Virginia.

Value of property.

The assessed valuation of real estate in 1887 amounted to $118,753,342, and that of personal property to $43,710,175; that of railroad property in 1880 was $4,497,030, and in 1887 $22,797,984. The State tax is 30 cents on each hundred dollars of valuation.

Liquor laws.

An amendment to the constitution is now pending, by which it is proposed to prohibit the sale or manufacture of intoxicating liquors. At present the laws of the State—and they have been enforced with more or less of modification almost since its foundation—involve the high licence system. The granting of the licence is based in all cases on good character, and is subject to the discretion of the county commissioners. Under the operation of these laws, and by virtue of local sentiment in its enforcement, no licence has been granted (and hence in effect the traffic has been prohibited) in as many as 38 of the 54 counties. The licence is subject to a tax fixed by the State law, and where sales are to be made in incorporated villages it is subject to an additional tax, which is fixed by the authorities of the incorporation.


In 1880 the population of the State was 618,457. That of the principal cities was—Wheeling, 30,737; Parkersburg, 6582; Martinsburg, 6335; Charleston (the State capital), 4192; Grafton, 3030; and Charlestown, 2016. The coloured population numbered 25,886, the foreign-born population 18,265. The increase in population from 1870 to 1880 was 39.9 per cent. The proportion of native whites was 93 per cent. of the whole number of whites, which is larger than that of any other State in the Union. The popular vote at late elections indicates a population of 800,000, and that of Wheeling, Charleston, and Parkersburg is shown by local investigation to have very largely increased.


The executive power is vested in a governor elected by the people for a term of four years, and ineligible under the constitution for re-election. There are also an auditor, a treasurer, an attorney-general, a secretary of state and State superintendent of free schools, who with the governor constitute a board of public works,

and are likewise elected by the people for terms of four years, except the secretary of state and a librarian (who is ex officio adjutant-general), who are appointed by the governor. The legislative power is vested in a senate and house of delegates. The senate embraces 26 members, half of whom are elected every alternate two years, for a term of four years. The house of delegates consists of 66 members, who are elected every two years. The legislature meets biennially, and may be convened in extraordinary session by the governor, or by the concurrence of three-fifths of its members. The veto power is vested in the governor, but a majority concurring in each house of the legislature overrides it. The judiciary consists of a supreme court of appeals, with four judges, who in case of their equal division affirm the judgment of the lower court, and of circuit courts, with one judge each, exercising general original power and appellate jurisdiction over magistrates or justices of the peace, and of magistrates and justices of the peace, whose jurisdiction in civil cases is limited to $300, and who exercise criminal jurisdiction in petty offences, and may issue warrants of arrest and make preliminary examination and commit for trial in the circuit court in cases of crime. The fiscal regulations of the counties are confided to a board, consisting of three county commissioners. The county organization consists of these commissioners, a sheriff, deputy sheriffs, a circuit court clerk, a county clerk, who is recorder of deeds, wills, &c., board of education, school trustees, overseers of roads, a commissioner of school lands, an overseer of the poor, and a commissioner of accounts. All these except the deputy sheriffs, commissioner of accounts, commissioner of school lands, and overseer of the poor are elected by the people.


The establishment of West Virginia as a State was consummated on 20th June 1863. Its creation and admission were due to conditions which existed prior to the civil war of 1861-65, to popular sentiment which those conditions developed when the war was precipitated, and to the exigencies of the war itself. The Alleghany Mountains had divided the State of Virginia politically and commercially, and in the sentiment relating to her systems of taxation, revenue, and public expenditure into a Virginia and a “Western” Virginia, long before the civil conflict gave permanent result and fixed an official definition to the line of demarcation between them. Even after the war and the formation of the new State the title to two counties, Jefferson and Berkeley, “lying east of the mountains,” was the subject of legislation and contention before the courts. They were in 1870 judicially declared by the supreme court of the United States to be a part of the State of West Virginia. The western part of Virginia was sparsely peopled, its great forests undeveloped, its vast mineral resources only partially realized, and its slave interests comparatively small. The eastern section contained the larger population, owned the great bulk of slave property, and exercised controlling power over State affairs. The Alleghanies, dividing the two sections, in the absence of transverse railroad facilities naturally sent the citizens of one side with the flow of their navigable waters to western and southern markets, while those of the other, moved by similar natural causes, turned to the seaboard for their commercial and business intercourse. The basis of taxation, the basis of representation, and the relation of the slave interests to these, with the measure and distribution of public funds for works of internal improvement and other questions of local concern, constituted elements of continual controversy, and served to detract largely from the homogeneity of the population. Early in January 1861 the legislature of Virginia, in extra session, passed a bill calling a convention of the people to meet in the following month. At the same election the people were to vote on the question whether the separation of Virginia from the Union should be determined by the convention or be submitted by the convention to the people for ratification or rejection. The majority at the election in favour of submitting the question of secession to the people was overwhelming, and was construed as indicating the loyal sentiment of the people of north-western Virginia. On the 17th of April, after the bombardment of Fort Sumter, the convention passed an ordinance of secession, and on the 24th a schedule submitting it to the people. The ordinance of secession was adopted by the people of Virginia, but the majority against it in the north-western part of the State was very large. A convention of the unionist counties, which met at Wheeling in June, adopted an ordinance for the reorganization of the State government, and in August adopted an ordinance providing for the formation of a new State, to be named “Kanawha,” comprising thirty-nine specified counties, and to include other counties also named, provided their vote should indicate such desire. Under this provision a number of counties were afterwards added to the original thirty-nine. At the time of the vote upon the proposition to form a new State war was raging throughout its proposed borders, and many of its counties had been the scene of violence and blooodshed. Many citizens were in the field as soldiers on the respective sides, and this fact, coupled with the general conditions, caused a small vote to be polled. Of this comparatively small vote, however, a large majority was for the new State, and members were elected to a constitutional convention. This

convention met at Wheeling in November, and formed a constitution for the proposed new State, and designated it the State of West Virginia. This constitution was submitted to the people, and adopted by an overwhelming majority in April 1862. In May the legislature of the “reorganized Government” of Virginia passed a bill to authorize the formation of the new State out of the territory of the old State of Virginia, as indicated by the recently ratified constitution, and in the same month this Act of the Legislature, accompanied by its memorial and a certified copy of the constitution and proceedings by which it had been adopted, was presented to Congress. The subject led to grave discussion in that body, but ultimately the proposed constitution was carried, with but one modification affecting the freedom of children of slaves thereafter to be born within the limits of the new State. A new constitution was adopted in 1872. The State of West Virginia being the result of a double revolution that of the State of Virginia against the Federal Union and that of her north-western counties against the seceding State of Virginia its people are conservative and strikingly homogeneous. Even in the throes of revolution declaring separation from the mother State provision was made for the assumption of a just share of the old State debt, though its adjustment has never yet been reached. West Virginia has no other debt. Falling naturally, as did most of the border States, immediately after the war, into violent proscriptions of the returning Confederate element, West Virginia was one of the first of the States to modify and repeal these enactments. By the election of 1870 they were abrogated for ever, and since that time the issues and consequences of war have so far disappeared as to leave no perceptible trace behind. (J. E. K.)

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W. & A. K. Johnston