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West Virginia's most impoverished county, McDowell County, is also its richest, with reserves of mineral wealth that continue to provide the framework for modern society from Panama and Toyko to New York and Chicago. With a history cratered by triumph and tragedy, the people of McDowell County have endured unspeakable hardships and near isolation but continue to excel in a myriad of unexpectedly surprising ways. Robert Morris, "the financier of the American Revolution," went to the poor house with the belief that McDowell's mineral wealth could fuel a new nation. Jedediah Hotchkiss, the mapmaker who charted the course for Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's valley campaign, resurrected Morris's dream to rebuild the South into an industrial giant on local coal. Men of vision and means like Frederick Kimball and J.P. Morgan built fortunes on McDowell County's mineral wealth. The musical Womack family, baseball manager Charlie Manuel, comedic genius Steve Harvey, writers Kermit Hunter and Jeannette Walls, and thousands who served in all ranks of the military, many making the supreme sacrifice, are among those who have made their mark on McDowell County.
Almost every American city enjoys a magical time in history when all the tumblers of fate, luck, hard work, and good fortune seem to fall into place, and the city enjoys a golden era. The 1940s were just such a time in the city of Bluefield. At the dawn of the decade, the United States was on the verge of entering the greatest war the world has ever known, and the coal that flowed through Norfolk and Western Railway's Bluefield yard was destined to fuel an Allied victory. But there is so much more than war and coal at the heart of Bluefield's story. The 1940s were a time of inspiration for men like Nobel laureate John F. Nash Jr., a time of artistic discovery for men like Joseph Dodd of Bluefield State College, a time of valor and heroism for Congressional Medal of Honor recipient S.Sgt. Junior Spurrier, and a period of success in business, arts, and professional fields for hundreds of Bluefield's sons and daughters.
After the Civil War, Capt. Isaiah Welch, a Doddridge County, West Virginia, native, took a job as a surveyor with Maj. Jed Hotchkiss of Staunton, Virginia. Hotchkiss had served as Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's mapmaker and charted Jackson's famous Valley Campaign, and Welch had been an officer of the 13th Battalion, Virginia Light Artillery. The war left Virginia's agrarian economy in ruins, and men like Hotchkiss and Welch worked to develop a new, industrial South. Welch surveyed the Pocahontas Coalfield in 1873, and a city named in his honor emerged in the heart of that great coalfield. Chartered on July 12, 1894, Welch has played a pivotal role in America's industrial revolution as a support system and supply house to the timber industry and as a coal industry hub. Throughout more than a century, Welch has served as a gateway for the raw materials and manpower that fueled the nation's quest for growth and power. The city has been constantly beset by the challenges of maintaining a civilization in West Virginia's steepest and most remote mountains, but after decades of being tested by nature, Welch is now on the verge of yet another renaissance.
The remarkable story of Bluefield represents a unique combination
of geology, geography, and opportunity. Once just the confluence of
a handful of family farms in southern West Virginia, Bluefield was
put on the map, literally,
McDowell County was established by an act of the Virginia General Assembly in 1858, two years before the start of the American Civil War. In 1863, the county was one of the 55 that separated from the Old Dominion to form West Virginia, thus earning the nickname "the Free State." Long before this, though, McDowell County was known for its bountiful natural resources; a great geologist, Dr. Thomas Walker, touted these vast "coal lands" after his 17481750 exploration. Political leaders like Thomas Jefferson, who knew of the county's mineral wealth, steered Robert Morris, financier of the American Revolution, to obtain all of McDowell County in the land speculation boom of the mid-1790s. After Morris was sent to debtor's prison in 1799, however, his land holdings were acquired by Michael Bouvier, a cabinet maker. In the 1920s, the remains of Bouvier's holdings were purchased by Henry Ford, the automobile tycoon. Other famous personalities associated with McDowell County include J.P. Morgan and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.
The Virginian Railway existed as a separate entity for only a half
century, but that period of American history witnessed two world
wars and the emergence of the United States as a global superpower.
Henry Huddleston Rogers, who marshaled the development of the U.S.
oil industry through his leadership of Standard Oil, invested $30
million of his personal wealth into the making of the Virginian. He
speculated that south-central West Virginia coal would fuel
Americaas Industrial Revolution. Although Rogers died before his
railroading dream could realize its full potential, the Virginian
Bland County is one of the smallest counties of the Old Dominion, yet it is filled with spectacular, unspoiled, scenic vistas that rival any rural area on the North American continent. Bland County is a tree-covered paradise with no incorporated towns, and about one-third of the county's 369 square miles are included in the Jefferson National Forest. The history of Bland County after the arrival of European settlers includes stories of patriotism, independence, as well as struggles against incredible odds. The Virginia General Assembly formed Bland County on March 30, 1861. The county has always been for progress, with lumber companies arriving in the late 19th century to harvest the county's vast timber resources and the railroad following at the start of the 20th century. Bland County was also home to a huge Civilian Conservation Corps camp in the 1930s. From communities like Ceres to No Business and Hicksville to Bland, the entire county has a great story to tell.
Originating almost a quarter of a century prior to the Civil War,
Mercer County, West Virginia was named
Throughout its existence, Princeton has been a community at a unique three-way intersection connecting the heart of the Allegheny Mountain range with the fertile Valley of the Virginias to the east and the Cumberland Gap to the west. In 1837, the Virginia General Assembly formed Mercer County, named in memory of Revolutionary War general Hugh Mercer; at the same time, the county's seat was named in honor of the Battle of Princeton, New Jersey, the 1777 battle in which General Mercer died. Twenty-five years after the county's formation, retreating Confederate soldiers burned the homes of the town of Princeton to the ground. The coming of the Virginian Railroad in the first decade of the 20th century and the construction of the West Virginia Turnpike 40 years later transformed Princeton from a remote rural outpost into a vibrant center of commerce and ultimately led to the evolution of Princeton into a true crossroads for the region.
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