A Brief History of Charleston

Charleston, West Virginia has its beginnings in the post-revolutionary era of people striking out and staking a claim on the untamed American frontier. Even before the War for Independence, land that would become Charleston was deeded and staked. The Bullitt family was one of the first inhabitants of the area, on over 1,200 acres of land in the Kanawha River Valley in 1774. It was not until 1788, however, that a permanent settlement was built by the Virginia Rangers, led by Colonel George Clendenin. In 1794, the Virginia General Assembly officially recognized Charleston as a municipality.

In the early 19th century, Charleston saw unparalleled growth in industry and mining. Salt was discovered along the banks of the Kanawha river in the first few years of the century. Charleston eventually grew to become one of the world’s leading producers of salt. While exploring for salt, prospectors hit a well of natural gas, followed several years after that with the discovery of coal. Coal has been a huge economic boom for the people of Charleston, WV.

The Civil War would bring great upheaval to the city of Charleston. Between 1861 and 1864, the salt production industry was almost completely destroyed, and the state of West Virginia was formed. Charleston acted as state capital until it was decided that the capital should be moved north to Wheeling. The capital moved several times over then next 15 years or so, until the citizens voted on the final and permanent location of the capital.

Charleston experienced a period of industrialization in the early 20th century. Coal, timber, and steel made their mark on West Virginia’s economy. Many of the industries that moved in are still prosperous today. With economic boom, came new construction. Churches and office buildings, some of which are still standing, were raised.

Charleston became home to Yeager Airport in the middle of the century, which was a tremendous engineering triumph. Three mountain tops had to be cleared and millions of yards of earth had to be moved before construction could really begin in earnest.

If an airport would offer greater access to the city from around the country, a major highway system would connect it to everyone else. The Interstate Highway system came along in the 1960’s and brought with it three major interstate highways: I-64, I-79, and I-77. These three highways moved Charleston to within 24 hours’ drive of over half the country.

During the latter third of the 20th century, Charleston saw some economic boom and its attendant benefits. The largest mall east of the Mississippi opened up in the 1980’s, along with public green spaces, a new federal building, and top notch health care facilities. The city will continue to grow as it has for almost 200 years.