History of Charleston, West Virginia

Charleston, county seat of Kanawha County and capital of West Virginia, is located about 255 miles west of Washington, D.C. on the Kanawha River, a tributary of the Ohio River. The Kanawha is navigable and is joined by the Elk River near the center of the city. Until the Civil War, West Virginia was part of the state of Virginia.

Col. George Clendenin built Fort Lee on the present site of Charleston in 1788. The name honored Governor Henry Lee of Virginia. The fort served as protection for the settlers, whose encroachments on Indian hunting areas provoked stiff resistance. When Kanawha County was formed in 1791, the citizens sent Daniel Boone, who fished and trapped in the Kanawha Valley, to the Virginia Legislature to represent them.

The legislature granted a charter to the community in 1794 under the name Charles Town, after Col. Clendenin's father, but that was shortened to Charleston in 1818. Booker T. Washington grew up in nearby Malden, then known as Kanawha Salines. In 1834, James Craik, grandson of George washington's personal physician, built a house on the east side of Charleston. It was sold in 1859 to the wife of George Smith Patton, who had come to the Kanawha Valley to practice law. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Patton organized the Kanawha Riflemen and fought for the Confederacy. He was mortally wounded at the Battle of Winchester. His great-grandson was General George S. Patton Jr., a hero of World War II. The Craig-Patton House is now a historic landmark.

During the Civil War, the western counties of Virginia remained loyal to the Union and separated from the rest of Virginia in 1863. At first, the capital was at Wheeling. After the war, the state capital was located in Charleston from 1870 to 1875. It then moved back to Wheeling until 1885, when it returned to Charleston permanently.

The first state capitol was ready when the government of West Virginia arrived in 1885. It stood for 36 years until a fire destroyed it in 1921. Before the fire, the West Virginia State Police had stored ammunition on the top floor of the building, in anticipation of civil unrest during coal strikes. The heat from the fire set off the ammunition and sent onlookers running in all directions. Two men were arrested for stealing a fire truck during the conflagration.

A temporary structure was erected as a replacement, which was in turn burned in 1927. However, working under the direction of the legislature from 1921 onwards, a State Capitol Commission had been preparing for a new West Virginia Capitol. The buff limestone structure was completed in 1932 at a cost of just under $10,000,000. The Governor's Mansion, built of Harvard brick and white Corinthian columns, was completed in 1925 and overlooks the Kanawha River.

Salt was important during the early stages of Charleston's development. Coal mining became the dominant industry later. Industrialization of the Kanawha Valley began around 1900. Large scale chemical manufacturing started in the 1920's.

The Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences of West Virginia opened in July 2003. The former Sunrise Museum was relocated to the Clay Center and renamed the Avampato Discovery Museum. During the Great Depression, Morris Harvey College moved to Charleston from its original home in Barboursville. In 1978, it changed its name to the University of Charleston. Charleston is also served by West Virginia Junior College.

St. Francis Hospital was founded in 1913. The other main hospital is Thomas Memorial Hospital, which has been located in South Charleston for more than half a century.

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