Early History of Taylor County WV

 

Prior to the Revolutionary War, the area that is now Taylor County was part of the vast wilderness domain of Virginia known as West Augusta where bands of Delaware, Huron and Massawomie Indians hunted the abundant wildlife of the region.

In 1776, Virginia divided West Augusta into three counties -- Ohio, Yohogania and Monongalia -- with the present Taylor being part of Monongalia. In 1784, Monongalia County was further divided, resulting in the division of what is now Taylor County into two almost equal parts claimed by Monongalia and Harrison Counties. In 1812, Marion County was formed from Monongalia and Harrison, and in 1843 Barbour County was formed from Lewis, Harrison and Randolph. On January 19, 1844, Taylor County was formed from Harrison, Barbour and Marion Counties.

Taylor County was named for the statesman, John Taylor (1753-1824) of Caroline County, Virginia. Fifteen justices were appointed by Governor McDowell to organize the newly formed county: John Asbury, Frederick Burdett, Dr. Joseph L. Carr, John Cather, John A. Guseman, Nathan Hall, Calder Haymond, Absalom Knotts, John Leeper, Charles W. Newlon, Jonathan Poe, Robert Reed, Joshua A. Robinson, William A. Rogers, and Benjamin Sinclair. Williamsport, the oldest community in Taylor County, was chosen as the first county seat. Williamsport was later renamed Pruntytown after John Prunty, one of Taylor County's earliest settlers.

The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad is vitally and extensively connected with the history of Grafton and Taylor County. In 1850 the Virginia legislature granted a charter to the Northwestern Virginia Railroad Company to build a railroad from the Main Stem of the Baltimore and Ohio to Parkersburg. A clause in the charter stipulated that the railroad should reach or cross the Tygart Valley River within three miles of Three Fork Creek in Taylor County. The largely uninhabited area at the mouth of Three Fork Creek was surveyed in 1852, and the town of Grafton was started.

The railroad stimulated rapid growth of the city. Grafton became the terminus of the Parkersburg Branch and was a division stop for the change of engines, crews and repairs. As tension between the North and South grew, both the Union and Confederacy realized that because of the railroad center, the side that controlled Grafton controlled the region.

See Taylor County in the Civil War.

After the Civil War, growth of the city continued, stimulated by manufacturing and timber industries, as well as the railroad. In 1878, an election was held which established the county seat at Grafton. The census of 1880 showed the population of Grafton to be 3,030, with the population of Taylor County being 11,453. By 1900, the population of Grafton was near 12,000. The population continued to grow modestly until the 1920's.

Ironically, the railroad, which was crucial to the early growth and economy of the city, also inhibited its growth. In the 1920's smoke abatement experts reported that the combination of high hills, low wind velocity, and heavy railroad traffic, and the situation of the business district being immediately adjacent to the greatest railroad activity, was probably not duplicated in any other railroad center in the country. The resulting smoke from the railroad activity was one of the main factors in holding back the growth of the city. Further declines in industries and railroad operation resulted in further declines in population over the years.

It is hoped that this brief overview of the history of Taylor County will stimulate renewed interest in the county's rich and varied past.


Sources:

Charles Brinkman, "Early History of Grafton,"
The Grafton (W. Va.) Sentinel, (September 3, 1929 - December 31, 1929).

Charles Brinkman, "The History of Taylor County,"
The Grafton (W. Va.) Sentinel, (April 18, 1939 - June 29, 1942).

A Brief History of the City of Grafton, 1856-1956. Compiled by Howard H. Wolfe, 1956.