The West Virginia. Cyclopedia

Kanawha Valley

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Looking up Kanawha River from Blaine Island to downtown Charleston, WV

Location: Mason County, Putnam County, Kanawha County, Fayette County

The Kanawha Valley follows the Kanawha River from its mouth on the Ohio River southeastward into the highlands of Southern West Virginia. The valley is among the oldest continuously inhabited areas in North America, containing archaeological sites dated to 10,000 B.C. It is part of one of the most important passages through the Appalachian Mountains: The "Midland Trail," later the James River & Kanawha Turnpike, followed the valley. Today, Interstate 64 and the main line of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad also follow part of the Kanawha's passage. The valley runs northwest to southeast from Point Pleasant, WV, to Gauley Bridge, WV, where the New River and Gauley River join to become the Kanawha.

The upper Kanawha Valley is roughly a quarter-mile wide for much of the first 20 miles and is lined by the steep-walled Cumberland Mountains, which rise as much as 1,000 feet above river level. The first 20 miles of the upper valley has been heavily industrialized in many places.

Near Marmet, WV, the Kanawha Valley opens to more than a half-mile wide and begins to urbanize. Over the following 25 miles, to the mouth of the Teays Valley, it widens to more than a mile and contains some of the state's largest and most important cities, including Nitro, Dunbar, Cross Lanes, Institute, Charleston, and South Charleston. Interstate 64 (I-64) runs the length of this central part of the valley, entering from the south near Cabin Creek, WV, and departing to the west into the Teays Valley.

The Kanawha Valley widens to as much as a mile-and-a-half over its lower 30 miles, and its economy becomes largely agricultural. Broad belts of corn are planted along its level bottoms. Among the small towns located along the lower river are Poca, WV, Winfield, WV, Buffalo, WV, Leon, WV, and, at the mouth of the valley, on the Ohio River, Point Pleasant, WV. The Buffalo Indian Village, located near present-day Buffalo, was one of the largest known Indian towns in West Virginia.