The West Virginia. Cyclopedia
Raleigh County, in southern West Virginia, was created in 1850 from southern Fayette County and named for Sir Walter Raleigh, English spy, poet, writer, and explorer. The county is perhaps best known as the location of the city of Beckley, WV, situated in the elevated plateau region of the central county. The junctions of three major highways -- I-64, I-77, and US-19 -- are located at Beckley.
The county seat of Raleigh County is Beckley, WV.
Parts of the New River Gorge National River are located in eastern Raleigh County and attract hundreds of thousand of tourists. Winterplace ski resort, off I-77 in southern Raleigh County, attracts thousands of skiers to the area in winter.
The 1850 Act Establishing the County of Raleigh
On Jan. 23, 1850, by act of the General Assembly of the State of Virginia, the county of Raleigh was created from part of the southern end of Fayette County. The act designated the permanent place for holding of court as being the town of Beckley, WV, at the forks of the Guyandotte and the Giles Fayette and Kanawha turnpikes. Following a naming tradition for county seats, Beckley was sometime designated as "Raleigh County Court House" on some early maps. Beckley was sometimes also called "Beckleyville". Alfred Beckley, founder of Beckley, was the chief proponent of the creation of Raleigh County, preparing poll-books for each of Fayette County's many precincts and pleading the case before officials at the court house in Fayetteville, WV, (then VA).
Cities and Towns
Five municipalities -- including Beckley, Lester, Mabscott, Sophia, and Rhodell -- are incorporated within the bounds of Raleigh County. By state law, municipalities are governed apart from the government of the county or counties around them through a mayor and council and, by option, a city manager government.
Beckley, WV -- in central Raleigh County, county seat and eighth largest city in West Virginia
Beaver, WV -- southeast of Beckley on I-64 and U.S. 19, popular residential community, site of Raleigh County Memorial Airport and U.S. Mining Safety Academy
Bradley, WV -- north of Beckley on U.S. 19 and W.Va. Route 16, convenient to North Beckley shopping districts and the central New River Gorge National River
Daniels, WV -- southeast of Beckley on U.S. 19 near I-64, very popular residential community. home of Glade Springs Resort and Little Beaver Lake State Park, near Winterplace Ski Resort and parts of the New River Gorge National River
Lester, WV -- southwest of Beckley on W.Va. 54, along route of Coalfields Expressway (under construction), former mining community, now in economic decline
Mabscott, WV -- largely industrial suburb southwest of Beckley on U.S. 16 and Interstates 77-64
MacArthur, WV -- largely residential suburb southwest of Beckley on U.S. 16 near Interstates 77-64
Rhodell, WV -- small, declining community in coalfields of southwestern county
Shady Spring, WV -- very popular residential community southeast of Beckley on U.S. 19 and W.Va. 3 near Glade Springs Resort, Winterplace Ski Resort, Little Beaver Lake State Park, and parts of the New River Gorge National River
Sophia, WV -- southwest of Beckley on W.Va. 16 expressway near route of the Coalfields Expressway (under construction), service center for southwestern county
Population: 79,220 (2000 Census)
The population of Raleigh County has fluctuated greatly since its settlement by Europeans in the 1830s. (Several Native American villages had traditionally been located in the territory of Raleigh County but were largely abandoned by the time of European settlement.) Coal mining attracted thousands of immigrants to the area in the early 1900s, and by the 1940s, the county population peaked at 91,000 estimated residents. Beginning in the 1950s, the decline in coal mining employment gradually lessened and residents left the region.
Most hotel lodging in southern West Virginia is located in the Beckley vicinity, significantly on Harper Road (WV-3) at its junction with I-77/64 at I-77 exit 44. A collection of national chains operate hotels around the busy junction, serving interstate travelers and visitors touring Winterplace ski resort and state and national park areas. Many cabins and vacation homes are located throughout the east end of the county near the national park lands: Raleigh County Hotels
The Raleigh County Memorial Airport is located off I-64 exit 125 in Beaver, WV, just west of Beckley. Fly-in and air-cargo service are provided through several carriers located at airport's adjacent Raleigh County Airport Industrial Park and Research Center.
The Raleigh County School District serves students located within Raleigh County and its municipalities. West Virginia school districts operate independently of other local governments. Raleigh County Schools are generally considered to be among the best in the state. Several private schools operate independently of the district.
Institutes, Colleges and Universities:
The U.S. Mine Health and Safety Academy is located in Raleigh County at Beaver, WV. Respectively, Mountain State University and Appalachian Bible College are located in Raleigh County at Beckley and Bradley, WV. See maps: MSU;
The Raleigh County Library operates a main library in Beckley, WV, and branch libraries at Marsh Fork, Shady Spring, and Sophia.
Historical landmarks in Raleigh County are largely remnants of the county's industrial period when coal mining fueled the economy, though several of its settlement-period landmarks may be found throughout the county, particularly among its agricultural lands. The Raleigh County Historical Landmarks Commission published an on-line guide to Raleigh County Historic Sites.
Raleigh County Economic Development
Until the mid-1950s, the economy of Raleigh County was almost totally dependent on coal mining. The latter part of the century, however, saw the completion of two Interstate routes through the region and the inauguration by the National Park Service of the New River Gorge National River, in the eastern county, and the Bluestone National Scenic River, to the south. As a result, the economy has gradually shifted into the realm of tourism and services that support and increasing residency. Upscale homes are being built throughout the level central and eastern highlands, formerly a region a farmland famous for its rocky, scenic splendor. Many hotels, restaurants, and shopping facilities have opened in the Beckley area, servicing both the population and the many vacationers visiting its gold courses, national park areas, and Winterplace Ski Resort on I-77 in the southern county. Despite its great natural beauty, the county's communities suffer from sprawl and too few regulations are in place to secure property values in most parts of the county with the notable exception of Glade Springs Resort, a private residential development southeast of Beckley. As a result, many areas could lose the great natural beauty which attracts many of its residents and visitors.
Raleigh County was established in the virtual wilderness of present day Southern West Virginia in 1850, as is recounted in Alfred Beckley's History of Raleigh County. From his arrival in the region in the early 1800s, Alfred, a young army engineer, could foresee the economic importance of the present location of Beckley, which would serve as a crossroads, as a result of the topography of the region. Less than century after Raleigh County's establishment, the county had become the commercial center of one of the most productive coal regions in the eastern U.S. (See article: Raleigh County Coal Mining History.) By the 1950s the transportation routes Beckley had improved were re-established again as Interstate System corridors. (See also: Autobiography of Alfred Beckley)
New River Gorge National River protects the gorge of the New River in eastern and northern Raleigh County. This federal protection has lead to increased tourism and land values within and adjacent to the park. The National Park Service maintains more than 15 miles of designated hiking trail in Raleigh County as well as two public campgrounds and natural areas at Grandview and Sandstone Falls.
Temperature Mean Annual Average: 50 (Degrees F)
January Averages: High 39 (Degrees F) -- Low 19 (Degrees F)
July Averages: High 79 (Degrees F) -- Low 57 (Degrees F)
Long Term Precipitation
January: 2.99 inches -- July: 4.97 (inches) -- Annual: 40.5 (inches)
Mean Annual Snowfall Range
45 - 60 inches
Additional Sources of Information
A History of Middle New River Settlements and Contiguous Territory, published in 1906