History of Charleston
The Kanawha Valley and the area of present-day Charleston were originally inhabited by the Adena Native Americans, who were mound builders. South Charleston still has one of the largest collections of their earthworks.
The first significant influx of traders, land speculators and various explorers in the area started in 1760s. In 1788, Colonel George Clendenin built a fort near the river, on a portion of the land he already owned. Within a few years, his stockade, known as Fort Lee and Clendenin’s Settlement, attracted a number of pioneers. In fact, so many people came than in 1794 the Virginia Assembly authorized the foundation of a town, named Charles Town, after Colonel Clendenin’s father. The name was soon abbreviated to Charleston. One of the early settlers in Charleston was also Daniel Boone, but as the town grew rapidly he decided to take his family and leave for Kentucky.
Salt was one of the first and most important sources of revenue for Charleston. The town soon became a transportation center as well, especially for travelers from east who continued their journey west in boats.
When the Civil War came, residents of Charleston were divided in loyalty to the two sides in conflict, but those who sided with the Union seemed to be the majority. The conflict between two sides had a negative impact on salt industry and new economy sectors were created, most notably coal, gas and oil industries. The city entered a new period of growth and prosperity after the war and especially after the state capital was moved from Wheeling in 1870. The railroad came in 1873 and around the same time the Kanawha River was made more navigable, which provided further boost for the city.
Until the World War I, the growth and development of Charleston was slow yet steady. Its industry was based on rich natural sources around the city. The first chemical company in Charleston was opened in 1913 and many others soon followed suit. Glass industry was also developing. After the war, the city turned to manufacturing of synthetic industries, especially the synthetic rubber. Like many other American cities, Charleston was hit by recession in 1980s but it somehow managed to maintain certain growth.
Today, the city is in a period of new growth and redevelopment, with beautification projects and efforts towards improving the quality of life, trying to maintain its position as a large industry center while still keeping its typical small-town ambience.
Geography and Climate
Charleston occupies an area of 32.7 square miles, of which 1.1 square miles is water. It is located at the confluence of Elk River and Kanawha River, in a narrow valley in the western Appalachian Mountains.
The city has a humid subtropical climate, with four distinct seasons. Spring is unpredictable and varies from cold to warm or even hot, summer is hot and usually humid, autumn is initially warm and then cool and winter is cool, rarely very cold. Snowstorms are rare.
As of the 200 U.S. Census, the racial makeup of Charleston was 80,63% White, 15.07% African American, 1.83% Asian, 0.81% Hispanic or Latino, 0.24% Native American, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 1.91% from two or more races and 0.30% from some other race.
In 2000, the median household income was $34,009 and the per capita income was $26,017. About 16.7% of the population lived below the poverty line.
Like the rest of the Kanawha Valley, Charleston owes much of its prosperity to the status of a transportation and distribution hub. The key factors for this status are the river and the interstate network in the area. The city was always rich in natural resources, especially oil, gas and coal, and it always knew how to use it. In addition to the energy sector, chemical industry also became the major source of revenue for Charleston, especially after the 1920s. Today, Charleston has a relatively diversified economy, based primarily on government sector, chemical and automotive industry, healthcare and various professional services.
Some of the largest companies in Charleston are Appalachian Power, Mountaineer Gas Company, Charleston Newspapers, City Holding Company, MATRIC, Tudor’s Biscuit World, Walker Machinery, West Virginia-American Water Company and others.
Culture and Attractions
Charleston has a number of old historic buildings in various architectural styles and about fifty places in the National Registry of Historic Places. One segment of the East End neighborhood has been designated as a historic neighborhood and many historic buildings can be found in downtown Charleston as well. Some of the places of interest in the city include Sunrise Museum, Union Building, Security Building, Masonic Temple, West Virginia State Museum, Avampato Discovery Museum, Basilica of the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, First Presbyterian Church, St. George Orthodox Cathedral, Capitol Theater and Woman’s Club of Charleston.
Outdoor attractions include Appalachian Power Park, Magic Island, Kanawha State Forest, Daniel Boone Park, Cato Park and the University of Charleston Stadium at Laidley Field.
Some of the annual events in the city include the West Virginia Dance Festival, Symphony Sunday, West Virginia International Film Festival and the Charleston Sternwheel Regatta.
Charleston is the home of the University of Charleston, formerly Morris Harvey College. It also has a clinical campus of the West Virginia University. Other institutions of higher education, located in the wider city area, include West Virginia State University, Kanawha Valley Community and Technical College and Marshall University-South Charleston Campus.
Major highways in and around Charleston include I-64, I-77 and I-79, US 60, US 119, WV 25, WV 61, WV 62 and WV 114. The city is served by Kanawha Valley Regional Transportation Authority and passenger rail service is provided by Amtrak (the Cardinal route).
Charleston is served by the Yeager Airport, the largest airport in West Virginia.