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Barbour County

Barbour County History

Barbour County was created by an act of the Virginia General Assembly on March 3, 1843, from parts of Harrison, Lewis, and Randolph Counties, all of which had been settled earlier than Barbour.  It is likely that the delayed settlement resulted from the fact that major trails such as the Seneca ran north and south of the area.  Furthermore, the closest easily navigable waterways were the Cheat and Monongahela Rivers, both well to the north.  Also, this territory was subject to raids from the Indians who through many centuries had used it as a spring and summer hunting ground.  In 1744, Virginia officials purchased the land now called West Virginia from the Iroquois nation, and from then on raids were sporadic.  Killings were recorded, however, as late as 1782.

The earliest settlers known to reside in what became Barbour County were Richard, Cotteral and Charity Talbot and their mother.  They arrived in 1780 and others soon followed.

The new county and, later, its’ county seat were named after Philip Pendleton Barbour, statesman, educator, lawyer, and philanthropist from Orange County, Virginia.  President of the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829, he eventually became a member of the United States Supreme Court, holding that office until his death.

Meeting on April 6, 1843, the first county court session was held at the home of William Wilson. Major items of business included naming of various county officials and the appointment of a committee to recommend a site for the courthouse.  A building following the plan of the Hampshire County courthouse was constructed, along with a jail, for some $3500, and they remained in use until 1905.  The same site holds the present combined courthouse and jail, the cornerstone of which was laid in 1903.

Handwritten records still available indicate that major items of business carried on by the county included not only major and minor infractions of the law but also the establishment of the infrastructure of the county and the building of bridges, roads, water systems, telephone lines, and public education facilities.  Constant attention was also given to caring for the poor and infirm.  Total cost for the first year of county affairs was $559.79.

Before it became the county seat, Philippi was known as Booth’s Ferry, later to be called Anglin’s Ford.  This was the most heavily used crossing between Beverly and the Monongalia County line.  However, in 1852, a covered bridge was built to cross the Tygart River in Philippi, and the ferry was discontinued.  The first bridge captured in the Civil War, the Philippi bridge was used by both Union and Confederate troops.  The exterior of the structure burned in 1989, but was reconstructed using the original plans of Lemuel Chenoweth.  It reopened in 1991.

This bridge was involved in the first significant land battle of the Civil War on June 3, 1861.  Interestingly enough, there were at the time two political parties in Barbour County, one of which was Unionist, and the other loyal to Virginia, whether or not that state seceded.  There is no record that a secessionist vote was ever taken in Barbour County.  During “The Philippi Races”, thirty men died as a result of the battle.

According to the history of Barbour County written by Hu Maxwell in 1899, the county seat of Philippi was virtually deserted following the battle, the Confederates having left and the Unionist being back on their farms.  The county court proceeded to vote several taxes to support Union soldiers from Barbour County.

In the years since the Civil War, Barbour County has enjoyed periods of prosperity as a result of the timber and coal industries.  Schools have been built, a clinic and hospital and college have been established, and many small businesses have enjoyed success.  More recently, however, and especially because of reduced demand for coal, the economy of the county has suffered.  Coal companies have left or greatly reduced output. Private businesses have closed.  School populations have decreased.  The average age of the population has risen dramatically while the average per capita income and valuation have fallen.

Current leaders of Barbour County continue to work hard to reverse these trends.  We are striving to bring businesses to the area, to encourage young families to stay, and to improve living conditions and opportunities for all county residents.

124 North Main St. Philippi, WV 26416

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