During the late 1700s, the Commonwealth of Virginia granted land patents to encourage westward expansion and settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains. In 1795, Andrew Moore and John Beckley were issued a land patent covering 170,038 acres west of the Allegheny, covering parts of today’s Fayette, Mercer and Raleigh counties in West Virginia.(1) Moore and Beckley were attracted to the area’s agricultural lands and timber stands which were rich with white and yellow pines. Two months after the patent was issued, a chancery suit was filed in Superior Court in Staunton, Virginia, which resulted in the parcel to be split into two. The latter became home to Beckley.(1)
John Beckley died in 1807, and his wife Mary and son, Alfred, relocated from Washington D.C. to Philadelphia and then to Frankfort, Kentucky to be close to family. Alfred, at the insistence of his family and friends, attended West Point, graduating in 1823 and serving as a second lieutenant of the 4th Regiment of the U.S. Artillery. Alfred served twelve years.(1)
On June 23, 1835, Mary died and Alfred was declared the sole heir to his fathers’ lands. In October of the following year, Alfred resigned his commission in the military and relocated to West Virginia, constructing a residence (known as Wildwood) and planning out a town.(1) The first post office was located in Wildwood and Alfred was appointed the first postmaster in 1839. Wildwood was located along what became Bluestone Road and Kanawha Street.
A few miles to the east, Beckley constructed a mill along the Piney River. He also lobbied Virginia for an improved road through the area to replace the buffalo and Indian trails that crossed through the rugged topographical area.(1) The first to be completed was the Giles, Fayette and Kanawha Turnpike (today’s Kanawha Street) that stretched from Pearisburg, Virginia north to Kanawha Falls at the Kanawha Turnpike. It featured a junction with the Logan Turnpike (today’s Neville Street/Main Street). Construction began in 1838 and was finished ten years later.
In 1838, Alfred submitted a map of the proposed town to the Office of the Clerk of the County of Fayette County, which was located 3/4-mile north of Wildwood.(1) The streets were platted in a grid in what became known as Beckleyville.(3)
In 1850, Fayette County, Virginia was divided and the southern portion became known as Raleigh County.(1)(3) Alfred’s town became the county seat of the newly formed county. Two years later, the first courthouse was constructed for $2,722.
The first resident of what would become Beckley was James Cole of Floyd County, Virginia.(1) Cole, who first inquired in 1845 about the region, relocated his blacksmithing business to Wildwood at what was the site of a white oak tree which had been a travel marker and named the “23-mile oak” for it was 23 miles from Pack’s Ferry on the Bluestone River. Pack’s Ferry was a major inland shipping port at the time. Cole’s blacksmithing business was prosperous until 1879 when he sold his land and relocated.
By 1882, tobacco, lumber and other materials were being shipped via the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad (C&O) in Quinnimont, ten miles from Beckley.(1) Beckley continued to grow in population, with an economy centered around timber and agriculture, and in 1893, a new courthouse was constructed for $26,014.(1) The new structure, two-stories high and built of brick, included a four-story bell tower. But it was not until the first coal mine opened in 1893 that the town boomed.(3) By 1900, Beckley’s economic interests were centered on the production of coal.
The first branch line from the C&O was completed in 1901, opening up what was referred to as the Raleigh Coal Field.(1) The Raleigh Coal and Coke Company (RC&CC) began operations in that year. In 1903, the Beaver Coal Company, a land holding company with offices in Beckley, and the RC&CC, formed a consortium under the name “Black Knight Coal” that facilitated the rapid growth of coal camp towns throughout the region. Just two years later, there were more than 50 mines operating around Beckley and 19 seams of mineable coal. The Virginian Railroad completed a line to Beckley in 1906.
On April 13, 1912, a fire in downtown consumed over 30 buildings in downtown, which were mostly comprised of timber structures.(1)(3) During the rebuilding process, no timber structures were constructed, instead relying on sandstone that was quarried along today’s Quarry Street. In 1924, Beckley received its first municipal ewer system and street lighting.(1) The streets were paved and bricked.
The continued growth led Beckley to incorporate into a city in 1927, when it boasted a population of more than 7,500. Funding for a new and larger courthouse was requested, but was denied until money was secured through the Works Progress Administration. In 1936, the third courthouse was constructed around the existing brick structure.(1)
Most of the rapid growth of Beckley occurred during the 1920s and 1930s, with the completion of several large hotels and apartment buildings. Coal production peaked in 1925 with over 17.5 million tons of coal marketed.(1)
In 1933, Beckley College opened.(3)
- United States. Dept. of the Interior. Beckley Courthouse Square Historic District. Comp. Kim A. Valente. Washington: National Park Service, Apr. 1994. West Virginia Division of Culture and History. Web. 11 Apr. 2012. Article.
- Warren, Harlow. Beckley USA. Vol. 1-3. 1963. Print.
- Map of Beckley, W. Va.: Sanborn Insurance Co.: New York, 1929, 1939, 1941, 1956.
- State Gazetteer of W. Va.: 1885-1927.
- “History.” Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2012. Article.