The history of Fairmont dates to 1818, when land along the Monongahela River was divided into town lots. After the arrival of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1886, Fairmont flourished with the opening of the coal seams around the city and county. Peaking at nearly 30,000 citizens in 1950 due to the coal boom and other major industrial assortments, the town has regressed to under 20,000, mirroring the collapse of the local coal industry. Today, the local economy is becoming increasingly reliant on high-tech businesses, partially due to the development of Technology Park and the flurry of government, defense and government contractor agencies and businesses that have located at the site.
In 1818, the farm of pioneer Boaz Fleming was subdivided into town lots.(1) One year later, a dirt route was completed between Clarksburg and Morgantown along what is now U.S. Route 19 and the town of Middletown, named for its equidistance between Clarksburg and Morgantown, was developed in 1820 along the banks of the Monongahela River, which is formed from the Tygart Valley River and the West Fork River that join just south of downtown. In 1842, Marion County was formed from parts of Monongalia and Harrison, and Middletown was designated the county seat due to its central location.(1) One year later, the city was chartered by the Virginia General Assembly as Fairmont, a contraction of Fair and Mountain. By this point, the town had 70 houses, five stores and several related businesses.
Following a fire in 1876, Fairmont encountered significant growth as the city rebuilt its infrastructure. It was only exaggerated when on February 1, 1886, the Fairmont, Morgantown & Pittsburgh Railroad, controlled by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O), was completed from Fairmont north to Morgantown on the banks of the Monongahela. The completion of the railroad allowed for the development of numerous coal mining operations in and around the city, and the population began to expand from 1,023 to 9,711 by 1010. The railroad was extended further north to Uniontown, Pennsylvania in 1894, and by the end of the first decade of the 20th century, the rail line was very busy carrying mostly coal shipments northward towards Pittsburgh – the first coal to be shipped west of the Alleghenies. Other industrial development intensified in and around the city, including coke ovens, chemical plants and natural gas facilities.
Development was pioneered by James Otis Watson (1815-1902), nicknamed the “Father” of the West Virginia coal industry, and Francis H. Pierpont (1814-1899), nicknamed the “Father” of West Virginia.(1)
Viewed from the east, Fairmont appeared to be a much larger city than it actually was due to the high terrain that downtown sat upon. But due to the hilly terrain, development in downtown was fairly compact and tall, with many buildings extending from four to ten stories. Development intensified as Fairmont became the leading transportation and banking center of north central West Virginia. Downtown boasted numerous department stores and a stable residential base all around, and the population peaked at a high of 29,346 by 1950. Although the Great Depression impacted some industrial output, it only rebounded during World War II as various factories produced military related items for the war effort.(1)
But as the coal mines began closing as the seams dried up, the population began to bleed. By 2010, the population dipped to 18,704, although it has stabilized in part due to the development of the Technology Park, a 375 acre business park along the Interstate 79 High Tech Corridor that has attracted thousands of jobs, including the National White Collar Crime Center (formerly the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division), the NASA Independent Verification and Validation Facility, and the Department of Defense Biometrics Identity Management Agency.