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Beckley City

Raleigh County, West Virginia

Beckley City Hall is located at 409 S. Kanawha Street, Beckley, WV 25801.
Phone: 304‑256‑1768.


Smithsonian Magazine (May 2012 issue) included Beckley among the town's cited in its article The 20 Best Small Towns in America.

Beginnings [1]

The birth of Beckley can be traced to one of the region's great land patents. During the late 1700's, the Commonwealth of Virginia granted land patents to encourage westward expansion and settlement west of the Allegheny mountain range. In 1795, Andrew Moore and John Beckley were issued a land patent covering over 170,038 acres west of the Allegheny Mountains (the land patent covered part of present day Fayette, Mercer and Raleigh counties). The area was suitable for agricultural endeavors and was covered with an abundance of white and yellow pine, one of the largest stands of this soft wood growing in western Virginia. It was the lumber that was one of the interests for obtaining this land patent, and these men banked on the fact that this untapped resource, along with farming, would make their land profitable. Two months after the patent was issued, a chancery suit was filed in Superior Court in Staunton, Virginia. The outcome — to divide the land patent into twelve parcels. Parcel No. 2 would become known as present day Beckley, WV.

When John Beckley died in 1807, his wife Mary and son, Alfred, moved from Washington, D.C. to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and then to Frankfort, Kentucky, to be with friends of the family. From here, with the encouragement of his mother and teachers that Alfred went on to West Point. Having been born into a family of considerable means and political connections, Alfred had a very comfortable life. When he graduated from West Point in 1823, he was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant of the 4th Regiment of the U.S. Artillery and served twelve years in the U.S. Army. On June 23, 1835, there was a court decree stating that with the death of Mary Beckley, Alfred was now sole heir to his fathers' lands. Alfred Beckley resigned his commission in the army in October 1836 and relocated to his land. He had a house built, known as Wildwood (listed on the National Register of Historic places in 1970) and started to plan for his new town. The first post office was located at Wildwood and Alfred Beckley was appointed its first postmaster in 1839.

Beckley set up the area's first mill a few miles to the east of his homestead, where he was able to harness water power from the Piney River. During these early years, Beckley traveled to the northern part of Fayette County where he met others interested in building a road through the county. Beckley helped lobby in Virginia for what would be known as the Giles, Fayette & Kanawha Turnpike. The building of the road started in 1838 and was completed in 1848. The road would intersect at the terminus of the Logan Turnpike and make a logical crossroads for Beckley to build his town.

In 1838 Alfred Beckley submitted a map of his proposed town to Fayette County. The streets were laid out in grid fashion, with a large parcel at the center to be used for a public square and county building. To this day the lot is used for the same purpose. The first courthouse was built in 1852. Subsequent courthouses replaced it at the same location. Also noted on his plan for a town which would bear his father's name were lots designated for a school and taverns. Beckley's town would be located about 3/4s of a mile north of Wildwood. In 1850, Raleigh County was formed from the southern section of Fayette County, and the town became the county seat of the newly formed county.

About 1845 there was an inquiry from a gentleman named James Cole from Floyd County, Virginia, about settling in the area. Mr. Cole would be the town's first resident. Cole felt that his blacksmithing business would serve the area well. He established his business where a large white oak stood. This oak had been a travel marker and was named the 23-mile Oak as it was 23 miles from Pack's Ferry on the Bluestone River, a major inland shipping port. Cole had a thriving business. Years later this property was owned by the John McCreery family, and then in 1907, McCreery sold it to the Presbyterian Church for a house of worship to be built.

By 1882 lumber, tobacco and produce were being shipped via the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad located in Quinnimont some ten miles away. The population had grown to more than 300, and mail service was conducted daily. To accommodate the growing county, a new county courthouse was built in 1893. That same year, the first coal mining operation in the county was opened. The first hotel was built in 1868 and located on a lot designated by Beckley's town map. In 1900 the Glad Creek and Piney Railroad, a short line, was under construction. The rail line accommodated passengers to and from the surrounding farms.

By the turn of the century the Beckley area saw a shift from an agrarian region to a industrial one. No longer was the land utilized for farming and lumbering as it once had. With the opening of the New River Coal field, (one of the states' largest coal deposits), futures and fortunes turned to the mining of coal.

In 1901, the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad built a branch line through the area to open up the Raleigh Coal field. The Raleigh Coal and Coke Company (RC&CC) began operations in 1901. In 1903, the Beaver Coal Company, a land holding company with offices in Beckley, and the RC&CC developed a consortium under the name "Black Knight Coal." This new operation facilitated the rapid growth of coal communities that surrounded the town of Beckley. By 1905, there were more then fifty mines in operation, and 19 seams producing coal. Beckley was at the center of the activity.

  1. Kim A. Valente, preservation consultant, Cameras in Architecture, Beckley Courthouse Square Historic District, Raleigh County, West Virginia, nomination document, 1994, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

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