Tending the Commons: Folklife and Landscape in Southern West Virginia

Historical Maps of the Study Area

The maps, below, illustrate different historical stages in the exploration and development of coalfields in the areas where the collection materials were gathered.

The earliest period, which Appalachian historians (Dunaway, Rasmussen, Salstrom) term "the engrossment," took place during the Federalist Era, when wealthy politicians were awarded land grants of hundreds of thousands of acres apiece. This map, by George Washington, of the eight survey tracts is a splendid artifact of this period.

Small parcels occupied by early settlers were excluded, of course, but these were tiny islands in a huge sea of property held by absentee owners. With few navigable rivers, however, there was no way to get the timber to market, so landowners either rented the land to the growing families of settlers, sold off small parcels or let the whole thing lapse by failing to pay taxes. Alfred Beckley, the eponymous founder of the city of Beckley, and the son of John Beckley the first Librarian of Congress, vetted many of these rents and sales. Pages from his diaries recording transactions and dispositions of land and people are included on the website.

During the Civil War national attention was drawn to the rich deposits of coal in the region and in the early 1870s the New River Railroad was the first to penetrate the region, precipitating a frenzy of land acquisition over the next three decades. In contrast to the engrossment, this period of industrialization is seen by historians as the colonization of the coalfields. In the early part of that period maps were produced showing the original land grants, which defined the property that companies like the Bowman Land Company went after. Swann's 1867 map exemplifies this kind of map, showing the boundaries of original land grants awarded to DeWitt Clinton (the New York legislator of Erie Canal fame), though many of these at that time owned by the Grangers (family friends of the Clintons).

The General and Regional Map of the New River and Kanawha Coal Fields (1905) shows the names of the companies that moved in during the gilded age, such as the Bowman Lumber Company, Atkinson, Cannelton, and so forth, all of which are direct antecedents of the companies owning ninety percent of the land there today. This map and the other two from that period, the Soil Map of Boone County and the Map of the Great Kanawha Coalfield Showing Location of Mines, show something of the rapid development of mines and company towns in our part of the coalfields, and contain lots of place names that come up in sound bites and photographs.


Map of a river in West Virginia.

descriptive record icon enlarge image icon [Eight survey tracts along the Kanawha River, W.Va. showing land granted to George Washington and others] George Washington. 1774?
Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

Map of a coal field.

descriptive record enlarge image Title map of the coal field of the great Kanawha Valley.
John S. Swann. 1867. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

Map of a coal field showing location of mines.

descriptive record enlarge image Map of Great Kanawha coal field showing location of mines. Jedediah Hotchkiss. 1886.
Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

Map of coal fields.

descriptive record enlarge image General and regional map of that portion of the New River and Kanawha coal fields... Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company.
c1905. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

Map of Boone County West Virginia.

descriptive record enlarge image Soil map : West Virginia, Boone county sheet. West Virginia Geological Survey.
1913. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.