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May 20, 2013

Railroad industry helps shape W.Va. landscape

FAIRMONT — Many aspects of West Virginia have helped the state grow, but one industry has been here from the beginning.

Denver Barnett, a member of the board of directors of the West Virginia Train & Railroad Museum in Elkins, said in the winter of 1852, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad made its way across the Allegheny Mountains after 23 years of its start in Baltimore, Md.

“This was before the Civil War,” he said. “Its purpose was to go west and open up the western territories.”

The Civil War began in 1861 and West Virginia became a state in 1863. When the war started, railroads were used as weapons for the first time and the recently built B&O gave the Union an upper hand.

“It was mostly used for logistics,” Barnett said. “They were able to move large amounts of men and materials, which was an advantage that the South did not have.”

After the Civil War, railroads influenced the landscape of West Virginia. Barnett said most of the larger towns and cities in the state are major cities because of railroads.

“The railroad came through their town during their development stage,” he said. “Towns would compete for the railroads to come through their town because of the economic benefit they brought.”

Railroads were such an influence that counties changed their county seat to where the railroads were. For example, Randolph County moved its county seat from Beverly to Elkins in 1899.

 

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