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 Jeff Kemp.

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About Kanawha County

Kanawha county was formed in an Act of the Virginia Legislature in 1789, from portions of Greenbrier and Montgomery counties. "Kanawha" comes from an indian name meaning "place of white stone" this was probability because of the salt that was found in the area. The original county was about 120 miles long and nearly 100 miles wide. The western border was at the Big Sandy River and the county extended east to Sewell Mountain on what was the Greenbrier county line. To the north the county was bounded by the Little Kanawha River and extended south to the boundaries of Montgomery and Tazewell counties, Virginia and the state of Kentucky. In 1804 and 1809, Mason and Cabell counties respectively, were formed from part of Kanawha county. Over the first century of the county history, many new counties would be formed in portions of the original Kanawha county territory: Nicholas 1818, Logan 1824, Fayette 1831, Jackson 1831, Braxton 1836, Boone 1847, Gilmer 1843, Putnam 1848, Calhoun 1855, Roane 1856, Clay 1856, and Lincoln 1867. After the Civil War erupted in 1861, the northwestern portion of Virginia separated from Virginia, and Kanawha county became a part of West Virginia. Go to the county history page for more information.

Kanawha River Facts

The Kanawha River is West Virginia's largest inland waterway. Most history books refer to it as the "Great Kanawha". The Great Kanawha flows for 43 miles in Kanawha county. The Kanawha flows in an approximate southeast to northwest director. The Kanawha enters the Ohio river at Point Pleasant in Mason county, 99.5 miles west of the confluence of the New River. Mountain river drainage from North Carolina fills the New River, to the Gauley River than to the mouth of the Kanawha at Kanawha Falls. The Kanawha River was very important to the early settlement and commerce of Kanawha County.

Tributaries of the Kanawha River are:

  • The Elk River. The Elk River is the main tributary of the Kanawha River. The Elk flows for 180 miles from its headwaters in Pocahontas County to its mouth in Charleston. The Elk River has been called many names, such as, "Tiskelwah", an Indian name, which means river of fat elk, Miami Indians called it the "Pequonicepe", the Delaware Indians called it "Toquemincepe" which means Walnut River. The Elk River was used for transportation of timber by the timber companies. Timber products were sent down river from the north to the Charleston mills. In the 1930's houseboats were common on the Elk.
  • Another large tributary of the Kanawha River is the Coal River. The Coal River flows north from its headwaters in Boone County to its mouth at St Albans, a distance of 59 miles, 28 of these miles are in Kanawha County.
  • Pocatalico River, Pocatalico is an Indian name that means "the river of the fat doe".
  • Campbells Creek
  • Kelly's Creek
  • Paint Creek, originally called Moscooscepe and Ottowecepe by the Indians which means Deer Creek
  • Kanawha Two Mile
  • Cabin Creek
  • Hughes Creek
  • Smithers Creek  

By the early 1800's the Kanawha was navigable from its mouth at Point Pleasant to Kanawha Falls. But those traveling the Kanawha were at the mercy of fluctuating water levels and obstacles in the river at low water. Boulders and snags were removed from the river and by 1840 river traffic could now handle flatboats of coal, salt, and timber. In 1875 the first locks and dams were built. This made the depth of the Kanawha constant and the fluctuating water problem was solved. More locks and dams were built in future years to control the waters of the Kanawha which often flooded low lying communities. 

  • This web site is part of The USGenWeb Project, which is an effort to organize genealogical materials on the Internet for FREE access by researchers. Our goal is to provide a web site specializing in the genealogy in West Virginia with an emphasis on genealogy for Kanawha County. The USGenWeb also has an Archives which serves as a respository for transcriptions of public records and other material.

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Kanawha River Map

    (Click on image for larger view)


    Source Citation: Washington, George, Samuel Lewis, and William Crawford. Eight survey tracts along the Kanawha River, W.Va. showing land granted to George Washington and others. [?, 1774] Map. https://www.loc.gov/item/75693268/.

    Credit Line: Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.