Parkersburg Celebrates 200th Birthday

200 years ago today, the city of Parkersburg was incorporated in the state of Virginia. Now West Virginia’s fourth-largest city, Parkersburg is the largest city in the Mid-Ohio Valley region with a rich and fascinating history, the evidence of which can be seen throughout downtown and the city’s historic neighborhoods.

First named Newport by those who settled it in the late 18th century following the American Revolutionary War, the settlement was part of westward migration. The town was laid out on land granted to Alexander Parker for his service in the war. In 1810, the area was renamed Parkersburg in his honor (following negotiations between Parker, his heirs, and the original city planners) and officially chartered by the Virginia General Assembly in 1820.

1814 Map of Virginia from the Library of Congress, zoomed in on the Mid-Ohio Valley

Advantageously located on the confluence of the Ohio and Little Kanawha Rivers, the city served as a natural transportation hub with both rivers carrying travelers and goods into the Mid-Ohio Valley at the turn of the 19th century. In 1811, the Ohio River’s first steamboat made a stop in the newly renamed city of Parkersburg to refuel. The development of the northwestern Turnpike (now US Route 50) and the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike (now State Route 47) further improved the city’s connectivity, but nothing contributed more to the city’s growth than its connections through steel rail.

Reaching Parkersburg in 1857, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad connected Parkersburg to Cincinnati and the East Coast. This, combined with the region’s oil and gas boom in the 1860s, put Parkersburg on the nation’s map, 90 years after General George Washington purchased the land on the speculation that it was rich in oil and natural gas. The city enjoyed great prosperity during this time – you can still see the fruit of this wealth in the beautifully restored Victorian homes in the Julia-Ann Square Historic District, once home to the state’s political and business leaders.

The Blennerhassett Hotel in 1897

When Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861, Wood County provided leadership in forming the new state of West Virginia. During the Civil War, Parkersburg served as a transportation and medical center for Union forces and in 1861, Union General George B. McClellan moved his headquarters to Parkersburg. Wood County remained under Union control throughout the war and served as a strategic location for moving troops and supplies. After the war, Parkersburg emerged as a bustling, progressive city with considerable wealth.

Parkersburg remains one of West Virginia’s most historic cities with a vibrant heritage that has been preserved for future generations. Learn more about Parkersburg’s rich history by visiting one of its many museums and historic landmarks, or reach out to the Greater Parkersburg Convention & Visitors Bureau for guided tours, maps, and more.

Bicentennial celebrations for the City of Parkersburg are scheduled for June 18th – 21st this spring, led by the Bicentennial Committee. For more information on upcoming events and how to get involved, follow PKB 200 on Facebook.

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