The West Fork River joins the Tygart Valley River at Fairmont to form the Monongahela. The West Fork drains about 760 square miles, its headwaters reaching into the heart of West Virginia. The principal towns on the West Fork are Monongah, Shinnston, Lumberport, Clarksburg, and Weston. The river’s length is 103 miles, and it traverses Marion, Harrison, Lewis, and Upshur counties. The tributaries include Bingamon, Tenmile, Booths, Elk, Simpson, Lost, and Kincheloe creeks.
In 1793, Virginia chartered a company for the improvement of the river, and required owners of mill dams to install chutes for the downstream passage of boats. In 1800, the West Fork was declared a navigable public highway. Under the leadership of the Jackson family, in 1817 the Monongahela Navigation Company began efforts to construct a slack-water navigation system on the West Fork, using dams, chutes, and locks. In May 1824, the works were nearing completion when they were heavily damaged by a flood, and the project was abandoned soon after.
Flooding has been a recurring problem. On June 25, 1950, the West Fork at Weston reached a record 25.50 feet, more than eight feel above flood stage. The great storm of November 1985 produced rain amounts of six to seven inches around Weston, Clarksburg, and Fairmont during a 24-hour period. On November 5, the West Fork at Weston crested at 24.10 feet, more than seven feet above flood stage.
Plans for a West Fork flood-control dam date back to the 1930s, but disagreement between business and urban people who supported a dam and rural interests who opposed it held up construction for decades. The Stonewall Jackson Lake was finally authorized in 1966. The dam continued to be bitterly opposed and was not completed until 1988. It is located at Brownsville, about 74 miles above the West Fork’s confluence with the Tygart. Today the lake is complemented by an attractive state park. The smaller Stonecoal Lake is located nearby, on Stonecoal Creek, a West Fork tributary.
General Thomas J. ‘‘Stonewall’’ Jackson, the lake’s namesake, grew up on the banks of the West Fork at Jackson’s Mill. It is believed that his dying words (‘‘Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.’’) are a literal reference to the stream of his boyhood days.
This Article was written by Wallace Venable
Last Revised on November 12, 2010
Johnson, Leland R. The Headwaters District: A History of the Pittsburgh District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1979.