Morgantown, the county seat of Monongalia County, is a regional financial, educational, commercial, and medical center. The city, one of the fastest growing in West Virginia, had an estimated population of 31,000 in 2012, an increase of 15.6 percent from 2000.
Col. Zackquill Morgan settled on the Monongahela River about 1771 and had a town surveyed on his land in 1783. In 1785, the Virginia General Assembly officially established Morgan’s Town. The original town consisted of today’s downtown area, with small water-powered industries located along Deckers Creek and the river. The General Assembly granted Morgantown its first charter in 1838, when the town had 650 residents.
From 1796 to 1818, when the National Road opened as a competing route, Morgantown was a jumping-off point, as boat builders supplied migrants heading north via the Monongahela to the Ohio River. The first steamboat arrived in 1826 although it was many years before regular service was established.
Residents established the first school in 1803. By 1860, the Monongalia Academy, Morgantown Female Academy, and Woodburn Female Seminary educated white students. In 1867, West Virginia’s legislature established the West Virginia Agricultural College in Morgantown, and in 1868 the school’s name was changed to West Virginia University. The legislature created two public school districts in Morgantown in 1868, one for whites and one for blacks. Schools stayed segregated until 1954.
A branch line of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad arrived in 1886, from Fairmont, but did not continue northward from Morgantown until 1894. The arrival of the railroad and the discovery of oil, gas, and coal in the surrounding county soon spurred substantial growth. Between 1890 and 1920, while industry expanded statewide, Morgantown developed major industrial valleys along Beechurst Avenue and in Sabraton. The glass industry attracted skilled itinerant and European (Belgian, French, and German) glassworkers, many of whom lived in the Seneca, Sunnyside, and Wiles Hill neighborhoods. The American Sheet and Tin Plate Company drew immigrants from Greece, Hungary, and Italy to live in the Sabraton area; Welsh immigrants lived in Greenmont.
Morgantown did not grow much beyond its original 1785 boundaries until the mid-1890s. In 1901, the city annexed Greenmont, Seneca, and South Morgantown, and population jumped from 1,895 in 1900 to 9,150 in 1910. South Park developed as an exclusive neighborhood in the early 1900s. Morgantown annexed part of Evansdale in 1947 and Suncrest and Sabraton in 1949. In most neighborhoods, deed restrictions banned blacks from owning property. In Suncrest, deeds sometimes banned immigrants and Jews from owning property.
WVU’s expansion in the 1960s and 1970s led to further development in Evansdale and Suncrest, neighborhoods originally established in the 1910s and 1920s. Retail shopping areas developed in Suncrest and Sabraton; the Mountaineer Mall opened in 1974.
During the early 1780s, Michael Kern built a church for all denominations, Morgantown’s first church. Gradually, residents established congregations that often reflected their ethnic and racial backgrounds. By 2000, the Methodists, Greek Orthodox, African Methodist Episcopal, Christian Missionary Alliance, Quakers, Roman Catholics, and Jews, among others, had places of worship in the city.
At the beginning of the 21st century, Morgantown was a thriving community. Main Street Morgantown, organized in 1983, led the downtown revitalization efforts.
Mountaineer Field, which can seat more than 65,000 fans, is more populous than any city in the state on game days. WVU’s many international students, faculty, and staff make the city very cosmopolitan for its size.
This Article was written by Barbara J. Howe
Last Revised on May 31, 2013
Core, Earl L. The Monongalia Story 5 vols. Parsons: McClain, 1974-84.
West Virginia University Public History Option. Morgantown: A Bicentennial History. Morgantown Historical Society, 1985.
Rice, Connie Park. Our Monongalia. Terra Alta: Headline Books, 1999.