Located on the Little Kanawha River at the intersection of State Route 5 and U.S. 33-119, Glenville is the county seat of Gilmer County. The population was 1,537 in 2010.
In the late 1700s and early 1800s, white pioneers began settling in the area they called ‘‘the Ford’’ because it was a place where travelers could cross the river. Later, the community was named Glenville because of its location in a glen. The first gristmill in Gilmer County was constructed there in 1812. The first courthouse was completed in 1850, the second in 1872, and the current courthouse in 1923. Glenville was incorporated in 1856.
As early as 1833, a high school was established in the Methodist Episcopal Church. After moving to the courthouse in 1850 and into a house in 1884, the school got its own building in 1913. Glenville High School was replaced by the consolidated Gilmer County High School in 1968. What is now Glenville State College was founded in 1872. In 1950, folklorist Patrick Gainer established the West Virginia State Folk Festival at the college.
Before the 1930s, the Little Kanawha River’s commercial traffic dominated the town’s economy. Road construction contributed to the demise of riverboating by the late 1930s. The natural gas and oil industry rose to prominence after oil was struck in 1875 at nearby Letter Gap. Glenville is now the headquarters of several oil and gas firms. The 1985 flood devastated the downtown, leading many businesses to move to the higher Hays City neighborhood at the main highway intersection.
The Little Kanawha Valley Bank was incorporated in 1901. Its small frame building, covered in pressed metal, is now on the National Register of Historic Places. By 1906, the First National Bank of Glenville and the Glenville Banking and Trust Company had also been created. Glenville is now served by United Bank and a branch of Calhoun Banks of Grantsville.
Early Methodist circuit riders and Baptist missionaries brought religion to Glenville early in the 19th century. The Presbyterian Church was organized in 1847; the First Baptist Church, 1850; and Trinity United Methodist Church, 1896. Several other churches also serve the area today. Glenville has a golf club and recreation center, among several other facilities built at the old county poor farm.
In 1885 the Glenville Crescent first published Ellen King’s poem, ‘‘The West Virginia Hills,’’ which later became the official state song. While this newspaper didn’t survive, the Glenville Pathfinder (1892) and the Glenville Democrat (1904) have.
This Article was written by David H. Corcoran
Gilmer County Historical Society. History of Gilmer County, West Virginia, 1845-1989. Marceline, MO: Walsworth Pub., 1994.
Hardesty's Historical and Geographical Encyclopedia vol. 7. Chicago: H. H. Hardesty, 1883, Reprint, Richwood: Comstock, Hardesty West Virginia Counties, 8 vols., 1973.
WPA Writers' Project. Gilmer: The Birth of a County. Charleston: 1940.