Logan County was created by the Virginia General Assembly, May 7, 1824, from parts of Giles, Tazewell, Cabell, and Kanawha counties. The county lies south of Charleston in the heart of the southern West Virginia coalfields. Logan County, with an area of 455.6 square miles, is bisected by the Guyandotte River. The county seat, first named Lawnsville, was laid out in 1827. The town government was reorganized by the poet Thomas Dunn English in 1853–54, and the town was renamed Aracoma. It became the city of Logan in 1907, under Mayor Scott Justice.
Logan County was settled between 1792 and 1824 by pioneer families from Washington and Montgomery counties, Virginia, and Pike County, Kentucky. Through the 19th century the population lived mostly on family farms, though many men cut timber in the winter months to float to Catlettsburg and Guyandotte, on the Ohio River at the mouths of the Big Sandy and Guyandotte rivers, respectively.
Logan County experienced unsettled conditions during the Civil War. The county seat was occupied, then burned, by Union forces under Col. Edward Siber in 1862. After Reconstruction, Democrats regained control of the county under ‘‘Major’’ John William Straton. The courthouse was rebuilt. The town served as a gathering spot for farmers and timbermen during court days, which were held every three months.
In 1874, a great change began when the Confederate veteran, lawyer, and journalist Henry Clay Ragland arrived in Logan. Allied with Straton and Straton’s son-in-law, James Andrew Nighbert, Ragland worked to build a coal and railroad economy. Nighbert, Ragland, and their allies created the first successful newspaper, the Logan County Banner, to argue for industrialization. Success was assured when the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad constructed its line from Huntington to the city of Logan in 1904. In the meantime the Norfolk & Western Railroad had built its main line in 1893 on the ‘‘Sandy side,’’ the nickname for the part of Logan County lying within the Big Sandy River valley. Rapid development following the arrival of the railroad led in 1895 to the creation of Mingo County from that section of Logan.
Between 1904 and 1929, the Logan coalfields boomed. Holden, Omar, and many other coal company towns were created. The older towns of Man and Chapmanville adapted to the new economy. The darker side of Logan County’s coal economy also developed during those years. By the time of World War I, many miners believed they were exploited by the coal companies. That resentment added to tensions during the 1919–21 mine strike in Mingo County. Coal power was represented politically by Logan Sheriff Don Chafin. In 1919 and in August and September 1921, miners from the Kanawha Valley and the surrounding region launched two armed marches on Logan County to bring the United Mine Workers of America to the local mines. The marchers fought a three-day battle with Chafin’s forces at Blair Mountain in September 1921, and were turned back only through the intervention of the U.S. Army.
The Great Depression and World War II brought further changes. Federal labor legislation passed during Roosevelt’s New Deal finally made possible the establishment of the miners union, which changed the political complexion of the community and ensured the success of the Democratic Party. During and after the war, coal companies mechanized to increase production and reduce the number of miners. Many left to find employment elsewhere. From a high of approximately 11,000 miners in 1940, the number fell to 1,146 by 2001. Logan County population fell by half, from a peak of 77,391 in 1950 to an estimated 36,168 in 2012.
The county suffered industrial tragedy with the fire at Holden 22 Mine in March 1960 and the Buffalo Creek disaster in February 1972. Eighteen lives were lost at Holden 22, while another 125 lives were lost when a coal waste dam owned by the Pittston Corporation collapsed and destroyed a dozen communities on Buffalo Creek.
One of the most significant events in Logan County history was the Hatfield-McCoy Feud, which began in 1882 and ended in 1890. A subject of films, television programs, records, and many books, the feud pitted the family of West Virginian Anderson ‘‘Devil Anse’’ Hatfield against the family of Randolph ‘‘Randal’’ McCoy of Kentucky. Thirteen people were killed.
Logan County’s cultural contributions include its folk music, represented best by the Harts Creek tradition in fiddle playing, the clawhammer banjo playing of Virginia ‘‘Aunt Jennie’’ Ellis Wilson, and the original songs of Frank Hutchison, Jerrel Stanley, and Archie Conway. Since 1975, the county has presented an annual Arts and Crafts Fair. Since 1976, it also has presented an original drama, The Aracoma Story, based on the legend of a daughter of Shawnee war leader Cornstalk.
Logan County received national political attention in the spring of 1960, when Sen. John F. Kennedy campaigned for the presidential nomination in the county. Many in Logan County believed that the War on Poverty of his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, had been suggested by President Kennedy. The War on Poverty, however, did little to change the dynamics of Logan County’s history, and the continuing decline of coal employment has eroded the county’s economic base during the last 30 years. More recent concerns have included the debate over strip mining and whether or not the coal industry should be regulated more strictly by state and federal officials.
Written by Robert Y. Spence
Spence, Robert Y. The Land of the Guyandot. Detroit: Harlo Press, 1976.