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Ripley is the county seat of Jackson County. It is situated in a bend of Big Mill Creek 12 miles from Ravenswood and is 616 feet above sea level. The town was laid out in 1831 by Jacob Starcher and received its charter December 19, 1832. It was probably named for Harry Ripley, a popular, circuit-riding Methodist minister who drowned in Mill Creek in 1830. The earliest settler in the area was Capt. William Parsons, who built the first road between Clarksburg and Point Pleasant in 1807.

The first of three courthouses, a one-story structure, was built on the town square in 1832. In 1858, the original was replaced with a two-story brick and sandstone structure. The third and present courthouse was built in 1920. An 1886 referendum confirmed Ripley as county seat, defeating rival Ravenswood. In 1897, when John Morgan was hanged in public on the edge of Ripley for the hatchet murders of three members of the Greene family, it created such a sensation that the state legislature passed a bill requiring that all future executions take place inside the state penitentiary.

By 1883, Ripley’s population had reached 614. The town had hotels, blacksmith shops, tailors, merchants, a gristmill, tanyard, woolen mill, planing mill, master carpenter, lumber companies, attorneys, and two physicians. The first free school had been opened after West Virginia became a state in 1863. The first high school was opened in 1913.

The town’s first post office was opened in 1832. The first newspaper was the Jackson Democrat. It was established in 1864 and became the Jackson Herald in 1877. Ripley has been served by the Jackson County Public Library since the 1940s.

The first annual Jackson County Fair was held at Ripley in 1877. By 1989, fair attendance had reached 30,000 with 2,000 exhibits. It is joined today by the nearby Mountain State Art & Craft Fair. The Ripley Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.

No longer isolated, Ripley lies at the intersection of U.S. 33 and Interstate 77. The town, with a 2020 population of 3,074, is a center of commerce with several restaurants, stores, motels, banks, churches, twin theaters, two newspapers, and several residential suburbs. Ripley claims to have the “Biggest Small Town” 4th of July celebration in America. The celebration was attended by President George W. Bush, who delivered an address on July 4, 2002.

Read the National Register of Historic Places nomination.

Written by Carolyn Flesher Bolovan