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Numerous maps of West Virginia and its constituent parts were produced both before and after statehood was achieved. The principal maps of Virginia that include some or all of present West Virginia are the Fry-Jefferson map that appeared in 1752 and the heavily revised versions of 1755 and 1757; Bishop James Madison’s maps of 1807 and 1818; and many of the series of more than 500 maps produced for the Virginia Board of Public Works between 1815 and the Civil War. That series includes the excellent maps of Virginia counties produced by Boye and Wood during the 1820s as well as several maps by Claudius Crozet, who supervised construction of improvements in the state’s transportation system, in both eastern and western Virginia, at various times from the 1820s into the 1850s.

According to the author Delf Norona, the Richardson’s map of 1864, now apparently lost, seems to have been the first map of the new state of West Virginia that did not include the mother state as well. Throughout the remainder of the 19th century, general maps of West Virginia appeared primarily in popular atlases such as those produced by Cram, Mitchell, and Northrup. A comparison of the maps of West Virginia in various editions of those atlases reveals much about the rapid development of new towns, roads, and railroads during the latter decades of the 19th century. All of these maps, however, were superseded by Rand McNally’s new map of West Virginia produced around 1899. Rand McNally’s cartographic technology was very advanced, and the map was so detailed that earlier maps were made obsolete.

Special purpose maps featuring West Virginia began to appear during the late 19th century, and the variety of such maps has expanded considerably since then. These maps focus on some specific natural or cultural feature such as topography, natural resources, transportation, political boundaries, public utilities, and numerous others.

Two important types of special purpose maps, in terms of what they tell us about the development of many West Virginia towns, are panoramic and fire insurance maps. Panoramic or bird’s-eye maps are three-dimensional. They portray urban areas as if viewed from above and show street patterns and buildings as they once existed. Panoramic maps of at least two dozen West Virginia towns were produced between 1896 and 1911. Fire insurance maps, particularly those produced by the Sanborn Company, are an unrivaled source of information about the evolution of many West Virginia municipalities between 1878 and 1990. Among other things they show the size and shape of all structures, property boundaries, street names and widths, building use, and house and block numbers.

Road and railroad maps from different periods also reflect important changes. The earliest known road map produced by a state agency appeared in 1911. Gasoline companies and the American Automobile Association, as well as the state, continued to publish them during the years that followed. Eventually road maps became more than an aid to motorists and began to feature information about scenic and recreational activities in an attempt to boost tourism.

Many of the rail companies that have operated in West Virginia, particularly the larger ones, periodically issued maps of their lines. The initial map of this type was published by the Baltimore & Ohio in 1867. CSX and the Norfolk Southern, the major railroads currently operating in the state, continue to issue maps.

The best topographical maps of West Virginia are produced by the U.S. Geological Survey and the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey. The Geological and Economic Survey has also published numerous maps related to the state’s natural resources.

Apparently there were no Virginia atlases before the Civil War. The first West Virginia atlas (White’s) appeared in 1873. Three more, by Ice, Hixson, and Hevenor, were published during the 1930s. All of these early atlases were devoted primarily to maps of counties, shown individually or in groups, and supplemented by a substantial amount of information about each county.

Clagg and Britton’s 1956 atlas differed from the earlier ones by emphasizing historical factors and statewide economic data rather than county maps and information about each county. The governor’s office periodically produced economic atlases containing similar information during the 1960s and 1970s. More recent state atlases by Puetz (1988), DeLorme (1997), and Long (1998) are similar in design to those appearing before 1956.

Joseph Martin’s 1836 gazetteer of Virginia seems to be the only such publication prior to the division of the state. The first multistate gazetteer to include West Virginia, along with Maryland and Delaware, appeared in 1884. Gannett’s gazetteer (1904) was the first to be devoted exclusively to West Virginia place names and locations. The most comprehensive state gazetteers were published by the U.S. Geological Survey (1981), the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey (1987), and DeLorme (1997).

In 2008, West Virginia University Press published The Historical Atlas of West Virginia, by Frank S. Riddel. The volume contains 127 maps covering the geographic, economic, political and historical development of the state.

This Article was written by Frank S. Riddel

Last Revised on December 02, 2019


Lessing, Peter & Nora L. Simcoe. Catalog of West Virginia Maps. Morgantown: West Virginia Geological & Economic Survey, 1988.

Norona, Delf. Cartography of West Virginia, Parts 1 and 2. West Virginia History, (Jan. & Apr. 1948).

McKee, Marianne M. [electronic resource]. Feb. 2000.

Cite This Article

Riddel, Frank S. "Maps, Atlases, and Gazetteers." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 02 December 2019. Web. 20 July 2024.


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