West Virginia Communities
West Virginia (WV) is unique among U.S. states in its patterns of community development, patterns that are largely determined by topography and the availability of resources such as oil, gas, coal, and timber. As might be expected, the largest communities in West Virginia -- Wheeling, Charleston, Huntington, Parkersburg, and Morgantown -- developed along rivers, which provided for transportation and waterpower. Extractive industries, such as mining and timbering, saw communities quickly wax and wane in rugged mountain regions. Many of these are now ghost towns. Two official forms of community recognized by West Virginia law are counties and incorporated communities, also known as towns or cities.
West Virginia is divided into 55 county units, most of which were established before the state of West Virginia was created in 1863. Most county boundaries encircle a territory that is principally defined by ridges, ranges, and river drainage areas. Many counties in West Virginia are rural.
The smallest unit of local government recognized in West Virginia is the incorporated community or municipality, also known as a town or city. Incorporated communities operate independently of the counties in which they are located, maintaining their own governments and police forces.