Skip to main content

WVRHC Receives Sixth NEH Grant to Digitize Historical Newspapers

The West Virginia and Regional History Center received a $162,155 grant — its sixth from the National Endowment for the Humanities — to continue digitizing newspapers published in West Virginia from 1791 to 1927. 

The award is part of the National Digital Newspaper Program, a collaboration between the NEH and the Library of Congress to enlist libraries and institutions from around the country to create a digital database of historical U.S. newspapers. This grant brings the NEH’s total funding of the WVRHC’s efforts to $1,293,568.29. 

Two man in front of a cut down tree

“We are honored that the NEH continues to support our efforts to enhance access to the historical newspapers preserved in the WVRHC,” Director Lori Hostuttler said. “It’s a testament to the incalculable value of these resources and the influential role West Virginia has played in our nation’s history.” 

The Chronicling America website provides access to more than 15 million newspaper pages from 1690 to 1963. So far, the WVRHC has contributed 500,000 pages from more than 105 historic West Virginia  new spapers. And, because of this grant, another 100,000 pages will soon be added to the site. 

WVRHC Curator Stewart Plein said this round of newspapers will focus on the timber industry and the three major impacts resulting from its operation within the state: its exponential growth, the devastating effect of deforestation and the rise of conservation and reforestation. 

Newspapers selected for this grant cycle will cover six counties, Pocahontas, Greenbrier, Nicholas, Randolph, Tucker and Webster, all in the mountainous regions of the state. 

“The story of the timber industry in West Virginia is as much a boom-and-bust cycle as that of the lumber towns that rose and fell in the path of clearcutting and deforestation. The unprecedented growth in lumbering operations not only changed the face of West Virginia, but as the only state entirely within the borders of Appalachia, the impact on forestry and timbering was felt across the region,” Plein said. 

We are honored that the NEH continues to support our efforts to enhance access to the historical newspapers preserved in the WVRHC Lori Hostuttler

As settlements grew and towns emerged, small lumber companies set up operations near available water sources that made it possible to move logs via rafts. The introduction of the railroad and the advent of steam-powered equipment made previously unreachable mountainous regions accessible. 

As late as 1870, thousands of square miles of virgin forest lay untouched. By 1880, there were 472 lumber mills in the state employing 3,765 men, with an output of 180,112, 000 board feet of lumber a year. 

At the height of lumber operations, in 1909, there were 83 band mills and 1,441 lumber operations, producing one and a half billion feet of lumber in that year alone, Plein said. Between 1879 and 1912 more than 20 billion board feet were cut. That number represents 8,500,000 acres of virgin forest, or 85 percent, of the total timber in West Virginia.