How much do you know about the gateway to Southern West Virginia? Here are some odd facts you may or may not know.…

1. It’s named for Sir Walter Raleigh, who among other things, helped popularize tobacco in Britain, was a favorite of the first Queen Elizabeth, and was eventually executed to make Spain happy.

2. Raleigh apparently never set foot in the county—he died in 1618.

3. The first Europeans are believed to have explored the area in the 1740’s.

4. The first business in Beckley was a blacksmith’s shop, opened in 1850.

5. Beckley has also been known as Beckleyville and Raleigh Court House.


6 The county annexed the Slab Fork District from Wyoming County shortly after the Civil War—making it the only time a county in West Virginia was enlarged after its formation.

7. Along with being the hometown of legendary musician Bill Withers, Slab Fork is the birthplace of international jewel thief Doris Payne.

8. A film about Payne was planned, starring Halle Berry, but fell through in 2009.

9. Sophia was named after the daughter of a local civil servant.

10. Sen. Robert Byrd was actually born in North Carolina, only moving to West Virginia after his mother died.


11. Alfred Beckley, for whose father the town was named, served in the Civil War for the Confederate Army. He was briefly imprisoned by the Union.

12. West Virginia’s first FM radio station was established in Beckley in 1946, but shut down in 1951.

13. According to the state, between 1897 and 1992, 2,121 coal miners died in accidents in Raleigh County.

14. That includes the 1914 Eccles mine explosion which killed 183 miners. It’s the second worst mining disaster in the state’s history.

15. Beckley gets about 55 inches of snow a year. The only city in West Virginia to get more is Elkins.

16. There are about 78,000 people in Raleigh County.

17. Only 348 of them live in Lester.

18. 173 live in Rhodell.

19. It was originally called Rhodesdale, named after (you guessed it) a coal operator.


20. Hot Coal, once a coal camp outside of Sophia, was named by its operator as a marketing ploy—they said coal from that mine burned hotter.

21. Coal from the New River and Winding Gulf Coal Fields—both partially in Raleigh County—was known (and marketed) as “smokeless coal.”

22. Woodrow Wilson High School holds the record for most state basketball championships (16) and straight state tournament appearances (12).

23. Beckley is a popular spot to campaign for President. A partial list of campaigners include: Barack Obama, John Kerry, Bill and Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, Eleanor Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, just to name a few.

24. On his own presidential campaign visit to Beckley in 1968, Robert Kennedy called West Virginia his “second home.”

KEEP READING: 7 People That Will Make You Proud To Be From Beckley

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Rhodell was originally called “Rhodesville.”