Putnam County was created by an act of the Virginia General Assembly on March 11, 1848, from parts of Cabell, Kanawha and Mason counties. It was named in honor of Israel Putnam, a hero in the French and Indian War and a general in the American Revolutionary War.
General Putnam was born in Salem, Massachusetts on January 7, 1718. He later moved to Connecticut where he owned and operated a farm. In 1755, he was appointed the commander of the Connecticut militia during the French and Indian War. He retired after the war to his farm in Connecticut, but was reactivated as the commander of the Connecticut militia during the American Revolutionary War. He commanded the American Army at the Battle of Bunker Hill, and for his services during the war, was promoted to the rank of major General, one of the first four major generals in the American Revolutionary Army. He retired from the military in 1779, due to ill health. He died on May 29, 1790.
George Washington, who surveyed the county’s Buffalo district in the fall of 1770, was probably the first man of European descent to set foot in the county. James Conner was the first settler. He arrived in 1775. In 1785, Theopolus Armour, his wife, son, and baby attempted a settlement in the county, but his wife and baby were killed by Indians and he returned back east with his son. In 1799, Charles Connor, James Ellis and John Dudding moved to the county. Ellis built a cabin on the shore of Big Hurricane and John Dudding built a cabin on the Kanawha River.
Buffalo, in central Putnam County, may be one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in North America, having been settled relatively early by native Americans and still being inhabited when the first European settlers arrived. Excavations at the village in 1963-1964 uncovered a central plaza surrounded by ceremonial buildings and a semi-circle of house, all enclosed in a stockade. Then as now, residents enjoyed the bounty of the river, its fertile bottoms and the wooded hills that extend into the distance beyond.
The first Civil War engagement of significance in the Kanawha Valley was fought at Scary Creek, across the river from present day Nitro, on July 17, 1861. The Union Army, consisting primarily of troops from Ohio, suffered 23 fatalities during the battle while the Confederate Army, under the command of former Virginia Governor Henry A. Wise, had relative few losses. Despite the apparent victory, the Confederate Army decided to fall back to Charleston and soon after left the valley to take up the fight in other parts of the state.
Putnam County is part of one of the most productive agricultural regions in West Virginia. Much of the county is in farmland and woodland. Particularly large farms have been worked along the broad bottoms of the Kanawha River and at the mouths of its major tributaries. Many smaller farms follow winding tributary streams into the ridges beyond. Many lay along the tableland regions above the valley, which rise 500 feet above the mean river level. Tobacco, beef cattle, grain crops and poultry are its largest crops. The region is recognized for its pastoral beauty. The county is entirely contained with the Allegheny Plateau region of Appalachia.
The largest communities in Putnam are located in flats along the Kanawha River in the Kanawha Valley. Most such communities are commercial centers serving the region’s smaller agricultural community, though Nitro (in the south) is an important industrial city, formerly the site of a nitroglycerin plant and part of the industrial and chemical complex of the central Kanawha Valley. Hurricane, also in the south, is located along the I-64 corridor between the metropolitan area of Charleston and Huntington. The County is comprised of incorporated cities and towns:
- Town of Bancroft
- Town of Buffalo
- Town of Eleanor
- City of Hurricane
- City of Nitro (portions)
- Town of Poca
- Town of Winfield
Winfield, the county seat, was established on a 400-acre tract of land owned by Charles Brown. He established a ferry across the river in 1818. The first meeting of the county court was held at the home of Talleyrand P. Brown, in Winfield, on May 22, 1848. The town was incorporated on February 21, 1868 and name in honor of General Winfield Scott, the commanding General of the American Army during the War with Mexico.
Many hamlets and small villages pepper the ridges beyond the Kanawha Valley. Many were established in the late 19th century when the county was timbered to fuel the valley’s saltworks. Many were developed later around country stores and post offices.
- Black Betsy
- Culloden (portions)
- Fraziers Bottom
- Raymond City
- Red House
- Scott Depot
- Teays Valley
Since the county is roughly equidistant between Charleston and Huntington, the state’s two largest cities, along Interstate 64, the area has undergone a period of rapid suburbanization. Areas that were once farms or wooded back county are now being developed into subdivisions. In fact, the area is now the second-fastest growing region of West Virginia.