Wirt County, currently known as the least populous county in the state of West Virginia, at one time was home to many towns and the 1861 Oil Boom in Burning Springs. This area was formed by two surrounding counties, Wood and Jackson counties, and was named in honor of the famous author and lawyer William Wirt of Virginia. The center of the county is the town of Elizabeth, named after one of the first settlers in the area, William Beauchamp. Time has taken a toll on the once-thriving county since the cessation of river boats and the institution of paved roads.
Wirt County was created on January 19, 1848 by the Virginia
General Assembly. It was made up of land from bordering Wood and Jackson
Counties. Wirt County is 235 square miles and according to the 2010 census, it
is the least populous county in the state of West Virginia. The county is named
in memory of William Wirt who died 14 years prior to the creation of the
county. William Wirt was a prominent author and lawyer in Virginia in the late 18th
century and early 19th century. He was appointed by Thomas Jefferson
to represent the United States in the Aaron Burr treason case. He also was one
of the lawyers in the Gibbons v. Ogden (1823) Supreme Court case and was a
Presidential nominee for the Anti-Masonic party.
The county seat of Wirt County is Elizabeth, WV. The town is
named after Elizabeth Beauchamp, the daughter of the first European settler,
William Beauchamp who first settled in the Elizabeth area in
1796. According to the United Census, Wirt County hit its peak population in
1900 with 10,284 people. However, this may not be accurate due to the
unreliability of the census in rural areas during the 19th century. It
is thought that the population could have been higher around the time of the
Civil War due to the Oil Boom of 1861 in Burning Springs.
Today Elizabeth is the only incorporated town, but in the
past there were many different little towns and communities within Wirt County.
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