Morgantown is closely tied to the Anglo-French struggle for this territory. Until the Treaty of Paris in 1763, what is now known as Morgantown was greatly contested among settlers and native Indians, as well as the English and the French. The treaty decided the issue in favor of the English, but Indian fighting continued almost to the beginning of the Revolution.
Several forts were built in the area after this conflict. Fort Pierpont was constructed towards the Cheat River, in 1769. Fort Coburn was built in 1770 near Dorsey’s Knob. Fort Morgan was established in 1772 at the present site of Morgantown. Fort Dinwiddle, north several miles at Stewartstown, was built in 1772. Fort Martin was established in 1773, several miles north on the Monongahela River. Fort Burris was erected in 1774 in the Suncrest area of Morgantown. Fort Kern was built in the Greenmont area of Morgantown in 1774, as well as other small forts that served the purpose at the time.
Morgantown was settled in 1772 by Zaquill Morgan. The Virginia Assembly chartered the territory in 1785 and the first lot sale was held. Morgan received the charter for the establishment of the town to be called Morgan’s Town. The direct result of the Virginia Charter is the present City of Morgantown.
Just three months after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Monongalia County was established by the State of Virginia under Governor Patrick Henry on October 11, 1776. Originally, the county encompassed a much larger area, leading to Monongalia being called the “Mother of counties.” Thirteen counties, including three in Pennsylvania, have been formed from the original Monongalia. The first county seat was located near New Geneva, Pennsylvania, and Virginia courts met as far north as Pittsburgh. Extension of the Mason-Dixon line westward in 1782 more firmly established the county’s northern boundary.
Iron was an important industry in this area in the late eighteenth century. Ices Ferry was an important industrial area with a population of nearly 3,000 people. Tram roads ran into the mountains to various furnaces to bring out the iron. Ices Ferry was a shipping point and much of the iron also was processed there at a nail factory, a rolling mill, a bar mill, a stone foundry, a boatyard, a wagon shop, a blacksmith shop, and a grist mill. The ore was smelted with charcoal made from woodcut and burned in the mountains. Of the many furnaces built, a few are still standing. Best preserved is the Henry Clay Furnace built prior to 1840, located in the Coopers Rock State Forest on WV Rt. 73. By the Civil War, this industrial activity had largely disappeared because of changing economic conditions and better transportation.
Francis H. Pierpont was born near Morgantown. He was the governor of the “Restored Government of Virginia” during the Civil War and was the grandson of John Pierpont, the builder of Fort Pierpont.
Notable early structures that still stand in Morgantown include the “Old Stone House,” built prior to 1813. The structure stood on the street known as “Long Alley,” but is known today as Chestnut Street. Another structure that has been well restored is the home built by John Rogers on Foundry Street. This structure was built in 1840 and is now occupied by the Dering Funeral Home.
The first school in the region was the Monongalia Academy, established in 1814 at Spruce and Willey Streets, the present location of the VFW. West Virginia University, established in 1867, had its first facilities in the older Woodburn Academy and those facilities now constitute the historic Woodburn Circle on the downtown campus.
Morgantown has seen many changes since the charter of Morgan’s Town in 1785. Since that time Morgantown has developed the finest educational, research, industrial, health, and transportation facilities available in the area. A healthy business atmosphere and strong community effort assures that Morgantown has a lot of history to come.