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Beckley is a city in and the county seat of Raleigh County, West Virginia, United States. It was founded on April 4, 1838. Beckley was named in honor of John James Beckley, who was the first Clerk of the House of Representatives and the first Librarian of Congress. It was founded by his son Alfred Beckley (US Army general and Confederate militia commander, born in Washington, D.C.). The current mayor is Rob Rappold.
Although founded in 1838, Beckley existed only on paper at that time, "Alfred Beckley said he "was frequently jeered and laughed at for his Paper Town..." Early in its history, the town was known as Beckley, Raleigh Court House, and, occasionally, Beckleyville. The town was originally located in Fayette County, Virginia. In 1850 the act of the Virginia legislature creating Raleigh County named Beckley the county seat. The city is sometimes called the "Smokeless Coal Capital", "The City of Champions" and the "Gateway To Southern West Virginia." Beckley had the first "community antenna" television system in the United States, a forerunner of cable television.
During the presidential primaries of 1960, the vehicles of rivals John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey stopped at the same streetcorner in Beckley. Recognizing each other, the two men got out and chatted briefly.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 9.50 square miles (24.60 km2), of which, 9.49 square miles (24.58 km2) is land and 0.01 square miles (0.03 km2) is water.
Due to its elevation, the climate of Beckley is humid continental (Köppen Dfb), and the city straddles the border between USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 6B and 7A. Summers are warm and humid, usually a few degrees cooler than lower-elevation places within the state, with an average of only 1.2 days of a maximum at or above 90 °F (32 °C) annually. Winters are generally cold and snowy with occasional intervening milder periods and an average of 2.4 nights annually with a minimum of 0 °F (−18 °C) or lower. Normal monthly daily mean temperatures range from 31.1 °F (−0.5 °C) in January to 70.6 °F (21.4 °C) in July. Snowfall varies with an average of 62 inches (157 cm) per season and mostly occurs from December to March with an occasional snowfall in November of (usually) 2–3 inches (5–8 cm). Record temperatures range from −22 °F (−30 °C) on January 21, 1985, up to 103 °F (39 °C) on July 21 and August 11, 1926; the extreme coldest daily maximum was −3 °F (−19 °C) on February 13, 1899, while, conversely, the extreme warmest daily minimum was 79 °F (26 °C) on July 7, 1924 and August 22, 1926. On average, the first and last occurrences of freezing temperatures in the cooler season are October 13 and April 30, respectively, allowing a growing season of 165 days.
As of the census of 2010, there were 17,614 people, 7,800 households, and 4,414 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,856.1 inhabitants per square mile (716.6/km2). There were 8,839 housing units at an average density of 931.4 per square mile (359.6/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 72.3% White, 21.2% African American, 0.3% Native American, 2.4% Asian, 0.5% from other races, and 3.2% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.5% of the population.
There were 7,800 households of which 25.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 36.8% were married couples living together, 15.5% had a female householder with no husband present, 4.2% had a male householder with no wife present, and 43.4% were non-families. 37.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 15.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.17 and the average family size was 2.85.
The median age in the city was 41.6 years. 20.2% of residents were under the age of 18; 9.5% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 23.9% were from 25 to 44; 28.5% were from 45 to 64; and 17.9% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 46.6% male and 53.4% female.
As of the census of 2000, there were 17,254 people, 7,651 households, and 4,590 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,874.9 people per square mile (724.1/km2). There were 8,731 housing units at an average density of 948.8 per square mile (366.4/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 73.64% White, 22.89% African American, 0.14% Native American, 1.89% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.21% from other races, and 1.22% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.74% of the population.
There were 7,651 households out of which 25.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 40.9% were married couples living together, 16.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 40.0% were non-families. 35.6% of all households were made up of individuals and 16.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.18 and the average family size was 2.83.
In the city, the population was spread out with 21.8% under the age of 18, 8.3% from 18 to 24, 25.3% from 25 to 44, 24.4% from 45 to 64, and 20.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 42 years. For every 100 females there were 82.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 77.1 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $28,122, and the median income for a family was $38,110. Males had a median income of $35,780 versus $23,239 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,912. About 16.4% of families and 20.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 33.9% of those under age 18 and 9.5% of those age 65 or over.
Woodrow Wilson High School is Beckley's public high school. Three universities are located in Beckley: West Virginia University Institute of Technology, University of Charleston-Beckley, and a branch campus of Concord University. Additionally, New River Community and Technical College and Valley College are located in Beckley. The nonprofit, nondenominational Appalachian Bible College is located just outside the city limits, in nearby Bradley.
The city is the regional hub for over 100,000 Southern West Virginia residents. It is the eighth-largest city in West Virginia, exceeded in population by Fairmont and followed by Martinsburg.
Amtrak services Beckley at Prince Station in Prince, West Virginia.
Greater Beckley's only airport is Beckley Raleigh County Memorial Airport. Raleigh County Memorial Airport is served by ViaAir with service to Charlotte.
Beckley is well known for two major tourist attractions: The Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine and Tamarack. The Exhibition Coal Mine is a preserved coal mine that offers daily tours and a history lesson on coal mining in Appalachia. Tamarack, a showcase of Appalachian arts and crafts, was built in 1996 at a cost of $10 million and dedicated to former Governor Gaston Caperton.
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