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Grafton is a city in — and the county seat of — Taylor County, West Virginia, USA. The population was 5,164 at the 2010 census. Both of West Virginia's national cemeteries are located in Grafton. Mother's Day was founded in Grafton on May 10, 1908 and the city is home to the International Mother's Day Shrine. Grafton was one of the first places to observe Memorial Day in the United States. Grafton originally developed as a junction point for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, serving numerous branches vital to the local coal industry.
Grafton grew out of early white settlements at the confluence of Three Fork Creek with the Tygart Valley River, part of the headwaters region of the Monongahela River watershed. In 1776, Virginia's remote District of West Augusta was divided into three counties, including Monongalia County, which included what are now Taylor County and Grafton. James Current (ca. 1730-1822), a Scots-Irish immigrant who fought in the Revolutionary War in 1778, had entered the continent by the way of Maryland and was residing somewhere in Monongalia County with his family by 1782 when he appears on a census there. The Current family story is that he traded a "gray horse" for 1,300 acres of land situated at present day Grafton. James and his wife Margaret, who may have been the pioneering settlers, are buried in Bluemont Cemetery (part of his original property); his is the only known Revolutionary War soldier's grave in Grafton.
John Wolverton Blue (1803-1889) was in charge of the construction of Virginia's Northwestern Turnpike from Aurora to the Tygart Valley. Visiting the future site of Grafton in 1833, he overnighted with the Currents. According to a local historian "Blue, upon awakening the next morning, heard the wife of Current sobbing bitterly" over the impending loss of her "cabin home...[and] vegetable and flower garden" owing to the new road's right-of-way. "Mr. Blue, a Virginian of the old school, was greatly moved...and...an offer of $300 for 900 acres...and their ruined home...was quickly accepted." This one-day suburb of Grafton became known as Blueville and it — along with the nearby area called "Bridge Valley" (present day Fetterman) — began to grow after the Turnpike was completed in 1834. Blue also supervised the construction of a (now long gone) covered bridge over the Tygart here at this time.
In 1847, the Virginia General Assembly passed an act authorizing the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company to extend its line to the Ohio River at Wheeling. The city of Grafton owes its existence to the interventions of Thomas S. Haymond (1794–1869), a lawyer and U.S. Congressman (and future Confederate colonel) from nearby Marion County. According to another local historian, "Haymond never mentioned his county as desiring the [rail]road; but being well acquainted with the geography of north-western Virginia, he quietly got the following clause attached to the bill: 'That the said railroad to be constructed through the territory of Virginia, shall reach or cross the Tygart's Valley River at or within three miles of the mouth of Three Fork Creek in the county of Taylor'". This clause effectively re-routed the line away from Morgantown and forced it to pass through Haymond's hometown of Fairmont. Grafton, which is perched in unlikely fashion on a very steep hillside at the mentioned confluence, was the accidental beneficiary, also becoming the branch point for the side line north to Morgantown.
The B&O work crews finally pushed through on January 11, 1852 and the first "iron horse" arrived two days later. This was the first trans-Appalachian railroad and within a year Grafton had emerged as a booming railroad town with several residences and stores. As the railroad facilities were developed, local land was surveyed for the new town which was chartered on March 15, 1856 in the Virginia General Assembly.
The history of the name "Grafton" — originally Grafton Junction — is disputed between two possibilities. Grafton may have been named for John Grafton, a civil engineer of the B&O. Alternatively, it may be that railroad crews referred to the town as "Graftin" because it was the point at which a number of branch railroad lines met (grafted to) the railroad's mainline.
Due to the importance of the B&O Railroad for the movement of troops and supplies, Grafton was a strategic point during the early stages of the Civil War and both sides tried to control it. Although, most residents sided with the Union, people of Grafton and this area were divided. Union supporters joined the Grafton Guards and southern supporters joined the Confederate Letcher's Guard. On the evening of May 22, 1861, the two forces had a small skirmish in the Town of Fetterman (now a part of Grafton) resulting in the death of Thornsbury Bailey Brown, the first soldier killed in the Civil War. The Confederate forces were pushed south of Grafton under General B.J. Kelley and General George McClellan to Philippi where Mr. Kelley's forces defeated the Confederates under Colonel George A. Porterfield on June 3, 1861. Although the Union controlled the B&O terminal in Grafton, the Confederates often raided the area to disrupt its importance.
Thornsbury Bailey Brown, was the first soldier killed in the Civil War, at Fetterman, now part of Grafton. He is interred at the Grafton National Cemetery, which opened in 1868 in order to provide a burial ground for Union soldiers who died in West Virginia’s military hospitals and battlefields. The Federal Government selected Grafton as the site of the national cemetery for its proximity to the Maple Avenue Cemetery, which already contained the remains of many US Civil War veterans. On June 14, the first governor of West Virginia, Arthur Boreman, officially dedicated the cemetery. The cemetery contains more than 2,100 interments, including 1,252 Union soldiers. 613 Civil War soldiers are buried as unknowns and their graves are identified with six-inch square marble markers. In 1875, an Act of Congress was passed authorizing "preservation and maintenance" of the cemetery, and two plaques on the lowest terrace contain stanzas from Theodore O’Hara’s poem "Bivouac of the Dead." Memorial Day services at Grafton National Cemetery include a special tradition known locally as "Flower Strewing Day." Historically, each year a parade begins in downtown Grafton and winds its way towards the cemetery, where children from the town place flowers at each grave marker. The day concludes with a memorial service officiated by a prominent West Virginian. Every governor, except one who served a term of only six days, has spoken at the Grafton National Cemetery at least once during their term in office.
Following the Civil War, Grafton continued to grow and prosper from a railroad town to a major retail and industrial center for North Central West Virginia. Grafton was visited by President U.S. Grant on 23 September 1872 as part of his reelection campaign. Grant's speech was interrupted several times by noisy southern sympathizers.
In 1878, Grafton became the county seat after it was relocated from Pruntytown. Most of present-day Grafton was built during the period from 1890 to 1930. John T. McGraw, a financier and major contributor to most of Grafton's buildings was the principal town builder. Besides his bank, Mr. McGraw built a number of buildings along Main Street, and also the streetcar system that was used for many years.
Tygart Dam — about 2 miles south of Grafton — was constructed between 1934 and '38 by the Works Progress Administration. It was further aided by the Second New Deal, as remarked by Franklin Delano Roosevelt when he visited the city on October 1, 1936, on a stump tour prior to his landslide re-election the following month. Upstream of the dam, Tygart Lake State Park was formed by this structure. The Tygart Valley River flows through Grafton.
Grafton continued to prosper throughout much of the early 20th century with much of this growth centered on the importance of the railroad. In the early 1950s, the Carr China Plant closed and left hundreds of residents unemployed. In the late 1950s, Hazel Atlas Glass Plant closed and also left hundreds of residents without jobs. In 1958, the women of Grafton organized a parade on Main Street to attract jobs for the men and women in the community. This parade received national recognition and ultimately helped Grafton acquire a plastic baby toys manufacturer and because of their efforts and the efforts of many in this community, Grafton was given an All-America City Award by the National Civic League in 1962, the smallest city that year to receive the award.
Ironically, the railroad, which was crucial to the early growth and economy of the city, also inhibited its growth. In the 1920s smoke abatement experts reported that the combination of high hills, low wind velocity, and heavy railroad traffic, and the situation of the business district being immediately adjacent to the greatest railroad activity, was probably not duplicated in any other railroad center in the country. The resulting smoke from the railroad activity was one of the main factors in holding back the growth of the city. Further declines in industries and railroad operation resulted in further declines in population over the years.
In the early 1980s, the railroad relocated hundreds of jobs to Jacksonville, Florida, leaving Grafton with a severe economic and emotional loss that existed for many years.
The 1985 Election day floods were notable in Grafton. Most of the 47 people killed in this incident were in Pendleton and Grant counties, according to the National Weather Service. Flooding in the Tygart Valley River basin (tributary to the Monongahela River) set new records for peak discharge at all five of the long-term unregulated gaging stations in the basin. However, the peaks were not as extreme, relative to the previous peaks of record, as those in the Cheat River and South Branch Potomac River basins. Recurrence intervals for the peaks equaled or exceeded 50 years at all five of the aforementioned sites in the Tygart basin, and four were in excess of 100 years. Also, at one newly established gaging station, Three Forks Creek near Grafton, the peak discharge, 12,000 ft3/s, was estimated to exceed the 100-year recurrence interval.
The Grafton Downtown Commercial Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 and the Grafton National Cemetery was listed in 1982.
Grafton is located at 39°20′30″N 80°1′11″W (39.341757, -80.019817), along the Tygart Valley River. Tygart Lake State Park is a major nearby tourist attraction.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 3.80 square miles (9.84 km2), of which, 3.67 square miles (9.51 km2) is land and 0.13 square miles (0.34 km2) is water.
As of the census of 2010, there were 5,164 people, 2,192 households, and 1,357 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,407.1 inhabitants per square mile (543.3/km2). There were 2,512 housing units at an average density of 684.5 per square mile (264.3/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 97.1% White, 0.7% African American, 0.3% Native American, 0.2% Asian, 0.1% from other races, and 1.5% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.9% of the population.
There were 2,192 households of which 29.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 41.3% were married couples living together, 15.0% had a female householder with no husband present, 5.6% had a male householder with no wife present, and 38.1% were non-families. 33.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 15.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.29 and the average family size was 2.92.
The median age in the city was 41.7 years. 21.9% of residents were under the age of 18; 8.4% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 23.9% were from 25 to 44; 26.9% were from 45 to 64; and 19% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 47.6% male and 52.4% female.
As of the census of 2000, there were 5,489 people, 2,277 households, and 1,448 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,491.1 people per square mile (575.9/km²). There were 2,575 housing units at an average density of 699.5 per square mile (270.2/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 98.07% White, 0.84% African American, 0.27% Native American, 0.16% Asian, 0.05% from other races, and 0.60% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino people of any race comprised 0.67% of the population.
There were 2,277 households out of which 29.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 45.4% were married couples living together, 14.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 36.4% were non-families. 33.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 17.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.33 and the average family size was 2.95.
In the city the population was spread out with 23.6% under the age of 18, 7.7% from 18 to 24, 25.4% from 25 to 44, 22.0% from 45 to 64, and 21.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 87.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 82.2 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $18,981, and the median income for a family was $25,161. Males had a median income of $22,765 versus $16,629 for females. The per capita income for the city was $9,616. About 26.6% of families and 35.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 51.2% of those under age 18 and 15.7% of those age 65 or over.
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