The Naming of a West Virginia County Seat

One of the most rewarding facets of being a history nerd is when a seemingly mundane or unimportant decision can change the path of history.

During my preliminary research for this article, I thought it would be cool to look more into the name of our county seat, and what I found made me chuckle a bit.

As many people know, the original name of Wayne was Trout’s Hill, and that legacy is embodied by the best coffee in the county across the street from the courthouse at Trout’s Hill Coffee. What I wanted to know, though, was why it was changed.

The Virginia General Assembly created Wayne County in the 1840s, named for famed Revolutionary War General Mad Anthony Wayne. A local farmer, Abraham Trout, donated land from his massive farm on a little knoll to build the courthouse, out of appreciation for this act the town was named Trout’s Hill.

This is where the name of our county seat takes an interesting turn. During the 19th century, Virginia had a very unoriginal way of naming their county seats, they simply called the county seat “blank” Courthouse. Civil War nerds will recognize this by the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, which was simply a town where Appomattox County had their courthouse.

Before the Civil War, this practice extended into Western Virginia and many people in the discussion would simply call Trout’s Hill “Wayne Courthouse.” While the official name didn’t change as of yet, people would refer to the town as either Wayne or Wayne Courthouse.

A year before the Civil War, another name was put forth seemingly out of nowhere when the town applied for incorporation, “Fairview.” This name doesn’t seem to have been widely used throughout as people continued to stick with the tried and true, Wayne Courthouse.

The official death knell of Trout’s Hill, Fairview and Wayne Courthouse came in 1890 when the Norfolk and Western Railroad began servicing the coal mines of Wayne County. On all the train itineraries and paperwork, the name was always shortened to say only “Wayne.” The name stuck, and by the turn of the century, the town officially changed its name.

Such an interesting way in which our county seat changed throughout the early years of its existence, it left this writer looking to answer the Shakespearean question, “What’s in a name?”

A special thank you to Whitney Chandler for providing the source material for this and many other articles, ” A Pictorial History of Wayne County” and the great resource, “The Town of Trout’s Hill, Fairview and Wayne” by Howard Osburn.

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About TheOddPast by Matthew A. Perry

Writer, teacher, broadcaster, and podcaster from West Virginia. I write about and discuss the wacky and weird side of history on my website www.theoddpast.com and my podcast "The Odd Past Podcast" available everywhere