CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) — Ever wondered what your town or city looked like at the turn of the century 120 years ago? A cartographer traveled West Virginia to capture just that.

Between 1896 and 1905, artist Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler traveled West Virginia drawing panoramic urban maps of cities across the state, according to the West Virginia Encyclopedia. At least 16 of these maps captured towns in north central West Virginia.

Some of Fowler’s maps are housed in the Library of Congress, and 41 maps, including a complete inventory of towns and dates as well as five framed maps, are available at the West Virginia and Regional History Center through West Virginia University.

Below are 12 of Fowler’s maps of north central West Virginia cities, and links to modern views on Google Earth from the same angle. Keep in mind that Fowler’s maps are not considered to scale but offer an approximation of what the city looked like at that time.


Clarksburg, West Virginia in 1898

Clarksburg was already a well-established city in 1898. The main downtown area of Pike and Main Streets is easily visible, and the industrial and railroad area of Glen Elk is just beginning its boom, and the “North View Addition” is included in a separate drawing with only a few houses in it. The courthouse building which is drawn on the center of the map was replaced with a building of the “Modern Style” in the early 1930s, according to the Society of Architectural Historians.

You can explore a higher-quality version of the map on the Library of Congress website. If you look to the far right of the map in what is labeled as “West End,” you can even see where the current WBOY building now stands.


Morgantown, West Virginia in 1897

In 1897, West Virginia University had already been established for several decades, but it only had six main buildings that are recorded in Fowler’s map, including those at Woodburn Circle, which still stand today. The area surrounding downtown, which is now packed with homes and businesses was not developed, and places like Westover had only a few homes and buildings. The entire northern part of the city, where Ruby Memorial Hospital and the Evansdale Campus are, was not even included on the map.

To see a more detailed version with all of Fowler’s notes visible, visit the Library of Congress website.


Fairmont and “Palatine,” West Virginia in 1897

The Fairmont area captured on the 1897 map primarily captures the Monongahela River portion of the city, with the West Fork River far in the background. A version of what is now the Gateway Connector is visible going up the hill, and the Marion County courthouse—which was built around when the map was drawn—is in the well-developed downtown area.

A cluster of buildings where Fairmont State University—which was founded in 1863—now stands can be seen along Locust Avenue, although it is now labeled on the map. See a higher-resolution version of the map here.


Weston, West Virginia in 1900

Weston’s map from 1900 is dominated by the “West Virginia Hospital for the Insane,” which is now known as the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum and operated from 1864 to 1994. The city’s shape, down to the reservoir/water tower placement, is eerily similar. See a more detailed version here, on the Library of Congress website.


Buckhannon, West Virginia in 1900

Like many other cities, Buckhannon has expanded, but the core shape and layout of the city center remains the same as it did in 1900. West Virginia Wesleyan College, which was founded only 10 years before the map was drawn, has expanded from a few grand buildings on College Avenue to several blocks of the city.

The location of the railroad and even the lumber company along the river remain unchanged. Explore the higher-resolution map here.


Elkins, West Virginia in 1897

Fowler’s map of Elkins predates Davis & Elkins College which was established in 1904, but some of the city’s most historic buildings, like the college’s Graceland and Halliehurst mansions were still residences for Sen. Davis and Sen. Elkins, who were both still alive at the time. Although the city has expanded into the distance from Fowler’s drawing, many details, like the locations of Elkins City Park and the churches along Randolph Avenue, remain the same.

To see a more detailed version with all of Fowler’s notes visible, visit the Library of Congress website.


Philippi, West Virginia in 1897

Just like now, when Fowler crossed the Philippi Covered Bridge over the Tygart Valley River, he was welcomed by the B&O Railroad station, which is now the Barbour County Historical Museum and the Presbyterian Church sits on the street corner.

To the northwest end of the city, where Alderson Broaddus University now sits, was an empty hilltop on the map which is labeled “Position occupied by Federal Forces,” and the map clarifies that it was the first battlefield of the Civil War in 1861.

See a high-quality version of Fowler’s Philippi map here.


Grafton, West Virginia in 1898

In 1900, the city of Grafton had 5,650 people, which is more than its 2021 population of 4,661. In its heyday, Grafton had a number of grand houses and businesses. The courthouse, which was built in 1880, is unchanged. The location of the former B&O Railroad hub along the Three Fork Creek is now the site of the Csx Electrical Department, although many of the railroads and the foundation of the B&O roundhouse are still there.

To see some of Grafton’s beautiful homes from 125 years ago in more detail, click here.


Parsons, West Virginia in 1905

Parsons did not become an incorporated city until two years after Fowler created the then town’s map. One of the main standout features in the town in 1905 was the courthouse, which was completed in 1900 and is the same building that stands today.

The map is not labeled like some of Fowler’s earlier works, but it does include drawings of several homes with the names of their residents at the time. See the higher-resolution version here.


Davis, West Virginia in 1898

Like most of the towns in the late 1800s, Davis is characterized by its churches, but the building that stood in Davis’ busiest intersection and housed the Post Office and National Bank of Davis stills stands, though now it also hosts several small shops. The railroad and Blackwater Lumber Company that dominated the Blackwater Riverfront in Davis back then are now replaced by the Town of Davis Riverfront Park.

The Davis map even includes a large drawing of Blackwater Falls, which became a state park almost 40 years later in 1937. Based on Fowler’s drawing, the falls flowed very strongly when the map was made, much like this 1929 photo from the West Virginia Historical Center shows, especially compared to this 1920 photo where very little water was flowing over the falls.

Explore the town on a high-resolution version of the map on the Library of Congress website.


Salem, West Virginia in 1899

The standout item on the Salem map from 1899 is the “West Virginia Industrial Home for Girls,” a reform school for delinquent girls that opened right around the time Fowler’s map was drawn. It morphed into a juvenile prison and housed West Virginia’s worst child criminals up to the age of 21 and was eventually converted into the Salem Correctional Facility, a medium security adult prison, in 2013.

Since then, Salem University, which was then Salem College, is in the same place, and the town’s overall layout is very similar. Salem has roughly doubled in population since 1900. See the map in higher resolution here.


Cairo, West Virginia in 1899

Ritchie County boomed during the railroad boom, and towns like Cairo sprung up from nowhere between 1880 and 1900. Fowler’s map from 1899 shows a town much larger than the one we see now. Modern Cairo exists now with a population that dropped from nearly 700 people in 1900 to fewer than 200 in 2021. The Bank of Cairo now looks almost exactly the same as it did back then, and with the exception of the old Cairo High School, which closed in 1971, on top of the hill, there might even be fewer buildings now than there were in 1899.

See the more detailed version of the map here.

In total, Fowler created more than 400 city and town maps, including more than 40 in West Virginia, which are in the public domain. You can browse them on the Library of Congress website at this link. In north central West Virginia, Fowler also created maps for Mannington (1897), Harrisville (1899), Pennsboro (1899) and West Union (1899).