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State Submerged Resources > West Virginia

West Virginia

Known as the Mountain State, West Virginia is in the Appalachia region of the United States. Major rivers of this inland state include the Ohio and the Potomac, which form part of West Virginia’s boundaries with neighboring states. More than half of the lakes in West Virginia are reservoirs created by dams. Less than 1% of the state (145 square miles) is covered by water.

What is West Virginia’s maritime heritage?

West Virginia’s rivers boast some of the best whitewater in the nation. More tranquil rivers have served as transportation highways. The first boats to ply West Virginia’s rivers most likely were birch bark canoes. In the 1770s, flatboats, pirogues, and keelboats came into use, followed in the 1820s by steamboats.

Many river port towns developed in West Virginia along the Ohio and the Potomac and boat-building flourished in places like Charleston, Huntington, Murraysville, and Wheeling. The river boats of West Virginia brought colonial surveyors and settlers to the region, delivered mail and merchandise, and carried the region’s raw materials like salt and lumber to market. River boat transportation was so successful that even the railroads hauled coal from West Virginia’s mines to river barge coal tipples for shipping elsewhere. Today, boats are still used on West Virginia’s rivers to transport coal, steel, and other products.

What sites are underwater?

The extent of underwater wreck sites in West Virginia’s rivers is unknown but steamboat losses due to explosions, fires, collisions, and hitting snags and sandbars were not uncommon. Two of the more spectacular steamboat disasters were the William Butler in 1868 in Wheeling and the Lizzie Townsend in 1904 off Wheeling Island.

Who takes care of West Virginia's underwater archeological sites?

The Historic Preservation Section of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History is responsible for locating, surveying, investigating, registering, identifying, preserving, protecting, and restoring archeological and cultural sites, structures, and objects worthy of preservation.

What permits do I need to study shipwrecks?

You need a permit from the Director of the Historic Preservation Section to excavate or remove historic and prehistoric ruins and archeological sites on lands owned or leased by the state or on private lands where the development rights have been acquired by the state. Permitted studies must meet state guidelines, the principal investigator must meet professional or avocational archeology qualification guidelines, and recovered materials and records must be placed in an appropriate repository.

What laws concern underwater archeology in West Virginia?

State laws about the Division of Culture and History can be found in the West Virginia Code §29-1-1, et seq. The discussion about the Historic Preservation Section is at §29-1-8, et seq. Regulations about administering the state’s historic preservation program are in Title 82, Series 2 of the Code of State Rules. Regulations about granting permits to excavate archeological sites and unmarked graves are in Title 82, Series 3.

MJB