is worth it.
"We wanted to be the first family in our home," she
memories we make here are our own."
Flat land, lower construction costs and good schools are drawing people
out of Kanawha County and into Putnam, according to area developers and
real estate agents. That trend may not last forever, they say, because
eventually developable land will become scarce in Teays Valley
Developer John Leslie remembers moving to Putnam from Webster County
with his family in 1944. A traveler along Teays Valley Road back then
would see only four houses on a drive from the Kanawha River to Hurricane.
Leslie was one of the first subdivision builders in Putnam County, but
had a hard time convincing families who worked in Charleston to move to
Putnam County in the 1950s and 60s.
"Land was cheap, which gave us an edge, but we had a terrible time
St. Albans to move here before they built a bridge over the Kanawha
St. Albans was the suburb of choice in the 1950s, Leslie said, for the
a better house at a better price.
Today, many Kanawha County homebuilders have to build on the sides of
hills because of the scarcity of flat, undeveloped land. That's more
expensive, he said, and forces developers to focus on higher-priced
housing to recoup their investment.
Teays Valley had sewer problems in the 1970s, when the state issued a
moratorium on building because of health concerns. When South Putnam
Public Service District expanded modern water and sewer lines in the 1980s
and '90s, the explosion was inevitable, Leslie
"Kanawha County's hands were tied. There was nothing they could do," he
Housing costs are a main force behind why people leave Kanawha County
for Putnam County, said Ava Crum, a real estate agent and former Winfield
teacher. "Most of the time, people who are moving from Kanawha County to
here are moving into a more upscale home, or they are getting more home
for their money."
The IRS migration data supports what Crum says: People leaving Kanawha
County for Putnam County have higher incomes than people going the other
direction. The average income of people leaving Kanawha County for Putnam
County between 1994 and 1999 was $26,448, more than $5,000 higher than
people going in the other direction. Those taxpayers took about $57
million in taxable income, spending power and taxes with them.
Putnam County's growth appears to be slowing down in recent
years. With less land to develop in Teays Valley, builders are raising the
costs of the houses they build, Leslie
First-time homebuyers are
having more trouble than ever finding an affordable house in the area
while Putnam's price advantage against Kanawha County is slowly
Some of Putnam's population gain has come at the expense of its
larger neighbor to the east. Between 1960 and 1999, Putnam County has
doubled in population, from 24,000 to an estimated 52,000 people.
Kanawha County has lost more than 50,000 people in that same time period.
In one sense, the same number of people are merely spreading themselves
out, a process some planners call urban sprawl. West Virginia ranks first
in growth of sprawl in the nation, according to a recent study by
the American Planning Association.
The Charleston region is like other industrial metropolitan areas that
continue to expand physically, even if the area's population stayed
the same. A study by the Ohio Housing Research Network predicts more
"sprawl without growth" in Cleveland and its suburbs in the next
decade. By 2010, the number of total acres devoted to new businesses and
homes in outlying counties is expected to increase by 30 percent, even
though the area's total population is expected to decrease by three
The people who stay in Kanawha County will have to pay more for the
Mayor Jay Goldman. With fewer people remaining, services will have to be
cut or people will have to pay more to maintain current water, sewer,
fire, police and garbage service.
At the same time, Putnam County leaders struggle to provide services to
their burgeoning population. For example, the library system in the
county has some of the lowest funding per resident in the state, in part
because of ever-increasing usage. Teachers push carts from room to room at
Hurricane High School because of lack of classroom space.
Some leaders have advocated sharing of services between cities and
counties. The city of Nitro recently merged its 911 service with Kanawha
County. Putnam and Kanawha officials have joined in an effort to expand
bus service into Teays Valley.
Other efforts to share services have been less successful. Goldman's
push to form a city of 100,000 has been rebuffed by most other Kanawha
County mayors. Putnam County commissioners have rejected efforts to merge
their much-criticized ambulance service with Kanawha County.
Some political leaders may have reservations about working across town
and county lines, but people who move from Kanawha County to Putnam County
Suzanne Reid describe the town they left behind - Dunbar - they do so with
a lot of love and respect.
Reid says she doesn't want to sound critical of Dunbar. It will always
be home for her. She misses being able to drive down the street and
recognize every face. But her neighbors in Teays Valley are friendly, too.
The Gandees still go to church in St. Albans and to events in
Charleston. They still have fond memories and friends in Dunbar, but
they've made a new life for themselves in Teays Valley.
"We still consider Dunbar home in our heart," Judy said, "although
we're very comfortable here."
Look for Part 3 of "Valley on the Move," which will examine the slowing
of growth in Putnam, in Tuesday's Gazette.
To contact staff writer Scott Finn, use e-mail or call 357-4323.