CHARLESTON - West Virginia's largest county and city both lost population over the previous decade while its Eastern Panhandle saw growth, according to figures released from the 2010 Census.
Parkersburg and Wood County both saw a decline in population, but it was minimized by declines in other regions of the state. The city remains the third largest in the state, while Wood County remains the fifth largest in West Virginia.
"It was not nearly the hit I was afraid we might take," Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell said.
The panhandle's Berkeley County became the state's second most-populous, with 104,169 residents for a gain of more than 37 percent. It ranked sixth in 2000.
It led the 55 counties in growth over the decade, followed by neighboring Jefferson County at 26.8 percent. These counties have increasingly become the home of commuters who work in the nearby Washington-Baltimore metropolitan area.
The figures will likely lead to more seats in the state Legislature for Berkeley and Jefferson along with Monongalia County. Its county seat of Morgantown, home of WVU, grew by 10.6 percent.
By the Numbers
- Parkersburg and Wood County both saw a decline in population,
- Parkersburg remains the third largest city in the state, while Wood County remains the fifth largest in West Virginia.
- Parkersburg's population dropped by almost five percent, but remained at almost 31,500.
- Over a 20-year period (1990-2010) the city's population saw a 7 percent decrease, the loss of about 2,300 residents.
- Parkersburg also remained an entitlement city by retaining a population above 30,000.
Those seats will likely come at the expense of the Northern Panhandle and Kanawha County, which remains the state's most populous at 193,063 residents but saw a drop of 3.5 percent from 2000. Its county seat, the state capital of Charleston, shrank by 3.8 percent over the decade to 51,400 but remains West Virginia's largest city.
The state's other major cities saw declines as well: Huntington, by 4.5 percent; Parkersburg, by 4.9 percent; and Wheeling by 9.3 percent.
Parkersburg's population dropped by almost five percent, but remained at almost 31,500.
Over a 20-year period (1990-2010) the city's population saw a 7 percent decrease, the loss of about 2,300 residents. Newell said plant closure likely accounted for the decrease. He noted the city's decrease was the smallest of the state's other large cities - Charleston, Huntington and Wheeling - which has lost more than 18 percent of its population since 1990.
"We feared we might drop even farther than that as that has been the pattern around the state," Newell said, "We thought the news would be worse."
Newell said keeping in mind that many areas of the state saw a decline in population, the news for the area was somewhat encouraging.
Parkersburg remains the third-largest city in the state. Parkersburg also remained an entitlement city by retaining a population above 30,000. The "entitlement" allows Parkersburg to retain is distribution of federal CDBG funding.
Morgantown has continued to grew, registering a 10.6 percent increase between 2000-2010 and a 14.6 percent increase between 1990-2010.
The largest county is Kanawha, with a population of 193,063. Its population decreased by 3.5 percent since 2000. The other counties in the top five include Berkeley, with a population of 104,169 (increase of 37.2 percent); Cabell, 96,319 (decrease of 0.5 percent); Monongalia, 96,189 (increase of 17.5 percent); and Wood, 86,956 (decrease of 1.2 percent).
City Planning Director Rickie Yeager said the city's population was "static."
"We are not decreasing a lot over time. We are holding steady."
McDowell County, which counted nearly 100,000 residents in 1950 before mechanization swept over the coal industry, experienced the steepest decline between 2000 and 2010. Losing 19.1 percent of its population, it slipped from 23rd to 31st with 22,113 residents.
The state's other southern coalfield counties also lost population. All told, West Virginia must redraw its three U.S. House districts. The 3rd District, which includes the coalfields, shed 14,739 people over the decade. The 2nd Districts, which stretches between the Ohio and Potomac rivers and includes the Eastern Panhandle, grew by 45,943 residents. Buoyed by Monongalia County and neighboring Preston County, where the population increased by 14.3 percent, the 1st District grew by 13,446 residents. But it would still need 1,670 or so more to reach the ideal size for a congressional district, of 617,665 residents.
Gilmer County grew by 21.4 percent, the third-largest gain during the decade, to 8,693. Located in the state's central region, its jump may stem from the opening of a new federal prison there within the last decade.