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Kanawha River
Kanawha River.jpg
Kanawha River at St. Albans, West Virginia
Country United States
State West Virginia
Counties Fayette, Kanawha, Mason, Putnam
 - left Coal River
 - right Elk River, Pocatalico River
Source New River [1]
 - location Ashe County, NC
 - elevation 2,546 ft (776 m)
 - coordinates 36°32′45″N 81°21′09″W / 36.54583°N 81.35250°W / 36.54583; -81.35250
Secondary source Gauley River [2]
 - location Three Forks of Gauley, Pocahontas County, WV
 - elevation 2,917 ft (889 m)
 - coordinates 38°24′33″N 80°14′17″W / 38.40917°N 80.23806°W / 38.40917; -80.23806
Source confluence
 - location Gauley Bridge, WV
 - elevation 653 ft (199 m)
 - coordinates 38°09′42″N 81°11′47″W / 38.16167°N 81.19639°W / 38.16167; -81.19639
Mouth Ohio River [3]
 - location Point Pleasant, WV
 - elevation 538 ft (164 m)
 - coordinates 38°50′16″N 82°08′34″W / 38.83778°N 82.14278°W / 38.83778; -82.14278
Length 97 mi (156 km)
Basin 12,236 sq mi (31,691 km2)
Discharge for Charleston, 56.8 mi (91.4 km) from the mouth
 - average 15,240 cu ft/s (432 m3/s) [4][5]
 - max 216,000 cu ft/s (6,116 m3/s)
 - min 1,100 cu ft/s (31 m3/s)
Map of the Kanawha River and its tributary the New River, with the Kanawha River highlighted in darker blue.

The Kanawha River (/kəˈnɔː/ kə-NAW or /kəˈnɔːə/ kə-NAW) is a tributary of the Ohio River, approximately 97 mi (156 km) long, in the U.S. state of West Virginia. The largest inland waterway in West Virginia, it has formed a significant industrial region of the state since the middle of the 19th century.

It is formed at the town of Gauley Bridge in northwestern Fayette County, approximately 35 mi (56 km) SE of Charleston, by the confluence of the New and Gauley rivers. It flows generally northwest, in a winding course on the unglaciated Allegheny Plateau, through Fayette, Kanawha, Putnam, and Mason counties, past the cities of Charleston and St. Albans, and numerous smaller communities. It joins the Ohio at Point Pleasant.

Paleo-Indians, the earliest indigenous peoples, lived in the valley and the heights by 10,000 BC as evidenced by archaeological artifacts such as Clovis points. A succession of prehistoric cultures developed, with the Adena culture beginning the construction of numerous skilled earthwork mounds and enclosures more than 2000 years ago. Some of the villages of the Fort Ancient culture survived into the times of European contact.

The area was a place of competition among historical American Indian nations. Invading from their base in present-day New York, the Iroquois drove out or conquered Fort Ancient culture peoples, as well as such tribes as the Huron and Conoy. By right of conquest, the Iroquois, Lenape (Delaware), and Shawnee reserved the area as a hunting ground. They resisted European-American settlement during the colonial years.

The river valley contains significant deposits of coal and natural gas. In colonial times, the wildly fluctuating level of the river prevented its use for transportation. The removal of boulders and snags on the lower river in the 1840s allowed navigation, which was extended upriver after the construction of locks and dams starting in 1875. The river is now navigable to Deepwater, an unincorporated community about 20 miles (32 km) upriver from Charleston. A thriving chemical industry along its banks provides a significant part of the local economy.


In addition to the New and Gauley River, the Kanawha is joined at Charleston by the Elk River, at St. Albans by the Coal River, and at Poca by the Pocatalico River.

List of cities and towns along the Kanawha River[edit]

The confluence of the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers at Point Pleasant, West Virginia

Variant names[edit]

Winfield Lock and Dam on the Kanawha River at Winfield, West Virginia, 31 miles upriver from the mouth at Point Pleasant. Map:[6]

According to the Geographic Names Information System, the Kanawha River has also been known as:

  • Big Connawas River
  • Big Connawas River
  • Big Kanawha River
  • Canawha
  • Canhawa River
  • Chinidashhichetha
  • Chinodahichetha River
  • Chinodashichetha
  • Chinondaista
  • Great Canawha River
  • Great Kanawha River
  • Great Kanhawa River
  • Great Kanhaway River
  • Great Kehhawa River
  • Great Kenhawa River
  • Great Kenhaway River
  • Great Konhaway River
  • Great Konhawayriver
  • Kanahaway River
  • Kanawa River
  • Kanawah River
  • Kanaway River
  • Kanawhy River
  • Kanhaway River
  • Kannawha River
  • Keanawha River
  • Kenhaway River
  • Keninsheka
  • Kinhaway River
  • Kunhaway River
  • Le-we-ke-o-mi
  • New River
  • Pi-que-me-ta-mi
  • Pique-me-ta-nei
  • Woods River

"Ka(ih)nawha" derives from the region's Iroquoian dialects meaning "water way" or "canoe way" implying the metaphor, "transport way", in the local language. The Glottal consonant of the "ih" (stream or river, local Iroquois) dropped out as few European settlers and homesteaders were fluent with any of the dialects of Iroquois.[7][dubious ]


Archaeological artifacts, such as Clovis points and later projectiles, indicate prehistoric indigenous peoples living in the area from as early as 12,500 BC Peoples of later cultures continued to live along the valley and heights. Those of the Adena culture built at least 50 earthwork mounds and 10 enclosures in the area between Charleston and Dunbar, as identified by an 1882 to 1884 survey by the Bureau of Ethnology (later part of the Smithsonian Institution). Three of their mounds survive in the valley, including Criel Mound at present-day South Charleston, West Virginia. Evidence has been found of the Fort Ancient culture peoples, who had villages that survived to the time of European contact, such as Buffalo and Marmet. They were driven out by Iroquois from present-day New York.[8]

According to French missionary reports, by the late 16th century, several thousand Huron, originally of the Great Lakes region, lived in central West Virginia. They were driven out in the 17th century by the Iroquois' invading from western present-day New York. Other accounts note that the tribe known as Conois, Conoy, Canawesee, or Kanawha were conquered or driven out by the large Seneca tribe, one of the Iroquois Confederacy, as the Seneca boasted to Virginia colonial officials in 1744. The Iroquois and other tribes, such as the Shawnee and Delaware, maintained central West Virginia as a hunting ground. It was essentially unpopulated when the English and Europeans began to move into the area.[9]

In April 1774, Captain Hanson was one of an expedition: "18th. We surveyed 2,000 acres (8.1 km2) of Land for Col. Washington, bordered by Coal River & the Canawagh..."[citation needed] This area is the lower area of today's St. Albans, West Virginia. After the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, "The Kanawhas had gone from the upper tributaries of the river which bears their name, to join their kinsmen, the Iroquois in New York; the Shawnee had abandoned the Indian Old Fields of the valley of the South Branch of the Potomac; the Delaware were gone from the Monongahela; the Cherokee who claimed all the region between the Great Kanawha and Big Sandy, had never occupied it." quoting Virgil A. Lewis (1887), Corresponding member of the Virginia Historical Society.[10] Virgil's grandfather was a western Virginia surveyor, Andrew Lewis (soldier), who surveyed the Kanawha's tributaries in the middle 18th century. The river's name changes to the Kanawha River at the Kanawha Falls. Lewis was granted a large tract of land near the mouth of the Great Kanawha River in the late 18th century.

The Little Kanawha and the Great Kanawha rivers, the two largest in the state, were named for the American Indian tribe that lived in the area prior to European settlement in the 18th century. Under pressure from the Iroquois, most of the Conoy/Kanawha had migrated to present-day Virginia by 1634, where they had settled on the west side of the Chesapeake Bay and below the Potomac River. They were also known to the colonists there as the Piscataway. They later migrated north to Pennsylvania, to submit and seek protection with the Susquehannock and Iroquois. The spelling of the Indian tribe varied at the time, from Conoys to Conois to Kanawha. "The latter spelling was used and has gained acceptance over time," according to scholars at West Virginia University.[9]

Kanawha Falls on the Kanawha River at Glen Ferris, West Virginia.


  • Interstate 64 crosses the Kanawha four times on major bridges in the Charleston vicinity.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: New River
  2. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Gauley River
  3. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Kanawha River
  4. ^ accessed 2011-06-16
  5. ^ United States Geological Survey; USGS 03193000 KANAWHA RIVER AT KANAWHA FALLS, WV; retrieved April 19, 2008.
  6. ^ layer= - Google Maps. Maps.google.com (1970-01-01). Retrieved on 2013-08-09.
  7. ^ Kahnawáʼkye in Tuscarora (Iroquois) means "waterway", "kye" is augmentive suffix.
    Kaniatarowanenneh means "big waterway" in Mohawk (Iroquois).
    Lachler, McElwain, and Burke http://www.mingolanguage.org/
    Mingo (Iroquois) etymology about boating: kaháwa' noun means boat. kényua'. This switch-interactive verb means to row a boat or more to ferry someone across a stretch of water. It belongs to the semantic fields the sea and transportation. Etymology kényua' -NYU- Verb Root. Grammatical Info Base -nyu-.Stem Class LX. Conjugation Class XX. kényua' "I row boats". kaháwa', (boat) grammatical info base -haw- Stem Class C, Prefix Class Agent, Linker Vowel ö. Note that the -h- at the beginning of this base is strong, and so does not drop out when it would come between two vowels. Varies with kahôwö'. Possessed Form akháwa' my boat. Plural Form kahawa'shö'ö boats. káhu' means "this way" or in this direction. See also Mohawk language (Dialects)
  8. ^ Dr. Robert F. Maslowski, "The Kanawha Valley and its Prehistoric People", 2002, Council on West Virginia Archaeology, accessed 31 Oct 2009
  9. ^ a b Dilger, Robert J.; Marshall, James (21 Feb 2002). "Kanawha County History". Institute for Public Affairs, West Virginia University. Retrieved 31 Oct 2009. 
  10. ^ History of West Virginia In Two Parts, Philadelphia. Hubbard Brothers, Publishers. 1889.
    West Virginia State Historian/Archivist, Virgil A. Lewis, 1905 - 1912 (died while in the position) from Mason County – see WV Bluebook reference MC descriptions 1916–1920. (11/1/09)

Further reading[edit]

  • Arthur Benke & Colbert Cushing, Rivers of North America, Elsevier Academic Press, 2005 ISBN 0-12-088253-1
  • Atkinson, George W. 1876. History of Kanawha County, From. . . 1789 Until the Present Time, Charleston: West Virginia Journal Office.
  • Braley, Dean (1993). The Shaman's Story, West Virginia Petroglyphs. St. Albans. ISBN 0-9638377-0-2. 
  • Dayton, Ruth Woods. 1947. Pioneers and Their Homes on Upper Kanawha, Charleston: West Virginia Publishing Company.
  • Dickens, Roy S., Jr.; Mckinley, James L. (1979). Frontiers in the Soil: The Archaeology of Georgia. LaGrange, Georgia: Frontiers Publishing Company. 
  • Laidley, W. S. 1911. History of Charleston and Kanawha County, West Virginia, Chicago: Richmond-Arnold Publishing Company
  • Lewis, Thomas M. N. and Madeline Kneberg. 1958. Tribes That Slumber, Knoxville, TN: The University of Tennessee Press
  • McMichael, Edward V. 1968. Introduction to West Virginia Archeology, Morgantown, WVA: West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey
  • Nabokov, Peter; Easton, Robert (1989). Native American Architecture. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-503781-2. 
  • Potter, Eloise F.; Funderburg, John B. (1986). Native Americans: The People and How They Lived. Raleigh, North Carolina: North Carolina State Museum of Natural Sciences. ISBN 0-917134-10-9. 
  • Rhodes, Captain Rick, The Ohio River in American History and Voyaging on Today's River. Heron Island Guides, 2007, ISBN 978-0-9665866-3-3
  • Thomas, Cyrus. 1894. Report on the Mound Explorations of the Bureau of Ethnology. Smithsonian Institution Press
  • Wavra, Grace (1990). The First Families of West Virginia. Huntington: University Editions, Inc. ISBN 1-56002-007-5. 
  • Weatherford, Jack M. (1988). Indian Givers. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc. ISBN 0-449-90496-2. 

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanawha_River — Please support Wikipedia.
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16885 videos foundNext > 

Crisis on the Kanawha - 50 Years Later

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Interesting sight in the Kanawha River. Charleston

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Frozen Kanawha River

Time-lapse video of the iced-over Kanawha River.

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Towboats on the frozen Kanawha River

MV Dr. Edwin H. Welch going downstream and MV Capt. Ed Harris going up through the iced over Kanawha River at about 7:30 AM on January 28, 2014. The high pit...

Coal Barge on the Kanawha River

A tug boat pushing a coal barge down the Kanawha River.

16885 videos foundNext > 

64 news items

Thu, 03 Apr 2014 16:48:45 -0700

It's no surprise neighbors were the first to discover an unusual sheen floating along the Kanawha River Wednesday afternoon. "Just happened to look over and I see a sheen of something that looked like oil as I was walking by the capitol," said April ...

West Virginia MetroNews

West Virginia MetroNews
Fri, 11 Apr 2014 14:58:48 -0700

Several eyewitnesses, across the Kanawha River in Pratt, watched the plane go down in tough terrain. A state police helicopter helped locate the crash area, about one mile from Route 60 and the river. “Once they had a good idea of where it was going to ...

West Virginia MetroNews

West Virginia MetroNews
Tue, 22 Apr 2014 07:44:58 -0700

The crash site is right across the Kanawha River from the town of Pratt and some residents there first saw the wreckage and helped guide emergency crews to the scene. There were also several eyewitnesses in the Kelley's Creek area near Cedar Grove.
State Journal
Sat, 19 Apr 2014 06:06:32 -0700

All three dams on the Kanawha River showed year-to-year decreases in the quarter. Much of the coal that moves downbound through the locks at Marmet goes to Point Pleasant, where it is taken to power plants on the Ohio River. Traffic moved by rail has ...
State Journal
Sat, 19 Apr 2014 07:03:45 -0700

The city collected its 2 percent share of the $98 million Interstate 64 bridge over the Kanawha River a few years ago, and it has benefited from an addition at Thomas Memorial Hospital, he said. Strong B&O collections combined with conservative ...
Charleston Gazette
Mon, 14 Apr 2014 20:56:15 -0700

The McGees thought that a similar lighting arrangement would add to the South Side Bridge's night-time grace and beauty, and offered to pay for its installation on the Kanawha River span. Later, they financed the installation of new sequenced, multi ...
Charleston Gazette
Tue, 15 Apr 2014 19:43:19 -0700

City Council approved the allocation of $6,000 from the Hotel and Motel Fund to pay for a professional landscaping design to be implemented at the base of the Dick Henderson Memorial Bridge which spans the Kanawha River connecting St. Albans and ...
Tue, 08 Apr 2014 21:30:00 -0700

The city released treated water into Hurricane Creek, which flows to the Kanawha River. Plumley said he's unsure if the leachate traveled through the pipes to the treatment. But he, like Edwards, wishes he knew about the process up at DSI. "I don't ...

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