Davis, WV is a small municipality located in the mountainous heart of Tucker County. At 3,520 feet elevation, Davis is the highest incorporated town in the state. It is located along the Blackwater River just outside the northern terminus of Canaan Valley, the highest large valley east of the Mississippi River. Davis is conveniently accessible from the eastern portion of Highway 48 (the section to connect the western portion from Montrose to Davis via Parsons is currently under construction). The highway provides quick and easy access to and from many metropolitan areas – Davis is just 2.5 hours from Washington, D.C., 3 hours from Pittsburgh, PA, and 3.5 hours from Baltimore, MD. It is within driving distance of many other major cities, and within a day’s drive of two-thirds of the U.S. population.
Brief History of Davis
In 1882, Henry Gassaway Davis selected the region that would soon become the town of Davis. In 1884, his railroad arrived and the town of Davis was established. The town was officially incorporated in 1889 with a population of 909 (see the original town ordinances and bylaws here). It was one of the earliest timber towns in West Virginia. Mr. Davis built the railroad that came up the Blackwater River from the neighboring coal town of Thomas, and soon there were daily trains running between Davis and the bustling city of Cumberland, MD. Originally a heavily forested landscape, over the next thirty years, Davis grew through timber, textile, fur and coal mining industries. Per the 1900 census the population had grown to 2,391 with over 80 thriving businesses.
Although a unique town in its own right, Davis was typical of the industrial early 20th century West Virginia boomtowns that took advantage of the area’s abundant natural resources. To work the mines, fell the trees and man the shops and businesses immigrants were solicited, mostly from Eastern Europe. Many embraced the opportunity of “coming to America,” starting a new life, full of promise and escaping the harsh realities of their homeland.
By the 1920s the old growth trees had mostly been removed and the beaver, mink and muskrat had been trapped to near extinction. Population was peaking and by 1960 only 898 citizens remained. Many of those who remained had been instrumental in the boom years and had made a place for themselves in the community. As a result, foreign family names are common throughout the region.
By 1950 the last factory had been officially torn down and the town’s population has remained under 1,000 people since. The tannery hung by a thread until the mid 1970s before closing its doors and the railroad stayed on track until the 1980s hauling coal and freight, though it hadn’t carried passengers since the 1940s.
The 2000 Census listed Davis with a population of just 624, its lowest since the late 1800s. The town had dwindled to a shell of its former self and lay dormant with no economic engine. The 2010s saw an influx of new arrivals and a renaissance for rural living began to breathe new life into Davis. The transition from the timber days to the post-industrial economy was on, and Davis shifted from an industrial boomtown to a charming outdoor lover’s haven. With a resurgence of people moving back and optimism for the future, new businesses and new opportunities began to spring up.
Davis is currently best known for its world-class outdoor recreation opportunities and outstanding access to pristine and wild public lands: These include the Little Canaan Wildlife Management Area, Blackwater Falls and Canaan Valley state parks, the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, and a large portion of the Monongahela National Forest. Davis lies in the heart of a celebrated system of rugged mountain biking and hiking trails. It is but a short drive to some of the country’s best whitewater kayaking and rafting streams and rivers, and just ten miles from three unique downhill and cross-country ski resorts in Canaan Valley.
Davis has become home to a thriving scene of local businesses, artisans, eateries, and breweries. It is a hub for skiers, hikers, bikers, hunters, art lovers, and beer lovers. Davis has recently been popping up at the top of tourism and outdoor recreation “best-of” lists, proving it to be a town to watch as Appalachian tourism continues to grow. As the steady revival continues, Davis is quickly becoming known as a hip place to visit or even relocate for those who are passionate about the outdoors or peaceful small-town living.