If Kanawha County hadn't existed in 1999, Putnam County would not have grown at all, according to data from the Internal Revenue Service.  Except for about 400 Kanawha residents moving in, as many people left Putnam County that year as came in.  Most of Putnam County's growth in the last several years has come at the expense of Kanawha County. Between 1994 and 1999, more than 80 percent of Putnam County's population increase came from Kanawha, a
 Gazette computer analysis of IRS migration data showed.  About 2,600 people made the short trip west on Interstate 64 to settle 
in new subdivisions like Teays Valley Meadows North, where former Dunbar residents Lewis and Judy Gandee live. Judy Gandee said that number doesn't 
  • urprise her.
  •   "I've met a lot of friendly people since I moved out here," she
  • aid.
  •  "Most are from Kanawha County."  Like a new car  Lewis Gandee pushed his 6-year-old granddaughter in her backyard swing on a recent sunny winter afternoon. From his large, level yard, they can 
  • ee three other swing sets, two wooden play forts with colorful tents and
  •  one trampoline. The muffled roar of I-64 sounds in the distance.  The Gandees began to think about where they want to retire more than five years ago. Lewis worked as a sales representative, Judy as a teacher at Roxalana Elementary in Dunbar. They wanted a new house so they wouldn't have to worry about renovations or repairs.  They drove around to new houses in other areas, but about three-quarters of the new houses were in Teays Valley. Some new houses in Kanawha County were surrounded by older houses, which concerned Lewis.  "If we're buying a new house, we want to live in a new neighborhood where the houses all have comparable values," he
  • aid.
  •   The Gandees settled first in White Pines subdivision, next to the Winfield exit. After Judy's mother suffered a stroke and moved in with them, they found a house in Teays Valley Meadows North, with a downstairs bedroom for her mother.  Their daughter, Leah Gabhart, her husband John and daughter Sarah soon followed the Gandees to Teays Valley. They were living in a Cross Lanes townhouse built into a steep hillside. They couldn't put a swing set for Sarah out back and Leah was afraid to let her ride a bike in the driveway.  "We didn't consider anyplace else," Leah
  • aid.
  • "It's hard to get a big yard where the houses aren't on top of each other."  The Gabharts can see cattle grazing from their home in Moorefield Place 
  • ubdivision. Sarah and the many children in the neighborhood can wade in
  •  the creek or play on its sandy banks.  Sarah likes being able to walk to the Dairy Queen nearby. Leah likes being so close to Sarah's school, Teays Valley Christian.  Leah feels the neighborhood is safe from both traffic and crime, and crime statistics support her. Putnam County's crime rate is about half the rate as Kanawha County's, although both are low by national standards. According to the 1998 state Uniform Crime Report, Putnam County has a crime rate of 23 incidents for 1,000 people, compared to Kanawha County's rate of 52 per 1,000.  Leah doesn't know if anything could have kept her from moving to Putnam County.  "There aren't that many new subdivisions in Kanawha County," she
  • aid.
  •  "I like the newer neighborhoods. They have underground utilities, and they're laid out better."  Lewis added, "It's like the appeal of a new car."  First families  Mike and Suzanne Reid are both "Dunbar kids." They grew up in Dunbar, went to Dunbar High School and lived there after they married in 1982. Mike works for AEP's John Amos Power Plant near Poca and his wife for Acordia in Charleston.  Several years ago, the Reids remodeled their Midway Drive house. They didn't think they would ever move, Suzanne
  • aid.
  •   Two years ago, their son Nicholas turned 4. At the same time, Kanawha County school officials announced plans to close the Reid's neighborhood 
  • chool, Roxalana Elementary, and send the students to a new consolidated
  • chool.
  •   Suzanne went to school at Roxalana and felt it was the best she could offer her son. The consolidated school was a wild card, something she didn't know about. She already mourned the loss of Dunbar's high school, which she still wished was open for her son.  A relative who works at West Teays Elementary gave Suzanne glowing reports about that Putnam County
  • chool.
  • The only thing that worried her was its size - more than 700 students, larger than her high school had been.  Knowing that Putnam County had top-notch schools made it easier for her to move there, she
  • aid.
  • Putnam County ranked third in the state's Stanford-9 test scores last year, while Kanawha ranked 14th out of 55 counties.  The Reids thought briefly about moving south of Charleston, in one of the new houses being built near Corridor G, but the traffic at Southridge 
  • cared them off. Despite some congestion on Teays Valley Road, they
  • ettled on that area of Putnam County for their new home.
  •   They scouted back yards for bicycles, sandboxes and swing sets when they looked for their future neighborhood. They wanted a place with lots of kids.  "I wanted a quiet, safe, dead-end street," Suzanne
  • aid.
  • "Somewhere for Nicolas to ride his bike or play kickball without cars zooming by."  They bought a two-story house in Fox Run subdivision, near Teays Valley Road. The house has a modern, open layout with a family room, casual dining area and kitchen all connected. They got to choose some of the details of their new house, such as hardwood floors and gold-colored light fixtures.  Moving to Teays Valley meant an extra half-hour drive to work for Suzanne. More than 57 percent of Putnam County workers commute to a different county for their job, the highest rate in the state. Kanawha County only sends 7 percent of its work force out of county.  She has found it slightly perilous, having been rear-ended twice, once recently on I-64 on her way into Charleston. But she believes the commute
     is worth it.  "We wanted to be the first family in our home," she
  • aid.
  • "Whatever memories we make here are our own."  Cheap land  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 
  • tarting out," Leslie
  • aid.
  • "It was hard to get people from places like St. Albans to move here before they built a bridge over the Kanawha River."  St. Albans was the suburb of choice in the 1950s, Leslie said, for the 
  • ame reason Putnam County is today: The city offered better land to build
  •  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
  • aid.
  •   "Kanawha County's hands were tied. There was nothing they could do," he 
  • aid.
  •   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
  • aid.
  • 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 disappearing.  Left behind  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 percent.  The people who stay in Kanawha County will have to pay more for the 
  • ame level of services as others leave for Putnam County, said Charleston
  •  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 
  • till keep their ties with their old communities. When the Gandees or
  •  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.  
    Show All Comments Hide All Comments

    User Comments

    More News