PUTNAM'S POPULATION GROWTH COMING AT KANAWHA'S EXPENSE
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
"I've met a lot of friendly people since I moved out here," she
"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
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
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
"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
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
"There aren't that many new subdivisions in Kanawha County," she
"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."
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
Two years ago, their son Nicholas turned 4. At the same time, Kanawha
County school officials announced plans to close the Reid's neighborhood
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
The only thing that worried her
was its size - more than 700 students, larger than her high school had
Knowing that Putnam County had top-notch schools made it easier for her
to move there, she
Putnam County ranked third in the state's
Stanford-9 test scores last year, while Kanawha ranked 14th out of 55
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
They scouted back yards for bicycles, sandboxes and swing sets when
they looked for their future neighborhood. They wanted a place with lots
"I wanted a quiet, safe, dead-end street," Suzanne
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
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
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
"It was hard to get people from places like
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.