West Virginia is one of the most rural states in the Union – that alone makes this locale a haven for preppers. There are so many blissfully perfect places for a self-reliant family to set up a survival homestead or prepper retreat, it is pretty difficult to pick just one.
The vast majority of the 1.8 million folks who call West Virginia home live in a town with less than 2,500 people. Only a few rare states can boast that about two thirds of their population are bonafide rural residents.
While it would be hard to go wrong choosing nearly any county in West Virginia for a prepper to live, Wirt stands out as an all-star place to cultivate an on or off grid survival home.
Wirt County is considered to be a part of the Heartland Region of central West Virginia and a part of the Mid-Ohio Valley Region. The Heartland Region includes Wirt, Calhoune, Roane, Braxton, Ritchie, and Gilmer, Calhoun counties as well as portions of Clay, Lewis, Upshur, Webster, and Nicholas counties.
Wirt County Facts
- Wirt is the least populous county in all of West Virginia.
- Some 5,717 people live in the county that was created in 1848 by the Virginia General Assembly.
- Elizabeth is the seat of Wirt County, West Virginia.
- Wirt County encompases a grand total of 235 square miles. A total of 233 square miles is land and 2.3 square miles of the county is water.
- The nearest metropolitan area is the Parkersburg-Vienna region.
- There are approximately 2,391 households and roughly 1,689 families in Wirt County.
- The population density for this West Virginia county is about 24.6 people per square mile.
- A total of 28.7 households had children under the age of 18 living with them. Of the households with children, 56.1 were married couples.
- The median age in Wirt County is roughly 44.4 years old.
- The median income per household in this county is approximately $36,705 and the median income per family household is a little higher at $43,517.
- Roughly 11.8 percent of residents and 19.2 percent of families lived below the federal poverty line.
Wirt County History
This new West Virginia county was created out of parts of Wood and Jackson counties in Virginia.
Wirt was named for the United States Attorney General and presidential candidate of the time, William Wirt.
Willaim Beauchamp was both a Continental Navy veteran and a Methodist minister. He was the first pioneer to venture into the area that would become Wirt County in 1796.
Beauchamp claimed 1,400 acres to call his own along the banks of the Little Kanawha River. He built a mill and farmed the land. Later, he laid out the town of Elizabeth that became the county seat – naming it after his daughter.
During the early 1860s an oil rush, the first in the nation, began in the Burning Springs area of what would become Wirt County. The town of Burning Springs was burned by Confederate soldiers in 1863, destroying about 100,000 gallons of oil in the process.
Wirt was one of only 50 counties in Virginia during the apex of the Civil War. It was added to West Virginia during a time when the state was being divided into “civil townships” in an effort to encourage local governance. Due to the heavily rural nature of the state, those efforts failed to take root.
Just a few years later, the civil townships were converted into magisterial districts.
Wirt County itself was divided into seven different magisterial districts: Elizabeth, Burning Springs, Tucker, Clay, Spring Creek, Reedy, and Newark.
Those magisterial districts remained virtually unchanged until the early 1980s when the seven districts were consolidated into three, the Central, the Northeast, and the Southwest.
- The violent crime rate in Wit County stands at 16.2 percent, below the national average of 22.7 percent.
- In the violent crimes category, the incidents of robbery, rape, or murder during a single calender year are less than one percent.
- The property crime rate in this West Virginia county for preppers is 21.6 percent, also below the national average of 35.4 percent.
- The median home value in Wirt County is $95,800.
- The average cost of a rental home is $454 per month in this West Virginia county.
- A total of 30 percent of Wirt County residents have an associate’s degree or some college level courses completed.
- Five percent of residents hold a master’s degree.
- Six percent of the folks that live in Wirt County hold a bachelor’s degree.
- Forty two of Wirt County residents possess a high school diploma.
- Approximately 17 percent of the people who live in this rural West Virginia county did not graduate from high school or obtain a GED.
- The Wirt County Schools is the public school district serving the entire county. There are two elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school in the district. There are also two preschools connected to the Wirt County Schools.
- Wirt County public schools have an average math proficiency score of 37 percent, just one percent below the state average.
- Students that attend Wirt County Schools have a reading proficiency score of 4 percent, two percentage points below the state average.
- Wirt County Schools have a ranking of 6 out of 10 in average standards ranking – placing it among the top 50 percent of West Virginia public schools.
- Children in West Virginia must either begin attending school or comply with state homeschool regulations beginning with the first academic school year when they are six – if they turned that age before July 1 or after enrolling in a public kindergarten program.
- Children must attend school through the age of 17 unless they live in marshall, Cabell, Wyoming, or Monroe counties, where compulsory school age is 18, unless graduated before reaching that birthdate.
- West Virginia is a homeschool friendly state and offers two different routes to the notification/approval process and the type of curriculum and days spent learning at home rules.
- The five largest ethnic groups living in this rural country are white (98.9 percent) Hispanic (nearly 5 percent) African American (nearly 5 percent) Native American – less than one percent.
- 100 percent of the Wirt County residents are American citizens.
- This county also has a high percentage of veterans who served in Vietnam and a sizable portion that served in the first or second Gulf Wars.
- The unemployment rate in Wirt County is 9.6 percent.
- Future job growth in the county over the next decade is predicted to increase by 19.9.percent.
- Sales tax in Wirt County is six percent.
- The number of adults in Wirt County employed in the manufacturing sector is 16.4 percent.
- Construction is the next top industry in this West Virginia county, employing 12 percent of the adults who call it home.
- Health care jobs and the retail trade are the next top two types of careers in the county, each claiming a little more than 10 percent of adult workers.
- The highest paying jobs in Wirt County are in the mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction field. Workers in those jobs earn approximately $81,000 per year.
- Transportation (trucking) and warehouse jobs are also among the most high paying in Wirt County. Workers in these fields earn around $69,000 per year.
Tax Rates for Wirt County
- Sales Tax Rate for Wirt County is 6.0%, while US average is 7.3%.
- Income Tax Rate for Wirt County is 6.5%, while US average is 4.6%.
- Tax Rates can have a big impact when Comparing Cost of Living.
Highways Leading To Wirt County
- West Virginia Route 53
- West Virginia Route 47
- West Virginia Route 14
- West Virginia Route 5
West Virginia is a good state for farming, and Wirt County is no exception. Eighty two of the state’s todaly agricultural production stems from livestock products.
Broiler chickens are the state’s top agricultural commodity, but goat keeping is starting to make gains – especially in hilly areas.
With quality land in this rural county selling for around $1,000 per acre, purchasing enough viable land to create a sustainable survival homestead or prepper retreat is quite affordable.
West Virginia as a whole offers a wide variety of quality hunting opportunities. Every year over 350,000 hunters flood the woods in the state in hopes of bagging a big Whitetail deer, wild turkeys, and even black bear in some areas. It is not unusual to find 25 deer per square mile throughout the state.
Even if you are unable to purchase enough land initially to hunt for all the meat your family needs for a year ( or longer) there are ample hunting opportunities available at state and national forests and on hunting leases in the county.
More than 3,000 black bears were harvested by hunters in West Virginia in 2019. Over 11,000 wild turkeys were also harvested by hunters in the state.
Fishing – There are 118 lakes, rivers, and other fishing spots in Wirt County. Some of the most popular fishing spots in this rural West Virginia county include: Little Kanawha River, Hughes River, Charles Fork, Spring Creek, Elk Fork Lake, Little Stillwell Creek, Rollins Lake, Winfield Locks and Dam, and North Bend Lake.
A significant portion of Wirt County is filled with mature oak and hickory tree hardwood forests. Most of the county not covered in wooded areas is considered to be prime farmland – particularly the areas along the Hughes River and the Kanawha River.
The Hughes Wildlife Management Area encompasses 10,000 acres, part of which is in the heart of Wirt County. The terrain includes river bottoms, mature forests, and game hunting of deer, turkey, squirrel, grouse, and squirrels primarily.
Both the Hughes River and Little Kanawha River are a part of the Hughes Wildlife Management area and offer panfish, smallmouth bass, muskellunge, and channel catfish fishing opportunities.
This area offers a public shooting and archery range as well as a host of outdoor regional history and recreational activities.
Ecotourism is quite popular in the area due to the prime hunting, fishing, and outdoor pursuits available in the region.
A prepper who wanted to start a home based business that caters to folks looking for a place to primitive camp, fish, or hunt, along with the selling of farm goods, horse trail rides, or crafts could make a nice side living or perhaps full-time income.
Beauchamp-Newman House is also known as both the Alfred Beauchamp House and Beauchamp-Newman Museum. This historic home is located in Elizabeth and was built in the 1830s.
The Oil and Gas Museum is located in the Parkersburg area. It highlights both the history and the modern day impact on the largest oil and gas reserve in the world, located in the Appalachian Basin. There are industry artifacts and regional history and industry exhibits to explore.
The Wirt County, West Virginia area is a place where preppers can easily blend with like-minded self-reliant folks who readily embrace the hunting, farming, homesteading, fishing, and proo-Second Amendment mindset.
The low crime rate and ability to live off of the land make it the best place for preppers to live in West Virginia.
Even though this is the most rural county in the state, residents still have internet access and can easily accommodate work from home and online cottage industry bases careers, enabling them to do what all preppers dream of – being able to earn a living without being forced to leave their land and family to do so.
Tara Dodrill is a homesteading and survival journalist and author. She lives on a small ranch with her family in Appalachia. She has been both a host and frequent guest on preparedness radio shows. In addition to the publication of her first book, ‘Power Grid Down: How to Prepare, Survive, and Thrive after the Lights go Out’, Dodrill also travels to offer prepping tips and hands-on training and survival camps and expos.