The new state benefited from development of its mineral resources more than any other single economic activity after Reconstruction. Much of the northern panhandle and north-central portion of the State are underlain by bedded salt deposits over 50 feet (15 m) thick. Salt mining had been underway since the 18th century, though that which could be easily obtained had largely played out by the time of the American Civil War, when the red salt of Kanawha County was a valued commodity of first Confederate, and later Union forces. Newer technology has since proved that West Virginia has enough salt resources to supply the nation's needs for an estimated 2,000 years. During recent years, production has been about 600,000 to 1,000,000 tons per year.
West Virginia was forested. During the period 1870 to 1920 most of the old-growth forest was logged. Logging was supported by a dense rail network extending throughout the mountains and hollows. Small pockets of virgin forest remain at Gaudineer Scenic Area and Cathedral State Park.
In the 1850s, geologists such as British expert Dr. David T. Ansted (1814–1880), surveyed potential coal fields and invested in land and early mining projects. After the War, with the new railroads came a practical method to transport large quantities of coal to expanding U.S. and export markets. Among the numerous investors were Charles Pratt and New York City mayor Abram S. Hewitt, whose father-in law, Peter Cooper, had been a key man in earlier development of the anthracite coal regions centered in eastern Pennsylvania and northwestern New Jersey. As those mines were playing out by the end of the 19th century, these men were among investors and industrialists who focused new interest on the largely untapped coal resources of West Virginia.
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