Census figures reflect E. Panhandle's growth

July 01, 2009

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- The tiny coalfield community of Sylvester has a one-officer police department, seven churches and about 40 street lights. What it doesn't have is the 458 people the latest U.S. Census Bureau population estimates says it has.

"I wish it were true," said three-term mayor Manny Arvon, who estimates his town only has 195 residents. "We have a wonderful community if you don't blink your eyes."

The Boone County community is about 4/5 of a mile long and has about 96 houses. Arvon guesses the latest census population estimate, which covers the period between July 1, 2000 to July 1, 2008, includes houses on the hillside outside the city's corporation limits.

"If you count the surrounding area, it's probably 600," he said Wednesday.

The number of houses do figure in how the census estimates a community's population, but only those located within a city's corporation limits are counted, said Greg Harper, a demographer for the Census Bureau. The agency bases population estimates on existing structures and building permits.


Based on census records, Sylvester experienced a growth spurt between 2004-2005 when local officials apparently reported 142 building permits, Harper said.

"That may have been an error, but that's the report we have," he said. "They had 93 housing units up to that point."

Arvon said he hasn't issued a building permit in his time as mayor.

Sylvester is a "preferred place to live," Arvon said, adding he doesn't doubt it would grow if it had more room. But, "there's no more land in the corporation that you could build on," he said.

According to the latest population estimates, West Virginia's largest cities continued to shed people.

Charleston remains the state's largest city with 50,302 residents, but the Census estimates the capital city has lost more than 3,000 residents since July 1, 2000.

Huntington maintains its spot as the state's second-largest city with an estimated population of 49,185, followed by Parkersburg's 31,611. Morgantown's estimated population of 29,642 replaced Wheeling as the state's fourth-largest city.

Morgantown is home to West Virginia University and led the state in population growth between 2000-2008 with nearly 3,000 new residents, according to census estimates.

The Eastern Panhandle communities of Martinsburg, Charles Town and Ranson rounded out the other top four growth areas during the period.

Martinsburg saw its population jump 14 percent, from 14,894 to 17,020, and was the state's eighth-largest city.

Largest W.Va. cities

From the U.S. Census Bureau population report of U.S. cities, released Wednesday, the following is a listing of 10 largest cities in West Virginia:

1. Charleston 50,302

2. Huntington 49,185

3. Parkersburg 31,611

4. Morgantown 29,642

5. Wheeling 28,913

6. Fairmont 19,024

7. Weirton 18,748

8. Martinsburg 17,020

9. Beckley 16,832

10. Clarksburg 16,441

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