About the New River
Despite its name, there is nothing new about the New River. In fact, the river is the oldest in the United States and second-oldest in the world. “I’ve heard dates of anything from 10 million to 360 million years," says FONR board member Lynn Sharp of the Virginia Tech Museum of Natural History. "I usually just say it’s ancient.”
   The New River has its origins in northwestern North Carolina, near the towns of Boone and Blowing Rock. By the time it merges with the Gauley River in West Virginia near Charleston to form the Kanawha, it has flowed north through parts of North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.
   In 1998 the New River was designated as one of fourteen American Heritage Rivers.

 

Tracing the Origins of the New River’s Name

   The New River, long in its history and in its length, has an equally long list of theories on how it obtained its name.
   The search for the New River’s name begins with early European explorers who happened upon the New River and presumed that they had found the river that would lead them west to the other side of the New World. In 1651, Edward Bland sent a pamphlet to London, England describing the western territories of Virginia and North Carolina, naming them New Brittaine and New Virginia. Then when he came upon a river that was unmarked on existing maps, Bland applied the title of “New” to it. 
   Another noted European to see the New River was probably Colonel Abraham Wood, who sought trade with the Indians in 1654. The river became known as Woods River until about 1754.
   One educated guess regarding the origin of the name is the theory that in the late 1700s or early 1800s, surveyors were working their way across the new country. When they happened on the New River, they discovered that it wasn’t on any of their existing maps, so they charted it and labeled it as “a new river.” Another version of this story attributes the label "a new river" to Peter Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson’s father.
The official name change to New River seems to have occurred between 1740 and 1750, although the two names, Woods and New, were used interchangeably in records and on maps in other states until about 1770.
   No one can really say for sure how the New River acquired its name. But as long as it keeps flowing, there is a chance that someone will discover how this old river became “New.”  For more information on the New River and its surrounding land, see The New River Early Settlement by Patricia Givens Johnson.