Located in the Appalachian Mountains, West Virginia is a state in the eastern United States. Harpers Ferry was the site of a famous raid during the Civil War at the confluence of the Shenandoah and the Potomac rivers. Many of the buildings in the town are open to the public as living-history museums, which are surrounded by a national historical park.
QUICK FACTS ABOUT WEST VIRGINIA
- Capital City: Charleston
- Largest City: Charleston
- Nickname: The Mountain State
- Statehood: 1863; 35th state
- Population (as of 2020): 1,793,716
- Abbreviation: WV
- State bird: Cardinal
- State flower: Rhododendron
- Total Size Of The State: 24,230 sq mi (62,755 km2)
Scientists realized that humans have lived in what is now West Virginia for at least 10,500 years after finding spear points used to hunt extinct species such as mastodons and mammoths. The Cherokees, Iroquois, Manahoacs, Meherrins, Monacans, Nottaways, Shawnees, Occaneechis, Tutelos, and Saponis all inhabited the land many thousands of years after these ancient people lived.
The area now comprises West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, and parts of North Carolina, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New York, referred to as Virginia after the British arrived in the 1600s. The British-controlled government of Virginia offered European families free land in 1730 to encourage them to move to West Virginia.
Native Americans lost their homelands and supported the French in a land war against the British (often called the French and Indian War).
In the Revolutionary War of 1775-1783, West Virginia remained part of Virginia because the British won that battle. The state, however, refused to secede from the Union at the start of the Civil War (1861-1865). Abolitionist John Brown staged a famous raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859. As part of his attack, Brown sought weapons that could be used to fight slavery, but he was unable to do so. Separation from Virginia in 1861 resulted in West Virginia becoming its state two years later.
Why Does It Have That Name?
Initially, West Virginia was going to be called Kanawha, a name honoring a Native American tribe. However, officials wanted the word “Virginia” to remain in its new name despite the region’s separation from Virginia. The term “Virginia” comes from a nickname of Queen Elizabeth I, who ruled in the late 1500s.
Since West Virginia is the only state entirely within the Appalachian Mountains region, and its average elevation is higher than any other state east of the Mississippi, it’s known as the Mountain State.
Geographic Features and Landforms
Some think this state resembles a leaping frog, with its nose in the southwest corner. In the north, it is surrounded by Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maryland; in the east, by Maryland and Virginia; in the south, by Virginia and Kentucky; and in the west, by Kentucky and Ohio. The Ohio River forms its wiggly western border, and the Appalachian Mountains cause its winding eastern border. There are two geographic regions within the state.
There are Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountains in the Appalachian Ridge and Valley Region, which begins in the northeast and runs southwest. In addition to its parallel ridges, the region has canyons called “water gaps,” forests, caves, and high peaks, including the state’s highest Point, Spruce Knob.
Overlooking the rest of the state, the Allegheny Plateau has flat-topped hills and rounded peaks. The Allegheny Front is a wall of mountains and deep gorges that separate the state’s two regions.
The Natural World
West Virginia is home to more than 70 species of mammals, including Virginia big-eared bats, West Virginia northern flying squirrels, raccoons, skunks, and black bears, the state animal. Among the 300 species of birds that live in the state are wild turkeys, ruffed grouse, barred owls, bald eagles, cerulean warblers, and ruby-throated hummingbirds.
The state is home to corn snakes, mountain earth snakes, fence lizards, stinkpots (a type of turtle), and five-lined skinks. The state is also home to amphibians such as tiny cricket frogs, mountain chorus frogs, Allegheny Mountain dusky salamanders, and West Virginia spring salamanders.
West Virginia has many trees, including hemlocks, red spruces, cedars, ash trees, pitch pines, hickories, and cucumbertrees with cucumber-shaped fruits. Virginia also has many native wildflowers, such as the Virginia bluebell, the Virginia buttonweed, the Virginia potato (which has edible roots), and the Virginia strawberry.
West Virginia is the third most-forested state in the United States, known for its timber and protected woodlands. Native Americans and colonists used salt to cure butter and preserve meat, and wild buffalo and deer gathered to lick natural salt deposits. To this day, rock salt is still mined for use in creating chemicals like chlorine.
The state’s economy also depends on coal, oil, and natural gas.
Some Fun Facts About West Virginia
- No other steel-arch bridges are longer than the New River Gorge Bridge in Fayetteville. Its construction in 1977 made it possible to cross a 40-minute mountain drive in one minute. You can find it pictured on the West Virginia quarter.
- Learning about life in the 1800s at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is possible, including crafts such as dressmaking, blacksmithing, and dairy making. There are period-dressed guides at the historical homes and buildings. On hiking trails, you can visit the Point, where the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers meet. From that Point, you can see Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia all at once.
- There are more than 13 miles of old, no longer used railway tracks along which pedestrians and cyclists can follow the Wheeling Heritage Trail System.
- The state grows wild onions called ramps in spring. The Ramson festival is one of their most popular festivals.
- Three West Virginians broke the sound barrier in flight: author and civil rights activist Pearl S. Buck, Confederate general Thomas Stonewall Jackson, and pilot Chuck Yeager.