85 Fascinating Facts About West Virginia

Interesting West Virginia facts

West Virginia (yes, the state praised in the John Denver song) is known for its mountains, outdoor activities, and coal mining.

Find out what else “The Mountain State” is famous for with these fun West Virginia facts!

General West Virginia Facts

  • West Virginia is located in the Mid-Atlantic, Appalachian, and (according to some lists) Southeastern region of the United States.
  • Although it is only 72 mi (116 km) from Chesapeake Bay on the Atlantic coast, West Virginia is a landlocked state.
  • West Virginia has a total area of 24,230 mi² (62,755 km²), making it the 10th smallest state in the US. It sits between Maryland and South Carolina in terms of size.
  • West Virginia is slightly larger than Norway and slightly smaller than Latvia.
  • According to some, West Virginia is shaped like a squashed frog, with its legs splayed out in the northeast.
  • West Virginia is the 12th least populous state, with a population of 1.76 million residents. It has more people than Hawaii but less than Idaho.
  • The population of West Virginia has been declining for the last decade. It reached a peak of 1.86 million in 2012.
Charleston city view at night, along the river with a bridge across it
Charleston sits on the Kanawha, a tributary of the Ohio River
  • Charleston is the capital and largest city in West Virginia. It has a population of 48,000 (metropolitan 255,000).
  • The state was initially named Kanawha, after a Native American tribe.
  • The land of West Virginia was once populated by various Native American tribes, including the Occaneechi, Iroquois, Tutelo, Meherrin, Monacan, Shawnee, Saponi, Manahoac, Nottaway, and Cherokee. Today they make up less than 0.2% of the population.
  • “The Mountain State” is a common nickname of West Virginia because it’s the only state that’s completely within the Appalachian Mountain range. It has also been called “The Switzerland of America” for the same reason.
  • Another nickname for West Virginia is “The Panhandle State.” Nine other US states, including Alaska and Florida, have panhandles (a long strip of land that sticks out), although West Virginia is the only state that has two.
A few of mountaintops in West Virginia, a state famous for its mountains
Mountain scenery in West Virginia
  • The official state motto of West Virginia is “Montani Semper Liberi” which is Latin for “Mountaineers are Always Free”.
  • A famous tourism slogan from West Virginia is “Almost Heaven”, which comes from the classic John Denver Song “Take Me Home, Country Roads”, which is all about West Virginia. It is now one of the state’s four official songs (fun facts: Colorado also has a John Denver song as one of its state songs, and John Denver changed his name to Denver because he loves the Colorado city so much).  
  • The official acronym for West Virginia is WV, while people from there are called West Virginians.
  • West Virginia is on the “Monarch Highway”, a route of migrating monarch butterflies between Canada and Mexico. The monarch butterfly is thus the official state insect.
  • Golden Delicious apples are the official state fruit of West Virginia, while coal is the official state rock.
The West Virginia state flag
The state flag of West Virginia
  • West Virginia’s state flag features the coat of arms on a white background, representing purity. The blue border represents the Union.
  • The coat of arms shows a miner and farmer, for the state’s industry and agriculture. A boulder is inscribed with the date West Virginia was admitted to the Union. The “Cap of Liberty” and hunting rifles represent West Virginia’s fight for liberty.

Random Interesting Facts About West Virginia

  • West Virginia has one of the oldest populations of any state, with a median age of 42.7. Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont also top the list.  
  • West Virginia is the second most obese state (after Mississippi) and Huntington, West Virginia was once ranked as the nation’s most obese town. Jamie Oliver, the famous chef from England, was welcomed into its school district. Jamie’s food education program there was turned into a reality television series, Food Revolution.
  • West Virginia holds the record for the most places named after international cities. The state has cities, towns, or villages named Shanghai, Berlin, Cairo, Vienna, Calcutta, Geneva, Athens, and more.
  • Other unusually named towns in West Virginia include Man, Fort Gay, Nutter Fort, and Paw Paw.
A very tall steel bridge over a river valley in New River Gorge National Park
New River Gorge Bridge
  • West Virginia has one national park: New River Gorge National Park. New River is ironically named, as it is said to be one of the five oldest rivers in the world. It is the deepest river valley east of the Mississippi and the youngest national park in the country.
  • The nation’s longest steel-arch bridge is the New River Gorge Bridge in the national park. It spans 1,815 ft (553 m) across the New River Gorge.
  • New River is unique in the sense that it flows from south to north, opposite of most rivers. The reason for this is that the river was formed before the mountains around it.
A famous waterfall in West Virginia called Blackwater Falls
Blackwater Falls
  • Blackwater Falls is one of the most recognizable waterfalls in the state, often appearing in calendars and on advertisements. It is located in the state park of the same name.
  • The Glade Creek Grist Mill in Babcock State Park is one of the most iconic sights in the state. It is a living monument to the more than 500 mills that used to be in the area.
  • Wheeling Suspension Bridge across the Ohio River in Wheeling was the largest suspension bridge in the world when it was first constructed in 1849.
  • The Greenbrier is a luxury hot spring resort in West Virginia that has been welcoming guests since 1778. In total, 26 US presidents have stayed there.
White columns at the front of Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, with trees on either side
Greenbrier Resort
  • The hot spring spa in Berkeley Springs State Park is the only state-run spa in the US. George Washington’s former bathtub can be seen there today.
  • Webster Springs, West Virginia was home to the largest sycamore tree in the world until it fell in 2010. The tree was estimated to be over 500 years old.
  • West Virginia has five ski resorts, with the largest being Snowshoe Mountain. It attracts half a million visitors per year.
  • Spruce Knob is the highest elevation in West Virginia, at 4,863 ft (1482 m) above sea level. The lowest is Harpers Ferry, at 247 ft (75 m) above sea level.
  • The hottest temperature ever recorded in the state was 112°F (44.4°C) in Martinsburg on July 10, 1936. The coldest temperature was -37°F (-38.3°C) in Lewisburg on December 30, 1917.
  • Nearly 75% of West Virginia is covered with lush green forests.
A winding road with yellow diving running through the forest
A road through the forest in West Virginia
  • The first state to have sales tax was West Virginia, which was imposed on May 3, 1921.
  • West Virginia produces 15% of the country’s coal.
  • Coal House in Williamson, WV is entirely built of coal, the first of its kind in the world.
  • The state is considered a national energy hub and leads the nation in net interstate electricity exports, underground coal mine production, and natural gas.
  • West Virginia is home to several major metal and steel companies, such as Steel of West Virginia Inc., ArcelorMittal, Nisshin Inc., Special Metals Corporation, and Follansbee Steel.
  • The state also has a booming automotive industry, with facilities owned by Toyota, Diamond Electric, NGK Spark Plugs, Sogefi, and Okuno International.
Close up of a mound of coal inside a West Virginia coal mine
A coal mine in West Virginia
  • Some of the most well-known companies based in West Virginia are Marquee Cinemas, Tudor’s Biscuit World, and Gabe’s.
  • Famous people from West Virginia include TV host Steve Harvey, basketball player and coach Jerry West, and country singer Brad Paisley.
  • Grandparents Day was founded by Marian McQuade of Oak Hills, West Virginia in 1973.
  • One of the first publications specifically aimed at women, the Ladies’ Garland newspaper, was first published in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.
  • The country’s first brick road was paved by engineer Mordicai Levi in Summers Street, Charleston.
A street in Charleston, West Virginia, with historic buildings along it at night
A historic road in Charleston today
  • McDowell County resident Minnie Buckingham became the first African American woman to serve in a US government body. She was appointed to fill her husband’s unexpired term in the state of House Delegates in 1928.
  • West Virginia has some strange old laws still in existence. For instance, it is technically illegal to own a red or black flag.
  • Also, you are breaking the law if you taunt someone who doesn’t want to participate in a duel.
  • It is also still illegal to wear a hat in a theater in West Virginia (though we doubt the rule is actually applied).
  • Other weird laws include being fined $1 for each time you swear in public. If you decide to participate in a duel you won’t be able to run for public office. Last but not least, if you’re a fireman, it’s strictly prohibited to flirt.

Historical Facts About West Virginia

  • The first inhabitants of the West Virginia region arrived over 10,500 years ago.
  • Around 250 to 150 BC, members of the Adena culture built what is today the largest cone-shaped earth mound in the US. Called the Grave Creek Mound, it consists of over 60,000 tons of dirt.
Aerial view of Grave Creek Mound in West Virginia, with a city behind it
Grave Creek Mound
  • In 1606, the Virginia Colony was established.
  • Jamestown, the first British settlement in the Americas, was founded in 1607 in what is now Virginia.
  • In 1669, John Lederer became the first European to enter West Virginia after he visited the Blue Ridge Mountains.
  • Explorers Thomas Batts and Robert Fallum discovered Kanawha Falls after they travelled into the Appalachian Mountains in 1671.
  • In 1734, Orange County, Virginia was established. It included all of present-day West Virginia.
  • In 1742, coal was first discovered in the area of West Virginia, though the industry would really boom in the late 1800s.
Exterior of Shepherdstown Hall in Shepherdstown University, WV
University building in Shepherdstown, the oldest town in West Virginia
  • George Washington surveyed land in West Virginia in 1748.
  • West Virginia’s oldest town, Shepherdstown, was founded in 1762.
  • In 1776, residents of West Virginia petitioned the Congress to create a 14th state called Westsylvania. The petition was denied.
  • In November 1849, the Wheeling Suspension Bridge was built.
  • After Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861, West Virginia remained loyal to the Union by creating its own government separate from Virginia.
  • In 1862, the Battle of Shepherdstown was fought in what is now West Virginia. The battle was part of the Confederate army’s withdrawal, and they suffered heavy losses.
A painting of armies fighting in the Battle of Shepherdstown, West Virginia
The Battle of Shepherdstown
  • West Virginia was admitted to the Union as the 35th state in 1863.
  • Slavery was abolished in West Virginia after the Civil War came to an end in 1865.
  • In 1875, Wheeling became the state capital.
  • Charleston became the permanent state capital in 1885.
  • On October 1, 1896, Rural Free Delivery was established by the US Post Office, with the first routes in West Virginia.
The Virginia State Capitol building along the river in Charleston, WV
The West Virginia State Capitol in Charleston
  • In December of 1897, the last public hanging in the state took place in Jackson County, West Virginia.
  • The country’s first women-exclusive federal prison was opened in 1926 in West Virginia.
  • In 1938, Pearl S. Buck of Hillsboro became the first American woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.
  • In 1977, the New River Gorge Bridge was opened.
  • At the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, Mary Lou Retton of West Virginia, a 16-year-old gymnast at the time, became known as “America’s Sweetheart” after winning 1 gold, 2 silver, and 2 bronze medals.
  • In 2008, Hillary Clinton won with 67% of the vote in the West Virginia primary. Eight years later, however, she would offend many locals by saying that she would put coal mines out of business in favor of green energy.
Looking out at a forested river valley from an observation deck in New River Gorge National park
New River Gorge is the newest national park in the US.
  • Saira Blair was elected by West Virginia voters to the state legislature on November 4, 2014 at the age of 18. This made Blair the youngest state lawmaker in the country.
  • In late 2020, the New River Gorge National park was established.
  • Due to its shrinking population, a faster rate than any other state over the last decade, West Virginia lost a congressional seat in 2021.

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