68 Interesting Facts About West Virginia

Last updated on December 21st, 2023

West Virginia is the 39th most populous and the 41st most extensive of the 50 states of the United States. It is located in the Appalachian region in the Southern United States that is also considered to be a part of the Middle Atlantic States. The state attained statehood on June 20, 1863, becoming the 35th state to join the union. Its five bordering states are Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. See the complete list of the 50 states and their borders here. West Virginia (nicknamed: Mountain State, Panhandle State) has 55 counties. The state’s capital is Charleston. The abbreviation for West Virginia is WV.

Facts about West Virginia

The origin of the name

1. West Virginia is named for Queen Elizabeth I of England, “The Virgin Queen.”

Another name

2. The Mountain State, West Virginia, is sometimes called the “Colorado of the East.”

The split from Virginia

3. Did you know that Virginia split into Virginia and West Virginia due to political differences? The split happened in 1861 and the new state was admitted to the union in 1863.

Bell X-1 ‘6062’ “Glamorous Glennis”
Bell X-1 ‘6062’ “Glamorous Glennis”. This Bell X-1 was the first aircraft to break the sound barrier. Interesting facts about West Virginia. Image credit – Alan Wilson

A human faster than the speed of sound 

4. Chuck Yeager, born in 1923, from West Virginia became the first person in the world to break the sound barrier. He made history in October 1947 when while he flew the Bell X-1 rocket at 700 mph in level flight and crossed the speed of sound. Charleston’s Yeager airport is named after the iconic hero.

Not-so-secret nuclear bunker

5. The state is home to a nuclear bunker designed to accommodate congressmen and women, including support staff if there is a nuclear attack. The bunker’s existence should be a secret but West Virginians have long spilled the beans on the feature hidden underneath the Greenbrier resort. The bunker opened in 1961 and remained on constant alert as a nuclear fallout shelter. However, the bunker is now open for public tours.

A state for the young and old

6. The state loves its young and old as evidenced by the rise of Cecil Underwood who became the youngest governor at the age of 34. After this feat in 1956, he went to become the oldest governor in West Virginia at the age of 74. He has the unusual distinction of being both the youngest person to be elected as governor and the oldest to both be elected and serve.

Facts about West Virginia

West Virginia gave the world Mother’s Day

7. Grafton, West Virginia, was the venue for the world’s first Mother’s Day celebrations. The occasion took place on May 10, 1908 after, the founder, Anna Jarvis, honored her mother posthumously. This day of remembrance turned into a global celebration.

Capital woes

8. When it comes to picking the right capital city for the state, West Virginia found it difficult to make a final decision. Its capital was Wheeling before a decision was made to transfer the capital to Charleston, then Wheeling again before West Virginians finally settled on Charleston.

The senate connection

9. A West Virginian woman boasts astonishing links to former United States senators. Hallie Davis Elkins is the only United States citizen who is a mother, daughter, and wife of senators. It comes as no surprise that the city of Elkins is named after her husband.

Falling ceremony for a tree

10. Locals know how to provide a special sendoff for falling trees in West Virginia. In 1938, residents hosted a falling ceremony for the largest and oldest white oak tree in the country after it was declared dead.

11. A great West Virginia symbol is the sugar maple, which was voted state tree in 1949. The tree is also a state tree of other states in the US.

coal train. West Virginia fact file
A coal train. Image credit – J_S_photo_archive

A coal producer

12. West Virginia is the second-largest producer of coal behind Wyoming.

Coal houses

13. The state is home to coal houses that provide a unique living experience. It is most likely that West Virginia is the only or one of a few places on earth where you will find livable coal houses. The Coal House is situated in White Sulphur Springs.

illustrative mailbox image
Illustrative mailbox image. Photo credit – Thomas Cizauskas

Free rural mail

14. The first rural free mail delivery started in the United States in Charles Town, Hall Town and Uvilla on October 1, 1896.

The largest alluvial diamond

15. In 1928, a family in Peterstown found a 34-carat diamond at their home and stashed it in a cigar box for 14 years thinking it was a quartz rock. The family only discovered that it was a diamond after taking the gem to a local geologist.

One of its kind telescope

16. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory at Green Bank has world’s largest steerable radio telescope. It was rebuilt in 2000.

Basketball court. Facts about West Virginia

A basketball record

17. In 1960, Danny Heater, a local student was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records after scoring 135 points during a high school basketball game.

Historic dunk

18. In 1984, Georgeann Wells made history for the state when she successfully dunked during a college basketball game. The feat, which took place at West Virginia University, was special in that she was the first female to dunk.

The first woman to win an Olympic gold

19. On August 3, 1984, gymnast Mary Lou Retton became the first U.S. woman to win an Olympic gold for the All-Around event.

Elevated graves

20. The state hosts one of America’s oldest and largest burial grounds for Native Americans. The site has distinctive features that make it stand out. The cone-shaped burial ground stands at 69 feet high and it has a circumference of more than 900 feet. It is located in Moundsville. It is known as Grave Creek Mound and was constructed by Mound Builders.

Against slavery

21. John Brown started a movement of anti-slavery in 1859 with a protest. One of the well-known protests was the one in Harpers Ferry.

22. The Battle of Philippi in 1861 was the first battle fought in the Civil War and happened in West Virginia. It also resulted in a victory for the Union.

Post-war debt squabbles

23. At the end of the Civil War, Virginia demanded that its new neighbor pay its pre-war debt. The Supreme Court ordered the state to pay after it initially declined.

West Virginia on the map
West Virginia (in red) on the map with bordering states.

During The American Civil War

24. West Virginia is one of two American states formed during the American Civil War (1861–1865), along with Nevada.

The last World War I veteran

25. Frank Buckles who was the last surviving veteran of World War I was a resident of Charleston. He died in 2011 aged an astonishing 110 years old. During his younger years, Buckles had to lie about his age to enlist in the US Army.

26. In West Virginia, Charles Town is where the first freedom fighter, Brown, was charged and convicted of treason. Murder and conspiracy were also added to the list.

27. General Wilkonson was the man that charged Burr with treason to save himself. He was tried in Richmond, Virginia, in the circuit court. Chief Justice John Marshall was a federal judge during the Aaron Burr Trial. Burr was found not guilty by the Jury during this trial.

28. In 1926, the first federal prison for women opened in Alderson, West Virginia. It is located on a 500-acre piece of land and is known as the Federal Industrial Institution for Women.

The only state

29. West Virginia is the only state to form by seceding from a Confederate state and one of three states to secede from another state.

West Virginia on the map


Border to Border

30. Weirton undoubtedly comes with a unique feature. It is the only city in the United States that runs from one state border to another. The metropolis shares borders with Ohio to the west and Pennsylvania to the east.

31. The outline of West Virginia shown on the map looks like a leaping or squat frog. That is because the top part looks like frog legs.

Global flavor

32. For a small state, West Virginia has a surprisingly global flavor. It holds the record for most towns named after cities in countries around the world. You will find Shanghai, Athens, Calcutta, Cairo, Geneva, Berlin, and even London.

33. Apart from being the state with the most foreign city names, they also have many funny town names. Droop, Cucumber, Boozoo, and Bud are among them.

Spelling problems

34. Although the state’s residents are big achievers, they failed to spell Mullins correctly after naming a town Mullens in Wyoming County. They later voted to retain the incorrectly spelled name.

The biggest fair is older than the state

35. An interesting historical fact about West Virginia is that the biggest fair in this state is older than West Virginia by a decade. It occurred in 1854, nearly ten years before the state was formed.

36. Interesting to note is that West Virginia University was known as the Agricultural College of West Virginia. The name changed to what it is now only a year after it was found.

37. The Agricultural College of West Virginia was the first land-grant university in this state. It was founded in 1867 and has a rich agriculture and mechanic arts history.

38. The mast of the USS West Virginia now resides on the University of West Virginia campus. This ship was severely damaged during the Pearl Harbour attack in 1941.

39. When the song “West Virginia” by John Denver came out in 1971, it became the favorite song of this state. Since 2014 it has become part of the West Virginia list of symbols. Words from the song of John Denver-Almost Heaven, is also a famous slogan of West Virginia. It is just fun to think of it as part of the state.

40. Old-time trades can be learned at the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. These trades include cow milking, dressmaking, blacksmithing, and many more.

Glass making  

41. The state’s first glass making plant was established in Wellsburg in 1813.

42. The first ever dime store started right there in Harrisville, West Virginia, in 1908. It is known as Bardine’s Five and Dime and is still operating.

43. A popular fruit of West Virginia, the Golden apple originated in 1905 in the Clay County. It all started on the Mullins family farm.

44. Early in the year of 1921, Charleston was burned to the ground. That was when the town just started and had only about four buildings.

45. After the destruction of the first downtown capitol building, it took nearly 11 years to dedicate a new one. In 1932, the new West Virginia capitol building was completed.

Largest hand-cut stone masonry building

46. The state is home to the largest hand-cut stone masonry building in the United States. The Weston State Hospital building, which was constructed in the late 19th century, holds the record.

47. The dome atop the West Virginia State Capitol building is nearly 300 feet high. The 292 feet height is just over four feet higher than the dome in Washington.

The first red brick road 

48. The first red brick road in the U.S. was laid in Charleston in 1873. A Charleston resident by the name Mordecai Levi wanted to change the condition of the hard-packed dirt streets of the city. He paved the Summers Street in Charleston with bricks and later got a patent for the paving method he had invented.

49. At 700 feet, the Phil G. McDonald Bridge, located in Beckley, West Virginia, is the tallest truss bridge in the world.

The New River gorge Bridge is a landmark in West Virginia.
The New River gorge Bridge is a landmark in West Virginia.

Longest steel-span bridge

50. Base jumpers in West Virginia are privileged to have the longest steel-span bridge in the western hemisphere in their state. The New River Gorge Bridge, which is situated in Fayette County, measures 3,030 feet in length. China’s Shanghai’s Lupu Bridge is the longest single-span steel arch bridge in the world.

State Flower

51. The West Virginia State flower was chosen through the votes of public school children. Voting was done from a list that the governor recommended.

The world’s oldest river

52. West Virginia hosts one of the world’s oldest rivers, which meanders through the state heading towards Virginia before reaching North Carolina. The New River takes the number two spot after the world-famous River Nile.

. . . continue reading on the next page