52 Interesting Facts About West Virginia

Last updated on December 6th, 2022

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.

1. A human faster than the speed of sound 

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.[1]

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

2. Capital woes

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.

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

3. Not-so-secret nuclear bunker

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.[20]

4. A state for the young and old

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.[21]

5. Falling ceremony for a tree

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.[22]

6. Coal houses

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.

7. A basketball record

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.[29]

8. Elevated graves

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.[26]

9. Border to Border

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.

West Virginia on the map

10. The senate connection

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.[23]

11. Kanawha to West Virginia

In 1861, residents of West Virginia were presented with the name Kanawha when they voted on whether or not to break away from Virginia. The suggestion was aimed at honoring a local Native American tribe. However, the legislators finally chose West Virginia.

12. Lion vs Giant Sloth

In 1796, soldiers operating in Greenbrier County discovered animal bones that appeared to belong to a large lion. However, the real identity of the animal was unmasked by an amateur paleontologist who correctly identified it as a giant sloth.[24]

13. The largest alluvial diamond

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.[25]

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

14. Longest steel-span bridge

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 long. China’s Shanghai’s Lupu Bridge is the longest single-span steel arch bridge in the world.[10,27]

15. The world’s oldest river

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.

16. The only state 

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

17. The last World War I veteran

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.[19]

18. The first steamboat

In 1787, West Virginia made history by launching the first steamboat in the Potomac River at New Mecklensburg.[28]

19. Storefront museum

The state hosts a one of a kind storefront museum that exhibits a humanoid creature named Mothman. The creature was reportedly seen many times in the 1960s, which helped propel its status to a local legend.[18]

20. World record for stalagmite sitting

One of the residents of this state, Bob Addis, set the world record for stalagmite sitting. Bob spent nearly 16 days sitting atop a stalagmite rock formation where he received supplies using a bucket thanks to the help of a well-wisher.[17]

21. West Virginia gave the world Mother’s Day

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.

22. Largest hand-cut stone masonry building

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.[16]

23. Historic dunk

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.[15]

24. The first red brick road 

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.[3]  

25. Post-war debt squabbles

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.[14]

26. First for the House of Delegates

In 1928, Minnie Buckingham Harper became the first African-American woman to join the House of Delegates.

27. Spelling problems

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.

a traffic light, for facts about West Virginia
A traffic light. Image credit – John K Thorne

28. No traffic lights

Monroe County in West Virginia is void of any traffic lights, 4-lane highways, and fast food restaurants. It is a place to be and enjoy the life in the simplest manner. 

29. Global flavor

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, Cairo, Geneva, and Berlin.

30. The split from Virginia

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.

31. During The American Civil War

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

illustrative mailbox image, for facts about West Virginia
Illustrative mailbox image. Photo credit – Thomas Cizauskas

32. Free rural mail

The first rural free mail delivery started in the United States in Charles Town, Hall Town and Uvilla on October 1, 1896.[12]

33. Some special snakes

The Bluestone River in West Virginia is home to the northern water snakes. These snakes are special because they incubate their eggs inside their bodies and then give birth to the live young. The snakes grow to be about 24-55 inches. They can hatch 9 to 45 young in a year.[2]

34. The first woman to win an Olympic gold

On August 3, 1984, gymnast Mary Lou Retton became the first U.S. woman to win an Olympic gold for the All-Around event.[4]

35. The origin of the name

West Virginia is named for Queen Elizabeth I of England, “The Virgin Queen.”[5]

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