West Virginia

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State of West Virginia
State flag of West Virginia State seal of West Virginia
(Flag of West Virginia) (Seal of West Virginia)
State nickname: Mountain State
Map of the U.S. with West Virginia highlighted
Other U.S. States
Capital Charleston
Largest city Charleston
Governor Joe Manchin
Official languages English
Area 62,809 km² (41st)
 - Land 62,436 km²
 - Water 376 km² (0.6%)
Population (2000)
 - Population 1,808,344 (37th)
 - Density 29.0 /km² (29th)
Admission into Union
 - Date June 20, 1863
 - Order 35th
Time zoneEastern: UTC-5/-4
Latitude37°10'N to 40°40'N
Longitude77°40'W to 82°40'W
Width 210 km
Length 385 km
 - Highest 1,482 m
 - Mean 455 m
 - Lowest 73 m
 - ISO 3166-2 US-WV
Web site www.wv.gov

West Virginia is a culturally Southern state of the United States, known as The Mountain State.

While many consider it part of the South, many in the state's Northern Panhandle feel a greater affinity for Pittsburgh, while those in the Eastern Panhandle feel a greater connection with Washington D.C. suburbs in western Maryland and Virginia. West Virginia broke away from Virginia during the American Civil War. The state is noted for its coal mining heritage, and union organizing mine wars in particular.

The state has a rich, stark beauty reflecting its topography. Tourist sites include the New River Gorge Bridge (where on Bridge Day (http://www.wvbridgeday.com/) the federal government, which controls the landing site, allows BASE jumping [1] (http://www.wvbridgeday.com/bridge-day-BASE-jumping.php) from the bridge), as well as many national and state parks. It is also home to the Green Bank Telescope at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

The US Navy has named a series of ships USS West Virginia in honor of this state.



West Virginia is the only American state formed as a direct result of the American Civil War. It was originally the western part of the state of Virginia. Considerable disagreements existed between those in the western part of Virginia and plantation owners in the plains and tidewater regions. Under the United States constitution, state boundaries could not be redrawn without the consent of the state in question.

However, the American Civil War allowed western Virginia to form its own state. Western Virginia contained several anti-secessionist pockets, particularly around the Wheeling region, and the only three counties in Virginia to vote for Abraham Lincoln. Upon the secession of Virginia from the union on April 27, 1861, anti-secessionist legislators convened a rump legislature and formed a pro-Union reformed government based in Wheeling which claimed to represent all of Virginia. This reformed government authorized the creation of the state of Kanawha, consisting of the 55 counties that now make up West Virginia. Eventually, the state of Kanawha was renamed West Virginia. Though the new state's government was avowedly unionist, the counties it contained were divided in their secession votes. 18 West Virginia counties voted in favor of secession, 20 voted against secession, and one resulted in a tie. Vote records for the remaining 9 counties were lost during the war.[2] (http://www.ls.net/~newriver/va/vasecesh.htm) This new state was admitted to the union in 1863, following Abraham Lincoln's signing of an act on December 31, 1862 that authorized this. See Wheeling Convention.

Following the war, Virginia had hoped for at least partial reunification with West Virginia; however, West Virginia remained as an independent state within the Union. For several decades thereafter, the two states disputed the new state's share of the Virginian government's debt. The issue was finally settled in 1915, when the United States Supreme Court ruled that West Virginia owed Virginia $12,393,929.50. The final installment of this sum was paid off in 1939.

Law and Government

See: List of Governors of West Virginia

The capital is Charleston, in the south west area of the state.

The legislature is bicameral, consisting of the House of Delegates and a Senate. Legislators are not full-time, but part-time. Consequently, the legislators hold a full-time job in their community of residence, which stands in stark contrast to the neighboring states of Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Typically, the legislature is in session between January and early April. The remainder of the year sees legislators gathering periodically for interim meetings to discuss issues which will see debate during the next regular session.

The governor is elected every four years, on the same day as the president, sworn in during January. The current governor, inaugurated in 2005, is Democrat Joe Manchin.


See: List of West Virginia counties

It is bordered by Pennsylvania and Maryland to the north, by Ohio and Kentucky to the west, and by Virginia to the east. The Ohio River and the Potomac River form parts of the boundaries.

Missing image
Shaded relief map of Cumberland Plateau and Ridge and Valley Appalachians on the Virginia/West Virginia border

The state is sometimes referred to as The Mountain State, which is a bit of a misnomer, as the only true mountains are the belt of Ridge-and-valley Appalachians along the eastern border with Virginia. About 3/4 of the state is within the Cumberland/Allegheny Plateaus region which is not true mountains but rather a dissected plateau. Though the relief is not high, the plateau region is extremely rugged in most areas. (The two plateaus are essentially the same, the difference being only the naming convention of north and south, with West Virginia happening to be in the middle.)

The native vegetation for most of the state was originally mixed hardwood forest of oak, chestnut, maple, beech, and white pine, with willow along the waterways. Many of the coves are rich in biodiversity and scenic beauty, a fact that is appreciated by native West Virginians, who refer to their home as almost Heaven.

The underlying rock strata are sandstones, shales, bituminous coal beds, and limestones laid down in a near shore environment from sediments derived from mountains to the east, in a shallow inland sea on the west. Some beds illustrate a coastal swamp environment, some river delta, some shallow water. Sea level rose and fell many times during the Mississippian and Pennsylvanian eras, giving a variety of rock strata.

On a map West Virginia's complex shape and irregular outline make it look more like a European country in configuration than an American state. This is because the processes that created West Virginia's eastern boundaries are more like the processes that created the boundaries of European countries. In the USA most state boundaries were established close to the time of settlement and include long straight lines and simplfying features that aid in forming property subdivision for new settlers. In West Virgina the boundaries were formed after settlement for the purpose of rounding up people with a similar socio-cultural outlook (in this case pro-Union, anti-plantation, highlanders) who were already there, just as the European boundaries round up people with similar nationalities who had been there for a long time. This process of rounding up people already spread around here and there results in the typical zig-zag, curving, and extending shape of the resulting political unit.

Economic Geography

Coal has been one of the state's primary economic resources, although many mines have been closed. Higher prices for fuels may soon stimulate increased mining again. In past years the coal companies did mostly as they pleased, keeping miners in virtual servitude through credit at company stores. The effort of unions to organize miners is a violent chapter in the state's history; at one point the federal army had to be called in to quell a rebellion, dropping the only bombs ever dropped by the US Army against its own citizens. Nevertheles, labor organizing persisted under the leadership of John L. Lewis and the United Mine Workers. Today health and safety regulations and miners pay are much improved, and mining is usually the best paying job in the coalfields.

Bituminous coal seam in southwestern West Virginia
Bituminous coal seam in southwestern West Virginia

The state has an extensive network of railroads, and much of the coal is transported by rail. The railways were once one of the largest customers for coal to drive the steam locomotives, but these have been replaced by diesel locomotives. Coal is little used now for home heating either. Most coal today is used by power plants to produce electricity.

West Virginia was one of the first states to engage in drilling for oil. Small to medium oil and natural gas fields still exist and are scattered mostly in the Allegheny/Cumberland Plateau in an arc throughout the western part of state.

Farming is practiced throughout West Virginia, but in a form different from large extensive cash-crop agriculture elsewhere in the USA. The modal average farm size was a smallish 140 to 179 acres (567,000 to 724,000 m²), most statistics in this section are taken from the 2002 US Census of Agriculture for West Virginia, which sold less than $2,500 of crops annually. Family and single-owner operation worked 92.7% of the farms, and an astounding 96.9% were totally or partly owned by the operator. On the other hand, only 50.5% of the state's farmers considered farming to be their primary occupation, with a significant number of hours worked elsewhere each year, in such areas as factory wage employment when available. Traditionally, informal means of supplementing farm income have also been practiced, such as small-scale logging and hunting for food, and to some extent they still are practiced. It should be noted that the rural poverty rate in West Virginia is 20.4% and that this figure is 5 points higher than the urban poverty rate.

This description of farming portrays an independent and self-sufficient base of small land owners, but also a significant amount of rural underemployment.

As can be expected in a rugged terrain, raising animals was far more important than growing vegetative crops. Income from animals exceeded income from plants by about 7 to 1, with much of the non-animal income derived from sales of fodder. The chief animals raised were cattle and chickens.

In the ridge and valley area along the eastern border near Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, subsidiary valleys are wide and there are some belts of rich soil which are extensively farmed. In 2002, all of the top five counties by agricultural dollar value were located near the eastern Virginia border.

In traditional frontier agriculture there was much gathering of wild "greens" and forest produce to supplement the diet. One area where this practice is still significant is the gathering of wild North American ginseng, often for the Asian market. Wild gathered ginseng contributed about $ 2 million in 2000 to the West Virginia economy, a figure larger than many conventional cultivated vegetable and fruit crops. Other wild greens, such as sour dock, lambs quarters, and wild leek (or "ramps") are also still gathered by many for table use, although today more on the basis of avocation or keeping up traditions than out of necessity.

Along the western edges of the state the large rivers of the mid-continent erode a distance into the hills and it is here, in the west, that some dense pockets of heavy industry appear. In the Kanawha River Valley near Charleston and along the southern Ohio River Valley near Huntington chemicals predominate, attracted by a readily available labor force and access by barge carriers. Metallurgy, especially steel, has been predominant in the Northern Panhandle due to a spill-over effect from the traditional center of the US steel industry in Pittsburgh. Also in the Northern Panhandle, Weirton has been the site of the only tin-processing industry in the USA. Given the unsettled present condition of the US steel industry, continuation of metal-working industries in the Northern Panhandle cannot be assured. In all aspects of heavy industry there is a perception that the electorate favors creation of factory jobs more than implementation of strict environmental controls; this is probably correct, but how much this outlook actually contributed to the choice of location in West Virginia is hard to determine.


The population of West Virginia as of 2003 was 1,810,354.

As of 2003, West Virginia was probably the US state least affected by immigration. Only 1.1% of the state's residents were foreign-born, placing West Virginia last among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in that statistic. It was also last in the country in percentage of residents that speak a language other than English in the home (2.7%).

The racial makeup of the state is:

The 5 largest ancestry groups in West Virginia are American (23.2%), German (17.2%), Irish (13.5%), English (12%), Italian (4.8%).

5.6% of West Virginia's population were reported as under 5, 22.3% under 18, and 15.3% were 65 or older. Females made up approximately 51.4% of the population.


The religious affiliations of the citizens of West Virginia are:

  • Protestant ? 79%
  • Roman Catholic ? 6%
  • Other Christian ? 1%
  • Other Religions ? 1%
  • Non-Religious ? 8%

The three largest Protestant denominations in West Virginia: Baptist (29% of the total state population), Methodist (15%), Presbyterian (4%).

Important cities and towns

Missing image
West Virginia County Boundaries


Listed alphabetically, the 55 counties of West Virginia are:


Colleges and universities

Professional sports teams

The minor league baseball teams are:

The minor league hockey team is:

Miscellaneous information

State symbols and designations

  • State Quarter design:
    Missing image
    West Virginia state quarter

Famous West Virginians

A number of famous people were born in or lived in West Virginia.

Clip Art and Pictures

State Maps

  • US State Maps (http://classroomclipart.com/cgi-bin/kids/imageFolio.cgi?direct=Clipart/US_State_Maps)

State Flags

  • US State Flags (http://classroomclipart.com/cgi-bin/kids/imageFolio.cgi?direct=Clipart/State_Flags)

Lesson Plans, Resources and Activites

See Also

External links

Flag of West Virginia

State of West Virginia
</b> Cities | Governors | West Virginia University

State Capital:



Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area | Eastern Panhandle | Northern Panhandle | Allegheny Plateau | Cumberland Plateau | Ridge-and-valley Appalachians

Major Cities:

Charleston | Huntington

Smaller Cities:

Beckley | Bluefield | Clarksburg | Fairmont | Hurricane | Keyser | Morgantown | Oak Hill | Parkersburg | Point Pleasant | Weirton | Wheeling


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