On June 20, 1863, West Virginia was admitted as the 35th state of the United States of America. Located in the Appalachian Mountain range, the state covers an area of 24,229.76 square miles (62,754.8 km²), with 24,077.73 square miles (62,361.0 km²) of land and 152.03 square miles (393.8 km²) of water, making it the 41st largest state in the United States. West Virginia borders Pennsylvania and Maryland in the northeast, Virginia in the southeast, Ohio in the northwest, and Kentucky in the southwest. Its longest border is with Virginia at 381 miles, followed by Ohio at 243 miles, Maryland at 174 miles, Pennsylvania at 118 miles, and Kentucky at 79 miles. The capital and largest city is Charleston.
West Virginia became a state following the Wheeling Conventions of 1861, after the American Civil War had begun. Delegates from some Unionist counties of northwestern Virginia decided to break away from Virginia, although they included many secessionist counties in the new state. West Virginia was admitted to the Union on June 20, 1863, and was a key border state during the war. West Virginia was the only state to form by separating from a Confederate state, the first to separate from any state since Maine separated from Massachusetts, and was one of two states admitted to the Union during the American Civil War (the other being Nevada). While a portion of its residents held slaves, most of the residents were yeomen farmers, and the delegates provided for gradual abolition of slavery in the new state Constitution.
The Census Bureau and the Association of American Geographers classify West Virginia as part of the Southern United States. The northern panhandle extends adjacent to Pennsylvania and Ohio, with the West Virginia cities of Wheeling and Weirton just across the border from the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, while Bluefield is less than 70 miles (110 km) from North Carolina. Huntington in the southwest is close to the states of Ohio and Kentucky, while Martinsburg and Harpers Ferry in the Eastern Panhandle region are considered part of the Washington metropolitan area, in between the states of Maryland and Virginia. The unique position of West Virginia means that it is often included in several geographical regions, including the Mid-Atlantic, the Upland South, and the Southeastern United States.
The state is noted for its mountains and rolling hills, its historically significant logging and coal mining industries, and its political and labor history. It is one of the most densely karstic areas in the world, making it a choice area for recreational caving and scientific research. The karst lands contribute to much of the state’s cool trout waters. It is also known for a wide range of outdoor recreational opportunities, including skiing, whitewater rafting, fishing, hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, rock climbing, and hunting.
West Virginia is the only state that is entirely within the area served by the Appalachian Regional Commission; the area is commonly defined as “Appalachia”. It is almost entirely mountainous, giving reason to the nickname The Mountain State and the motto Montani Semper Liberi (“Mountaineers are always free”). The elevations and ruggedness drop near large rivers like the Ohio River or Shenandoah River. About 75% of the state is within the Cumberland Plateau and Allegheny Plateau regions. Though the relief is not high, the plateau region is extremely rugged in most areas. The average elevation of West Virginia is approximately 1,500 feet (460 m) above sea level, which is the highest of any U.S. state east of the Mississippi River.
On the eastern state line with Virginia, high peaks in the Monongahela National Forest region give rise to an island of colder climate and ecosystems similar to those of northern New England and eastern Canada. The highest point in the state is atop Spruce Knob, at 4,863 feet (1,482 m), and is covered in a boreal forest of dense spruce trees at altitudes above 4,000 feet (1,200 m). Spruce Knob lies within the Monongahela National Forest and is a part of the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area. A total of six wilderness areas can also be found within the forest. Outside the forest to the south, the New River Gorge is a canyon 1,000 feet (300 m) deep, carved by the New River. The National Park Service manages a portion of the gorge and river that has been designated as the New River Gorge National River, one of only 15 rivers in the U.S. with this level of protection.
Most of West Virginia lies within the Appalachian mixed mesophytic forests ecoregion, while the higher elevations along the eastern border and in the panhandle lie within the Appalachian-Blue Ridge forests. The native vegetation for most of the state was originally mixed hardwood forest of oak, chestnut, maple, beech, and white pine, with willow and American sycamore along the state’s waterways. Many of the areas are rich in biodiversity and scenic beauty, a fact that is appreciated by native West Virginians, who refer to their home as Almost Heaven (from the song, “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver). Before the song, it was known as “The Cog State” (Coal, Oil, and Gas) or “The Mountain State”.
The underlying rock strata are sandstone, shale, bituminous coal beds, and limestone 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. The Appalachian Mountains are some of the oldest on earth, having formed over 300 million years ago.
West Virginia’s history has been profoundly affected by its mountainous terrain, numerous and vast river valleys, and rich natural resources. These were all factors driving its economy and the lifestyles of its residents, who tended to live in many small, relatively isolated communities in the mountain valleys. Geography continues to be important to the state.
A 2010 analysis of a local stalagmite revealed that Native Americans were burning forests to clear land in the area of modern day West Virginia as early as 100 BC. Some regional late-prehistoric Eastern Woodland tribes were more involved in hunting and fishing, practicing the slash-and-burn Eastern Agricultural Complex gardening method, which used fire to clear out underbrush from certain areas. Another group progressed to the more time-consuming, advanced companion crop fields method of gardening. Also continuing from ancient indigenous people of the state, they cultivated tobacco through to early historic times. It was used in numerous social and religious rituals.
Maize (corn) did not make a substantial contribution to the diet until after 1150 BP. Eventually, tribal villages began depending on corn to feed their turkey flocks, as Kanawha Fort Ancients practiced bird prostitution. The local Indians made corn bread and a flat rye bread called “bannock” as they emerged from the protohistoric era. A horizon extending from a little before the early 18th century is sometimes called the acculturating Fireside Cabin culture. Trading posts were established by European traders along the Potomac and James rivers.
Tribes which inhabited West Virginia as of the year 1600 were the Siouan Monongahela Culture to the north, the Fort Ancient culture along the Ohio River from the Monongahela to Kentucky and extending an unknown distance inland and the Eastern Siouan Tutelo and Moneton tribes in the southeast. There was also the Iroquoian Susquehannock in the region approximately east of the Monongahela River and north of the Monongahela National Forest, a possible tribe called the Senandoa, or Shenandoah, in the Shenandoah Valley and the easternmost tip of the state may have been home to the Manahoac people. The Monongahela may have been the same as a people known as the Calicua, or Cali. The following may have also all been the same tribe — Moneton, Moheton, Senandoa, Tomahitan.
During the Beaver Wars, other tribes moved into the region. There was the Iroquoian Tiontatecaga (also Little Mingo, Guyandotte), who seem to have split off from the Petun after they were defeated by the Iroquois. They eventually settled somewhere between the Kanawha and Little Kanawha rivers. During the 1750s, when the Mingo Seneca seceded from the Iroquois and returned to the Ohio River Valley, they contend that this tribe merged with them. The Shawnee arrived as well, but were primarily stationed within former Monongahela territory approximately until 1750, however they did extend their influence throughout the Ohio River region. They were the last native tribe of West Virginia and were driven out by the United States during the Shawnee Wars (1811-1813).
The Erie, who were chased out of Ohio around 1655, are now believed to be the same as the Westo, who invaded as far as South Carolina before being destroyed in the 1680s. If so, their path would have brought them through West Virginia and the historical movement of the Tutelo, as well as Carbon dating for the Fort Ancients seem to correspond with the given period of 1655-1670 as the time of their removal. The Susquehannocks were original participants of the Beaver Wars, but were cut off from the Ohio River by the Iroquois around 1630 and found themselves in dire straights. From disease, constant warfare and an inability to provide for themselves financially, they began to collapse and moved further and further east, to the Susquehanna River of Eastern Pennsylvania. The Manahoac were probably forced out in the 1680s, when the Iroquois began to invade Virginia. The Siouan tribes there moved into North Carolina and later returned as one tribe, known as the Eastern Blackfoot, or Christannas.
The Westo did not secure the territory they conquered. Before they were even gone, displaced natives from the south flooded into freshly conquered regions and took them over. These became known as the Shattaras, or West Virginia Cherokees. They took in and merged with the Monetons, who began to refer to themselves as the Mohetons. The Calicua also began to refer to themselves as Cherokees soon after, showing an apparent further merger. These Shattaras were closely related to the tribes which formed to the south in the aftermath of the Westo—the Yuchi and Cherokee. From 1715-1717, the Yamasee War sprang up. The Senandoa allegedly sided with the Yuchi and were destroyed by Yamasee allies. Therefore, if the Senandoa were the same tribe as the Moneton, this would mean the collapse of Shattara-Moneton culture. Another tribe who appeared in the region were the Canaragay, or Kanawha. They later migrated to Maryland and merged into colonial culture.
In 1671, General Abraham Wood, at the direction of Royal Governor William Berkeley of the Virginia Colony, sent a party from Fort Henry led by Thomas Batts and Robert Fallam to survey this territory. They were the first Europeans recorded as discovering Kanawha Falls. Some sources state that Governor Alexander Spotswood’s 1716 Knights of the Golden Horseshoe Expedition (for which the state’s Golden Horseshoe Competition for 8th graders was named) had penetrated as far as Pendleton County; however, modern historians interpret the original accounts of the excursion as suggesting that none of the expedition’s horsemen ventured much farther west of the Blue Ridge Mountains than Harrisonburg, Virginia. John Van Metre, an Indian trader, penetrated into the northern portion in 1725. The same year, German settlers from Pennsylvania founded New Mecklenburg, the present Shepherdstown, on the Potomac River, and others followed.
In 1661, King Charles II of England granted to a company of gentlemen the land between the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers, known as the Northern Neck. Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron ultimately took possession of this grant, and in 1746, a stone was erected at the source of the North Branch Potomac River to mark the western limit of his grant. A considerable part of this land was surveyed by the young George Washington between 1748 and 1751. The diary kept by Washington recorded that there were already many squatters, largely of German origin, along the South Branch Potomac River.
Christopher Gist, a surveyor in the employ of the first Ohio Company, which was composed chiefly of Virginians, explored the country along the Ohio River north of the mouth of the Kanawha River between 1751 and 1752. The company sought to have a fourteenth colony established with the name Vandalia. Many settlers crossed the mountains after 1750, though they were hindered by Native American resistance. Few Native Americans lived permanently within the present limits of the state, but the region was a common hunting ground, crossed by many trails. During the French and Indian War (the North American front of the Seven Years’ War in Europe), Indian allies of the French nearly destroyed the scattered British settlements.
Shortly before the American Revolutionary War, in 1774 the Crown Governor of Virginia John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore, led a force over the mountains. A body of militia under then-Colonel Andrew Lewis dealt the Shawnee Indians, under Hokoleskwa (or “Cornstalk”), a crushing blow during the Battle of Point Pleasant at the junction of the Kanawha and the Ohio rivers. At the Treaty of Camp Charlotte concluding Dunmore’s War, Cornstalk agreed to recognize the Ohio River as the new boundary with the “Long Knives”. By 1776, however, the Shawnee had returned to war, joining the Chickamauga, a band of Cherokee known for the area where they lived. Native American attacks on settlers continued until after the American Revolutionary War. During the war, the settlers in western Virginia were generally active Whigs and many served in the Continental Army. However, Claypool’s Rebellion of 1780–1781, in which a group of men refused to pay taxes imposed by the Continental Army, showed war-weariness in what became West Virginia.
Social conditions in western Virginia were entirely unlike those in the eastern portion of the state. The population was not homogeneous, as a considerable part of the immigration came by way of Pennsylvania and included Germans, Protestant Scotch-Irish, and settlers from the states farther north. Counties in the east and south were settled mostly by east Virginians. During the American Revolution, the movement to create a state beyond the Alleghenies was revived and a petition for the establishment of Westsylvania was presented to Congress, on the grounds that the mountains presented an almost impassable barrier to the east. The rugged nature of the country made slavery unprofitable, and time only increased the social, political, economic, and cultural differences between the two sections of Virginia.
A convention that met in 1829 to form a new constitution for Virginia, against the protest of the counties beyond the mountains, required a property qualification for suffrage. This effectively disenfranchised some of the poorer yeoman farmers. In addition, it gave the slave-holding counties the benefit of three-fifths of their slave population in apportioning the state’s representation in the U.S. House of Representatives. As a result, every county beyond the Alleghenies except one voted to reject the constitution, which nevertheless passed because of eastern support. The eastern planter elite dominated the legislature and saw to their own interests.
The Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1850–1851, the Reform Convention, addressed a number of issues important to western Virginians. It extended the vote to all White males 21 years or older. The governor, lieutenant-governor, the judiciary, sheriffs, and other county officers were to be elected by public vote. The composition of the General Assembly was changed. Representation in the house of delegates was apportioned on the basis of the census of 1850, counting Whites only. The Senate representation was arbitrarily fixed at 50 seats, with the west receiving twenty, and the east thirty senators. This was made acceptable to the west by a provision that required the General Assembly to reapportion representation on the basis of White population in 1865, or else put the matter to a public referendum. The east also gave itself a tax advantage in requiring a property tax at true and actual value, except for slaves. Slaves under the age of 12 years were not taxed and slaves over that age were taxed at only $300, a fraction of their true value. Small farmers, however, had all their assets, animals, and land taxed at full value. Despite this tax and the lack of internal improvements in the west, the vote was 75,748 for and 11,063 against the new Constitution. Most of the opposition came from delegates from eastern counties, who did not like the compromises made for the west.
Given these differences, many in the west had long contemplated a separate state. In particular, men such as lawyer Francis H. Pierpont from Fairmont, had long chafed under the political domination of the Tidewater and Piedmont slave-holders. In addition to differences over the abolition of slavery, he and allies felt the Virginia government ignored and refused to spend funds on needed internal improvements in the west, such as turnpikes and railroads.
West Virginia was the only state in the Union to separate from a Confederate state (Virginia) during the American Civil War. In Richmond on April 17, 1861, the Virginia Secession Convention of 1861 voted to secede from the Union, but of the 49 delegates from the northwestern corner (which ultimately became West Virginia) only 17 voted in favor of the Ordinance of Secession, while 30 voted against (with 2 abstentions). Almost immediately after that vote, a mass meeting at Clarksburg recommended that each county in northwestern Virginia send delegates to a convention to meet in Wheeling on May 13, 1861. When this First Wheeling Convention met, 425 delegates from 25 counties were present, though more than one-third of the delegates were from the northern panhandle area, but soon there was a division of sentiment.
Some delegates led by John S. Carlile favored the immediate formation of a new state, while others led by Waitman Willey argued that, as Virginia’s secession had not yet been passed by the required referendum (as happened on May 23), such action would constitute revolution against the United States. The convention decided that if Virginians adopted the secession ordinance, another convention including the members-elect of the legislature would meet in Wheeling in June 1861. On May 23, 1861, secession was ratified by a large majority in Virginia as a whole, but in the western counties 34,677 voted against and 19,121 voted for the Ordinance.
The Second Wheeling Convention met as agreed on June 11 and declared that, since the Secession Convention had been called without popular consent, all its acts were void and that all who adhered to it had vacated their offices. The Wheeling Conventions, and the delegates themselves, were never actually elected by public ballot to act on behalf of western Virginia. Of its 103 members, 33 had been elected to the Virginia General Assembly on May 23. This included some hold-over state senators whose four-year terms had begun in 1859, and some who vacated their offices to convene in Wheeling. Other members “were chosen even more irregularly — some in mass meetings, others by county committee, and still others were seemingly self-appointed”. An act for the reorganization of the government was passed on June 19. The next day convention delegates chose Francis H. Pierpont as governor of Virginia, and elected other officers to a rival state government and two U.S. senators (Willey and Carlile) to replace secessionists before adjourning. The federal government in Washington, D.C. promptly recognized the new government and seated the two new senators. Thus, there were two state governments in Virginia: one pledging allegiance to the United States and one to the Confederacy.
The second Wheeling Convention had recessed until August 6, then reassembled on August 20 and called for a popular vote on the formation of a new state and for a convention to frame a constitution if the vote should be favorable. At the October 24, 1861 election, 18,408 votes were cast for the new state and only 781 against. The election results were questioned, since the Union army then occupied the area and Union troops were stationed at many of the polls to prevent Confederate sympathizers from voting. This was also election day for local offices, and elections were also held in camps of Confederate soldiers, who elected rival state officials, such as Robert E. Cowan. Most pro-statehood votes came from 16 counties around the Northern panhandle. Over 50,000 votes had been cast on the Ordinance of Secession, yet the vote on statehood garnered little more than 19,000. In Ohio County, home to Wheeling, only about one-quarter of the registered voters cast votes. In most of what would become West Virginia, there was no vote at all, since as two-thirds of the territory of West Virginia had voted for secession and county officers remained loyal to Richmond. Votes recorded from pro-secession counties were mostly cast elsewhere by Unionist refugees from these counties.
Despite that controversy, delegates (including many Methodist ministers) met to write a new Constitution for the new state, beginning on November 26, 1861. During that constitutional convention, a Mr. Lamb of Ohio County and a Mr. Carskadon claimed that in Hampshire County, out of 195 votes only 39 were cast by citizens of the state; the rest were cast illegally by Union soldiers. One of the key figures was Rev. Gordon Battelle, who also represented Ohio County, and who proposed resolutions to establish public schools, as well as to limit movement of slaves into the new state, and to gradually abolish slavery. The education proposal succeeded, but the convention tabled the slavery proposals before finishing its work on February 18, 1862. The new constitution was more closely modeled on that of Ohio than of Virginia, adopting a township model of government rather than the “courthouse cliques” of Virginia which Carlile criticized, and a compromise demanded by the Kanawha region (Charleston lawyers Benjamin Smith and Brown) allowed counties and municipalities to vote subsidies for railroads or other improvement organizations. The resulting instrument was ratified (18,162 for and 514 against) on April 11, 1862.
On May 13, 1862 the state legislature of the reorganized government approved the formation of the new state. An application for admission to the Union was made to Congress, introduced by Senator Waitman Willey of the Restored Government of Virginia. However, Sen. Carlile sought to sabotage the bill, first trying to expand the new state’s boundaries to include the Shenandoah Valley, and then to defeat the Willey amendment at home. On December 31, 1862, an enabling act was approved by President Abraham Lincoln admitting West Virginia, on the condition that a provision for the gradual abolition of slavery be inserted in its constitution (as Rev. Battelle had urged in the Wheeling Intelligencer and also written to Lincoln). While many felt that West Virginia’s admission as a state was both illegal and unconstitutional, Lincoln issued his Opinion on the Admission of West Virginia finding that “the body which consents to the admission of West Virginia is the Legislature of Virginia”, and that its admission was therefore both constitutional and expedient.
The convention was reconvened on February 12, 1863, and the abolition demand of the federal enabling act was met. The revised constitution was adopted on March 26, 1863 and on April 20, 1863, President Lincoln issued a proclamation admitting the state 60 days later on June 20, 1863. Meanwhile, officers for the new state were chosen, while Gov. Pierpont moved his pro-Union Virginia capital to Union-occupied Alexandria, where he asserted and exercised jurisdiction over all of the remaining Virginia counties within the federal lines.
The question of the constitutionality of the formation of the new state was later brought before the Supreme Court of the United States in the following manner: Berkeley and Jefferson counties lying on the Potomac east of the mountains, in 1863, with the consent of the reorganized government of Virginia voted in favor of annexation to West Virginia.
Many voters of the strongly pro-secessionist counties were absent in the Confederate Army when the vote was taken and refused to acknowledge the transfer when they returned. The Virginia General Assembly repealed the act of secession and, in 1866, brought suit against West Virginia asking the court to declare the counties a part of Virginia, which would have declared West Virginia’s admission as a state unconstitutional. Meanwhile, on March 10, 1866, Congress passed a joint resolution recognizing the transfer. The Supreme Court decided in favor of West Virginia in 1870.
During the Civil War, Union General George B. McClellan’s forces gained possession of the greater part of the territory in the summer of 1861, culminating at the Battle of Rich Mountain, and Union control was never again seriously threatened, despite an attempt by Robert E. Lee in the same year. In 1863, General John D. Imboden, with 5,000 Confederates, raided a considerable portion of the state and burned Pierpont’s library, although Senator Willey escaped their grasp. Bands of guerrillas burned and plundered in some sections, and were not entirely suppressed until after the war ended. The Eastern Panhandle counties were more affected by the war, with military control of the area repeatedly changing hands.
The area that became West Virginia actually furnished about an equal number of soldiers to the federal and Confederate armies, approximately 22,000–25,000 each. In 1865, the Wheeling government found it necessary to strip voting rights from returning Confederates in order to retain control. James Ferguson, who proposed the law, said that if it was not enacted he would lose election by 500 votes. The property of Confederates might also be confiscated, and in 1866 a constitutional amendment disfranchising all who had given aid and comfort to the Confederacy was adopted. The addition of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution caused a reaction. The Democratic party secured control in 1870, and in 1871, the constitutional amendment of 1866 was abrogated. The first steps toward this change had been taken, however, by the Republicans in 1870. On August 22, 1872, an entirely new constitution was adopted.
Beginning in Reconstruction, and for several decades thereafter, the two states disputed the new state’s share of the pre-war Virginia government’s debts, which had mostly been incurred to finance public infrastructure improvements, such as canals, roads, and railroads under the Virginia Board of Public Works. Virginians — led by former Confederate General William Mahone—formed a political coalition based upon this: the Readjuster Party. Although West Virginia’s first constitution provided for the assumption of a part of the Virginia debt, negotiations opened by Virginia in 1870 were fruitless, and in 1871, Virginia funded two-thirds of the debt and arbitrarily assigned the remainder to West Virginia. The issue was finally settled in 1915, when the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that West Virginia owed Virginia $12,393,929.50. The final installment of this sum was paid in 1939.
After Reconstruction, the new 35th state benefited from the development of its mineral resources more than any other single economic activity.
Saltpeter caves had been employed throughout Appalachia for munitions; the border between West Virginia and Virginia includes the “Saltpeter Trail”, a string of limestone caverns containing rich deposits of calcium nitrate that were rendered and sold to the government. The trail stretched from Pendleton County to the western terminus of the route in the town of Union, Monroe County. Nearly half of these caves are on the West Virginia side, including Organ Cave and Haynes Cave. In the late 18th-century, saltpeter miners in Haynes Cave found large animal bones in the deposits. These were sent by a local historian and frontier soldier Colonel John Stuart to Thomas Jefferson. The bones were named Megalonyx jeffersonii, or great-claw, and became known as Jefferson’s three-toed sloth. It was declared the official state fossil of West Virginia in 2008. The West Virginia official state rock is bituminous coal, and the official state gemstone is silicified Mississippian fossil Lithostrotionella coral.
The limestone also produced a useful quarry industry, usually small, and softer, high-calcium seams were burned to produce industrial lime. This lime was used for agricultural and construction purposes; for many years a specific portion of the C & O Railroad carried limestone rock to Clifton Forge, Virginia as an industrial flux.
Salt mining had been underway since the 18th century, though it had largely played out by the time of the American Civil War, when the red salt of Kanawha County was a valued commodity of first Confederate, and later Union, forces. In years following, more sophisticated mining methods would restore West Virginia’s role as a major producer of salt.
However, in the second half of the 19th century, there was an even greater treasure not yet developed: bituminous coal. It would fuel much of the Industrial Revolution in the U.S. and the steamships of many of the world’s navies.
The residents (both Native Americans and early European settlers) had long known of the underlying coal, and that it could be used for heating and fuel. However, for a long time, very small “personal” mines were the only practical development. After the War, with the new railroads came a practical method to transport large quantities of coal to expanding U.S. and export markets. As the anthracite mines of northwestern New Jersey and Pennsylvania began to play out during this same time period, investors and industrialists focused new interest in West Virginia. Geologists such as Dr. David T. Ansted surveyed potential coal fields and invested in land and early mining projects.
The completion of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O) across the state to the new city of Huntington on the Ohio River in 1872 opened access to the New River Coal Field. Soon, the C&O was building its huge coal pier at Newport News, Virginia on the large harbor of Hampton Roads. In 1881, the new Philadelphia-based owners of the former Atlantic, Mississippi and Ohio Railroad (AM&O), which stretched across Virginia’s southern tier from Norfolk, had sights clearly set on the Mountain State, where the owners had large land holdings. Their railroad was renamed Norfolk and Western (N&W), and a new railroad city was developed at Roanoke to handle planned expansion. After its new president Frederick J. Kimball and a small party journeyed by horseback and saw firsthand the rich bituminous coal seam, which Kimball’s wife named Pocahontas, the N&W redirected its planned westward expansion to reach it. Soon, the N&W was also shipping from new coal piers at Hampton Roads.
In 1889, in the southern part of the state, along the Norfolk and Western rail lines, the important coal center of Bluefield, West Virginia was founded. The “capital” of the Pocahontas coalfield, this city would remain the largest city in the southern portion of the state for several decades. It shares a sister city with the same name, Bluefield, in Virginia.
In the northern portion of the state and elsewhere, the older Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) and other lines also expanded to take advantage of coal opportunities. The B&O developed coal piers in Baltimore and at several points on the Great Lakes. Other significant rail carriers of coal were the Western Maryland Railway (WM), Southern Railway (SOU), and the Louisville and Nashville Railroad (L&N).
Particularly notable was a latecomer, the Virginian Railway (VGN). By 1900, only a large area of the most rugged terrain of southern West Virginia was any distance from the existing railroads and mining activity. Within this area west of the New River Coalfield in Raleigh and Wyoming counties lay the Winding Gulf Coalfield, later promoted as the “Billion Dollar Coalfield.”
A protégé of Dr. Ansted was William Nelson Page, a civil engineer and mining manager in Fayette County. Former West Virginia Governor William A. MacCorkle described him as a man who knew the land “as a farmer knows a field.” Beginning in 1898, Page teamed with northern and European-based investors to take advantage of the undeveloped area. They acquired large tracts of land in the area, and Page began the Deepwater Railway, a short-line railroad chartered to stretch between the C&O at its line along the Kanawha River and the N&W at Matoaka — a distance of about 80 miles (130 km).
Although the Deepwater plan should have provided a competitive shipping market via either railroad, leaders of the two large railroads did not appreciate the scheme. In secret collusion, each declined to negotiate favorable rates with Page, nor did they offer to purchase his railroad, as they had many other short-lines. However, if the C&O and N&W presidents thought they could thus kill the Page project, they were to be proved mistaken. One of the silent partner investors Page had enlisted was millionaire industrialist Henry Huttleston Rogers, a principal in John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust and an old hand at developing natural resources and transportation. A master at competitive “warfare”, Henry Rogers did not like to lose in his endeavors and also had “deep pockets”.
Instead of giving up, Page (and Rogers) quietly planned and then built their tracks all the way east across Virginia, using Rogers’ private fortune to finance the $40-million cost. When the renamed Virginian Railway (VGN) was completed in 1909, no fewer than three railroads were shipping ever-increasing volumes of coal to export from Hampton Roads. West Virginia coal was also under high demand at Great Lakes ports. The VGN and the N&W ultimately became parts of the modern Norfolk Southern system, and the VGN’s well-engineered 21st-century tracks continue to offer a favorable gradient to Hampton Roads.
As coal mining and related work became major employment activities in the state, there was considerable labor strife as working conditions, safety issues and economic concerns arose. Even in the 21st century, mining safety and ecological concerns is still challenging to the state whose coal continues to power electrical generating plants in many other states.
Coal is not the only valuable mineral found in West Virginia, as the state was the site of the 1928 discovery of the 34.48 carat (6.896 g) Jones Diamond.
The economy of West Virginia nominally would be the 62nd largest economy globally behind Iraq and ahead of Croatia according to 2009 World Bank projections, and the 64th largest behind Iraq and ahead of Libya according to 2009 International Monetary Fund projections. The state has a projected nominal GSP of $63.34 billion in 2009 according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis report of November 2010, and a real GSP of $55.04 billion. The real GDP growth of the state in 2009 of .7% was the 7th best in the country. West Virginia was only one of ten states in 2009 that grew economically.
While per capita income fell 2.6% nationally in 2009, West Virginia’s grew at 1.8%. Through the first half of 2010, exports from West Virginia topped $3 billion, growing 39.5% over the same period from the previous year and ahead of the national average by 15.7%.
Morgantown was ranked by Forbes as the #10 best small city in the nation to conduct business in 2010. The city is also home to West Virginia University, the 95th best public university according to U.S. News & World Report in 2011. The proportion of West Virginia’s adult population with a bachelor’s degree is the lowest in the U.S. at 17.3%.
The net corporate income tax rate is 6.5% while business costs are 13% below the national average.
The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that in 2014 West Virginia’s economy grew twice as fast as the next fastest growing state East of the Mississippi River, ranking third alongside Wyoming and just behind North Dakota and Texas among the fastest growing states in the United States.
Tourism contributed $4.27 billion to the state’s economy and employed 44,400 people in 2010, making it one of the state’s largest industries. Many tourists, especially in the eastern mountains, are drawn to the region’s notable opportunities for outdoor recreation. Canaan Valley is popular for winter sports, Seneca Rocks is one of the premier rock climbing destinations in the eastern U.S., the New River Gorge/Fayetteville area draws rock climbers as well as whitewater rafting enthusiasts, and the Monongahela National Forest is popular with hikers, backpackers, hunters, and anglers.
In addition to such outdoor recreation opportunities, the state offers a number of historic and cultural attractions. Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park is a historic town situated at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers. Harper’s Ferry was the site of John Brown’s 1859 slave revolt and raid on the U.S. Armory and Arsenal. Located at the approximate midpoint of the Appalachian Trail, Harpers Ferry is the base of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
The Greenbrier hotel and resort, originally built in 1778, has long been considered a premier hotel, frequented by numerous world leaders and U.S. presidents over the years.
West Virginia is the site of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, which features the Green Bank Telescope. The main building of Weston State Hospital is the largest hand-cut sandstone building in the western hemisphere, second worldwide only to the Kremlin in Moscow. Tours of the building, which is a National Historic Landmark and part of the National Civil War Trail, are offered seasonally and by appointment year round. West Virginia has numerous popular festivals throughout the year.
Scott #1232 — a 5-cent stamp commemorating the 100th anniversary of West Virginia statehood — was issued through the Wheeling, West Virginia, post office on June 20, 1963. The stamp is based on a design by Dr. Dwight Muchler of Ohio University. The map’s outline is red against a white background with the lettering 5c UNITED STATES POSTAGE and the state capitol building in black. The remainder of the background is green, with wording WEST VIRGINIA and the dates in white. The stamp was printed on the Giori press and issued in panes of fifty subjects each. An initial printing of 120 million stamps was authorized. Ultimately, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing issued a total of 137,540,000 copies of the stamp, perforated 11.