What is West Virginia known for?
Many people associate West Virginia, the Mountain State, with rural land, moonshine, and the McCoy-Hatfield feud. But West Virginia has many other fascinating facts, many of which are lesser known.
For instance, did you know that a three-toed sloth was discovered in a mineral mine and mailed to a Founding Father?
Or that West Virginia is only a state because of a disagreement with Virginia over secession before the Civil War? Even more shockingly, we almost had a state called Westsylvania, which would have been America’s 14th state.
Read on to learn even more about fascinating things that make West Virginia famous:
- 1. Take Me Home, Country Roads
- 2. Interesting Origin Story
- 3. Westsylvania
- 4. Saltpeter
- 5. Jefferson’s Three-Toed Sloth
- 6. The Cog State
- 7. Coal Mines
- 8. Shenandoah River
- 9. Appalachia
- 10. New River Gorge Bridge
- 11. Population Demographics
- 12. Seneca Rocks
- 13. Harpers Ferry
- 14. Appalachian Trail
- 15. Astronomy
- 16. Struggling Economy
- 17. The Flatwoods Monster
- 18. Teachers’ Strike
- 19. Folk Music
- 20. Mountain Stage
- 21. Monongahela National Forest
- 22. Trans- Allegheny Asylum
- 23. Scenic Railroads
- 24. Moonshine
- 25. The Hatfield-McCoy Feud
- 26. Hatfield-McCoy Trail System
- 27. Route 901
- FAQs About Famous West Virginia Things
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What is West Virginia Known For? (27 Things)
1. Take Me Home, Country Roads
“Take Me Home, Country Roads” is a famous 1971 John Denver song about West Virginia. In 2014, it became one of West Virginia’s official state anthems. The song’s lyrics reference themes quintessentially associated with West Virginia and Appalachia, including the Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River, mining, and moonshine.
2. Interesting Origin Story
West Virginia is the only state in the country that was formed when it separated from Virginia (a Confederate state) during the American Civil War.
During the vote on whether or not to secede from the Union at the Virginia Secession Convention of 1861, the votes were highly clustered regionally. The northwest corner of the state generally opposed secession. This is the region that later became West Virginia.
Before the American Revolution, a parcel of land near Pittsburgh was disputed between Pennsylvania and Virginia (at the time, British colonies). Early in the Revolution, a new colony called Westsylvania was proposed (which would have been the 14th state in the United States).
It would have encompassed parts of modern-day West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and small parts of Kentucky, Maryland, and Virginia.
Following the Civil War, West Virginia’s development of its natural resources took off. One major area of development was the state’s saltpeter mines (caves containing potassium nitrate), especially along the “Saltpeter Trail” (the border between Virginia and West Virginia). Saltpeter is one of the major constituents of gunpowder.
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5. Jefferson’s Three-Toed Sloth
In a saltpeter mine in Hayne’s Cave in West Virginia, miners discovered some large animal bones within the minerals. A local historian and soldier (John Stuart) sent the bones to Thomas Jefferson. The bones belonged to an extinct ground sloth that could grow up to 10 feet long and became known as “Jefferson’s Three-Toed Sloth,” or Megalonyx jeffersonii.
6. The Cog State
Although West Virginia is now sometimes called “Almost Heaven” since the release of the “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” it was originally referred to as the “Cog State.” This refers to the coal, oil, and gas for which the state is known.
7. Coal Mines
West Virginia has sixty-two different economically mineable coal seams. There are only two counties (out of 55) that do not contain bituminous coal mines, and coal was first mined around 1810. An exhibition coal mine in Beckley features underground mine tours and tours of the old coal camp.
❗ Trivia Time: Do you know what states are in the Rust Belt?
8. Shenandoah River
The Shenandoah River runs through West Virginia and Virginia. This famous tributary of the Potomac is featured in multiple folk songs, including “Oh Shenandoah” and “Country Roads, Take Me Home.” Since the river flows over limestone, there are several caves along the river, including the Shenandoah Caverns and Skyline Caverns.
Appalachia is the cultural region from the Catskills to the Blue Ridge Mountains. All 55 counties in West Virginia are considered part of Appalachia. In movies and TV, common Appalachia stereotypes include moonshining and rural violence. Appalachian music is a descendant of Scotch-Irish ballad traditions and often features the banjo and the Appalachian dulcimer.
10. New River Gorge Bridge
The New River Gorge National Park and Preserve protects the land that the New River (one of the oldest rivers in the world and part of the Ohio River watershed) runs through, including the New River Gorge.
The New River Gorge Bridge in southern West Virginia is a 3,030-foot-long steel arch bridge over the gorge and is portrayed on the West Virginia state quarter. It is the largest steel arch bridge in the western hemisphere and the third-highest vehicular bridge in the United States. On the third Saturday in October, the bridge closes to traffic and opens for the annual “Bridge Day” festivities.
11. Population Demographics
West Virginia residents are the third whitest in the United States, following Maine and Vermont’s populations (at 93.1%). The state also has the second oldest population, preceded only by Florida. It is the twelfth least-populated state.
❗ Trivia Time: Did you know the Ohio River runs through West Virginia? Find out every state it passes through.
12. Seneca Rocks
Seneca Rocks is a large crag located in eastern West Virginia in the Monongahela National Forest. The south peak of the rock is only accessible by rock climbing, and the rocks are extremely popular with climbers. The area is a particular draw for traditional climbers— those who place safety gear as they go.
13. Harpers Ferry
Harpers Ferry is a well-known historical town and historic site. In 2020, the town’s population was only 285. During the Civil War, it was the northernmost point in Confederate control.
In 1859, the abolitionist John Brown infamously raided the arsenal at Harpers Ferry in an attempt to incite a slave revolt.
14. Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail is a popular hiking and backpacking route that runs from Maine to Georgia along the Appalachian Mountain Range. Of the 14 states the trail runs through, the shortest segment by far is located in West Virginia. The length is only four miles. The Appalachian Trail passes through Harpers Ferry.
❗ Trivia Time: Do you know what states the Appalachian Trail passes through?
West Virginia is home to the world’s largest fully-steerable radio telescope, known as the Green Bank Telescope (for the town it’s located in). The telescope is used for scientific research and education and is even a participant in the Breakthrough Listen project, which attempts to detect radio waves emitted from space (possibly as a message from extraterrestrials).
The observatory is also home to a historic telescope (the Reber Radio Telescope), which is now a National Historic Landmark.
16. Struggling Economy
Despite its stereotype of rural poverty, West Virginia’s economy has grown at the third-fastest rate in the last decade. The state has one of the highest concentrations of chemical supply and generic pharmaceutical industries. There has been a recent focus on science and tech.
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17. The Flatwoods Monster
The Flatwoods Monster (also known as the Flatwoods Phantom or Braxton County Monster) is a star of West Virginia folklore. The monster, supposedly sighted in Braxton in 1952, is a large humanoid creature that appeared in the sky after a bright flash of light.
A local paper reported that residents fainted and became ill after spotting a ten-foot monster. Many believe that the creature may have been an owl blown out of proportion in the shadows. The light may have been a meteor.
18. Teachers’ Strike
In 2018, West Virginia made the news for its large teachers’ strike protesting low wages and high healthcare costs. The strike shut down schools in all 55 counties and involved 20,000 teachers. The strike inspired teachers in other states to take similar action.
19. Folk Music
While West Virginia is mostly rural, its few cities have long been centers of musical innovation. The town of Glenville is home to an annual folk festival. Hank Williams died in the town of Oak Hill. The folk music of the state follows Appalachian and Scots-Irish traditions, usually featuring a banjo, fiddle, and/or dulcimer.
The radio has always been a popular form of performing and consuming music in West Virginia, as referenced in John Denver’s song.
20. Mountain Stage
Mountain Stage is the name of a music show produced by West Virginia Public Broadcasting and disseminated nationally by NPR. The show is recorded on a live stage in Charleston, West Virginia, and features folk musicians and indie singer-songwriters.
21. Monongahela National Forest
The Monongahela National Forest is located in the Allegheny Mountains in eastern West Virginia. One notable feature is Spruce Knob, the tallest mountain peak in the state (at 4,863 ft). It is also the location of two important prehistoric rock structures: Craig Run East Fork Rockshelter and Laurel Run Rockshelter.
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22. Trans- Allegheny Asylum
The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum operated in Weston until 1994. A psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane, thousands of lobotomies were performed in the decades the asylum was open. It is now abandoned and a popular destination for ghost hunters and historians.
23. Scenic Railroads
There are multiple scenic train routes in West Virginia. One popular line is the Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad, which passes through an area where bald eagles nest. The Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad’s New Tygart Flyer is a 46-mile round-trip train route that features a high bridge crossing, ravines, mountains, and a large waterfall.
The word “moonshine” comes from the idea that illegal distilling was done by the light of the moon, under the cover of darkness. Throughout history, illegal liquor stills could be found in the woods of West Virginia. Today, there are also several legal “moonshine” distilleries, and many of these come out of West Virginia.
25. The Hatfield-McCoy Feud
The Hatfield-McCoy conflict was a feud between two families around the West Virginia-Kentucky line in the mid to late 1800s. Both families were involved in distilling and selling illegal moonshine. The feud began during the Civil War when an enlisted McCoy (in the Union Army) shot a friend of a Hatfield (in the Confederate Army).
Over a decade later, the feud further escalated when a member of the Hatfields and a member of the McCoys argued over the ownership of a pig. Violence escalated until 1888 when members of the Hatfields surrounded the cabin of the sleeping McCoy and opened fire.
26. Hatfield-McCoy Trail System
The Hatfield-McCoy Trail System was created by the West Virginia legislature in 1996 and 300 miles of trails first opened in 2000. Today, there are 2,000 miles of trails. There are trailheads in multiple rural towns, and a significant portion of the trail system occupies former coal mining land.
27. Route 901
West Virginia Route 901 is a 5-mile stretch of purportedly-haunted highway in West Virginia. Some say it’s because of the number of Civil War battles that took place on this stretch of land. There are stories of cars being approached by apparitions in Civil War uniforms that leave behind bloody handprints. Others claim to have seen a moth man with a twenty-foot wingspan chasing their car.
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FAQs About Famous West Virginia Things
What famous people are from West Virginia?
In the entertainment industry, the following famous people are from West Virginia: Don Knotts (from the Andy Griffith Show), Steve Harvey (of Family Feud), Brad Paisley (the country singer), Joyce DeWitt (an actress on the sitcom Three’s Company), Kathy Mattea (country singer), and John Corbett (singer and actor).
In the sports industry, the following people are from West Virginia: Nick Saban (football coach), Jamie Noble (retired WWE wrestler), Randy Moss (NFL coach), Heath Slater (WWE wrestler), Deron Williams, and O.J. Mayo (basketball players), and Jerry West (basketball star and coach).
What foods are famous in West Virginia?
One popular West Virginia food is the pepperoni roll (also West Virginia’s official state food), created by Italian immigrants and a popular non-perishable lunch option for miners. A popular West Virginia pizza chain has a cult following for its grape and gorgonzola pizza.
Ramps, the wild form of leek native to the area, are a seasonal delicacy and are often served with potatoes. Similarly, morels are a type of mountain mushroom that only sprout for a few weeks per year. The golden delicious apple was born in West Virginia and is a state symbol.
Cornbread–in multiple forms–is very popular. It is sometimes served stuffed or loaded (like Mexican Cornbread) or served with beans (like Cornbread and Pinto Beans).
After reading this article, maybe you can answer “what is West Virginia known for?”
West Virginia, the Mountain State, has no shortage of beautiful nature and unmatched outdoor recreation opportunities, including the New River Gorge, scenic mountain beauty, and the Appalachian Mountain range. It is the third most forested state. It’s a great destination for outdoor enthusiasts who love mountain biking over rugged land, whitewater rafting, or hiking in the Appalachian Mountains.
The state has an abundance of mineral resources and the state’s economy boomed following the industrial revolution.
It’s even got its share of creepy intrigue, like the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum West Virginia is known for.
To truly appreciate this diverse state, you’ll have to make a bucket list and start checking things off!