Some Interesting Facts About West Virginia

The New River Gorge Bridge. Photo © Colleen M. Laffey.

Entries marked WVBL were taken from The West Virginia Book of Lists by Gerald Tomlinson and Richard C. Weigen. The book is available in paperback for $15 from Strictly Business, Inc., P. O. Box 65, Sutton, WV 26601. W. Va. residents add 6% sales tax. Comments on this page are welcome via email. This page was last revised on March 18, 2014.

  • West Virginia is the only state created by carving out territory from another state, without that state’s permission.

  • On October 24, 1861, in a public referendum, voters overwhelmingly supported the creation of the new state, to be called Kanawha. The following month, a convention at Wheeling changed the name to West Virginia. A hundred years later, a Beckley newspaper suggested the name of the state be changed to either Kanawha or Lincoln because so many people believed West Virginia was the western part of Virginia, and not a separate state.

  • West Virginia’s capital was originally Wheeling. It was changed to Charleston in 1870, back to Wheeling in 1875, and back to Charleston in 1885.

  • West Virginia has the highest average elevation of any state east of the Mississippi River, and the most irregular boundary of any state.

  • Weirton is the only city in the U. S. that extends from one state border to another.

  • Both candidates for Governor in the 1888 election—Nathan Goff Jr. and Aretas Fleming—claimed to have won, and both were sworn in as Governor on March 4, 1889. Goff appeared to have won the election by 130 votes, but Fleming disputed the vote count and asked the Legislature to declare him the winner. The President of the Senate, Robert S. Carr, also claimed the governorship.

  • A hanging in Ripley in 1896 turned into a spectacle that attracted nationwide attention. A New York Sun reporter likened the town’s atmosphere that day to a festival. The event is described in a song by Tom T. Hall, The Last Public Hanging in Ripley, West Virginia.

  • West Virginia University played Pitt in the first football game ever broadcast on the radio, in 1921 on KDKA.

  • The residents of Mullens in Wyoming County voted to retain the spelling of the name of their town, rather than switch to the spelling used by A. J. Mullins, for whom the town was named.
  • The Northfork High School boys basketball team set a national high school record by winning eight straight AA state championships, from 1974-81.
  • In 1928 Minnie Buckingham Harper of Welch became the first black woman legislator in the U. S. She was appointed by the Governor to the House of Delegates to fill the vacancy caused by the death of her husband.

  • During World War II, 1700 persons from foreign countries, many of them diplomats, were imprisoned at the Greenbrier resort.

  • On January 26, 1960, Danny Heater of Burnsville High School scored 135 points in a high school basketball game, earning him an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records.

  • From 1849 until 1851, the 1010-foot Wheeling Bridge was the longest bridge in the world. It was blown down by high winds in 1854. The New River Gorge Bridge near Fayetteville, completed in 1977, was the longest steel-arch bridge in the world until 2003, when a longer bridge was completed in China.

  • Bluefield radio station WHIS claims its broadcast of a murder trial in 1931 was the first ever outside of Russia. The defendant, accused of murdering her three-year-old stepchild by scalding it to death in a wash tub of boiling water, appealed her conviction on the grounds that the broadcast had made a "circus" of her trial.

  • In 1838 excavations began at the Grave Creek Mound, one of the largest conical mounds in the U. S. Among the relics recovered from two burial chambers is the famous Grave Creek Stone, on which are markings that scientists and students of ancient languages have never been able to explain. No other writing like it has ever been found. It has been suggested the stone may be a hoax.

  • The first state sales tax in the United States went into effect in West Virginia on July 1, 1921. The tax was levied against the gross income of banks, street railroads, telephones, telegraph, express, electric light and power retailers, timber, oil, coal, natural gas, and other minerals. [Robert Murray Haig and Carl Shoup, The Sales Tax in the American States]

  • The first federal prison exclusively for women in the U. S. was the Federal Industrial Institution for Women in Alderson, which opened in 1926. Among its inmates have been: Axis Sally, Tokyo Rose, Lolita Lebron, who opened fire on the House of Representatives chamber in 1954, Lynette ’squeaky' Fromme and Sara Jane Moore, who attempted to assassinate President Ford, Billie Holiday and Irene Smith, the sister of country music legend Hank Williams Sr., both on drug convictions, and Martha Stewart, the celebrity homemaker, convicted of lying to investigators about a stock sale.

  • The first brick pavement in the U. S. was laid in Charleston in 1870 by a private citizen at his own expense.

  • The first barenuckle world heavyweight championship was held on June 1, 1880, near Colliers, about 300 yards from the Pennsylvania border. Paddy Ryan won an undisputed title by knocking out Joe Goss of England in the 85th round. [Famous First Facts]

  • The first union soldier killed by enemy action in the Civil War was Bailey Thornberry Brown. On May 22, 1861, while engaged in obtaining recruits, he was fired upon by Confederate pickets at Fetterman, near Grafton. He was given a military funeral. The first significant land battle between Union and Confederate Armies was the Battle of Philippi, on June 3, 1861.

  • Memorial Tunnel was the first tunnel in the U. S. to be monitored by television. The tunnel opened November 8, 1954, and was closed in 1987.

  • The first trust in the U. S. was the salt trust organized November 10, 1817, by the salt manufacturers of Kanawha. It went into operation on January 1, 1818, at the Kanawha Salt Company. It was formed for the purpose of controlling the quantity of salt manufactured, the method of manufacture, the packing, and the production. [West Virginia Encyclopedia]

  • The first municipally owned parking building in the U. S. was opened Sept. 1, 1941, in Welch. It accommodated 232 cars and showed a profit the first year. [Famous First Facts]

  • The first recipients of food stamps were the Chloe and Alderson Muncy family of Welch. The family, which included 15 children, received $95 worth of stamps from Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman on May 29, 1961, as a crowd of reporters watched. [Barbara Weese]

  • ESPN’s Scholastic several years ago picked as the best sports team nickname in America the Dots of Poca High School in Poca. The team nickname was suggested by a sportswriter for the Charleston Gazette in 1928. Other unusual team names in the state are (or were) the Bramwell Millionaires (because there were said to be the most millionaires per capita there at one time), the Cairo Pharaohs, and the Point Pleasant Big Blacks. And despite the fact that West Virginia is considered a Bible Belt state, there are (or have been) the Northfork Blue Demons, Oak Hill Red Devils, and Kermit Blue Devils.
  • In 1997 and 1998 the population of West Virginia had the highest median age of any state. In 1998 the median age was 38.1, slightly older than Florida.

  • The Delta Tau Delta fraternity was founded by eight students at Bethany College in 1858. The fraternity began as a secret society, formed in response to what the students believed was a fixed vote for a prize in oratory.

  • Each October several hundred parachutists jump 876 feet from the New River Gorge Bridge near Fayetteville on Bridge Day, West Virginia’s largest single-day event, which attracts about 100,000 spectators. Automobile traffic is rerouted for the event, which has been held since 1980. The bridge is the second highest in the United States, behind the Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado. Four people have died during Bridge Day jumps, the most recent in 1987 and 2006. Bridge Day was canceled in 2001 because of fears of a terrorist attack.

  • A memorial building to honor World War I veterans dedicated on May 30, 1923, in Welch is said to be the first such building.

  • On the map of West Virginia included in Microsoft’s Bookshelf 98, Beckley is misspelled as "Beckely." White Sulphur Springs is spelled "White Sulfur Springs." On the 1996 Magellan Geographix map of West Virginia (which was seen by America On Line users looking for a state map), Summersville is spelled "Summerville."

  • The youngest person ever elected by popular vote to the U. S. Senate was Rush D. Holt, who was born in Weston. Elected in 1934 at age 29, he had to wait until he turned 30 in June 1935 to take his seat. (Sen. Henry Clay was actually younger than Holt but was chosen by the state’s legislature, before the Constitutional amendment providing for popular election of Senators.) His son, Rush, was elected to Congress from New Jersey in 1998.

  • Gov. Cecil Underwood was the state’s youngest governor when he was first elected in 1956 at the age of 34. Elected again in 1996, Underwood became the nation’s oldest governor. He turned 78 on Nov. 5, 2000.

  • On May 31, 1992, with the Cold War apparently over, the Washington Post revealed a fact that a small number of West Virginians had largely kept secret for thirty years: Underneath the Greenbrier resort at White Sulphur Springs existed a huge, two-story bunker designed to house the entire United States Congress and support staff for forty days in the event of a nuclear attack on this country.

  • The first public school for blacks in West Virginia, organized in Parkersburg in 1862, was, according to a contemporary newspaper account, the first such school south of the Mason-Dixon line and one of only two public schools run by blacks in the U. S.

  • The first rural free mail delivery was started in Charles Town on October 6, 1896.

  • On September 10, 1938, the Mingo Oak, largest and oldest White Oak tree in the United States, was declared dead and felled with ceremony. Its age was estimated at 582 years.

  • Pocahontas County has the highest average elevation of any county east of the Mississippi River.

  • On Oct. 23, 1998, J. R. House, quarterback for Nitro High School, broke the national high school career passing record of 12,104 yards that had been set by current Cleveland Browns quarterback Tim Couch, who played high school football in eastern Kentucky from 1992-95.

  • There are no traffic lights in Calhoun County. [For an interesting look at Calhoun County, visit the Hur Herald website].

  • There are no traffic lights in Clay County. [A temporary portable light was installed in late 2006 to regulate traffic during the construction of a new bridge; it will be removed when the bridge is finished. Karen Nicholas says she understands there was once a traffic light in the town of Clay, but that it was taken out by a drunken shooter who later became the Town Deputy.]

  • From the 1980 census to the 1990 census, Winfield grew in population from 329 to 1,164, a 253.8% increase. Bradshaw in McDowell county dropped in population from 1,002 to 394, a loss of 60.7%.

  • Towns in West Virginia named after cities in other countries include Athens, Berlin, Cairo, Calcutta, Geneva, Ghent, Glasgow, Killarney, Lima, London, Moscow, Odessa, Ottawa, Palermo, Rangoon, Santiago, Shanghai, Vienna, and Wellington [WVBL].

  • Once upon a time, there was a community in Ritchie County named Mole Hill. The citizens, deciding a name change was in order, exercised a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, changing their Mole Hill to a Mountain [WVBL].

  • The first public spa in the U. S. opened in 1756 in Bath, Virginia (now Berkeley Springs, W. Va.).

  • The first newspaper to appeal primarily to women, the Ladies Garland, was published in Harper’s Ferry on Feb. 14, 1824 [WVBL].

  • The first patent for a soda fountain was granted in 1833 to George Dulty in Wheeling [WVBL].

  • The first court in the U. S. to admit videotaped evidence, convicting a drunk driver was Charleston Municipal Court in 1967 [WVBL].

  • The world’s largest sycamore tree is located on the Back Fork of the Elk River in Webster Springs [WVBL].

  • The world’s greatest gas well, "Big Moses" in Tyler County, was drilled in 1894. It produced 100,000,000 cubic feet of gas per day [WVBL].

  • The world’s largest axe factory (which no longer exists) was located in Charleston [WVBL].

  • The first and world’s largest clothespin factory was located at Richwood [WVBL].

  • A one-lane bridge on Route 152 (formerly Route 52) in Wayne County was mentioned on NBC television in 1960 during the West Virginia Democratic Primary. When the bridge was replaced, it was named the Huntley-Brinkley Bridge [WVBL].

  • During the 1980s, these films were shot wholly or in part in West Virginia: Pudd'n'head Wilson (1984, in Harpers Ferry), Reckless (1984, in Weirton), Sweet Dreams (1985, in Martinsburg), and Matewan (1987, in Thurmond) [WVBL].

  • In a high school football game in 1912, New Martinsville defeated Woodsfield, Ohio, by a score of 157-0 [WVBL]. On October 25, 1924, Concord College defeated Morris Harvey College 110-0.

  • In a high school basketball game in 1918, Shinnston defeated Weirton 136-0. According to Doug Huff, a national record compiler and sports editor of the Wheeling Intelligencer, this is the widest shutout ever in a boys high school basketball game in the U. S.

  • In a basketball game in 1997, Woodrow Wilson High School of Beckley defeated Mount View High School of Welch, 116-28.

  • On December 21, 1984, West Virginia University player Georgeann Wells became the first woman to dunk a basketball in a college game. The ball is now in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.

  • Settled by wealthy coal mine owners at the end of the nineteenth century, Bramwell, near the southern border with Virginia, was once dubbed "the richest small town in America." It was home to as many as 19 millionaires, who made their fortunes in the Pocahontas County coalfields. The prosperous Bank of Bramwell was the hub of southern West Virginia’s financial network. The bank closed in 1933 in the midst of the Great Depression, and most of Bramwell’s wealthy residents left [West Virginia, by Nancy Hoffman].

  • On Nov. 11, 1963, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was the guest speaker for the annual Veteran’s Day program in Welch and was introduced by Mayor W. B. Swope as being "a heartbeat from the presidency." Eleven days later Johnson became President. The mayor’s introduction appears in The Death of a President, November 20 - November 25, 1963 by William Manchester, although Welch is misspelled as Welsh [Cathy Morris].

  • Chester Merriman of Romney is said to have been the youngest soldier of World War I, having enlisted at the age of 14.

  • The Lilly Family Reunion held each year at Flat Top in Merer County is said to be the largest family reunion in the United States. It attracts 10,000 guests each summer.

  • The following names of towns in West Virginia are palindromes (that is, they are spelled the same way forwards and backwards): Ada (Mercer County), Amma (Roane County), Okonoko (Hampshire County), Otto (Roane County), and Reger (Upshur County) [Dan Tilque].

  • Kenova, W. Va., and Penowa, Pa., are two towns named for the states they are situated near.

  • The founder of WOAY radio and television station in Oak Hill-Beckley intended to call the station WOAK, for "Oak Hill." However, because of his poor handwriting, the FCC thought he wrote "WOAY" on the application. The mistake was never corrected.

  • The town of Glen Gary received 35 inches of snow on February 11, 1983.

  • Although dictionaries prefer that the third syllable of Appalachian be pronounced “lay” (with a long a), it seems that most West Virginians pronounce the syllable with a short a.

  • Apparently, most West Virginians (including recent Governor Joe Manchin) do not pronounce the t in the name of the state. In the recording Take Me Home, Country Roads, John Denver does not pronounce the t.

  • In the days before television and FM radio, Wheeling station WWVA was one of the nation’s popular radio stations. Its nighttime signal covered much of the United States. A 1936 survey by CBS found that WWVA received more mail than any other CBS station.

  • Hank Williams, the legendary country music entertainer, apparently died in the back seat of a car traveling the roads of southern West Virginia on New Year’s Day 1953. His chauffeur, unable to rouse him, stopped to get assistance at a Pure Oil Station at Oak Hill. In 2006 the gas station was demolished, although local residents had hoped to establish a museum in the building which would honor Williams.

  • In December 2008 Morgantown had the lowest employment rate in the U. S., leading all 369 surveyed cities with an unemployment rate of just 2.7%, well under the national average of 7.1%.
  • Princeton, W. Va., is in Mercer County and Princeton, N. J., is in Mercer County. Both counties are named for Gen. Hugh Mercer, who died in the Battle of Princeton in the Revolutionary War. Princeton, W. Va., is named for Princeton, N. J.
  • [Ron McConnell]

  • Fans in East Bank renamed the town West Bank for one day after East Bank High School won the state high school basketball championship on March 24, 1956. The team was led by Jerry West. Each year on March 24, until the school closed, East Bank High School changed its name to West Bank High School in Jerry’s honor.

Return to front page