West Virginia

The Mountain State

There is a unique story behind the formation of West Virginia, which seceded from Virginia during a turbulent time in U.S. history. Known as the “Mountain State”, it has, in contrast to its orgins, calming landscapes. Even John Denver sings of the state’s big blue sky and clear rivers in the song “Country Roads”.

History and Politics

During the American Civil War, West Virginia became the only state to break away from a confederate state. After the start of the war, the western counties of Virginia seceded on April 27th, 1861 in support of the Union. On June 20th, 1863, West Virginia was admitted to the Union and become a key Civil War border state. The split seemed inevitable since there had always been political differences between the poorer provincial farmers in the mountains and the plantation owners on the plains. 

Its surface area covers 62,000 km² and it is one of the poorest states in the USA. Traditionally, West Virginia’s economy was driven by the mining industry. When America starting importing cheaper coal from foreign countries, the mining industry began to decline in West Virginia. Many people lost their jobs and left this Appalachian state. With a bit of self-irony, the residents of West Virginia refer to themselves as the Ireland of the USA.

In the 19th century, many so-called company towns were set up across the southern United States. Company towns were often set up by large companies to house their employees. They provided markets, schools, churches and dance halls and the rent for the accommodations were not cheap. Employees were usually paid lower wages and were exploited by the company. Miners in West Virginia fought between 1912 and 1921 in the mine wars for better pay, treatment and working conditions from companies. The strike lasted so long and the resistance was so strong that the military was called in to fight the miners.

Due to its strong industrial ties and poverty status, West Virginia is traditionally associated with the Democratic Party.

Popular with Tourists

The main source of income for West Virginia is tourism. The Allegheny Mountains offer not only beautiful rolling landscapes, but an exciting playground for rafters, climbers and mountain bikers. It is also worthwhile to take a detour and visit the New River Gorge. This 300-meter-deep gorge lies to the west of Lewisburg and is only reachable by taking a boat ride down the river. You can also get a breathtaking view of the valley from the Amtrak railroad bridge. At a height of 876 feet, the New River Gorge Bridge is the third highest steel-arched bridge in the United States. A visit to the capitol city of Charleston is highly recommended.    

Despite the low economic status of West Virginia, the state is worth a visit. Its landscapes, blue skies and crystal clear water are enough to amaze anyone.