Happy Birthday, West Virginia!

June 20, 2022

Mountaineer News

BUCKHANNON, WV - As West Virginia celebrates its 159th birthday today, we wanted to share a few fun facts about our Wild, Wonderful state.


West Virginia holds the unique distinction of being the only state designated by presidential proclamation (that would be courtesy of Abraham Lincoln). But that's not the only unique quality of the Mountain State. It's where the first steamboat was launched (1787) and where the first "Mother's Day" was observed in 1908.


For shoppers, West Virginia was (sadly) also the first state to have a sales tax. To take the stress off, it's also where the country's first spa was established in 1756.


1. First Mother's Day The first Mother's Day was observed at Andrews Church in Grafton, West Virginia on May 10, 1908. Mothers have been celebrated in one way or another since early Greek and Roman times. However, in this country, most people agree that formal efforts started during the Civil War (1861-65) by Ann Reeves Jarvis. Mainly started by Reeves as an attempt to unify families and promote reconciliation after the war, other noted contributors to Mother's Day as we know it are Juliet Calhoun Blakely, Mary Towles Sasseen, and Frank Hering.


2. Largest Sycamore Tree Although there wasn't sufficient written evidence to support West Virginia having the largest sycamore in the world, the state can certainly claim having had the largest tree in the state's history. Known as the Webster Sycamore and located near Webster Springs, the 112-foot tall tree was declared the largest of its species in the United States. Unfortunately, it was felled in 2010 due to age (500 years) and due to damages from arson.


3. First federal prison for women The 500-acre federal women's prison known as Federal Industrial Institution for Women in Alderson, West Virginia, opened in 1926, and was the first prison to house female inmates. Most of the residents were serving more than one year for drug and alcohol crimes during Prohibition (1920-33).


4. Oldest and largest Native American burial grounds Considered a national historic landmark, Grave Creek Mound in Moundsville, West Virginia, is considered the nation's oldest and largest Native American burial grounds. Early North American inhabitants known as Mound Builders constructed such conical mounds for religious purposes and burial sites.


5. First rural free mail delivery Free mail delivery had been offered in major cities around the U.S. prior to 1891, but the first rural free delivery (RFD) mail service occurred in Charles Town on Oct. 6, 1896 as an experiment to see how feasible this type of service was and it became the largest and most expensive endeavor by the U.S. Postal Service in its history.


6. Leader in women's publications John S. Gallaher published The Ladies Garland, one of the first newspapers in the U.S. that was written for women, during the Victorian Period.


7. Largest mail pouch chewing tobacco painting In the early 1920s, outdoor advertising was just becoming popular and companies would often hire traveling contractors to promote their products. One such company was the Block Brothers Tobacco Company who hired young men to drive around and find barns and other flat surfaces to lease. Called "barnstorming," this type of advertising can still be seen in many places like Wheeling, West Virginia, and in recent years, a restoration project has been started to preserve man of the barns with the original slogan, “Treat Yourself to the Best, Chew Mail Pouch.”


8. First African American female legislator When her husband died in the middle of his legislative term, Minnie Buckingham Harper, took his seat by unanimous appointment. She was the first African American woman to serve in any legislature in the U.S., showing the growing interest of women and African Americans in politics.


9. Famous/infamous people from West Virginia Many notable people have been born in West Virginia from all different categories, like Terry Bowden, athletics, Jennings Randolph, politics, Homer Hickam, science, T. D. Jakes, religion, Don Knotts and Kathy Mattea, entertainment, and Alex Schoenbaum, business.


10. Best apples Many states are known for their contribution to agriculture, but West Virginia has been home to two varieties of apples—the Grimes Golden apple and the Golden Delicious apple, which became the official state fruit in 1995.


11. Unique statehood history With tensions high and divisions in political belief frequent in the country during the Civil War, West Virginia was voted into existence by popular vote and is one of only two states formed during that time. Some Southern sympathizers still refer to the state as Western Virginia. The state's name was originally Kanawha and the capital was in Wheeling, but after a couple back-and-forth changes, that was changed to West Virginia and the capital permanently moved to Charleston in 1885.


12. Largest bridge Fayetteville, West Virginia, is home to the longest steel arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere, stretching over 3,000 feet over the New River Gorge. The bridge is also one of the most popular locations for photographs and is viewed by many as a work of art and not just functional.


13. Best kept secret The secret is out! A massive underground fallout shelter was built in the 1950s beneath the popular hot springs resort for the U. S. Congress in case of nuclear attack. The bunker could accommodate over 1,000 people for at least 60 days. That part of the resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, is now open for public tours.


14. First 4-H Camp Originally a settlement by the Jackson family in the 1800s, the property had a grist mill and saw mill, a blacksmith's shop, and was even used as a hospital for a short time during the Civil War. It was the site of the first 4-H camp in the world in 1921 when it was deeded to West Virginia University.


15. Strict pet laws If you live in the tiny mountain town of Alderson, West Virginia, you will have to keep your lion, tiger or other large feline on a leash when you go for a walk. This is the only known law of its kind in the world.


HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WEST VIRGINIA!!