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5 Interesting Facts About West Virginia

West Virginia was the 38th state and one of only two states admitted to the Union during the Civil War. It is considered the southernmost Northern state and the northernmost Southern state. The first Mother’s Day was held in West Virginia. It is also home to the largest sycamore tree in the country. 

How Virginia Split in Two

West Virginia was once a part of Virginia. The issues that led to the Civil War were the same that caused Virginia to split. The Western and Eastern parts of Virginia were very different. They had different climates, economies, geography and where their settlers came from. The people from the Western side had long opposed slavery and felt ignored by the government that was mostly made up of wealthy plantation owners. When Virginia seceded from the Union 1861, the Western half was not happy about it and made the decision to separate. They were admitted to the Union by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. West Virginia is the only state to be formed by seceding from a Confederate state. The original name proposed for the state was Kanawha to honor a Native American tribe but by the time legislators were finalizing the constitution they decided to go with West Virginia.  

Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum 

The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum’s construction started in 1858, and continued until 1881. It is located in Weston, West Virginia. It was designed in the Gothic Revival and Tudor Revival styles by Richard Snowden Andrews. The hospital is said to be one of the largest hand-cut stone masonry buildings in the United States. It is the second largest hand-cut sandstone buildings in the world next to the Kremlin. The hospital began admitting patients in 1864 under the name Western State Hospital. It was originally designed to hold 250 patients and was based on the Kirkbride method. He called for light, air and freedom for patients which was a big step up from past treatment of mental patients. However, what was meant to be a peaceful experience became a nightmare within a few decades. The hospital became more and more overcrowded, squeezing in more patients than they could ever handle. All the overcrowding led to very poor conditions for the patients. The hospital’s overcrowding peaked in the 1950s with 2,400 patients. It shut down in 1994 due to changes in mental health treatment and the deterioration of the facility. In 2007, the hospital was purchased by Joe Jordan who opened it up for haunted tours.  

Megalonyx Jeffersonii

A Megalonyx is an extinct mammal known as a giant ground sloth. In 1796, Colonel John Stuart found some fossil bones in a cave in Greenbrier County, in what is now West Virginia. He thought they might have belonged to a large lion and sent them to Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was about to be Vice President and an amateur paleontologist. He studied the bones and concluded that they belonged to a giant sloth that he called “Great Claw or Megalonyx”. In 1797, he presented a paper to the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia. He thought that the animal may still be in existence and asked Lewis and Clark to look for it during their travels. Other scientists would study the bones and they credited Jefferson with the discovery, calling it the Megalonyx Jeffersonii.  

Mothman

Many states have local legends about terrifying or mythical creatures and West Virginia is no exception. Legends about Mothman have been around since the 1960s. The first sighting was in November 1966, when a couple of grave diggers at a cemetery in Clendenin saw a strange man-like creature in the trees above them. A few days later, a couple from Point Pleasant reported being chased by something with large wings and glowing red eyes. For the next year more sightings occurred with the newspapers calling the creature Mothman. Locals believed it to be an escaped government experiment that lived in a vacant nuclear power plant. The sightings stopped in December1967, after the collapse of the Silver Bridge in Point Pleasant. A book came out in 1975 linking the bridge collapse and the Mothman sightings, it suggested that the sightings were bad omens about the bridge collapse. In 2002, the book was turned into the movie The Mothman Prophecies. After the movie came out, Point Pleasant embraced its local legend. They started an annual Mothman festival, put up a statue and opened a museum. 

New River

The New River is most likely the oldest river in America and one of the oldest rivers in the world, some believe only second to the Nile. It runs through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. The New River flows South to North, unlike most other rivers. This is most likely due to it being much, much older than the surrounding mountains. In Fayette County, West Virginia is the New River Gorge Bridge. At over 3,000 feet long it is the longest steel-frame bridge in the Western Hemisphere. It is also one of the highest bridges in America. There is one day a year that BASE jumpers are allowed to legally jump from it, the third Saturday in October.