West Virginia is a U.S. state located in the eastern continental United States. Principally rural and mountainous, it is the forty-first largest state, though it is the thirty-eighth most populous. Its capital and largest city is Charleston, West Virginia. Though renowned for its mineral wealth, the state has traditionally been a destination for leisure travel and outdoor recreation, and its spas and luxury lodging facilities have been attracting guests since the mid-1700s.
West Virginia became a state during the American Civil War when representatives of mountain counties in northwestern Virginia voted to break from the commonwealth, which had seceded from the union in 1861. Largely mountainous and unable to support large-scale slavery, on which voting in slave-wealthy Virginia was based, the west had long considered separation. Virginia’s disloyalty provided the necessary conditions for a declaration of independence. The state was admitted to the union on June 20, 1863.
Large parts of the state remained sparsely settled until the Industrial Revolution, after which its vast reserves of oil, gas, coal, and timber grew valuable. Thousands of immigrants moved into its coal-mining regions and settled in factory towns in valleys along the Ohio, Kanawha, and Monongahela rivers. Steel mills and glass factories boomed in the north. Chemical byproducts of coal began to generate interest along the Kanawha Valley in the south. Through the 20th century the state remained one of the chief industrial regions in the U.S. and one of its largest producers of coal. By the approach of the 21st century, however, industrialism had declined and the state’s value as a destination for recreation had reasserted itself.
West Virginia is sometimes classified as part of the U.S. South, though its cultural antecedents and irregular shape thwart this classification. Its northern panhandle extends to within 100 miles of Lake Erie on the Canadian border, while its eastern panhandle extends to within 80 miles of the Chesapeake Bay. West Virginia is principally a part of the North Central region of Appalachia, the mountainous region of the eastern U.S. located in and near the Appalachian Mountains, though some of its southwestern counties are classified as part of central Appalachia and its Northern Panhandle extends into Northern Appalachia.
West Virginia is located wholly in the Appalachian Mountains, and parts of three Appalachian ranges are found in the state. The southern Allegheny Mountains are located in the east central state. The northern Cumberland Mountains are located in the southwestern state. The Great Valley of Appalachia and its Ridge-and-Valley province courses through the eastern state along it southeastern border. The eastern panhandle of the state extends eastward to the Blue Ridge.
West Virginia Communities
West Virginia is divided into 55 counties, within which are located more than 200 incorporated cities and towns that operate independent of county governments. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the following cities are the 10 largest in West Virginia:
West Virginia may further be divided into any number of regions, including the 12 regions designated by West Virginia Explorer to encompass its cultural hearths. Among the most debated regional divisions is the demarcation of its northern and southern regions. Some geographers agree that the drainage of tributaries of the Ohio River south of and including the Kanawha River best define the southern state culturally. Drainage areas north of the mouth of the Kanawha, including that of the Little Kanawha and Monongahela rivers, are thus defined as northern.