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Area History

West Virginia is the subject of one of the most popular songs of all time, “Country Roads," sung by John Denver, and is indeed a unique place with a novel history. Originally held by several native Indian tribes as their hunting grounds, the Iroquois would be the ones to claim formal ownership and sell it but history shows us that the region was held by Indians from 1500's through the late 1700's.

But that's just the beginning. The history of West Virginia becomes far more unusual from there. For example, West Virginia is the only state ever created by taking territory from another state—without the other state's agreement. Originally, voters wanted to call it Kanawha, and the debate continued for a hundred years (Lincoln was suggested as another alternative). Residents feared too many people thought the state was merely the western side of Virginia, not realizing it was a sovereign state all its own. The issue was finally put to bed, but there have been many changes along the way.

The state's capital was originally in Wheeling. In 1870, it was moved to Charleston. Five years later, it was moved back to Wheeling, and ten years after that moved back to Charleston, where it has since remained. As one can see, the forming of this state was not a simple affair.

West Virginia has a long history of firsts. It first state to charge sales tax, back on the first July in 1921. Tax was charged against the gross income of banks, railroads, phones, telegraph, electric light, and power sellers, timber, oil, coal, natural gas, and other minerals. The first women's federal prison opened in 1926 and has housed both murderers and celebrities (including Martha Stewart) since then. West Virginia was the site of the very first Union soldier killed during the Civil War. The first food stamp recipients were the Muncy families in Welch, a family of 17, which received the aid in 1961. And the Delta Tau Delta fraternity was founded in 1858 by eight Bethany College students.

Continuing to be a history of extremes, the very youngest person elected to the U.S. Senate was Rush Holt, born in Weston. Elected at 29 years of age, he had to wait until he turned 30 to take on the mantle. Cecil Underwood was the youngest governor of West Virginia, at 34 years of age in 1935, when elected to his first term. He was also the entire nation's oldest governor when he was elected to his second term in 1996, at the age of 74.

Amongst other unusual facts and history, the entirety of Calhoun County has no traffic lights. The oldest (and largest) White Oak tree in the U.S. was declared dead in 1938, estimated to be a staggering 582 years of age at the time. The world's largest Sycamore tree is in Webster Springs. The community of Mole Hill in Richie County voted to change its name to Mountain, thus making a Mountain out of a Mole Hill!

There are many other interesting and unusual firsts and facts that make up the history of West Virginia. This sample should be ample reason to investigate further, find out more about the most famous state in the Union. “Almost heaven, West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River” only starts to describe this most unusual and beautiful of states.