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West Virginia: USA Encyclopedia For Students And Children

West Virginia, the only landlocked South Atlantic state, is bordered by Pennsylvania on the north, Maryland and Virginia on the east, and Kentucky and Ohio on the west. Very irregular in shape, with two panhandles–a northern one jutting up between Pennsylvania and Ohio and an eastern one squeezed by Maryland and Virginia–West Virginia has about five-sixths of its 1,880-km (1,170-mi) border marked by rivers or mountain ridges. Lying wholly within the APPALACHIAN MOUNTAINS, and thus well deserving of its nickname, the “Mountain State,” West Virginia claims the highest mean elevation (approximately 457 m/1,500 ft) of any state east of the Mississippi and the most rugged terrain.

West Virginia StampThe state’s population in 1970 (1,744,237) equaled that of 40 years earlier. During the 1970s, however, revived interest in the state’s primary resource, coal, drew many new residents to the state (205,407 between 1970 and 1980) and increased the population by 11.8%. By 1990, however, the population had declined sharply to 1,793,477.

Land & Resources

West Virginia USAWest Virginia lies within three physiographic provinces. At Harpers Ferry a scenic and strategic pass of the Potomac provides a gateway through the BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS. To the west the Ridge and Valley region occupies most of the eastern panhandle. A prominent east-facing escarpment, the Allegheny Front of the ALLEGHENY MOUNTAINS, marks the beginning of the Appalachian Plateau, which covers three-fifths of the state. The highest elevations in West Virginia–Spruce Knob (1,483 m/4,865 ft), Bald Knob (1,476 m/4,842 ft), and Big Spruce Knob (1,418 m/4,652 ft)–are found along the eastern edge of the plateau.


With a mid-latitude continental climate, featuring cyclonic storms in winter and thunderstorms in summer, West Virginia receives about 100 mm (4 in) of rain each month. Greater amounts occur at higher elevations, but downwind or eastward of mountains precipitation drops to as low as 810 mm (32 in) a year in parts of Pendleton County. Temperatures range from January’s average of 1 deg C (34 deg F) to July’s 22 deg C (72 deg F).

The many steep, narrow valleys make flash flooding West Virginia’s most feared weather-related phenomenon. In 1972 the Buffalo Creek Flood killed 125 people after a mine refuse pile collapsed, blocking normal drainage.

Historical Sites

HARPERS FERRY was the scene of the famous raid (1859) by John BROWN that foreshadowed the violence of the Civil War. Near Harpers Ferry, across the Potomac River in Maryland, is a national historical monument, the CHESAPEAKE AND OHIO CANAL. At the other end of the state, downstream from Parkersburg, Harman BLENNERHASSET built a mansion (c.1800) on an island in the Ohio that still retains his name. There, Aaron Burr, with Blennerhasset’s unwitting assistance, set about to establish an empire in the southwest.


West Virginia’s 35 state parks receive more than 6.5 million visitors a year. The Monongahela and other national forests encompass approximately 7,500 sq km (2,900 sq mi). In Wheeling the municipal Olgebay Park draws guests from Ohio and Pennsylvania as well as from West Virginia.

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