Western Virginia rebelled and separated from Eastern Virginia and became a state on June 20, 1863, with President Abraham Lincoln’s approval. However, it was not without some reluctance due to resistance and a couple years of legal maneuvering. Virginia was seceding from the Union and the western part of Virginia did not agree with the eastern part of Virginia on that and a whole host of other reasons most of which had nothing to do with the Civil War. Western Virginians were adamant in their decision to remain with the Union and, in effect, be one with the United States, and these determined mountain folk took the opportunity to make it happen. So, from that decision to be independent, West Virginia was the only state that was formed during the Civil War and became one of five Civil War border states. From then, West Virginia Day was celebrated informally on June 20 until the Legislature formally recognized it as a holiday in 1927.
West Virginia’s first state flag was authorized by the Legislature on January 28, 1864. These flags were large regimental flags used as banners and given to each of the state’s Civil War regiments. The flags that followed in the early 1900s — the first official one being circa 1905 — were found to be impractical or changes needed to be made. The current state of West Virginia flag (design of which started in 1907) was adopted by the Legislature on March 7, 1929, and at that time, design, proportions, and colors of the flag were decided upon, along with the State Seal (created and adopted in 1863) bearing the motto “Montani Semper Liberi” (Mountaineers Are Always Free). When the flag is used for a parade, it is trimmed with gold colored fringe on three sides and when used for ceremonial purposes it is analogous to the United States flag as far as trim and how it is mounted.
Our state is wild and wonderful and has so much beauty to surround yourself in and our state symbols “bear” that out well — pun intended. So, let’s start with the Black Bear that was chosen with a poll of students, teachers and sportsmen in the early 1950s and adopted in 1973. Oh, and the Cardinal, such a beautiful bird — male and female alike — with its bright plumage that allows it to be spotted so easily as chosen by school students and civic organizations for our state bird and adopted in 1949. The Brook Trout adopted in 1973 is a native fish found in cold spring-fed streams and very popular with the oh, so many fishermen in the state. My dad worked for the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources and the stocking of trout (in three of our northern county lakes) was always a topic of conversation with the guys in the family. Who does not enjoy the beauty of the state tree, the Sugar Maple (adopted 1949); the state flower, the Rhododendron (adopted 1903); along with the Golden Delicious apple found in Clay County in 1905 and adopted in 1972. The state gem/fossil is the Mississippian Fossil Coral Lithostrotionella that lived in much of North America 350-325 million years ago and we have a state soil, the Monongahela Silt Loam found throughout most of West Virginia. We have three state songs and our colors are the Old Gold and Blue which brings back memories of old Wheeling High School’s spirit song, “The Old Gold and Blue that we love. The old gold and blue that makes us cheer…” The Honeybee is our state Insect and so important to agriculture and the honey is so, so good. Honeybees first came to this country with Spanish and English settlers but have lived basically unchanged for 30 million years. The Monarch Butterfly (state butterfly) has a migration pattern that is sort of astounding when viewed on a map. They migrate to Mexico and then back and the ones you see in the spring are the great-grandchildren of the ones that were in Mexico during the winter.
We mountaineers have this lifelong comforting feeling when thinking about our home state and always have a longing to be back home no matter if you have left for a short while or have moved away for work or family. “Country Roads” says it so well. Traveling back from the northeast or from the more southeastern beaches and beginning to see that faint blueish green color spreading across the horizon, and then, at long last that feeling of being surrounded by cool tranquil hills has for me the most calming effect. I’m home! When somebody asks what your home state is and then after hearing your response it is quite irksome to hear them say, “Is that actually a state?” I have always been offended by that stereotypical response. Yes, West Virginia is the 35th star on old Glory. We are a state that began with earnest, strong-willed people originally settled in large part by those of German and Scotch-Irish descent (both being my mother’s ancestry). Today, West Virginians are steadfast in their loyalty to the history of our state, our pride runs deep and we Mountaineers are considered by some to be the nicest people on the planet. I wholeheartedly agree with that. Have fun celebrating 159 Wild and Wonderful years.