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Symbols of West Virginia and What They Mean

West Virginia is usually considered one of the most scenic states in the U.S.A. and many of its most beloved sites center around its stunning, natural beauty. However, the state is also known for its grand resorts, architectural feats and Civil War history. Nicknamed the ‘Mountain State’ because of the mountain spines which span its breadth and length, it’s exceptionally beautiful and attracts millions of tourists each year from around the world.

West Virginia was admitted to the Union as the 35th state back in 1863 and has adopted many official symbols since. Here’s a look at some of the most important symbols commonly associated with West Virginia.

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Flag of West Virginia

The state flag of West Virginia consists of a white rectangular field, symbolizing purity, with a thick blue border, representing the Union. In the center of the field is the state coat of arms, with a wreath made of rhododendron, the state flower, and a red ribbon on the top with the words ‘State of West Virginia’ on it. At the bottom of the flag is another red ribbon reading the state motto in Latin: ‘Montani Semper Liberi’, meaning ‘Mountaineers Are Always Free’.

West Virginia is the only state to have a flag bearing crossed rifles which symbolize the importance of its fight for freedom during the Civil War and the coat of arms symbolizes the resources and principal pursuits of the state.

The Seal of West Virginia

The great seal of the state of West Virginia is a circular seal featuring several items important to the state. There’s a large boulder in the center, with the date: ‘June 20, 1863’ is inscribed on it, which is the year West Virginia achieved statehood. The boulder symbolizes strength. In front of it are a Liberty cap and two crossed rifles which signify that the state won liberty and freedom and that it will be maintained using force of arms.

A miner stands on the right side with an anvil, a pickaxe and a sledgehammer, which are all symbols of industry and on the right is a farmer with an axe, a cornstalk and a plow, symbolic of agriculture.

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The reverse side, which is the official seal of the Governor, consists of oak and laurel leaves, hills, a log house, boats and factories but only the front side is commonly used.

State Song: Take Me Home, Country Roads

‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ is a well-known country song written by Taffy Nivert, Bill Danoff and John Denver who performed it in April, 1971. The song rapidly gained popularity, peaking at number 2 on the Billboard’s U.S. Hot 100 singles that same year. It’s regarded as Denver’s signature song and is considered one of the best songs of all time.

The song, adopted as the state song of West Virginia in 2017, describes it as being ‘almost heaven’ and is an iconic symbol of West Virginia. It’s performed at the end of every West Virginia University football and basketball game and Denver himself sang it at the dedication of the Mountaineer Field stadium in Morgantown back in 1980.

State Tree: Sugar Maple

Sugar maple tree

Also known as ‘rock maple’ or ‘hard maple’, the sugar maple is one of the most important and the largest of hardwood trees in America. It’s the main source of maple syrup and is known for its beautiful fall foliage.

The sugar maple is used mostly for making maple syrup, by collecting the sap and boiling it. As the sap is boiled, the water in it evaporates and what’s left behind is just the syrup. It takes 40 gallons of maple sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup.

The wood of the tree is used for manufacturing bowling bins and bowling alleys as well as flooring for basketball courts. In 1949, the sugar maple was designated as the official state tree of West Virginia.

State Rock: Bituminous Coal

Bituminous coal

Bituminous coal, also called ‘black coal’, is a soft type of coal containing a substance called bitumen, similar to tar. This type of coal is usually formed by high pressure exerted on lignite coal, which is usually made of peat bog material. It’s an organic sedimentary rock that’s produced in large amounts in America, mostly in the state of West Virginia. In fact, West Virginia is said to be the largest coal-producer of all the states in the U.S. In 2009, bituminous coal was officially adopted as the state rock to commemorate the role played by the coal industry in the social and economic fabric of West Virginia.

State Reptile: Timber Rattlesnake

Rattlesnake state reptile

The timber rattlesnake, also known as banded rattlesnake or canebrake rattlesnake, is a type of venomous viper native to eastern North America. These rattlesnakes usually grow to a length of 60 inches and feed on mostly small mammals including frogs, birds and even garter snakes. Although they’re venomous, they’re usually docile unless threatened.

Timber rattlesnakes were once commonly found throughout the U.S., but they’re now protected from the threat of commercial hunting and human persecution. They’re also victims of fragmentation and habitat loss. In 2008, the timber rattlesnake was designated as the official reptile of West Virginia.

Greenbrier Valley Theatre

The Greenbrier Valley Theatre is a professional theatre located in Lewisburg, West Virginia.  The purpose of the theatre is to produce and conduct educational programmes in the local schools, operating summer camps for children and teenagers and shows for little children all throughout the year. In addition, it also offers lectures, workshops and all kinds of special events to the public. The theatre was declared the official State professional theatre of West Virginia in 2006 and is a ‘treasured cultural institution for those of Greenbrier County with a historic presence in Lewisburg, providing several extremely valuable programs to the local community’.

The State Quarter

The West Virginia State Quarter was the 35th coin released in the 50 State Quarters Program in 2005. It features the New River, its gorge and the bridge, reminding us of the state’s scenic beauty. The obverse side of the coin displays the bust of George Washington, the first president of the United States. At the top of the quarter is the state name and 1863 which is the year West Virginia became a state and at the bottom is the year the coin was released.

The Fossil Coral

Fossil corals are natural gemstones formed when prehistoric coral is replaced with agate, taking over 20 million years. The skeletons of the corals are fossilized and preserved and they’re created through hardened deposits which are left by waters rich in silica.

Fossil corals are extremely useful in the making of drug and health supplements since they’re rich in calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium. They’re also used in water purification systems and industrial fertilizers since they have the ability to remove certain chemical impurities like formaldehyde and chlorine.

Found in the Pocahontas and Greenbrier counties of West Virginia, the fossil coral was officially adopted as the state gem in 1990.

The Appalachian American Indian Tribe

Many people think that the Appalachian American Indians are a tribe but they’re actually an intertribal cultural organization. They’re descendants of many different tribes including Shawnee, Nanticoke, Cherokee, Tuscarora, Wyandot and Seneca. They were the first inhabitants of the land that we now know as the United States and live throughout West Virginia, contributing to all cultural, economic, social and political aspects of the state. In 1996, the Appalachian American Indian tribe was recognized as the official state intertribal tribe of West Virginia.

State Animal: Black Bear

Black bear state symbol

The black bear is a shy, secretive and highly intelligent animal native to North America. It’s omnivorous and its diet varies depending on the location and the season. While they’re natural habitat is forested areas, they tend to leave the forests searching for food and often become attracted to human communities due to the availability of food.

There are many stories and legends surrounding American black bears which are told among the indigenous people of America. The bears usually lived in areas inhabited by the pioneers but they were hardly ever considered to be overly dangerous. Today, the black bear is a symbol of strength and in West Virginia it was elected as official animal of the state in 1973.

State Insect:  Honeybee

Honey bees

Adopted as the official state insect of West Virginia in 2002, the honeybee is a highly important symbol of West Virginia recognized for its contribution to the state’s economy. The sale of West Virginia honey is an ever-growing part of the economy and the bee, therefore, plays an important role, offering more benefit to the state than any other type of insect.

Honeybees are remarkable insects that perform dancing movements in their hives as a way of communicating information to the other bees about a specific food source in the area. They’re very clever at communicating the size, location, quality and distance of the food source in this way.

Check out our related articles on other popular state symbols:

Symbols of Indiana

Symbols of Wisconsin

Symbols of Pennsylvania

Symbols of New York

Symbols of Montana

Symbols of Arkansas

Symbols of Ohio

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Dani Rhys
Dani Rhys

Dani Rhys has worked as a writer and editor for over 15 years. She holds a Masters degree in Linguistics and Education, and has also studied Political Science, Ancient History and Literature. She has a wide range of interests ranging from ancient cultures and mythology to Harry Potter and gardening. She works as the chief editor of Symbol Sage but also takes the time to write on topics that interest her.