CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) — Every state has its fair share of symbols that are meant to represent what the state is about and what it tries to stand for. Over the many years of West Virginia’s relatively short history as a state, it has accumulated many of its own state insignia, some of which are known by every person born and raised in the state. However, there is a handful of symbols where you would be hard-pressed to find someone who actually knew of their existence.
So just what are West Virginia’s symbols?
Doddridge County artist, Joseph H. Diss Debar, was chosen by a committee of the Legislature to design West Virginia’s official seal. His design was adopted on September 26, 1863. While most West Virginians have probably seen the seal, not many can say what each part represents, and even fewer people have seen the reverse side of the seal.
According to wvlegislature.gov, regarding the main side, “the seal contains the Latin motto, Montani Semper Liberi, which means ‘Mountaineers Are Always Free.’ A large stone in the center of the seal stands for strength. On the stone is the date the State was admitted to the Union, June 20, 1863. The farmer with his ax represents agriculture, and the miner holding his pick represents industry. In front of the rock are two rifles, crossed and surmounted at the place of contact by the Phrygian cap, or cap of liberty, indicating that freedom and liberty were won and will be maintained by the force of arms.”
As for the opposite side of the seal, wvstatemuseumed.wv.gov said, “the reverse side of laurel and oak leaves, log house, hills, factories and boats is the Governor’s official seal, and is not in common use today. It was intended to be employed when the seal was attached to documents by ribbons and suspended in the manner of a medal.”
The modern West Virginia flag was adopted on March 7, 1929, by Senate Joint Resolution No. 18 and was based on designs by Doddridge County artist Joseph H. Diss Debar. The resolution states:
“The proportions of the flag of the State of West Virginia shall be the same as those of the United States ensign; the field shall be pure white, upon the center of which shall be emblazoned in proper colors, the coat-of-arms of the State of West Virginia upon which appears the date of the admission of the State into the Union, also with the motto, ‘Montani Semper Liberi’ (Mountaineers Are Always Free). Above the coat-of-arms of the State of West Virginia there shall be a ribbon lettered, ‘State of West Virginia,’ and arranged appropriately around the lower part of the coat-of-arms of the State of West Virginia a wreath of Rhododendron maximum in proper colors. The field of pure white shall be bordered by a strip of blue on four sides. The flag of the State of West Virginia when used for parade purposes shall be trimmed with gold-colored fringe on three sides and when used on ceremonial occasions with the United States ensign, shall be trimmed and mounted in similar fashion to the United States flag as regards fringe, cord, tassels, and mounting.”
The 1929 flag came to be when it was realized that the previous design was too expensive to mass produce, therefore they decided that the stamps should show the seal and flower on the same side, rather than on opposite sides as it was previously.
State Motto – Montani Semper Liberi (Mountaineers are Always Free)
Suggested as the state motto by Joseph H. Diss Debar, Montani Semper Liberi (Latin for “Mountaineers are Always Free”) became the official motto of the state in Article II, Section 2-7, of the state constitution, signed in 1872. The article states:
“The present seal of the state, with its motto, ‘Montani Semper Liberi,’ shall be the great seal of the state of West Virginia, and shall be kept by the secretary of state, to be used by him officially, as directed by law.”
State Colors – Old Gold and Blue
“Old Gold and Blue” was designated as West Virginia’s official state colors by Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 20, and officially adopted by the West Virginia legislature on March 8, 1963, as part of West Virginia’s Centennial celebration.
According to wvencyclopedia.org, “previously, in most instances where a color scheme for the state was desired, West Virginia University’s colors of blue and old gold had been used.”
WVU adopted the colors in 1890 thanks to the upperclassmen who chose the colors based on how prominently they appeared in West Virginia’s state seal.
WVU and the legislature specify that the colors are “old gold” and blue, instead of just regular gold. The reason for this is that regular blue and gold are the official colors of the University of Pittsburgh, which is WVU’s football rival.
State Songs – “West Virginia My Home Sweet Home” / “The West Virginia Hills” / “This is My West Virginia” / “Take Me Home Country Roads”
On March 3, 1947, Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 11 made “West Virginia, My Home Sweet Home” by Wheeling native Julian G. Hearne, Jr. the first official state song.
Without realizing that there was already a state song, Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 5 made “The West Virginia Hills” by Ellen King and H. E. Engle another official state song on February 3, 1961. However, the song itself is actually the oldest of the lot with the original four-verse poem, credited to Ellen Ruddell King, being published by the Glenville Crescent newspaper in September 1885. Despite the credit, the actual authorship of the poem has been a matter of speculation.
Despite the previous error, Legislature chose to adopt House Concurrent Resolution No. 19 which designated “This is My West Virginia” by Buchannon jazz musician Iris Bell as yet another state song on February 28, 1963.
The most recent, and certainly the most well-known song among all West Virginians, is “Country Roads Take Me Home,” by John Denver, Taffy Nivert and Bill Canoff. The song was adopted as a state song in 2014 by House Concurrent Resolution No. 40, despite being originally released in 1971. According to statesymbolsusa.org, “‘Take Me Home Country Roads’ is played after every West Virginia University basketball and football game, and John Denver himself sang it in person at the dedication of Mountaineer Field in Morgantown in 1980.”
State Holiday – West Virginia Day
West Virginia Day, June 20, legally became the state holiday by Chapter 59, Acts of the Legislature, Regular Session, 1927. The day celebrates West Virginia’s acceptance into statehood.
While President Abraham Lincoln approved the Statehood Bill for West Virginia on January 1, 1863, West Virginia was not proclaimed a state until April 20, with the bill becoming effective on June 20, thus the date.
State Tree – Sugar Maple
The sugar maple (Acer saccharum) was adopted as the state tree by House Concurrent Resolution No. 12 on March 7, 1949, after public school students and civic organizations voted for it.
Sugar maples, also called hard maple or rock maple, are one of the largest and widely used hardwoods. They can grow up to 75 feet tall, live around 300 to 400 years and have a full round shape. The tree has a five-lobed leaf that turns bright orange, red and yellow in the fall and produces small wing-shaped pods, commonly called helicopters. Sugar maple trees rarely flower until they are at least 22 years old. Due to the wood’s beauty and hardiness, it is a popular choice for furniture, bowling pins and baseball bats.
The tree’s sap is used to make maple syrup by tapping into the bark through a hole, usually early in the spring, then draining the sap out of the tree and into a bucket. The sap is boiled into a syrup or concentrated further into maple sugar. According to statesymbolsusa.org, “34 gallons of sap are required to produce 1 gallon of maple syrup (or 8 pounds of maple sugar).”
State Flower – Rhododendron Maximum
The rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum) was chosen as the official state flower thanks to the recommendation of Governor Albert Blakeslee White and a vote by public school students. The decision became official when Legislature adopted House Joint Resolution No. 19 on January 29, 1903.
Throughout the world, there are more than 800 species of rhododendron, which includes rhododendron maximum, also known as American rhododendron, great laurel, great rhododendron (big rhododendron) or rosebay. The rhododendron is a flowering shrub that sprouts purple, pink and white blooms in late spring and alternates growth years with blooming years. Rhododendron maximum is native to eastern North America and can be found along the eastern and midwestern states.
State Fruit – Golden Delicious Apple
The apple became West Virginia’s official state fruit in 1972 but the resolution was amended by Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 7 on February 20, 1995, to specify the golden delicious apple. The golden delicious apple was first discovered on a tree in Clay County around 1900 by Anderson Mullins.
The golden delicious apple is native to the mountain state and is the state’s second major horticultural contribution to the commercial apple industry. The first being the grimes golden.
State Animal – Black Bear
The black bear (Ursus americanus) was selected by a poll of students, teachers and sportsmen, conducted by the Division of Natural Resources in 1954-1955, to be West Virginia’s official state animal. However, it wasn’t officially adopted by the Legislature until a Regular Session got the approval of House Concurrent Resolution No. 6 on March 23, 1973.
Black bears can be found in all of West Virginia’s 55 counties, but are known to range as far north as Alaska and northern Canada, and as far south as northern Mexico.
They are generally less than six feet long and stand two to three feet high at the shoulder. On average, adult males can weigh from 150 to 450 pounds, while adult females can vary from 100 to 300 pounds. Although, some have been recorded greatly exceeding these numbers.
The black bears in West Virginia tend to be uniformly black, with brown muzzles. According to wvstatemuseumed.wv.gov, “about five percent to 10 percent have white markings on their brisket, varying from a few flecks to distinct V’s.”
And a warning to the wise, they can run up to 30 mph and are good swimmers.
State Bird – Northern Cardinal
The northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) was named the official state bird on March 7, 1949 with the adoption of House Resolution No. 12 after it was decided in the same vote, which consisted of certain pupils from public schools and civic organizations, that gave West Virginia its state tree.
Male cardinals are the most recognizable with their bright red color, while females are pale brown with reddish tinges in their wings, tail and crest. They both share a black face and a red-orange bill.
They are a common sight and are known for their distinct “cheer cheer cheer,” “whit-chew whit-chew” and “purty purty purty” whistles that can be heard nearly year-round.
State Fish – Brook Trout
The brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) was selected by West Virginia’s sportsmen in a poll conducted by the Department of Natural Resources and became the West Virginia state fish by House Concurrent Resolution No. 6 during the March 23, 1973 Regular Session. The brook trout is the only trout species native to West Virginia streams.
According to wvlegislature.gov, the fish is “olive with lighter sides and a reddish belly (in males) and is easily identified by the light-colored edges of the lower fins.” It is popular among anglers and is known for putting up an excellent fight for its size.
They prefer water conditions that are cool, clean and pure, thriving in small, spring-fed streams but are unable to withstand warmer temperatures. “These streams are generally less than 15 feet wide, well shaded, and have numerous pools,” according to the WVDNR.
State Insect – Honeybee
By the Legislature’s Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 9 in 2002, the honeybee (Apis mellifer) became West Virginia’s official state insect. The insect was chosen due to its role in pollinating many of the state’s most important crops.
The honeybee is recognized for its distinct colorings, ranging from dark yellow to gold with three dark bands on its abdomen. A hive consists of one queen bee to birth the bees, a small group of male drones to fertilize a queen and a majority of sterile female worker bees. In total, a hive can reach a size of up to 80,000 individuals.
According to statesymbolsusa.org, “they were brought to the New World with the first Spanish and English colonists, quickly escaping to the wild and eventually populating the entire western hemisphere.”
State Butterfly – Monarch Butterfly
The monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) was designated West Virginia’s official state butterfly on March 1, 1995, by the Legislature, after a declaration by Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 11.
The bright orange and black colors of the butterfly, as well as the bright colors of the caterpillar, are meant to act as a deterrent to predators, warning them that they are poisonous, a trait they gain by their consumption of milkweed as caterpillars, although as a butterfly, they prefer to drink nectar from flowers. At the end of the summer, monarchs migrate over 2,500 miles to nest in Mexico and southern California.
West Virginia’s 2004 legislative session declared Sept. 12 as “Monarch Butterfly Day” and later made every Sept. 12 “Monarch Butterfly Day” by House Concurrent Resolution No. 28.
The state butterfly was recently added to the endangered species list, with its main source of decline attributed to habitat destruction and climate change.
State Amphibian – Northern Red Salamander
Becoming the state amphibian on March 12, 2015 by House Concurrent Resolution No. 31, the idea to make the northern red salamander (Pseudotriton ruber) West Virginia’s official amphibian came from the Romney Middle School eighth grade “West Virginia Studies” class.
According to statesymbolsusa.org, the class argued that “the northern red salamander’s color pattern showcases the autumn colors of West Virginia with red representing the fall foliage of sugar maple trees and the peppering of black spots representing the coal mines that dot the region. They also suggested that the salamander’s five toes on each back foot and four toes on each of its front feet represent the 55 counties and eight major rivers of West Virginia.”
State Reptile – Timber Rattlesnake
The idea to make the timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) the state reptile once again came from the eighth-grade class at Romney Middle School, but this time, the designation was made by Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 28 and adopted by the Legislature on March 8, 2008.
Living as long as thirty years and reaching up to five feet in length, the docile yet venomous reptile is the only snake in West Virginia with a segmented rattle. It camouflages with the brown or black chevron-shaped markings that run down its back.
While they can be found as far north as Vermont and as far south as the gulf coast, in West Virginia, they are most often found in remote, rocky, mountainous regions.
State Rock – Bituminous Coal
Bituminous coal was voted to become West Virginia’s state rock on April 11, 2009 by House Concurrent Resolution No. 37 after Gilbert High School senior Britnee Gibson spearheaded the campaign to adopt it.
A fossil fuel formed from plant remains, coal is an organic sedimentary rock made mostly of carbon. Of the four basic coal types: lignite, subbituminous, bituminous and anthracite, bituminous has a higher heating value than lignite or subbituminous, but less than that of anthracite, according to statesymbolsusa.org.
As the second largest bituminous coal-producing state in the United States, bituminous coal can be found throughout West Virginia’s 55 counties. It is used for the manufacturing of steel, chemical manufacturing and much more.
European explorer John Peter Salley was the first to note the presence of coal in the region, way back in 1742 near Racine, W.Va. The first commercial coal mine was opened in 1810 near Wheeling by Conrad Cotts for blacksmithing and domestic use. The coal industry has since become an integral part of West Virginia’s economy and a substantial part of its cultural identity.
State Gem – Silicified Mississippian Fossil Coral
In the legislature’s own words, “the State Gem is technically not a gemstone.” Made the state gem on March 10, 1990 by House Concurrent Resolution No. 39, the silicified Mississippian fossil coral, Lithostrotionella, is preserved as the mineral chalcedony.
So why is it the state gem? Lithostrotionella coral is often harvested, cut and polished to make jewelry and displays.
It can be found in Hillsdale limestone in portions of Greenbrier and Pocahontas counties and lives in the warm, shallow waters covering much of North America during the Mississippian Period (~ 350-325 million years ago).
State Fossil – Jefferson’s ground sloth
Megalonyx jeffersonii, also known as Jefferson’s ground sloth, became the official state fossil by Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 28 on March 8, 2008, to promote the earth sciences and the history of the region.
Megalonyx jeffersonii grew 8 to 10 feet long and weighed up to 800 pounds, according to statesymbolsusa.org, and it is believed to have lived during the Ice Age, or Pleistocene Epoch (10,000 to 1.8 million years ago).
President Thomas Jefferson first obtained and described the fossil, which came from a limestone cave in Monroe County in 1797, giving them the genus name “Megalonyx” (“great claw”). In 1799, Casper Winstar described the bones as that of a giant extinct ground sloth, and so named the fossil in honor of President Jefferson.
State Soil – Monongahela Silt Loam
Becoming West Virginia’s official state soil by Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 5 on April 2, 1997, Monongahela silt loam covers over 100,000 acres in 42 counties throughout West Virginia and is used extensively for crops, hay, pasture, woodland, housing and farmland. West Virginia was the 12th state to adopt an official state soil.
As for what is grown in it, common crops include corn, soybeans and wheat while pasture acres tend to contain a mixture of grasses and legumes. Forest acreage is limited but has included red oak, white oak, yellow-poplar, sycamore, white pine and Virginia pine.
The Monongahela series was first established in Greene County, Pennsylvania in 1921 and can be found in West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Kentucky and Alabama, according to statesymbolsusa.org.
State Exhibition Coal Mine – City Of Beckley’s Exhibition Coal Mine
According to wvstatemuseumed.wv.gov, “the City Of Beckley’s Exhibition Coal Mine was designated as the official exhibition coal mine of West Virginia by Committee Substitute for House Concurrent Resolution No. 68, adopted by the Legislature on March 2, 2012.”
The Beckley Exhibition Coal mine was opened to visitors in 1962 as part of the New River Park and now sees over 45,000 visitors a year.
Those who visit will experience the history of low-seam coal mining while “riding authentic ‘man cars’ through 1,500 feet of underground passages under the supervision of an experienced veteran coal miner.” It also includes the Youth Museum of Southern West Virginia which features a planetarium alongside seasonal exhibitions.
State Youth Ballet – River City Youth Ballet Ensemble
The River City Youth Ballet Ensemble in Charleston became West Virginia’s official state youth ballet on March 10, 2007 by House Concurrent Resolution No. 22.
The River City Youth Ballet Ensemble was established in 1995, where it has since provided pre-professional dance education to hundreds of students age 11-22 in Kanawha and its surrounding counties.
State Professional Theater – Greenbrier Valley Theatre
The theater was founded in 1966 by John and Betty Benjamin, who held their first performances as a theater in a tent on the Greenbrier River, incorporating a year later as Greenbrier Repertory Theatre Co. In 1974, they became Greenbrier Valley Theatre, but it wasn’t until 2000 that they became a full year-round theater.
Beyond their productions, Greenbrier Valley Theatre holds “educational programs in local schools, operates a summer camp for children and teens, and offers shows for children throughout the year, as well as shows performed by children,” among other community functions, according to statesymbolsusa.org.
State Intertribal Tribe – Appalachian American Indians of West Virginia
The Appalachian American Indians of West Virginia (AAIWV) were designated as “an official intertribal tribe of the state of West Virginia” on March 1, 1996 by Senate Resolution No. 25.
The Appalachian American Indians of West Virginia are made up of descendants from various Native American tribes. They promote Native American interests across Appalachia’s communities including education, activities and other kinds of events.
State Tartan – West Virginia Shawl
The West Virginia shawl became the official state tartan on March 6, 2008 by House Concurrent Resolution No. 29.
The pattern for the West Virginia shawl was designed by West Virginia native John A. Grant III, who is of Scottish descent, during a collaboration with his friend Phillip D. Smith at Stone Mountain, Ga. in 2005. The design they came up with is based on a previously undiscovered shawl found at the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum in Barboursville. In January 2008, John’s brothers, Kevin and Ron, campaigned with West Virginia delegates Fragale, Cann, Laquinta and Miley to establish an official West Virginia state tartan.
The West Virginia State Tartan is made up of colors that each represents a different aspect of the state:
- Scarlet, for the state bird (cardinal)
- Yellow, for fall colors and the state tree (sugar maple)
- Blue, for rivers and lakes
- Black, for the official state animal (black bear), and also for the state’s oil and coal resources
- Green, for the state flower (rhododendron), and also the state’s meadows
- Azure, for the sky
- White, to include all the colors of the United States flag
Historically, tartans represent clans (families) or regions in Scotland and are worn as clothing. Designs have also been made to commemorate special events or people.
According to statesymbolsusa.org, “tartan is defined as a cloth with a twill weave, usually made of wool, using a unique pattern of multicolored stripes in both directions.” A tartan pattern, called a “sett,” is mirrored in all directions when woven and defined by a particular thread count.
The West Virginia shawl’s sett thread count is, Pivots Full: Dark Yellow 4, Forest Green 4, Muted Blue 8, Forest Green 4, Azure 6, Scarlet 24, White 2, Black 6, Scarlet 24, Forest Green 8, Scarlet 8, Muted Blue 8, Forest Green 4, Dark Yellow 4 and reverses.
The first weave of official West Virginia tartan was unveiled at the Scottish Festival and Celtic Gathering in Bridgeport on May 3, 2008, and can now be found at the West Virginia Division of Culture and History Museum in Charleston. On May 27, 2008, the design was given its official reference number of 7631 by The Scottish Register of Tartans.
The then Governor, Joe Manchin, was even presented with a tie and scarf made from official West Virginia tartan by John, Ron and Kevin Grant on April 6, National Tartan Day, in 2009.
State Firearm – Hall Flintlock Model 1819
By Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 7, adopted by the Legislature on April 4, 2013, the Hall Flintlock Model 1819 became the West Virginia state firearm.
Manufactured in Harpers Ferry by John H. Hall, the Hall Flintlock Model 1819 was the firearm of choice for the United States Army back in 1819. It was the “first breech-loading rifle to be adopted by any nation’s military,” according to wvstatemuseumed.wv.gov.
What makes it significant to West Virginia is that it was used during the conflict that birthed the mountain state, the U.S. Civil War.
State Locomotive – Shay No.5
On March 11, 2004, the Cass Scenic Railroad’s Shay No. 5 steam locomotive was adopted as the state locomotive by Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 34.
Built by the Lima Locomotive Works of Lima, Ohio for the Greenbrier and Elk River Railroad, “this turn-of-the-century class C-80 Shay has been toiling up Cheat Mountain for nearly 100 years, making it one of the oldest engines in continuous service on its original line, and the second oldest Shay in existence,” according to wvstatemuseumed.wv.gov.