West Virginia Celebrates 150 Years


This summer, West Virginians celebrate 150 years of statehood. Birthed from a rebellion, a group of strong and dedicated individuals like John Carlile and Waitman T. Willey did what many thought was impossible. In many ways, it seems that as a state we’ve constantly had to fight for acceptance and respect, but I believe the best way to battle stereotypes and misperceptions is to know our worth. We are more than what is reflected in a Gallup Poll—and we cannot let those rankings define us. West Virginians have much to be proud of, and we need to make it known. 

A couple of months ago, I was invited to Wirt County High School. Deb Hartshorn, a substitute teacher from Elizabeth, had worked her teaching curriculum for the Entrepreneurship and Business Computer Applications class around WV LIVING magazine. She shared copies of the magazine with her students and asked them to read through the issues and spend time perusing wvliving.com in search of a story that taught them something they didn’t know about West Virginia. She says, “I asked the students: What do you do if there isn’t a job in your small town? You create it. WV LIVING is filled with stories about people who followed their passions and created businesses. I wanted them to use those stories as inspiration.” The students researched supporting documents and created a board on Learnist, a great online educational tool. Deb’s mission wasn’t to give her students a history lesson; it was to show them how the state continues to evolve through entrepreneurship and creative retooling. Although studying our history is very important—we need to know about the events and the people who made us who we are—we are more than our past. Our story continues to unfold every day—and each of us is a character in that story.           

I was thrilled to sit in the auditorium with 70-some students and watch their multimedia presentations on what articles most intrigued them from five years of WV LIVING. Some of their top stories were “Living in Canaan Valley,” “The Palace of Gold,” “Butcher Family Farm,” “Gary Bowling’s House of Art,” and the “Hatfield and McCoy Trails.” Many students chose stories on restaurants—from Later Alligator in Wheeling and The Poky Dot in Fairmont to Café Cimino in Sutton and Stefano’s in Morgantown. Deb attributes the students’ overwhelming interest in unique places to eat to the lack of restaurants in Wirt County. So I asked the students: What new business would you like to see in your town? Several said, “An ice cream shop.” I asked where it could be located. They named a vacant building right across from the courthouse. What could you do to make this business unique? Someone suggested that there was a local dairy farm nearby. Maybe the cream could come from there? You could see their wheels turning. And that is how our state’s story will continue to unfold—finding and filling the gaps in our economy with creative thinking coupled with action.           

As I read “Becoming West Virginia,” I learned a few things about the personalities that created our state—they were indeed creative and they were not afraid to act—but it got me thinking. Who are today’s heroes? Who is shaping our future? I believe today’s heroes aren’t just the valiant few who choose to represent our state’s interests in Charleston or at our nation’s capital or the athletes who leave our universities pursuing multi-million dollar contracts, they are the Deb Hartshorns and the Carolyn Raders and the Rock Wilsons.

I learned a few things myself at Wirt County High School. I learned that if our state is going to grow and thrive in the next 150 years, we all have to be teachers. We have an obligation to expose ourselves and our children to a more complete picture of what it means to be a West Virginian. I asked the students at Wirt County High School how many had been to Lewisburg and not a single student raised their hand. When I asked how many had been to the Eastern Panhandle—nada. Five out of the group had been to Canaan Valley. Around 12 had visited Morgantown. Even today, many of our students rarely travel beyond a three-county radius of their home. Deb is right. We need to expand our students’ horizons beyond their immediate surroundings. We have to teach them to think and act like entrepreneurs. We need to show them how to create their own opportunities within our state—or they will seek opportunities elsewhere.

There are many stories in this issue that will help you reacquaint yourself and others with West Virginia. From Ripley to Charleston to Wheeling to Bluefield, our “150 Reasons to Love West Virginia” covers some exciting places, people, and products. Living in Ripley takes us to a patriotic town worthy of a Norman Rockwell painting. We give you an ABC Guide to exploring our capital city. A Myriad of Museums highlights some of our treasure troves around the state. Plan a trip to the charming town of Hinton, and in July, visit Alderson for West Virginia’s best Fourth of July Celebration, as voted by our readers. Our feature on the State Fair will take you down memory lane and have your mouth watering for funnel cakes.

This summer, join in the fun and let’s celebrate the state’s sesquicentennial together!

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