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Why Is West Virginia Called the Mountain State?

The Allegheny Mountains comprise roughly 10% of the area in West Virginia.
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  • Written By: Britt Archer
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 01 September 2014
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West Virginia has three acknowledged nicknames, but only one of them, "The Mountain State," is official, following adoption by state lawmakers. The nickname comes from the fact that the state is home to a section of the Allegheny Mountains. The Allegheny Mountains comprise a little more than 10 percent of the land area in the Mountain State. Colonists began to populate the mountains in the mid-1700s. No less than seven recreation areas dot the landscape, including the Monongahela National Forest.

The mountains’ beauty also gave rise to a second nickname, "The Switzerland of America." At one time, other states also were called by this unofficial nickname because of their mountains, including Maine, New Hampshire, and Colorado. West Virginia’s third nickname is "The Panhandle State," so named because of the panhandle-shaped portion in the east that juts between Maryland and Virginia.

As befitting the Mountain State, West Virginia’s state quarter depicts a mountain scene, with the New River Gorge Bridge in the foreground. Designers chose this scene because it represents the beauty found in the Mountain State. The bridge, whose construction was completed in 1977, gave a much-needed transportation boost to travelers trying to get through dangerous mountain roads. The bridge cut the travel time along these narrow roads down to one minute from 40 minutes. It is the largest steel bridge in the world, at nearly 70 feet (21.33 meters) wide and more than 3,000 feet (914.4 meters) long. It is the second highest span in the country.

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The mountains that gave West Virginia its Mountain State nickname have also influenced its state motto. The Latin motto Montani Semper Liberi translates to English as “Mountaineers Are Always Free.” The motto, which is displayed on the state seal, received official approval in 1863.

The Mountain State also has three official state songs, one of which drew inspiration from the topography when it was written in 1885: “The West Virginia Hills.” It received legislative approval in 1961. The popularity of “The West Virginia Hills” led to it being sung often at public functions before lawmakers officially adopted it, with lyrics penned by Ellen King and music composed by H. E. Engle. The other two official songs are “West Virginia, My Home Sweet Home,” composed in 1947, and “This is My West Virginia,” composed in 1962.

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