Many ‘firsts’ put W.Va. on the map
WHEELING – President Abraham Lincoln broke new ground in 1863 when he admitted West Virginia as the 35th state in the Union – so it seems fitting that those who have called the state’s mountains and valleys home never have shied away from being first at anything.
The Mountain State’s history is replete with people, places, things and events that were the first of their kind – from aviation achievements to holidays, food items and even taxes.
“West Virginians have continued to excel over the past 150 years, often achieving great prominence in state, national and world affairs,” Joe Geiger, director of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History’s Archives and History Department, said.
As West Virginia prepares to celebrate its 150th birthday on Thursday, here are just some of those stories:
West Virginia’s first – and almost indisputably most important – first is its own creation. It is the first and only state to secede successfully from another state.
The land that would become West Virginia was the site of not only the first land battle of the Civil War, at Phillipi, but also home to Thornsbury Bailey Brown, the first Union soldier killed in combat during the war. On May 22, 1861, Brown and another soldier met three Virginia militia members on picket duty at a bridge near Grafton. Brown reportedly fired first, nicking one of the militia men’s ears before he was cut down by the group’s return fire. There is some disagreement about whether the shooting was combat-related or personal, but Brown’s death is generally considered today to be the first Union combat death of the war.
On Oct. 14, 1947, Chuck Yeager became the first pilot ever to fly faster than sound. Born in Myra, W.Va., and raised just a few miles down the road in Hamlin, population 400, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps just two months before the United States entered World War II.
After starting as an aircraft mechanic, Yeager trained as a pilot and received his wings in 1943. Despite average academics, his instincts and demonstrated coolness under pressure led his superiors to choose him to fly the Bell XS-1 and attempt to break the sound barrier.
Yeager accomplished that goal on his ninth flight, and was heralded as the “Fastest Man Alive” after his achievement finally was made public almost a year later. A kid who got airsick during his first airplane ride just a few years before had made aviation history.
In 1928, Minnie Harper Buckingham emerged from the coalfields of McDowell County to become the first black woman ever to serve in an American legislative body. On Jan. 10 of that year, Gov. Howard Gore appointed Minnie Harper Buckingham to fill her husband E. Howard Harper’s unexpired term in the House of Delegates.
Buckingham left the Legislature after completing her husband’s term as she declined to run for re-election.
Grafton resident Anna Jarvis was the first to celebrate Mother’s Day with a memorial ceremony on May 12, 1907. She set out to make the occasion a recognized holiday, which happened in 1914. Today, florists, candy makers and greeting card companies delight in the holiday – a fact that would no doubt infuriate Jarvis, who spent her family inheritance campaigning against the commercialization of her holiday and died in poverty in 1948.
The Federal Industrial Institution for Women in Alderson, opened in 1926, was the first federal prison built exclusively for women. Would-be presidential assassin Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, singer Billie Holliday and TV personality Martha Stewart are among its most notable inmates.
Although the most famous golf course in West Virginia is at the Greenbrier, Oakhurst Links, built just a few miles away in 1884, is America’s first golf course. The nine-hole course was converted to a pasture in 1912, but a successful restoration in the 1990s returned the land to its previous use. Those who play the course today use traditional hickory-shaft clubs and sand tees, and often dress in period attire.
Fairmont baker Giuseppe Argiro is credited with inventing the pepperoni roll at his bakery in 1927. Consisting of pepperoni baked inside a bread roll, sometimes with cheese and peppers, their popularity with coal miners, who could easily pack them for lunch without fear of spoilage, has led many to consider the pepperoni roll West Virginia’s unofficial state snack.
West Virginia University Jackson’s Mill near Weston in Lewis County became the first state 4-H camp in the country after the property was deeded to West Virginia in 1921.
The camp and conference center is situated on land where Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson grew up after he and his sister were orphaned and sent to live with their uncle, Cummins Jackson, at his grist mill. The mill and the Jackson family cemetery are all that remains of the original settlement today.
Wheeling’s own Chuck Howley in 1971 became the first and only man named the Super Bowl’s Most Valuable Player despite playing for the losing team. The Dallas Cowboys linebacker intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble in Super Bowl V, but his team fell 16-13 to the Baltimore Colts on a 32-yard Jim O’Brien field goal with five seconds left in the game.
Engineer Mordicai Levi laid the first brick road in America, Summers Street in Charleston, in 1870. He later received a patent for his paving method.
America’s first state sales tax went into effect in West Virginia on July 1, 1921. The tax was levied on banks, timber, coal, oil, natural gas, minerals, electricity, telephone and telegraph services and street railroads.
In 1954, Memorial Tunnel through Paint Creek Mountain in Kanawha County became the first tunnel in America to feature closed-circuit television monitoring. The West Virginia Turnpike tunnel closed to traffic in 1987.
The Muncie family of Welch, with their 15 children, became the country’s first recipients of food stamps in 1961.
Though it happened three decades before West Virginia became a state, George Dulty of Wheeling was issued the first patent for a soda fountain in 1833.
Two varieties of apple, the Golden Delicious and Grimes Golden, are believed to have originated in West Virginia. The former and more famous originated in Clay County in 1905, while the Grimes Golden was first cultivated on a farm in Wellsburg in the early 19th century.