West Virginia certainly owes the late John Denver an enormous thank you for Country Roads. Thanks to Denver the world knows that West Virginia truly is almost heaven. I have not visited often over the last twenty years but her beauty is indelible and unforgettable. Alla and I visited in June for a brief family reunion. I had intended to take lots of photos for this blog post but was so engaged with family that I simply forgot. Still, I want to share some of the beauty of West Virginia with you so I have mixed stock photos, photos from our recent visit and YouTube clips. After you finish reading this post, book a trip to West Virginia and you will agree that it is almost heaven.
From grade school to retirement, I always loved visiting the state capitol complex. The Cass Gilbert designed building has to be one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful, state capitol buildings. The nearby Cultural Center is also a gem that should be visited by lovers of art, culture and history.
The capitol grounds now include a coal miner memorial which gives far too much praise to the coal industry and too little to the miners. West Virginia and coal mining disasters are synonymous. Thousands of miners gave their lives to the coal barons. Those who survived death in the mines coughed themselves to death as they slowly choked from black lung.
Hazel Dickens’ powerful story of her brother’s death and the song “Black Lung” give a sense of how these miners struggled. Her high, lonesome singing style makes the song, which starts at 2:08, even more haunting.
The great Kanawha River provides a natural reflecting pool for the capitol. Growing up, I just assumed that everyone had a great capitol building and beautiful river. It was only as I traveled that I learned that West Virginia was a very special place.
The state is well known for its incredible natural beauty but it has also had a significant impact on America’s artistic, intellectual, and political life. For example:
John J. Beckley, frontiersman and the first Librarian of Congress
Pearl S. Buck, writer and Nobel Prize winner
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., author, educator, and scholar
John Knowles, novelist
John Forbes Nash, mathematician and Nobel Prize winner
The Rocket Boys (aka October Sky)
Booker T. Washington, political leader, educator, and author
Jerry West, professional basketball player
Carter G. Woodson, historian, author, and journalist, and
Chuck Yeager, aviator, are all West Virginians.
In short, West Virginia is a land of natural beauty populated by brilliant, accomplished and talented people. I would write more but we are a modest people as well so you will have to visit to experience the state’s greatness firsthand.