So it looks like you’ve finally realized the place you belong is West Virginia. Well, before the country roads take you home, we have something for you. We looked into every corner of the Internet, pored over endless travel brochures, and even visited a few libraries to put together this mover’s guide for you. It’s packed with interesting facts, insights, stats and more to help you feel right at home in Ol’ Westie from day one.
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West Virginia at First Glance
West Virginia became the 35th state back in 1863, during the Civil War. And, believe it or not, there actually used to only be one Virginia, until a large number of counties voted to secede and now the world is blessed with two. Funny thing is, if you look at a map of the area pre- and post-split, “West Virginia” looks more like “Upper Virginia,” or at least “Northwest Virginia.” Oh well, too late now.
Today it also goes by the name of The Mountain State, because every square inch of it is within the Appalachian Mountain range. There are mountains, hills and trees all over the place, and the views, especially in fall, are absolutely incredible. The state is actually three-fourths covered in forests.
In 2018, the population was 1,803,077. However, this number dropped about 12,780 from the previous year, and was a whopping 1.85 million less in the 2010 Census. But don’t get all down on West Virginia, we'll take a closer look at the migration in just a bit.
On a very good note, West Virginia is known widely for its low cost of living and beautiful scenery—considered by many to be somewhat of a hidden gem, or even a paradise. If you're an outdoorsy type, this just might be your dream state. It's also a great place to relocate if you're looking to save some serious dough on housing.
Let’s go ahead and dive all-in with a closer look into the life of a West Virginian, starting with the job scene.
West Virginia has seen a lot of change in its job market over the years. The coal mines were once the biggest source of income in the state. However, in more recent years, there’s been a significant drop in the need for coal, and unfortunately, the jobs that go with it. So West Virginia has all the opportunity in the world right now to reinvent itself. And you could be coming in at the perfect time.
To start, the current unemployment rate in West Virginia is 5.4%, which is above the national average—according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the minimum wage currently sits at $8.75/hour, according to minimum-wage.org, which is above the federal minimum.
Now, as far as the hot jobs are concerned, West Virginia is growing in a number of careers, including: home health aide, physical therapist, marketer, nurse practitioner, medical receptionist and industrial mechanic. But if you’re really looking for a gig that shells out the big bucks, the highest-paying positions currently include: physician, surgeon, nurse anesthetist, psychiatrist, dentist, CEO, architect manager, nurse midwife and pharmacist.
And who knows what the next big thing will be in West Virginia, but why shouldn't it be whatever it is that you do? Let’s jump into the housing world next, and see if we can’t find you the perfect place to warm your boots.
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Get ready for a homebuyer’s dream. The current median home value in West Virginia is $95,100, with values having increased 2.7% over the past year. Homes are currently listed for an average of $159,000, and are selling for an average of $161,500. What a time to buy, and hopefully in a few years, it’ll turn into a great investment as those values rise and rise.
And if you’re more of a renter, you can lease a nice little home for about $1,000/month around here. Of course, there’ are plenty of apartment options out here, too.
The average one-bedroom in Charleston, the state's capital, goes for around $1,172/month. And the good news is, it only gets less expensive from there. If you’re looking for the same one-bedroom in Beckley, Morgantown or Martinsburg, you’ll only pay between $557/month and $664/month on average. How great is that?
The majority of homes in the area were built in the '70s, though there is some new construction and development going on around the state. Most of the buzz is happening in the northeastern corner of the state, in and around Martinsburg. Around Fairmont, Beckley and Charleston, you’ll also see some action popping up, too, though.
So now you’ve got a good idea of the job and home scenes in West Virginia, but who’s filling them? What are West Virginians all about? Let’s find out.
First of all, West Virginia is the 41st largest state with the 38th highest population. The mean West Virginian age is 41.9 years, making it the oldest in the US. They must just love it too much to ever leave.
And those 40-something West Virginians love their state and will defend it to the hilt. Locals have said their Mountain State neighbors have a "strong sense of community," and that they are "unpretentious" and "humble." Others even said West Virginians are pretty much the "nicest people on the planet," and even though their state pride runs deep, they’re very welcoming to outsiders.
Another common theme we came across was the "simplicity" of life in The Mountain State. No one here is rushing, and you won't find any show-offy attitudes among fellow West Virginians—it’s all just one big, happy, laid-back community. And the large number of small towns here help contribute to that friendly feeling, too.
Nestled right inside the Appalachian Mountain range, there’s no shortage of nature-lovers here to take full advantage of the scenery and mountain air. West Virginians love their lakes, especially Big Bear Lake. Other favorite pastimes include: fly fishing, whitewater rafting, skiing, camping, mountain biking (which is nothing short of an extreme sport around here) and hitting up hidden swimming holes.
About 97.6% of the population speaks English only. However, if you move here, you'll have to pay a bit of extra attention to the dialect. West Virginians have an unmistakable Appalachian accent, which comes from the Scotch-Irish who settled here in the 18th century.
A twangy accent, it includes words you never would have imagined. That Scotch-Irish influence also brought a strong love for folksy music that has transformed into a unique style over the years. Check some out if you get the chance.
Mountain State Trivia
We came across a ton of great stuff in our research that we just had to share. So let’s dive into some rapid-fire West Virginia trivia next.
The Mountain State was the first one in the country to implement a sales tax. And speaking of government money, the leading industry here is tourism—everyone wants to see to see all those trees, apparently.
There's also said to be some serious paranormal activity going on here. Myths get passed around about the "ghosts of Shepherdstown" (which even inspired a short-lived TV series of the same name), and the town is allegedly among the most haunted in the entire country. There's also folklore about the "Mothman," a giant winged humanoid, that was inspired by a book and led to a movie, The Mothman Prophecies.
When it comes to West Virginia cuisine, we heard a lot about pepperoni rolls, which is basically pepperoni surrounded by cheese and baked into the middle of soft yeast dough. West Virginians also go crazy for chili con carne, which is typically beef chili with tomatoes, peppers and spices. Some locals, however, add onions, jalapenos, garlic and cheese (it all depends on how brave you are...or how strong your gut is). And pretty much every plate comes plumb full of slaw and a side of cornbread.
West Virginia has been showcased on the big screen many times. Some of the most famous movies filmed or set here include We Are Marshall, Wrong Turn, The Mothman Prophecies, Win a Date with Tad Hamilton and Superman III. Silence of the Lambs's protagonist, Clarice, was from West Virginia, and locals say Jodie Foster had a pretty convincing Appalachian accent, too—after all, she did win an Oscar.
And speaking of entertainment, what are some of the cool sights and such to see around the state? Glad you asked, that’s next.
Can't-Miss West Virginia Fun + Activities
West Virginia has plenty to keep you entertained, no matter what kind of trouble you like to get into.
Here’s just a few of the state's main attractions:
- Harper's Ferry: This village features Victorian and Federalist style houses that welcomed celebs like Mark Twain, Alexander Graham Bell and Woodrow Wilson back in the late 19th century. But besides ogling the architecture, you can also take a bridge over the mighty Potomac River, hike the mountains, shop in olde-style stores, visit the themed museums (including a wax museum), and eat at the local deli.
- Mystery Hole: A roadside oddity located in Ansted claims to defy the laws of gravity. In the basement, all sorts of weird illusions happen—including people seeming to stand on a slant, furniture balanced in weird positions, and balls that actually roll uphill. SPOILER: the land was secretly leveled appropriately in order to create these appearances. How mysterious...
- New River Gorge Bridge: Located just north of Fayetteville on US Route 19, this bridge spans the New River Gorge and ranks among the world's finest mega-bridges. The bridge was completed in 1977 and has been attracting photographers and hikers ever since. And one day each year, an event is held to allow BASE jumpers to legally fling themselves off the structure.
- Green Bank Telescope: Not only the world's largest fully steerable radio telescope, the Green Bank Telescope is also the world's largest moving land structure. It’s the most technically advanced single-dish radio telescope in the world and spans more than two acres, detecting atoms and molecules way off in the atmosphere. The telescope is also used to look for signs of life in other areas of the universe.
- "Mothman" Statue: Point Pleasant pays homage to the modern myth of the insectoid monster of West Virginian folklore. The 12-foot steel statue towers above residents, posing perfectly for endless creepy photo ops.
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Pros and Cons of Living in The Mountain State
We’re gonna take a bit of a break now and let some real-life West Virginians take over with a few pros and cons from those who know best, them.
Pros (as told by authentic West Virginians):
- Super-low cost of living: We've already explored the nice, low costs of housing for the state, but the savings don't end in the home category. Groceries cost about 18% less in WV than they do in DC, and residents enjoy electricity for only about two-thirds of the price that the rest of the country pays. Health care, apparently, is also more affordable here. It’s like a budgeter’s dream here.
- Outdoor activities galore: West Virginia is jam-packed with the great outdoors—there are mountains to climb, trails to blaze, fields to camp in, and rivers to raft. It’s like it doesn’t end.
- Small town charm: Locals love their deep sense of community. If you're looking for neighbors who live up to the title, and new friends who treat you like one of the pack, look no further.
- Proximity to Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area: in West Virginia, you’re only a short drive from the Baltimore-Washington major metropolitan area. And Philadelphia isn't too far, either. So when you want to catch a pro football game or check out a museum or two, you’re never too terribly far.
Cons (as also told by authentic West Virginians):
- Job opportunities: The state's economic problems are said to have stemmed from the near death of the coal, steel and glass industries which had kept it going for so long. But hey if you’re looking to get in on the ground floor of a potentially exciting new wave, now’s the time and this is the place.
- Education: A study by WalletHub ranked the "Most and Least Educated States for 2018," and West Virginia ranked second-to-last for the nation at #49. West Virginia came in second only to Mississippi, and received a score of 21.71 out of 100. Still, someone’s always got to be second-to-last, that’s just the way ranking goes.
- Out-migration: The Mountain State's population has declined considerably since the 2010 Census due to a number of different factors, including the decline of the coal and steel industries. However, that does mean more room for you.
We know you came for the nitty-gritty on The Mountain State, and we're gonna deliver. That's why we've compiled a brief list of some of the wackiest and most bizarre laws still in existence in the state.
Here’are a few:
- Roadkill can be taken home for dinner. Why waste perfectly good possum, right?
- No sleeping on trains. No one wants to hear you snore during an already-annoying commute.
- Anyone who's ever participated in a duel cannot run for public office. Even if it was just that one time, in college.
- You'll be fined $1.00 if you swear in public. What, like a swear jar?
Country Roads Are Calling
There is just absolutely no way we could tackle everything worth knowing about West Virginia, but we hope you got a good clear understanding of the road ahead. If gorgeous mountains, covered in trees, packed with the friendliest folks you’ll ever meet is your scene, we think you’ll love it.
Good luck, and don't forget your hiking boots - or your affordable home insurance policy.
NOTE: if you decide West Virginia isn't right for you, we've covered the other states, too, to help you find the perfect spot. If forests aren’t your jam, have you thought about Arizona?