Online Encyclopedia

WEST VIRGINIA

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V28, Page 560 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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WEST VIRGINIA, the north-westernmost of the so-called Southern states of the United States of America, lying between latitudes 370 10' and 4o° 40' N., and longitudes 77° 40' and 82° 4o' W. It is bounded on the north-west by Ohio, from which it is separated by the Ohio river, on the north by Pennsylvania and Maryland, the Potomac river dividing it from the latter state; on the east and south-east by Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, the boundary lines in the first two cases being meridians, in the last case a very irregular line following the crest of mountain ridges in places; and on the south-west by Virginia and Kentucky, the Big Sandy river separating it from the latter state. The extreme length of the state from north to south is about 240 m., the extreme breadth from east to west about 265 M. Area, 24,170 sq. m., of which 148 sq. m. is water surface. Physical Features.—The state is divided into two distinct physiographic provinces; the Alleghany Plateau on the west, comprising perhaps two-thirds of the area of the state, and forming a part of the great Appalachian Plateau Province which extends from New York to Alabama; and the Newer Appalachians or Great Valley Region on the east, being a part of the large province of the same name which extends from Canada to Central Alabama. The Alleghany Plateau consists of nearly horizontal beds of limestone, sandstone and shales, including important seams of coal; inclines slightly toward the north-west, and is intricately dissected by extensively branching streams into a maze of narrow canyons and steep-sided hills. Along the Ohio river, these hills rise to an elevation of 800 to moo ft. above sea-level, while toward the south-east the elevation increases until 3500 and 4000 ft. are reached along the south-east margin of the plateau, which is known as the Alleghany Front. The entire plateau area is drained by the Ohio river and its tributaries. Along the flood-plains of the larger rivers are fertile bottomlands," but the ruggedness of the plateau country as a whole has retarded the development of the state, much of which is still sparsely populated. The coal beds are of enormous extent, and constitute an important element in the wealth of the state. Petroleum and natural gas also occur in the plateau rocks in great quantities. In the Newer Appalachian region, the beds which still lie horizontal in the plateau province were long ago thrown into folds and planed off by erosion, alternate belts of hard and soft rock being left exposed. Uplift permitted renewed erosion to wear away the soft belts, leaving mountain ridges of hard rock separated by parallel valleys. Hence the region is variously known as the Ridge and Valley Belt, the Great Valley Region, or the Folded Appalachians. The mountain ridges vary in height up to 4000 ft. and more, the highest point in the state being Spruce Knob (486o ft.). The parallel valleys are drained by north-east and south-west flowing streams, those in the north-east being tributary to the Potomac, those farther south tributary to the Great Kanawha. Although the valleys between the ridges are not always easy of access, they give broad areas of nearly level agricultural land. Flora.—The plateau portion of West Virginia is largely covered by hardwood forests, but along the Ohio river and its principal tributaries the valuable timber has been removed and considerable areas have been wholly cleared for farming and pasture lands. Among the most important trees of this area are the white and chestnut oaks, the black walnut, the yellow poplar, and the cherry, the southern portion of the state containing the largest reserve supply. In the area of the Newer Appalachian Mountains, the eastern Panhandle region has a forest similar to that of the plateau district; but between these two areas of hardwood there is a long belt where spruce and white pine cover the mountain ridges. Other trees common in the state are the persimmon, sassafras, and, in the Ohio Valley region, the sycamore. Hickory, chestnut, locust, maple, beech, dogwood, and pawpaw are widely distributed. Among the shrubs and vines are the blackberry, black and red raspberry, gooseberry, huckleberry, hazel and grape. Ginseng is an important medicinal plant. Wild ginger, elder and sumach are common, and in the mountain areas, rhododendrons, mountain laurel and azaleas. Climate.—Inasmuch as the state has a range of over 4000 ft. in altitude, the climate varies greatly in different districts. The mean annual temperatures for typical sections are as follows: Ohio Valleynorth of the thirty-ninth parallel, 530 F.; south-western part of state, 56°; central plateau district, 52°; mountainous belt along south-eastern boundary of state, 48° to 5o°. Wellsburg, in the northern Panhandle, has•a mean winter temperature of 27°, a summer mean of 70°. Parkersburg, farther down the Ohio Valley, has a winter mean of 34° and a summer mean of 74°. Martinsburg, in the eastern Panhandle, has nearly the same means, 32° and 74°. Terra Alta, in the north-eastern mountains, has a winter mean of 26°, a summer mean of only 67°. The first killing frosts generally occur about the middle of October in the Ohio Valley region, and about the first of October in the higher plateau and mountain region; the average dates for the last killing frosts in the same localities are the middle and last of April respectively. In the Ohio Valley and eastern Panhandle the summer mean temperature is 74°, the winter mean 31° to 340. The highest recorded temperature for the state is to7°, the lowest–35°. Temperatures above too° and below–15° are rare. Precipitation is greatest in the mountains, over 5o in.; and least over the Ohio Valley, the eastern Panhandle and the extreme south-east, 35 to 40 in. Snows are frequent during the winter, and sometimes deep in the higher plateau and mountain districts. The prevailing winds are from south to west.
End of Article: WEST VIRGINIA
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