Forged during the tumultuous years of the American Civil War, the little-regarded, often-ignored residents living west of the Allegheny Mountains began walking their own path on June 20, 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln formally admitted West Virginia as the 35th state in the Union.
Neither a Southern state, nor a Northern one, West Virginians even then already were living up to the slogan that would become the state's official motto: Montani Semper Liberi - Mountaineers Are Always Free.
Now, 149 years after President Lincoln set us on that path, Mountaineers still cling to that independence. But now, as in 1863, that grip can be tenuous at best.
Hard times have followed the state from its inception. The mountains that define West Virginia, and give it its rugged beauty, also have limited economic opportunities that are found in many other states. West Virginia always has been known for its vast supply of natural resources, and since the 19th century those resources - coal, oil and gas, and timbering - have provided the backbone of the state's economy. However, the boom-and-bust nature of extraction industries ensures economic instability.
That, of course, is changing and our economy has become more diverse over the years providing needed jobs in other fields. However, the state's economy still lags behind that of its neighbors. Why this is continues to be a matter of debate. But today is not a day to debate what is wrong with West Virginia. Today is a day to celebrate a special state and the love West Virginians have for their state. There are few places that can claim that special tie between a state and its residents. Generations of West Virginians may have been forced to leave for work in other states, but their hearts remain in West Virginia.
Yes, there are many problems in West Virginia. But today: Montani Semper Liberi. And as long as that special tie exists between this state and its residents, Mountaineers will always be free.