On June 20, 1863, at the height of the American Civil War, 50 counties in the northwestern portion of the Commonwealth of Virginia separated in a dispute over slavery and became the state of West Virginia, the 35th in the nation. In its first two years, it served a role as one of the Civil War's border states, before the dissolution of the Confederacy in 1865. An exemplary Appalachian state, West Virginia is shaped in part by the Ohio River and the western fringes of the Allegheny mountain range, and has two panhandles, in the north and the east. Its population in 2020 was approximately 1.8 million, making it one of the more sparsely-populated Eastern states. Its capital and largest city is Charleston, toward the state's southwest. Wheeling in the northern panhandle was previously the state's center of government at two separate points.
Other important cities in West Virginia include Huntington on the Ohio River, near the state's tri-point meeting with Kentucky and Ohio; Morgantown, home of the West Virginia University; Martinsburg in the eastern panhandle; Beckley, another university town in the south; and Clarksburg, a former hub of glass and metal manufacturing. Areas south of Charleston, particularly Huntington and Bluefield, once had prolific coal mining industries. West Virginia offers eight state forests, whitewater rafting at the New River Gorge, and skiing at the upscale Greenbrier resort.
One of West Virginia's main north-south highways is Interstate 77, running from the Virginia line at the exit of the East River Mountain Tunnel west of Bluefield, through Beckley, Charleston and Parkersburg before crossing the Ohio River into Ohio; the corridor includes the West Virginia Turnpike running between Princeton and Charleston. The state's middle north-south Interstate is Interstate 79, which runs northeast out of Charleston, through Clarksburg and west of Morgantown, and exits into Pennsylvania bound for the Pittsburgh region, and the Eastern Panhandle is served by 25 miles of Interstate 81, the main highway in the Martinsburg area. Running nominally east-west through the state is Interstate 64, which is in fact situated across three corridors within the state: from the Kentucky border near Huntington to an exchange with I-77 and I-79 in downtown Charleston, then north-south concurrent with I-77 south of Beckley, and east-west again as it curves its way through the Greenbrier and into Virginia. Much further north, Interstate 68 has its west end at I-79 outside of Morgantown and, after 32 miles, exits into far-western Maryland; it has an interchange with the south end of the Mon-Fayette Expressway which heads into southwestern Pennsylvania and later becomes a toll road. Finally, Interstate 70 has a short segment in the Northern Panhandle, passing directly through Wheeling. West Virginia's only three-digit Interstate is Interstate 470, a bypass of Wheeling which reconnects with its parent I-70 in Ohio.
Major U.S. highways in West Virginia include U.S. Route 11 parallel to I-81; U.S. Route 19, running north-south bisecting the state's western and eastern half alongside parts of I-77 and I-79; U.S. Route 35, emerging from Charleston and proceeding into Ohio; and U.S. Route 60, the business route complement of I-64. U.S. Route 33 runs diagonally through the middle of the state, and U.S. Route 219 along the state's east; they intersect in Elkins. U.S. Route 48 represents Corridor H of Appalachia and is regarded as an engineering marvel, with bridges over mountain gaps and passages through cuts. U.S. routes 22, 30 and 40 have very short segments in the Northern Panhandle. U.S. Route 340 serves Jefferson County in the Eastern Panhandle, and U.S. Route 522 lies just to the west, cutting through the Potomac Highlands region.