June 22, 2012

Virginia – “Old Dominion State”


Virginia map


Just the Facts…

bird -  cardinal
flower – dogwood
tree – flowering dogwood
capital – Richmond
union – 10th on June 25, 1788
population – about 8 million




The Basics 

The Virginia area was the first to be explored in the New World.  Queen Elizabeth asked Walter Raleigh to explore the New World on behalf of England. He landed in Virginia in 1584 and some think he named the area after Queen Elizabeth (since she was sometimes called “The Virgin Queen” because she never married).  Virginia’s official name is “The Commonwealth of Virginia.”  This name was designated by its state legislature, the General Assembly (which happens to be the oldest state legislature in America).

Much of western Virginia is part of the Appalachian mountain range – the Blue Ridge Mountains run diagonally through the state.  The land starts to flatten out as you head east, towards the ocean.  Much of Virginia’s coastline opens into the Chesapeake Bay.

Virginia’s local government system is unique.  Places within Virginia are either part of a county or part of an independent city, but not both.  As a result, local governments do not overlap at all.  The idea is similar to Washington DC, which is independent of Maryland and Virginia.  Or like the Vatican, which is an independent state within the city of Rome.  This is different from most other states, which divide their land up into counties.  Cities form within those counties, so that most areas have two layers of local government.


Its Claim to Fame

The first permanent settlement of the New World was established in Virginia, which was called Jamestown (named after King James – do you see a theme here?).  It was a hard life, but Jamestown eventually created its own economy from a crop introduced to them by the Native Americans – tobacco.  The demand in Europe for tobacco grew so quickly that there were not enough colonists to work the fields.  As early as 1619, Africans were brought to Jamestown to help work the tobacco fields.

Virginia’s leaders were very influential in the Revolutionary War and the founding of our country – we are talking about George Washington and Thomas Jefferson!  George Washington led the American army during the Revolutionary War and then was our very first President.  His home is called Mount Vernon and is near Alexandria, Virginia.  Thomas Jefferson was critical to the Constitutional Convention – he had strong opinions regarding the structure of the federal government and wrote most of the Constitution.  And, he was our third President.  He designed his home, which is called Monticello and is located near Charlottesville, Virginia.

Virginia played a big role in the Civil War.  After it seceded from the Union, Richmond became the capital of the Confederate States of America.  There was a large portion of northwestern Virginia that wanted to stay in the Union, however.  And so West Virginia was born.  Those counties that did not want to secede from the Union were recognized as a new state by the federal government.  Many Civil War battles took place in Virginia, partly because the Confederacy felt the need to protect its capital, Richmond.  In addition, Virginia’s own Robert E. Lee led the Confederate troops in those battles.  In fact, Robert E. Lee surrendered in Virginia, which led to the end of the Civil War.


What Makes it Tick

Virginia gave the federal government land to create Washington DC (the rest of the land was donated by Maryland).  And, the federal government has been a big part of life in northern Virginia ever since.  Many warships were built along the Virginia coast and our entire defense department is operated from Virginia.  The Pentagon isn’t even in Washington DC – its in Arlington, Virginia!    Speaking of the Pentagon, did you know that it is one of the largest office buildings in the world?

For a long time, tobacco was king in Virginia.  The tobacco plant thrived in the sandy soil of eastern Virginia and plantations dotted the landscape.  In the western hills, coal was the king.  Now, Virginia has the highest number of technology workers of any state in America and its largest export is computer chips.  It also has many data centers – a lot of the information that you read on the internet may be stored on computers in Virginia!


If You Lived There

If you lived in Virginia, your favorite food may be its special country ham or the crunchy Virginia peanuts.  “Virginia ham” can only be made in the town of Smithfield and must meet the requirements stated in Virginia law (it must be salt cured, smoked, and then aged according to specification).   “Virginia” peanuts are actually a variety of peanut – they are some of the largest peanuts grown and are usually roasted in small batches and sold whole (no peanut butter here!).

You may visit the Assateague Island just of the Virginia coast, which is home to a rare breed of wild horses!  Assateague Island is entirely owned by various state and federal  agencies – the whole island is a protected wildlife refuge and park land.  It is accessible from both Maryland and Virginia.  In fact, there is a fence along the border to separate Maryland’s wild horses (called the Assateague Horse) from Virginia’s wild horses (called the Chincoteague Pony).  On Pony Penning Day every July, some of the Chincoteague Ponies are led across a shallow portion of the bay from Assateague Island to Virginia, where they are sold.  This helps to keep the population under control, so the horses don’t take over the whole island!


Want to Know More? 

Do you live in Virginia? Or, maybe you have visited Virginia?  We want to hear from you!!  Post a comment at the end of this page.

  • Where is your favorite thing about your state?
  • What is your favorite thing to eat?
  • What is your favorite thing to do?
  • What other special or unique facts do you want to share about your home state?

Do you have any photos of Virginia to share? Email them to: info@grandtourkids.com. Or, post them to our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/GrandTourKids

Our tour includes just a few things that are interesting and special about Virginia.  Visit these websites to learn more: