Just when you think you know it all – Virginia has some tricks up her sleeve. With over 400 years of facts and figures and all-around fascinating history, there’s no shortage of interesting tidbits to learn about our great state. From horses to spies to crazy laws, there’s something new to learn every day.
1. Brotherhood of the Missing Pants. Keeping it real, Virginia.
The first fraternity and the first streaker were both in Virginia. Although the two events aren’t related, they just seem to go together. The first formal fraternity, Phi Beta Kappa, was created at the College of William and Mary on December 5, 1776. Naturally (no pun intended), the first streaker in U.S. history made his birthday suit debut nearly 30 years later at Washington College (now Washington and Lee). George William Crump, a Powhatan County native, was arrested for his exposing exploit and suspended for the remainder of the semester. He went on to serve in the Virginia House of Delegates and the U.S. Congress.
2. Peanuts. A long and hallowed tradition.
2. The first commercial crop of peanuts in the U.S. was grown in Virginia in the early 1800s. At first, peanuts, also called ground nuts or ground peas, were used for oil, livestock feed and as a cocoa substitute. Considered a poor man’s food, it wasn’t until the Civil War, when both sides used them as part of their staple diet, that they increased in popularity. In the late 1800s, P.T. Barnum’s traveling circus sold them by the bag and they became even more popular. Enter George Washington Carver in the early 1900s, and you have the peanut as we know it today – in all of its glorious forms.
3. The same person invented Chapstick, laxatives and over-the-counter-enemas. Go figure.
Lynchburg resident and pharmacist, Dr. Charles Browne Fleet, invented Chapstick in the early 1880’s. The candle-shaped balm was wrapped in foil and wasn’t exactly user friendly, so he sold the right to John Morton, also of Lynchburg, in 1912 for $5. Morton then turned it into the product we know today. But don’t worry about Fleet, he went on to invent the laxative and sell the first over-the-counter enemas in his pharmacy. Fleet Laboratories still operates in Lynchburg today and continues to provide quality, ummmm, “personal products.”
4. Virginia goes through capitals like George Crump goes through pants.
Three major cities in Virginia have all served as the official state capital: Jamestown in 1607, Williamsburg in 1699 and in 1780, Richmond was named capital in hopes that it would be less vulnerable to attack during the Revolutionary War. It didn’t work, but Richmond has remained the capital ever since. Depending on your definitions, Charlottesville, Staunton and Lynchburg can also claim brief stints as the capital city because some form of the General Assembly met officially in these place during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.
5. More than half of the major battles of the Civil War took place in Virginia.
Out of all of the major engagements in the Civil War, more happened in Virginia than any other state, including the first land battle at Big Bethel and the last battle before the South surrendered at Appomattox.
6. Kentucky and West Virginia used to be Virginia, too.
When “states” were established and began being admitted into the Union, Virginia still included Kentucky and West Virginia. Both of these Virginia “territories” were isolated from the center of government in the capital of Richmond, and so in 1792 and 1863 respectively, Kentucky and West Virginia took on their own statehood.
7. Belle Boyd, Siren of the Shenandoah, was born here…sort of.
Speaking of West Virginia when it was still Virignia…one of the most famous spies, and an all-around bad @$$ lady, Belle Boyd was born in Martinsburg, West Virginia while it was still part of the state of Virginia. Boyd, known as Cleopatra of the Secession and Siren of the Shenandoah, provided critical information to Stonewall Jackson from Front Royal, where she ran her father’s hotel. Her infamous career included three arrests, more than a few bullet holes in her skirts and the Southern Cross of Honor from General Jackson. She gave up the spy life in 1864 when she went to England, married and became an actress – as seems fitting. She came back to the U.S. in 1869, went through 2 more husbands and toured the U.S. lecturing about her experiences as a spy until her death in 1900.
8. The Empire State Building might be talller, but the Pentagon is still bigger.
8. The Pentagon is the world’s largest low-rise office building. Located in Arlington, it houses the U.S. Department of Defense and offers more than twice the office space of the Empire State Building.
9. English is definitely Hampton's first language.
Hampton is the oldest continuously inhabited English speaking settlement in North America. Established in 1610 after settlers came to Jamestown, Hampton has remained continuously settled and thriving – and speaking English – despite being burnt down during the Civil War. Just goes to show you how tough those Hampton-ers are!
10. Secretariat. Virginia born and bred.
Secretariat, one of the most famous thoroughbred racehorses of all times, was born in 1970 at The Meadow in Doswell. In 1973, Secretariat became the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years, setting records in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. In 1999, ESPN named him the 35th best athlete of the 20th century.
11. And speaking of horses….
Quarter horses, one of the most popular American breeds, got their start in Virginia. These horses, named for their speed on quarter-mile flat tracks, trace their roots to cross-breeding of Spanish horses used by colonists and English thoroughbreds. Janus, an English thoroughbred imported to Virginia in 1756 is considered one of the most important sires for the breed as we know it today.
12. It is illegal to tickle a woman. Really. I'm not just saying that.
13. And don’t even think about owning a skunk. Also illegal. Just in case you needed to be told twice.
14. Virginia is the “Internet Capital of the World.” Wait….what?
Ok, so it was a self-proclaimed title in 1999, when then governor Jim Gilmore, sanctioned a Virginia license plate reading “Internet C@pital.” However, as recently as 2014, The Washington Post reported that Ashburn, in Loudoun County, has more than 5 million square feet of data space. As a result, 70% of the world’s internet traffic passes through Ashburn. Those are still some pretty impressive numbers (we're looking at you, Silicon Valley).
15. 2 sets of Siamese Twins…twin towns, that is.
Both Bristol and Bluefield share a border with another state and a town of the same name: Bristol, VA/TN and Bluefield VA/WV. While State Street runs through the two Bristols and makes their connection pretty obvious, Bluefield is a little more subtle. Both Bluefields are built along Route 19, but at different points.
16. We take April Fool’s seriously.
Foamhenge, the full-size Styrofoam replica of Stonehenge in Natural Bridge, was introduced by artist Mark Kline on April Fool’s day in 2004. Joke’s on him – Foamhenge has been a huge success recognized around the country. Foamhenge followed his previous year’s prank of placing giant fiberglass dinosaurs all over his hometown of Glasgow. Anything for a laugh, right?
17. Hampton gave us the first free public school.
In 1634, the Syms-Eaton Free School was established by Benjamin Syms. Syms donated 200 acres and 8 cows to the school, which also served the areas of Elizabeth City and Poquoson. The school allowed pupils to attend regardless of their ability to pay. It became so popular, that it eventually was restricted only to the poor.
18. We can take credit for 1 out of 10 personalized license plates registered in the U.S.
Hmmm…vanity plates. You say that like it’s a bad thing….
19. Half the US population lives within a 500 mile radius of Virginia.
Thanks to heavy populations on the East Coast, Virginia is at the heart of it all. Over half of the people residing in the U.S. can reach Virginia within a day’s drive.
20. Tangier Island – the (is)land that time forgot.
While the Tidewater accent found on the Eastern Shore of Viriginia is unique, Tangerians have kept it truly authentic with their distinct, post-Shakespearean English similar to what original settlers would have spoken. The accent has deteriorated somewhat with TV and technology, but true Tangerians can still be found speaking the “old tongue” on this tiny island 12 miles off the Virginia coast. Inhabited mostly by commercial fishermen, the island can only be reached by boat or small aircraft.
21. We're Old School.
The Wren Building at William and Mary is the oldest college building in the U.S. Despite being gutted by fire three times (1705, 1859 and 1862) The Wren Building just keeps on keeping on. Built between 1695 and 1700, the building was the heart of the newly formed school and was simply known as “the College.” It was named after the famous English architect, Sir Christopher Wren, in 1931.
Now I KNOW there are some gems out there that we missed. What do you know about Virginia that most people don’t?