West Virginia’s Original State Song That’s Even Better Than ‘Country Roads’

PHOTO: New River in West Virginia, courtesy of JaGa
PHOTO: New River in West Virginia, courtesy of JaGa

As a diehard Mountaineer fan, I must say that I live for Saturday afternoons and the opportunity to stand shoulder to shoulder alongside total strangers in Morgantown as we take part in what has been cited as one of the greatest traditions in all of college football: Everyone in the entire stadium overlaps arms and sways back and forth as we accompany John Denver in singing, “Country Roads, take me home, to the place, I belong. West Virginia. Mountain mama, take me home, Country Roads.”

Though I will be the first to admit that I am not, nor will I ever be, a fan of John Denver, I can’t help but think that Take Me, Home Country Roads is one of the greatest songs ever written and when it comes to state songs, West Virginia, has the best!

Interestingly, Take Me Home, Country Roads actually didn’t even become a legally recognized state song of West Virginia until 2014 and when the state legislature did recognize the song, Denver’s hit merely became only one of four songs recognized as official state songs of West Virginia.

Though largely unknown to generations of Mountaineers, West Virginia Hills, is the oldest of the state’s official songs and surprisingly sounds really good (let’s be honest about something, the typical song of the average state is weird and absolutely stinks!).

Unlike Country Roads, however, West Virginia Hills was actually written by real West Virginians.

As the story goes, sometime in the 1880s, when the state was roughly 20 years old, Rev. David King penned a poem for his wife, Ellen Ruddell King’s enjoyment, as a present.

The poem went as follows:
Oh, the West Virginia hills! How majestic and how grand,
With their summits bathed in glory, Like our Prince Immanuel’s Land!
Is it any wonder then, That my heart with rapture thrills,
As I stand once more with loved ones On those West Virginia hills?

Oh, the West Virginia hills! Where my girlhood hours passed,
Where I often wandered lonely, And the future tried to cast;
Many are our visions bright, Which the future ne’er fulfills;
But how sunny were my daydreams On those West Virginia hills!

Oh, the West Virginia hills! How unchang’d they seem to stand,
With their summits pointed skyward To the Great Almighty’s Land!
Many changes I can see, Which my heart with sadness fills;
But no changes can be noticed In those West Virginia hills.

Oh, the West Virginia hills! I must bid you now adieu.
In my home beyond the mountains I shall ever dream of you;
In the evening time of life, If my Father only wills,
I shall still behold the vision Of those West Virginia hills.

In September 1885, the Glenville Crescent newspaper published the four-verse poem, but is said to have credited to the preacher’s wife, Ellen Ruddell King, as the request of the reverend, who stated, “We are as one.”

Not long afterward, H. E. Eagle of Lloydsville put the poem to music as well as added the following chorus to the poem:
Oh, the hills, beautiful hills, How I love those West Virginia hills! If o’er sea o’er land I roam, Still I’ll think of happy home, And my friends among the West Virginia hills.

Though the song has been largely forgotten by most West Virginians today, the song was published in Appalachian hymnals throughout much of the early 1900s and was once the undisputed anthem of the Mountain State, being sung or played at nearly all official state functions.

The movement to adopt The West Virginia Hills as the official state song began with the West Virginia Music Educators Association in 1960 and that same year, the word ‘‘girlhood’’ was changed to ‘‘childhood’’ in verse two and a resolution to officially adopt the song passed the West Virginia legislature on February 3, 1961.

In 1963, during the state’s official centennial celebration, two other songs were named as state songs and then a fourth in 2014, when Take Me Home, Country Roads was added to the list.

Though we’re not advocating for the Mountaineers to can Country Roads any time soon, we do believe that the average West Virginian would be thrilled to be reminded of this forgotten gem from days gone by! How I love those West Virginia hills! If o’er sea, o’er land I roam, Still I’ll think of happy home, and my friends among the West Virginia hills.

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