30 Fun Facts About Virginia State History and Culture

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The state of Virginia packs seemingly endless natural beauty and historic sites into its 42,775 square miles, including the Jamestown Settlement and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.

Add to that the state’s rich culinary, local music, and visual art scenes, and you have a wealth of fascinating and fun facts about Virginia to discover. 

Founded in 1788, this southeastern state was one of the original 13 colonies in the United States of America. It was also home to one of the earliest settlements in the nation.  

The Jamestown colony was established in the early 1600s by the Virginia Company of London, a group of wealthy British businessmen who petitioned King James I for a charter.

Today, Virginia attracts more than 80 million annual visitors from around the world who want to experience the state’s rich history, explore its natural landmarks, and enjoy its diverse cultural offerings. 

Read on to bulk up your knowledge of Virginia trivia with our list of 30 fun, fascinating, and at times slightly weird facts about Virginia history and culture.

READ MORE: 10 Great Romantic Getaways in Virginia for Couples

Groundhog Meadow Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway VA with Coreopsis Wildflowers in the foreground
Groundhog Meadow Overlook, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

Fun Facts About Virginia State History and Culture Guide

  1. Virginia History Facts
  2. Famous Virginia Icons
  3. State of Virginia Landmarks
  4. Fun Facts About Virginia
  5. Interesting Facts About Virginia
  6. Virginia Music Facts
  7. Virginia Food Facts

READ MORE: 20 Fun Things to Do in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia

Facts about colonial Virginia - Historic Jamestowne
Historic Jamestown, photo via historicjamestowne.org

Virginia History Facts

1) Archeologists suspect the state of Virginia has been inhabited for 18,000 years. Indigenous settlements were built here as early as 1,200 BC. These tribes spoke one of 3 languages– Algonquian, Siouan, or Iroquoian– but the largest group was the Powhatan tribe. In the 17th century, Chief Powhatan ruled 150 villages in Chesapeake Bay.

2) The first English colony in the USA, Jamestown, was settled in 1607 on the banks of the James (or Powhatan) River. Settler John Smith claimed he’d been captured by the Powhatan people, but had his life saved by the chief’s daughter, Pocahontas. The Jamestown Museum is a great place to learn more facts about the Virginia colony.

3) One nickname for Virginia is “The Old Dominion State.” The original colony was thought to be the first overseas dominion of England’s monarchy. Virginia is also known as the “Mother of Presidents,” as Founding Fathers like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe were all born there.

4) After the Revolutionary War, Virginia became the 10th state in the United States of America in 1788. In 1861, at the beginning of the Civil War, Virginia joined other Confederate states in secession from the Union. But just five years after the end of the war, in 1870, Virginia rejoined.

5) Richmond, the current capital of Virginia, was also the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War due to the state’s size and population. The city was the location of many important Civil War battles, such as the Battle of Bull Run in 1861 and the Battle of Richmond in 1862. 

READ MORE: The 15 Best Places To See Christmas Lights in Virginia

Virginia State Flag meaning
Virginia State Flag

Famous Virginia Icons

6) The basic Virginia state facts start with famous Virginia Icons. The official Virginia state bird is the cardinal, while the state flower and tree is the blooming dogwood. Its official bat is the Virginia Big-eared bat, while the non-venomous snake of Virginia is the Eastern Garter Snake, and the state dog is the American foxhound. 

7) Another of the fun facts about Virginia is that it was the birthplace of iconic singer Ella Fitzgerald, who was known as the “First Lady of Song” and the “Queen of Jazz.” Born in Newport News VA, the music legend won 14 Grammys and was the first black woman ever to win a Lifetime Achievement award in 1967. 

8) The Virginia state flag shows two people dressed as warriors. The female warrior holds a sword and spear, and represents the Roman goddess Virtus. She’s standing with one foot atop a fallen tyrant, whose crown has come off.  Below them is the Virginia state motto, Sic Semper Tyrannis, which means “Thus always to tyrants.”

9) Bessie Blount was an African American physical therapist and inventor born in Hickory VA in 1914. While working with wounded WWII vets, she invented an apparatus that allowed amputees to feed themselves. She later became a forensic scientist who trained and worked at Scotland Yard in the late 1970s (reportedly the first African American woman to do so). Blount was recognized as a Notable Woman in Virginia History in 2005.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Lakes in the Virginia Mountains to Visit

Natural Bridge- Fun facts of Virginia
Natural Bridge State Park, photo by Emma Gallagher

State of Virginia Landmarks 

10) If you want to visit an incredible Virginia historical site, don’t miss Colonial Williamsburg, the world’s largest living history museum. Opened in 1932, the attraction is home to iconic 18th century sites such as the Governor’s Palace, the Peyton Randolph House, and the Courthouse. It’s also considered one of the most festive Christmas towns in Virginia, and a great place to spend Christmas in Virginia!

11) One of the most popular historical landmarks in Virginia is Mount Vernon, the house owned by George & Martha Washington. Visitors can tour the mansion, wander the grounds, and visit George Washington’s tomb. There’s also an enslaved people’s tour, where you can learn about the people who built and took care of the estate. 

12) Not all famous landmarks in Virginia are history-focused. Our favorite natural landmarks include Natural Bridge State Park, featuring an impressive 215-foot-high, 90-foot-wide natural stone arch. You can walk along a creek, under the bridge, and continue on to a waterfall and a Native American village. George Washington reportedly visited the site as a young surveyor and carved his initials on a rock under the bridge. 

13) Natural Tunnel State Park is another one of our favorite natural Virginia attractions. Water carved out this 850- foot-long tunnel over thousands of years. There are also some great hiking trails around the Visitor Center in this beloved Virginia State Park that give you different vantage points of the tunnel. 

READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Lexington VA & Natural Bridge VA

Lincoln, one of many movies filmed in Virginia, photo courtesy 20th Century Fox
Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln, photo courtesy 20th Century Fox

Fun Facts About Virginia

14) There have been many well-loved movies filmed in Virginia, from the historical (see: Lincoln and JFK) to the more fantastical (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Evan Almighty). Set during the Civil War and depicting the Battle of the Crater, the movie Cold Mountain was partly filmed in Petersburg VA. 

15) One of the more fascinating facts about Colonial Virginia is that the state was named after Queen Elizabeth I. Having never married, she was known as “The Virgin Queen.” Sir Walter Raleigh reportedly suggested the name in 1584, after he was given permission to colonize the area (starting with the ill-fated Roanoke colony) by his Queen. 

16) If you suffer from chapped lips in the winter, you can thank Dr. Charles Browne Fleet of Lynchburg VA for bringing you Chapstick. Though he invented the lip balm in the late 1890s, Fleet was never able to make it profitable. So in 1912, Fleet sold Chapstick to his friend and colleague John Morton for a measly $5!

17) Observed annually on April 22nd, Earth Day was founded at Airlie in northern Virginia. The Airlie Center was an early advocate for sustainable practices back in the 1960s. Senator Gaylord Nelson suggested the idea for Earth Day  to a group of students at an Airlie conference in 1969, with the first celebration happening the following year. 

READ MORE: The 5 Best Places for Snow Tubing in Virginia

Appalachian Trail hiker on McAfee Knob at Sunrise
McAfee Knob, photo by Where’s Gordo Photography via Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge

Interesting Facts About Virginia

18) Virginia is the 35th largest state and the 12th most populous state, with 8.6 million residents. Its most populated city is Virginia Beach (around 460,000 residents), followed by Chesapeake (250,000) and Norfolk (235,000). Richmond (the state’s capital) is only the fifth most populated city in Virginia, with 226,000 residents.  

19) Virginia is believed to have been the home of the very first Thanksgiving. In December 1619, settlers celebrated by holding a service of thanks after the arrival of an English ship that brought food supplies. The ship had sailed from Bristol, England to Berkley Hundred, a Virginia colony. 

20) The Blue Ridge Parkway passes into Virginia from North Carolina and offers unmatched views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Around 220 of the BRP’s 469 miles can be driven through the Virginia mountains, terminating at the entrance Shenandoah National Park in Waynesboro VA

21) Virginia Tech graduate Benjamin Rubin invented the bifurcated needle, which allowed for correct doses of vaccines to be administered. The World Health Organization adopted this needle for their Smallpox Eradication Campaign, which was carried out between 1966 and 1977.

22) The Appalachian Trail in VA is home to more miles than any other state it passes through. Hikers can enjoy 544 miles of this epic trail and visit outstanding highlights such as the McAfee Knob hike near Roanoke VA, as well as Dragon’s Tooth and Tinker Cliffs, where you can get spectacular views of McAfee Knob.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Roanoke VA

Virginia Music Facts
Bluegrass Musicians, photo via Canva

Virginia Music Facts

23) If you want to experience the roots of Virginian music, take a trip down The Crooked Road, Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. This 333-mile road will take you to a number of Virginia’s biggest music venues, where you can listen to live bluegrass, old-time, and country music with plenty of banjo

24) We’ve already discussed Ella Fitzgerald as the queen of the Virginia music scene. Other famous music artists from Virginia include country legends Patsy Cline and Steve Earle, pop crooner Jason Mraz, Vegas icon Wayne Newton, hip-hop heroes Pharrell Williams and Missy Elliot, and R&B stars Chris Brown and D’Angelo. 

25) In 1991, Virginia designated the Square Dance as the Official State Folk Dance. This traditional Appalachian dance style has roots in Scots-Irish reels and English and French country dancing, with influences from indigenous American and African-American dance traditions. 

26) Floyd Fest is a huge 5-day music festival that has been happening near the town of Floyd VA since 2002. It typically features a mix of pop, rock, and reggae as well as local bluegrass, country, and other Appalachian Mountain music. There are also arts and crafts vendors, yoga classes, and poetry readings to attend.

READ MORE:The 10 Best Things to Do in Staunton VA

Apple Picking in Ellijay GA
Apple Picking in Virginia, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

Virginia Food Facts

27) Early Appalachian settlers sustained themselves on local apples, cornbread, beans, wild turkey and deer, and pumpkins. They continued the European traditions of pickling and canning, which helped them to get through the cold winters. People who visit Virginia today rarely leave without a taste of home-cooked southern fare. 

28) Did you know that Virginia is the sixth-largest apple-producing state? Many Virginia apple orchards allow folks to pick their own fruit, which many folks use to make apple butter, apple sauce, and pies. There are 20 Virginia cideries that make hard apple cider. You can also attend fall festivals focused on apples, such as the Shenandoah Valley Apple Harvest Festival or the Graves’ Mountain Apple Harvest Festival.

29) The sandy soil in southern Virginia is perfect for growing prized peanuts, which are considered the largest and most flavorful of the four types of peanuts. Virginia makes up about 15% of the country’s annual peanut production, with 26,000 acres of land dedicated to peanut production. You can follow Virginia’s Salty Southern Route to sample some of the state’s finest peanuts and visit restaurants serving delicious local cuisine.

30) Wines have been produced in Virginia since the 17th century. Today there are over 300 Virginia wineries, most of which offer tours and tasting rooms. Chardonnay grapes are the most commonly grown, but mold and mildew can be a problem due to the hot, humid climate. So many vineyards choose to grow tougher, more durable grapes, such as those used for Cabernet Sauvignon. –by Emma Gallagher; featured image by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett   


Leave No Trace logo

We encourage anyone who loves the Blue Ridge region to learn about the Leave No Trace principles of responsible environmental stewardship. 

Stay on marked trails, take only pictures, pack out your trash, and be considerate of others who share the trails and parks you explore. 

Remember that waterfalls and rocky summits can be dangerous. Never try to climb waterfalls or get close to a ledge to get a selfie.

When you're exploring the wilderness, it's better to be safe than to be a statistic!

Born in Britain, writer/photographer Emma Gallagher lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of NC on a permaculture homestead with her husband, Jonathon. While traveling the world for 13 years, she fell in love with the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge region when she lived at an artist retreat in Burnsville NC before moving to Brevard. Today Emma lives near Stone Mountain State Park and Doughton Park volunteers at the Surry County Fiddlers Convention, and cares for the gardens at the Reeves Downtown School of Music in Elkin. She's also a volunteer for the Elkin Valley Trails Association, which maintains segment 6 of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.