A few weeks ago, a close friend asked me a very simple, yet very interesting question: "Why is Princeton, West Virginia, of all locations, referred to as the 'Jewel of the South?'" Growing up in the Mountain State and being educated by the public school system, I normally am able to answer questions regarding state history and culture with ease. Typically, I recite facts and historical plot lines robotically, making sure to include the names of as many famous West Virginians as possible (some favorites include: Jerry West, Jennifer Garner, and Randy Moss). However, I knew that to answer the posed question, I was going to have to approach my response carefully, so as to ensure my friend thoroughly understood the magnitude of the situation that resulted in the nickname.
Before I delve any deeper into the story that precedes the naming of Princeton as the "Jewel of the South," I must disclose my role in the story. While not personally responsible for the origin of the alternative name, I did, alas, play, and continue to play, a role in it's propagation and promotion across both West Virginia and the remaining Southern states. I have used this alias, and have suggested it to innumerable friends, family, and neighbors when I am back home in the Mountain State. With that information being disclosed, I write this entry merely as a way to validate the history and cultural influences that compelled the synthesis of this nickname; I personally take zero credit for the authorship of this alternative name. Additionally, I believe that it is important to note that this article serves as an academic perspective on the adoption of the nickname, in the hopes of providing the name legitimacy and longevity.
This story, as one may have easily predicted, finds its origins in the charming city of Princeton, West Virginia, which stands as a beacon of hope and prosperity for Mercer County and for southern West Virginia as a whole. Though it may be baffling to outsiders, Princeton is able to boast significant cultural, ethnic, and economic diversity as two major hospitals, four distinguished public high schools, two minor-league baseball teams, and an esteemed liberal arts university are all within its immediate geographic area. The presence of these local institutions, combined with breathe-taking natural amenities, (such as two state parks and a ski resort) which have come to be expected of central Appalachia, make Princeton an exceedingly desirable location to establish a residence. And as the natural progression of the story would suggest, the origin of the nickname begins with a group of friends who grew up together, and who care tremendously about, Princeton, West Virginia.
This group of friends met while students attending one of the local high schools in Princeton. The group was comprised of athletic standouts, motivated academics, and one individual whose lack of academic or athletic prowess, made his presence felt by giving back to the community, most notably as a camp counselor. As time proceeded, the group of friends soon found themselves entrapped by an inseparable friendship. To this end, the group unanimously chose to attend a large research university in the northern part of the state, and rented adjacent apartments so as to retain the intimacy of the cohort. The group, being as diverse as it was, found extreme pleasure and joy through a shared passion for sports, social alcoholism, and Princeton, West Virginia. The group has in the past and continues to congregate each weekend, where they revel in past experiences and memories and consume vast amounts of boxed wine and beer to numb in overarching troubles they may have endured in the past week. And it is precisely these informal sessions of community and camaraderie, where the origin of the nickname lies.
For me, I was fortunate enough to become close friends with numerous members of the group, and have come to thoroughly enjoy being a guest during during the group's assemblies. As I often travel across the east coast, I always insert a stop in West Virginia into my plans so that I may enjoy reminiscing about and sharing a cheap beer that never tastes quite as good when friends aren't around. Anyways, having been present for a multitude of these gatherings, I was able to sense that even though the group of friends has not lived in Princeton for some time, they found significant comfort and joy in reliving past experiences and discussing the lives of former classmates. To me, this signaled that the group cared greatly for their hometown, and wanted to ensure they were familiar with new developments and stories. Particularly, I found that the friends felt that their beloved hometown of Princeton, West Virginia never received and was never recognized for its tremendous beauty, friendliness, and hospitality. Princeton serves as a corridor to an abundance of popular cities and tourist destinations, as it is typically utilized as a halfway point between the North and the South. And for all the natural beauty and wonder that it possesses, Princeton is consistently given inadequate credit for the impact it has on lives of its residents and those who travel through its mountainous gates. Thus, the group of friends, feeling an abundance of pride for their hometown, began referring to Princeton as the "Jewel of the South."
The title "Jewel of the South" reflects Princeton's breathtaking natural beauty and heartwarming kindness. Princeton is a wondrous city that boasts tremendous diversity, economic opportunity, and exhilarating natural amenities. The nickname is not meant merely as a tagline for the tourism industry; rather, it is a symbol of validation of the city's hard work, in the past and in the city's glimmering future. This name not only provides Princeton with the justice that it deserves, but also further reinforces the culture and ideals that have come to be associated with the area over the years. The city not only possesses significant sentimental value to me, but is held dearly in the hearts of innumerable folk who see Princeton as the lighthouse in the dark, disparaging seas of today's society.
Since its inception, the nickname has been widely adopted by the residents of Princeton, to the extent that the nickname has become truly inseparable from the city itself. Moreover, Princeton is more than just a priceless treasure tucked away in the rolling hills of West Virginia; Princeton is home.