PINEVILLE -- Those old enough to remember still tell visitors how this mountain town helped make history on April 26, 1960. That was the day 600 people showed up in front of the Wyoming County courthouse to hear a patrician senator with a Boston accent make his case to be their next president.
The electricity that afternoon in Pineville foreshadowed bigger things to come for the struggling candidate. Two weeks later, John F. Kennedy won more than 60 percent of the vote in West Virginia's Democratic presidential primary, a victory that helped move the country past the presumption that a Catholic could never be elected to the White House.
In late June of this year, another expression of Pineville's values appeared on the terraced lawn of the old courthouse. There was no fanfare around the installation of the new stone monument, but like that Kennedy rally more than half a century ago, it was a way of saying how the town felt about where the nation is headed.
The stone is engraved with the Ten Commandments, and it instructs: "They are to be used as a historical reference and model to enrich the knowledge of our citizens to an early origin of law from past generations so that they will serve as a historical guide for future generations to come."
The American Civil Liberties Union has complained that this is an encroachment of church on state, and an affront to religious minorities. A headline on the front page of The Charleston Gazette on July 4 asked: "Constitutional showdown in the making?"
But most here seem to agree with Melissa Mitchell, a stay-at-home mom who was getting things organized for a midsummer church picnic at a park near the courthouse.
"We love it, and we will fight for it," she said of the stone marker.
Why? "Honestly, because everybody in this county hates Barack Obama. That is the biggest reason," Mitchell said.
Animosity toward President Barack Obama runs high here. He lost Wyoming County by nearly 56 percentage points last year, despite the fact that registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 3 to 1.
But as Mitchell and her friends talked more about it, their conversation turned to fears and anxieties that had little to do with party or politics. They discussed the well-paying jobs that had vanished with the coal industry; the crime and drugs that followed; the changing culture that mocks what they hold sacred.
"This county has seen the need for God. We can't control what's going on out there in the world, but on this small little corner of our small little town, we can," said one woman, who gave her name only as Megan.
Ordinary West Virginians used to look to Washington with something close to reverence. It was a partner in good times, a lifeline in bad ones, a powerful ally against the big corporations that came for its coal and timber. By some measures, West Virginia relies more on federal money than any other state.
But increasingly, it also has become an extreme example of the hostility that shows up in every national poll when people are asked how they feel about the federal government. Many here now speak of Washington as an enemy that threatens their economy and their way of life, one that traps them into dependency.
"Washington's 100 percent against us," said M.E. Walker, a retired road builder who lives in Pence Springs in Summers County. "They don't like our jobs. They don't like our attitudes."
What's happening in West Virginia runs against the tide nationally, and even more, against the pull of its own history.
West Virginia exists as a state because it broke away from Virginia in 1863 and refused to join the confederacy. From Franklin D. Roosevelt's era until the 2000 election, it was among the most reliably Democratic states, one of only six that Jimmy Carter carried in 1980, and 10 that Michael S. Dukakis won in 1988.
But in the past decade or so, "West Virginia has realigned politically with the Deep South, at least in presidential elections," historian John Alexander Williams said in a June lecture in Charleston marking the state's 150th anniversary.
"Between the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections, a time when voters were trending strongly Democratic in other parts of the nation, 366 of official Appalachia's 410 counties increased their Republican share of presidential votes."
In 2012, that trendline cut more deeply. Obama lost the seven West Virginia counties he had carried in 2008. It marked the first time that a major party's presidential candidate suffered a 55-county shutout.
"People haven't changed here. People are still the same," said Sen. Joe Manchin III, a former West Virginia governor. "But I've never seen more people pushed away from their traditional Democratic roots or their voting habits than in the last six or seven years."
Manchin has put that fraying bond to the test, having sponsored gun-control legislation that failed in the Senate this year.
Next year's elections could mark a historic hinge in West Virginia politics. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a traditional liberal Democrat forged by the Great Society, has announced he will not run for a sixth term.
His most likely successor is Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, the daughter of a three-term governor, who would be the first Republican that West Virginia elected to the Senate since 1956. Although Capito is considered a heavy favorite, Democrats came up with a strong contender when Secretary of State Natalie Tennant formally entered the race.
Meanwhile, Rep. Nick Rahall II, an 18-term congressman and the last surviving Democrat in the state's House delegation, is facing what many expect to be his most difficult re-election contest.
Rahall has emphasized his differences with the Democratic president over coal, abortion, guns, same-sex marriage and immigration. But he said the national party's stances are a growing liability for Democrats here, and asked, "How many more red flags do I have to have on my back?"
A turning point also may be ahead for the state Legislature, where Republicans picked up 11 House seats in 2012 and need just five more to win a majority. It they can do so, it would be the first time they have run either chamber since 1932.
"I remember the Senate when there was only one Republican, who was by definition the minority leader," Rockefeller said. Now, 10 of 34 state senators are.
A big Republican year up and down the ballot would be proof that West Virginia's political DNA has been altered.
"This 2014 election will be something to watch in West Virginia," Manchin said. "Generation after generation, they voted Democratic because their daddy did and their granddad. That will be broken. You can see that breaking now. You have to earn people's votes."
That is, if they even show up to vote. Last year, West Virginia was the only state where turnout was lower than 50 percent. Among the young, it dropped by half from 2008, to less than 23 percent.
In this state, voter disillusionment does not stem from the big-vs.-small-government debate that rages in Washington. Nor has the tea party movement taken root here to the degree it has elsewhere.
West Virginians "don't have to like government, but they really need it," said Rockefeller, the Standard Oil founder's great-grandson who came to Kanawha and Boone counties as a VISTA volunteer in 1964.
Flinty self-reliance is a source of pride; the state's official motto is "Mountaineers are always free." But with a population that is older, sicker and poorer than most, West Virginia also depends more on government checks than any other state.
Nearly 27 percent of West Virginia's personal income derives from transfer payments, including retirement, disability, medical, unemployment and welfare benefits, according to statistics compiled by Timothy Parker of the U.S. Agriculture Department's Economic Research Service. (Mississippi ranks second, at 25 percent.)
The day after Kennedy was inaugurated, he fulfilled a campaign promise made in West Virginia to use his first executive order to begin the food stamp program. Its first vouchers went to a laid-off miner and his wife from Paynesville, who had 13 children still living at home.
Almost one in five West Virginians receives food stamps today.
Everywhere are reminders of how much West Virginia relies on Washington, and how much Washington has tried to do for West Virginia. One cannot go far without seeing a building or driving on a road named for the late Democratic Sen. Robert C. Byrd, the most influential West Virginian ever in Washington.
"One man's pork is another man's job. Pork has been good investment in West Virginia," said Byrd, who died in 2010. "You can look around and see what I've done."
Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper put it this way: "When people thought of the federal government, they thought of Robert C. Byrd."
As Pineville's defiant display of the Ten Commandments suggests, cultural issues are one reason conservative West Virginians feel so estranged from Washington. The monument went up the week that the U.S. Supreme Court made two landmark rulings that strengthen the cause of same-sex marriage.
Manchin's gun proposal also has been a hot topic. Democratic state Del. Mike Caputo, majority whip of the House of Delegates, said he got into a debate about it at a recent picnic. One of his neighbors, a 90-year-old woman, told him, "Joe's after my guns."
Racism also may play a role in the changing political dynamic of a state where 94 percent of the population is white. Here as elsewhere, people traffic in false rumors that the nation's first black president is a Muslim and that he was born in Africa.
But even assuming prejudice roils beneath the surface, it cannot explain the tectonic shift in West Virginia's political allegiances. Race was not a reason voters rejected Democratic presidential candidates in 2000 and 2004, or why Obama's Election Day total slid seven percentage points from 2008 to 2012.
Leaders in both parties say that what has happened to politics in West Virginia begins with what has happened to coal - an industry that employs about 32,000 in the state, fewer than half the number of jobs it provided in 1976.
Although there always have been booms and busts, people "are convinced that President Obama wants to destroy the coal industry, and that's what's driving our politics," said Raamie Barker, a top adviser to Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
In purely economic terms, coal and the industries it feeds no longer dominate. Nor do the labor unions that gave the Democrats so much of their political muscle. In 1997, Weirton Steel was West Virginia's largest private employer; every year since then, Wal-Mart has held that spot - as it does nationally.