CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A book of the history of West Virginia courthouses might not be the stuff of best-sellers, but don't sell it short.
"The stories in this book are not quite as dry as in a regular history book. This is not like a textbook," said Melissa Smith, executive director of the West Virginia Courthouse Facilities Improvement Authority.
"Living Monuments: The Courthouses of West Virginia" is a colorful 196-page book, packed with photographs of courthouses in each of the state's 55 counties, that is being released this week.
The West Virginia Association of Counties supported the book, written by Debra and Richard Warmuth. Patricia L. Hamilton, executive director of the West Virginia Association of Counties, hopes the book promotes a renewed interest in the state's history.
Hamilton said her organization plans to present the new book to libraries, eighth grade history classes and historical societies throughout the Mountain State.
"The courthouse is usually the most elaborate and beautiful building in the county," Michael Workman, a West Virginia State University professor, wrote in a chapter about the history of courthouses.
Mountain State courthouses have a "wonderful diversity," Workman said, in part reflecting "the period of construction, the wealth of the county, the knowledge and attitude of those who commissioned the buildings and the imagination and vision of their architects."
Some courthouses are relatively simple, Workman said, but others show a variety of styles, including Georgian, Federal, Greek, Gothic, Romanesque, Italianate, Colonial, Neo-Classical, Beaux Arts, Art Deco and Modern.
"Living Monuments" focuses on the history of each courthouse, citing the years when each one was built and featuring photographs displaying various styles of architecture, outside and inside each building.
Many sections include photographs of previous county courthouses. Chapters also feature photographs of historic items on courthouse grounds today, including statues, stone monuments, large bells, clocks, war memorials and Civil War cannons.
One photograph features a couple taking their wedding vows inside the historic Berkeley County Courthouse, constructed in 1855 and 1856 -- before West Virginia became a state.
The oldest courthouses, Smith said, are in Charles Town in Jefferson County, Lewisburg in Greenbrier County and Wellsburg in Brooke County. They were completed in 1836, 1837 and 1849, respectively.
The Jefferson County Courthouse, "while having major changes, retains the basic structure of its 1836 construction. Originally, the ground floor was the courtroom and the site of the trial of John Brown," according to the new book. Brown led the raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, a pivotal event leading up to the Civil War.