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W.Va. turns 149

Lawrence Pierce
Workers at the state Culture Center set up panels on Tuesday detailing West Virginia's journey to statehood. The panels are part of today's West Virginia Day celebration and will remain up in honor of the state's sesquicentennial.
Lawrence Pierce Bryan Ward Jr., assistant director of archives and history for the state Division of Culture and History, points out detail in an early drawing of the proposed Capitol building by architect Cass Gilbert. Today marks the 80th anniversary of the dedication of the Capitol building.
Lawrence Pierce Early drawings of the proposed Capitol building showed large chambers and heroic statues.

On this date next year, West Virginia will celebrate its 150th birthday.

But Wednesday's events for the 149th anniversary of the state will also serve as a kickoff for the yearlong 150th festivities, said Charles Morris III, director of museums for the state Division of Culture and History.

There are no concrete plans for the sesquicentennial yet, and there probably won't be for a few months, said Caryn Gresham, spokeswoman for the West Virginia Division of Culture and History.

She did say there will be a special exhibit in the Great Hall of the Culture Center at the Capitol Complex and some video reflections about what West Virginia means to people.

West Virginia officially became the 35th state in the Union on June 20, 1863. Wednesday, the Capitol will host activities from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to mark its 149th birthday.

This year's West Virginia Day celebration will also commemorate the 80th anniversary of the dedication of the Capitol building.

Bryan Ward Jr., assistant director of archives and history for the state Division of Culture and History, will give a lecture at 11:30 a.m. in the Great Hall about the relationship between Cass Gilbert -- the architect of the Capitol -- and the people of West Virginia.

"He believed in monumental architecture, and the folks of West Virginia believed in the common man," Ward said.

On Tuesday, Ward pulled out blueprints and drawings of the plans for the Capitol building to illustrate Gilbert's elaborate renderings. One drawing placed the Capitol on a hill, with sprawling, columned buildings at its base. Other pictures showed cubbyholes cut out of the building's walls for ornate statues and decorative patterns carved into the front of the Capitol.

Gilbert's design got scaled back due to budget constraints, Ward said. Although the construction began in 1924, before the Great Depression hit, the economy in West Virginia was already struggling because of a depression in the coal industry. The Capitol building came in $372,722 under budget, costing taxpayers $6.4 million.

"I think you see the old West Virginia character in that building," Ward said.

During today's celebration, there will also be historic characters roaming the state museum and tours of the Capitol, Morris said.

People can also videotape a segment about what West Virginia means to them, which will be used for the 150th celebration next year. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin will cut birthday cake at 12:15 p.m.

All activities are free and open to the public.

Other events for the 149th anniversary across the state include:

  • Tours of West Virginia Independence Hall in Wheeling
  • Activities at the Grave Creek Mound and Archaeological Complex in Moundsville
  • A workshop about researching family history at the Museum in the Park at Chief Logan State Park
  • Reach Alison Matas at alison.matas@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5100.


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