By CHAD ABSHIRE
WILLIAMSON — Today marks West Virginia’s 149th birthday.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin joined the West Virginia Division of Culture and History in celebrating the occasion.
“West Virginia Day is a wonderful opportunity to highlight the rich heritage and cultural traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation,” Tomblin said. “After 149 years of statehood, there are countless West Virginians who deserve to be honored for their contributions to the Mountain State. On this day, I encourage all West Virginians celebrate all that makes our state great.”
The 35th state to enter the Union, West Virginia came to be after breaking away from its mother state during the Civil War following the Wheeling Conventions, two meetings in 1861 that ultimately repealed the Ordinance of Secession passed by Virginia.
On June 20, 1863, West Virginia was admitted to the Union and was the only state to form by seceding from a Confederate state, and was one of two states formed during the American Civil War, the other being Nevada.
“A citizen in 1861 Virginia could only speculate how the Civil War might affect the South, and especially within one’s own state,” U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall wrote in an email to the Daily News. “Nevertheless, the young president of this still new and evolving union of the people, pondered the fate of a nation and the lasting imprint his decisions would make on the history of our United States – the greatest democracy on earth.”
Rahall wrote that, on the day West Virginia became West Virginia, the “pioneer spirit of the many who had settled in the western region of the state of Virginia was soaring high and strong that day.
“‘Mountaineers’ had longed for this independence since 1769,” Rahall wrote. “Our state motto, ‘Montani simper liberi’ — Mountaineers are always free — is a reflection of our dedication to family, friends and neighbors, and our commitment to deeply value life and liberty.”
As West Virginia grew and dealt with its new freedom, it struggled with where to locate its state capital. The location of the capital switched between Wheeling and Charleston for more than 20 years,. Between 1863 and 1870, Wheeling was the capital’s location. It moved to Charleston in 1870 and stayed there until 1875. It returned to Wheeling in 1875 until it burned down in 1885. Finally, in that same year, it went back to Charleston, where it has been since.
“It was a political tug of war between cities and lawmakers,” Rahall wrote. “With steamboats Mountain Boy, Emma Graham, Chesapeake and the Iron Valley, packed with state officials and state archives travelling along the Ohio and Kanawha rivers so often, many West Virginians of the time described the journeys as ‘The Floating Capitol.’”
In its 149 years of existence, West Virginia has cultivated a number of large and small cities. While not overwhelmingly populated, West Virginia still boasts a large population of over 100,000 in its two biggest cities: Charleston at 51,400; and Huntington at 49,138.
Again, for 149 years, people from all over the world have come to the Mountain State to enjoy the scenery and tour around. With a number of state parks and tourist attractions to choose from already, along with the recent attention given to the local area with the Hatfield-McCoy shows, tours and festivals going on, it would be impossible to estimate the amount of people whom have been treated by West Virginia.
Celebrations in Logan, Charleston, Moundsville and Wheeling include four new exhibits, special tours, historic speeches and characters, and, obviously, birthday cake.
In Logan, the public is invited to meet with experts in tracing family roots at the Museum in the Park at Chief Logan State Park. From 10 a.m. until 3 p.m., members of the Logan County Genealogical Society will be on hand to explain how to research family history, where to find documents and how to fill out and read a multigenerational chart. They also will provide lists of available online and published resources.
For more information about these events, contact the West Virginia Division of Culture and History at (304) 558-0220, West Virginia Independence Hall at (304) 238-1300, Grave Creek Mound at (304) 843-4128, or Museum in the Park at (304) 792-7229.
“West Virginia Day is often a time for family celebrations of some sort, like a family picnic or barbecue, with hiking and swimming, but we should also take time to reflect on the historical side of our great state,” Rahall wrote. “Happy Birthday, West Virginia, and may God continue to bless our beautiful and bountiful state.”