One hundred and fifty years ago, we had diverging identities.
The state’s founders thought we should leave Confederate Virginia. And when they pressed the point, most of those who disagreed didn’t vote, which of course ensured things didn’t go their way.
Then, there was the matter of a name.
We could have been called Kanawha.
Then Augusta, Vandalia, New Virginia. Most of the 44 people who voted at the state’s convention thought West Virginia was best.
And on June 20, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln brought the state shaped by war and dissension into the Union.
The state’s flagship university is taking the 150th anniversary day to remember and celebrate our place in the nation’s history.
Events include a day of speakers and an exhibit through the West Virginia University Libraries, a birthday celebration with cake at E. Moore Hall and a Birthday-in-a-Box educational kit for young people across the state.
When Lincoln walked at midnight
The WVU Libraries and the West Virginia and Regional History Center have organized multiple events to celebrate West Virginia’s 150th birthday on June 20.
Festivities will feature a panel discussion, an exhibit of historical artifacts and documents, a traveling exhibit on President Abraham Lincoln, a Lincoln impersonator well-versed on the 16th president, a commemorative West Virginia Day poster, and, of course, a birthday cake.
“We plan events to mark every anniversary, but the sesquicentennial – 150 years – is a momentous milestone. We are pulling out all stops to make sure this is a special West Virginia Day celebration,” said WVU Libraries Interim Dean Myra N. Lowe.
The day begins at 8:30 a.m. in Wise Library’s Milano Reading Room with a reception followed by a panel discussion that includes John E. Stealey III, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Shepherd University; Robert Bastress, the John W. Fisher II Professor of Law, WVU College of Law; and Matthew Foulds, Professor of History, Shepherd University.
A noted scholar in the areas of American economic and legal history, Stealey just published his fourth book, West Virginia’s Civil War Era Constitution: Loyal Revolution, Confederate Counter-Revolution, and the Convention of 1872.
Bastress, whose areas of expertise are constitutional and local government law, is the author of The West Virginia Constitution: A Reference Guide.
Foulds has focused his work on the intersection of religion and politics in the antebellum and Civil War-era border states. His upcoming book, tentatively titled Enemies of the State, examines how Methodist ministers used their influence to become grassroots political leaders during the secession crisis and the formation of West Virginia.
At 11 a.m., the exhibit opens in the West Virginia and Regional History Center. The first 150 people in attendance will each receive a commemorative West Virginia Day poster.
The exhibit takes a broader look at the state’s creation, examining the differences between eastern and western Virginia.
“The notion that Virginia west of the Allegheny Mountains was fundamentally different from the eastern part of Virginia is an idea that goes way back,” said center Director John Cuthbert. “In Colonial times, at one point, there was consideration of lopping off the western part and making a separate colony out of it. It would have been our 14th colony.”
Economics played a key difference and will be an exhibit focus. Two business ledgers from western Virginia will be displayed detailing frontier economic concerns. Visitors can also view documents focusing on the Richmond government’s lack of interest to spend money to improve roads and education for their western citizens.
A few other highlights include:
• A collection of early maps with a land-grant document signed by Ben Franklin and a compass used to survey the Fairfax Line
• A sketchbook by Joseph H. Diss Debar, an artist and creator of West Virginia’s State Seal, with drawings related to statehood
• Documents and artifacts relating to West Virginia’s three founding fathers, Senator Waitman T. Willey, Governor of the Reorganized Government of Virginia Francis H. Pierpont, and Governor Arthur Boreman
• A new acquisition – a large 35-star flag, bigger than the flag currently on display in the Center – will be unveiled.
Activities then move to The Erickson Alumni Center, site of a traveling exhibit titled Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War.
From noon to 2 p.m., the public is invited to browse the exhibit and enjoy a reception with hors d’oeuvres and birthday cake. On display in Erickson’s Nutting Gallery, the 1,000-square-foot exhibition examines the political and constitutional challenges Lincoln faced during the Civil War: the secession of Southern states, slavery and the suspension of wartime civil liberties.
“Abraham Lincoln was president during a tumultuous time in our country’s history,” Cuthbert said. “This exhibit provides an opportunity to learn more about the complex issues Lincoln grappled with while fighting to preserve the Union.”
The National Constitution Center and the American Library Association Public Programs Office organized the exhibit, which was made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Based on an exhibit of the same name developed by the National Constitution Center, the traveling exhibit features photographic reproductions of original documents, including a draft of Lincoln’s first inaugural speech, the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment. The American Library Association selected WVU as one of a handful of sites to host the exhibit.
At 2 p.m., in conjunction with the exhibit, attendees will meet President Lincoln himself, as portrayed by impersonator Michael Krebs. He will tell stories and answer questions concerning the 16th president’s attitudes toward West Virginia statehood.
The Lincoln exhibit will remain on display through July 26. It will be open to the public from 8:15 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, contact Monte Maxwell, 304-293-0306 or Monte.Maxwell@mail.wvu.edu.
West Virginia history for generations to come
The West Virginia state flag will wave over young 4-H campers in coonskin caps participating in state-based activities submitted from all 55 counties on West Virginia’s 150th birthday.
West Virginia 4-H’s Birthday-in-a-Box contains projects and items for every county to use at 4-H camps and at events throughout the summer to celebrate the state’s Sesquicentennial. WVU Extension Service’s 4-H Civic Engagement Team created the project as a way of answering, “what would you give West Virginia for its birthday?”
The education-based birthday activities focus on a variety of subjects such as history, sciences, creative writing and geography. Some lessons encourage civic pride; others help kids celebrate the state’s birthday by learning a new word, “sesquicentennial.”
“Birthday-in-a-Box gives us a great opportunity to develop a love of West Virginia in our kids,” said WVU Extension 4-H Youth Development Agent Andrea Mender. “We hope to channel their enthusiasm from the fun they have to help them grow into passionate and civically minded adults.”
After receiving a grant from the West Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission, WVU Extension’s Civic Engagement Team collected curriculum, props and ideas from groups around the state.
“We hope to show kids that history doesn’t have to be boring,” said WVU Extension 4-H Cultural Resource Specialist Chad Proudfoot. “We want to celebrate our heritage with them and let them experience the joy of this historical birthday.”
Birthday-in-a Box also includes a 3×5 state flag, a miniature Abraham Lincoln-style top hat, a color map of the state and a replica of the State Seal, a sample of coal and a “Farm Fun” activity book along with several other items.
To learn more about WVU Extension’s West Virginia Sesquicentennial celebrations in your area contact Andrea Mender at 304-574-4253 or the 4-H Civic Engagement Chair Liz Post at 304-269-4660.
A reception will be held in front of E. Moore Hall from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. that will include birthday cake and other refreshments, a prize wheel and West Virginia trivia and corn hole games. In the event of rain, the festivities will move indoors.
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