150 Icons That Define West Virginia
CHARLESTON – Eleanor Steber, Chuck Yeager, John Corbett and Brad Paisley. Pattern glass from J.H. Hobbs, Brockunier & Co. and Central Glass Co. Marsh Wheeling stogies, Weirton Steel and the Wheeling Corrugating Co. The PRT in Morgantown, and the New Deal community of Arthurdale.
What do these people, items and places, along with many others representing the Northern Panhandle and the state, have in common? They have been honored by the West Virginia Cultural Commission as being among the 150 most significant people, places and events in West Virginia’s storied 150-year history.
The West Virginia 150 exhibit, currently on display at the state museum in Charleston, is a must-see for any fan of the Mountain State’s history, or those who are gaining interest as the state nears its 150th birthday on June 20. It provides a look at the state from 1863 to present, and highlights many of the unique and interesting items that make West Virginia the place we call home.
The exhibit appropriately starts with statehood, featuring the bust of President Abraham Lincoln sculpted by Fred Martin Torrey in 1933 that inspired the Lincoln Walks at Midnight sculpture now standing on the state Capitol grounds. The items on display give a brief picture of the issues surrounding the new state in the 1860s, and then go, decade by decade, from the 1860s to present.
Among items of note from the 1860s is Lincoln’s proclamation of April 20, 1863, admitting West Virginia as the 35th state in the Union. There’s also information on the Battle of Droop Mountain and a profile of Arthur Ingram Boreman, the state’s first governor.
From the 1870s, there are several pieces of glassware from J.H. Hobbs, Brockunier & Co., while the 1880s feature pattern glass from Central Glass Co. and a Greenwood Stove from the former Star Foundry in Wheeling. The 1890s feature a covered bucket from the former Wheeling Corrugating Co. along with the Hatfield family and Henry Gassaway Davis and Stephen Elkins.
The 1900s highlight Bloch Bros. Tobacco, Grave Creek Mound and memorabilia from the former Weirton Steel Corp. Items of note from 1910-1920 include the Gravely Tractor, designed in Kanawha County, and the city of Nitro, short for “nitrocellulose,” which was produced there for chemical and ammunition production by the federal government during World War I.
The 1920s feature, among other things, the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra, which began in 1929; the 1930s mark the New Deal, Homer Laughlin China Co., and the start of the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and the Mountain State Forest Festival.
Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier in 1947 and Herschel “Woody” Williams receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor top the list from that decade, while the 1950s feature Wheeling native Eleanor Steber, Marble King in Paden City, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory at Green Bank and Mister Bee potato chips.
West Virginia’s role in John Kennedy’s election is highlighted in the 1960s, along with The Wheeling Jamboree and Morgantown native Don Knotts. Wheeling native Peter Marshall and the New River Gorge Bridge showcase the 1970s, while the 1980s feature Kathy Mattea, gold medal gymnast Mary Lou Retton and the PRT in Morgantown.
In the 1990s, the focus is on the Toyota plant, the FBI center in Clarksburg and Rocket Boy Homer Hickam.
Former U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd dominates the 2000s, along with the creation of the Promise Scholarship. The 2010s features five state natives who have gained stardom: Wheeling’s John Corbett, Glen Dale’s Brad Paisley, along with Jennifer Garner, Landau Eugene Murphy and Morgan Spurlock.
Aside from the 150 exhibit, the State Museum is a wonderful place to learn about West Virginia’s history, Wheeling’s role in that history and the Northern Panhandle in general. A visit is highly recommended.