150th Celebration Comes to a Close

WHEELING – Dancers dressed in period attire swirled across a ballroom floor in Wheeling. Moundsville residents witnessed live Civil War-style re-enactments at Riverfront Park. And people from Warwood and beyond listened to patriotic tunes and played old-fashioned games at Garden Park.

It was all in the name of celebrating West Virginia’s 150th birthday. Saturday was the final day of events that wrapped up a week-long list of activities and speeches in Wheeling and across the state.

The Statehood Ball took place at the McLure Hotel in Wheeling. Along with members of the Heritage Dance Association, the affair offered about 100 guests dinner and dancing. Jeremy Morris, executive director of the Wheeling National Heritage Corp., welcomed attendees.

Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va, remarked on the importance of the occasion, noting his family has a special connection to statehood celebrations. He said his grandfather, Johnson Camden McKinley of Wheeling, served as chairman of the 1913 statehood ball in the city. It was during that event that a well-meaning matchmaker introduced Camden McKinley to Agra Bennett of Weston, W.Va., who became Mrs. McKinley a few months later.

Wheeling resident James Gilligan enjoyed the ball, citing its authentic feel.

”It’s very interesting. I really like the music. It seems like it’s really from the time period,” Gilligan said as dancers promenaded around the ballroom.

Chriss Fontaine-Covington, also of Wheeling, described the ball as ”wonderful.”

”I wish more people were here,” Covington added.

Wheeling resident Sandy Smith enjoyed the music and the dancing. And first-time Wheeling visitor Beverly Hohman of Clinton, Md., delighted in the festivities.

”It’s been fantastic. I really enjoy Civil War history,” she said.

Earlier in the day in Moundsville, as he addressed the crowd at Riverfront Park, state Senate President Jeff Kessler used the moment to remind those in attendance that one of the things that makes West Virginia great is its people. Kessler cited a quote from President John F. Kennedy during the 100th birthday celebration of the state in 1963, which he said holds true.

”He said, ‘The sun does not always shine in West Virginia, but the people always do,”’ Kessler said. ”No truer words could have been spoken.”

Kessler, D-Marshall, was one of several local and state legislators on hand for Moundsville’s celebration of the state’s 150th birthday. He read the proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln that made West Virginia a state as part of the opening ceremonies. Delegate Dave Evans, R-Marshall, led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag, while Delegate Mike Ferro, D-Marshall, recited the pledge to the West Virginia state flag.

The ceremony kicked off an afternoon of events, including live entertainment, re-enactments and displays, including research projects on West Virginia done by students in Marshall County. Organizers also distributed the first edition of a coloring book called ”The People and Places of Marshall County,” created by Marshall County students. Of the 1,000 copies made, more than 800 had been given out prior to Saturday to promote history and education to youth across the state.

Other events celebrating the state’s birthday were held across the county, including at the Marshall County Historical Society Museum, the Dakan Homestead at Roseby’s Rock and the Cockayne Farmstead in Glen Dale.

In Wheeling, a crowd gathered in Warwood’s Garden Park to continue celebrating the state’s sesquicentennial. The day’s events, sponsored by the Warwood Lions Club, began at 10:30 a.m. with a parade along Warwood Avenue. Floats, military vehicles, Osiris Shriners, the Warwood Community Band, police cruisers and fire trucks drove by as spectators snapped photos. Five-year-olds Molly George and Landon Berkich waived miniature American flags and hopped up and down in excitement as a pair of farm tractors passed.

Festivities resumed at noon as people gathered in the shade of Garden Park to escape from the beaming sunshine and listen to musicians sing patriotic songs. Some tunes celebrated freedom, while others remembered those who sacrificed in pursuit of liberty. There were plenty of songs in honor of the Mountain State, and the crowd joined in to belt out a favorite, John Denver’s ”Country Roads.”

Face painters decorated the cheeks of smiling children before they ran off to participate in games at the nearby baseball field. Among the anticipated competitions were sack races, an egg toss, marble shooting and a three-legged race.

Staff Writers J.W. Johnson Jr., Tyler Reynard and Art Limann contributed to this report.