TOP OF 2013: W.Va.’s 150th Birthday

WHEELING – One day was not long enough for Ohio Valley residents to celebrate West Virginia’s 150th birthday on June 20. Therefore, festivities began June 14 and lasted until June 22, giving people multiple opportunities to celebrate the birth of the 35th state in the Union and the only one formed during the Civil War.

The party began with dancing on June 14 as members of the Heritage Dance Association dressed in full 19th-century regalia to perform traditional dances in Center Wheeling.

On June 19, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and state legislators gathered with local community leaders at the West Virginia Independence Hall for the first time in 50 years to meet and discuss the importance of the sesquicentennial event.

That same day, River City Ale Works hosted a block party on 14th Street featuring live entertainment. Businesses in the area added to the festive atmosphere by decorating their windows and buildings.

Wheeling offered a variety of commemorative events and activities on June 20, also known as West Virginia Day, as the state’s birthday itself began with bells tolling, cannon blasts, musket fire, re-enactments and music at Independence Hall.

The party continued as the day went on at Heritage Port with performances by the National Pike Pickers, the Joseph Sisters, the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra, Johnny Staats, Kathy Mattea and Landau Eugene Murphy Jr.

West Virginia Poet Laureate Marc Harshman received a standing ovation after reading his poem, “A Song of West Virginia,” celebrating notable characters in the state’s history.

“The poem was just touching the surface of all the amazing talent and leaders we have in West Virginia,” Harshman said.

Mark Kennedy Shriver, nephew of President John F. Kennedy, visited the city with State Senate President Jeff Kessler and voiced his appreciation for the state’s past.

“West Virginia has a fascinating history,” Shriver said. “The fact that my uncle was here 50 years ago and I was invited back really gives me goosebumps.”

Kessler and the Wheeling Symphony performed a musical recitation of “Lincoln Portrait”, written by Aaron Copeland, with Kessler reading quotes from Lincoln’s lifetime.

Finally, the celebration concluded June 22 as it had begun, with dancing at the Statehood Ball at the McLure Hotel in Wheeling. The Heritage Dance Association once more performed with about 100 guests.