Travis Henline is proud to say West Virginia Independence Hall hasn't looked better since state fathers declared their unwavering loyalty to the Union within its walls - and he can't wait to show it off when the Mountain State celebrates its 149th birthday Wednesday.
In addition to the traditional historical re-enactments, West Virginia Day festivities at the museum this year will feature the debut of two exhibits, including one detailing more than 40 years of work to restore the building to its 1860s appearance, according to Henline, site manager for the facility.
The museum, located at the corner of 16th and Market streets in downtown Wheeling, opens at 10 a.m. with special tours led by guides in historical garb scheduled every 30 minutes throughout the day.
Photo by Ian Hicks
West Virginia Independence Hall Site Manager Travis Henline stands on the front steps of the museum in downtown Wheeling, which is preparing to celebrate West Virginia Day on Wednesday.
At 2 p.m., re-enactors will deliver speeches given by Francis H. Pierpont, governor of the Restored Government of Virginia, and Arthur I. Boreman, West Virginia's first governor, on June 20, 1863, the date the Mountain State officially was admitted to the Union.
The official opening of the two new exhibits, "Restoring the Glory: West Virginia Independence Hall" and "Uncommon Vernacular" - a temporary exhibit exploring historic architecture - will be at 3 p.m., and birthday cake and punch will be served at 3:30 p.m. to conclude the day's festivities. Both of the exhibits are located on the second floor.
"As the birthplace of West Virginia we commemorate every June 20 - West Virginia Day - with special events and programs to recognize the efforts of our statehood founders," Henline said. "It is important for people to realize that the conventions which led to West Virginia's statehood took place here at the U.S. Custom House in Wheeling."
It was in the former custom house that representatives from Virginia's western counties met beginning in 1861 and, declaring that state officials had vacated their offices when Virginia seceded from the Union, formed the "Restored Government of Virginia." That body, which some argued was formed illegally, then voted to apply for admission as America's 35th state.
President Abraham Lincoln sided with the "restored" government, and the only state ever formed entirely from another existing state - and the only one admitted during the Civil War - was born.
The state purchased the building in 1964 and began the long process of transforming the museum into what it is today. Much of that work was guided by original architectural drawings.
Restoration of the third-floor courtroom was completed late last year, and a Connecticut firm recently recreated the building's original trompe l'oeil - French for "deceive the eye" - artwork.
The restoration exhibit will feature a timeline of the work, news articles and displays featuring original ceiling sections that have been in storage for decades.
"I am very pleased that we now are going to have the opportunity to present the story of the building's restoration to the public," Henline said. "Many people worked for many years ... and it's important to recognize their efforts."
Henline said the newly restored room that will house the "Uncommon Vernacular" exhibit will be used for rotating exhibits.