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West Virginia celebrates 150 years of statehood

June is chock-full of celebrations and re-enactments

By Karen Nitkin
For The Baltimore Sun

11:36 AM EDT, June 7, 2013

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West Virginia, the only state created during the Civil War, was born 150 years ago, on June 20, 1863, when the state of Virginia was split in two to add a Union state. These days, West Virginia is known for its resorts and outdoor recreation. With historic downtowns that still boast plenty of architecture from pre-statehood days, the past seems close in West Virginia. This year, but particularly in June, the state is marking its big birthday with music, parades, reenactments, and other special events.

With its cool forests and rivers, West Virginia beckons as summer heats up. If you've been wanting a weekend getaway in West Virginia, why not combine it with a dose of history? We've picked a few events that look especially fun, with some information about visiting those towns.

Charleston

The state's capital will host a state birthday celebration June 20-23. It will begin with a ceremony at the Gilbert Cass-designed Capitol at precisely 1:50 on June 20, which will include the ringing of bells throughout the entire state. The West Virginia Symphony and Appalachian Children's Chorus will perform at 7:30 that night on the steps of the Capitol building, and there will be fireworks at 10 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. 

The heart of the celebration will be June 22, with events all day that include history lectures, re-enactments, live music and a chili cook-off. The Charleston Light Opera Guild will perform "Civil War," a musical, afternoons and evenings at the Culture Center Theater. The show is free on June 20, and $20 the other times. charlestonlightoperaguild.org

Charleston is about a 61/2-hour drive from Baltimore, so you'll want to spend a couple of days or more. There are plenty of hotels, restaurants, museums and other attractions. After strolling through the eclectic downtown, enjoying a meal or two and visiting the Clay Center for the Arts & Sciences, you might try your luck with the slot machines at the Mardi Gras Casino & Resort

Wheeling

The state's founding fathers met to hash out the details of statehood in Wheeling's West Virginia Independence Hall, where celebrations will take place. Events will start June 20, with ceremonies and re-enactments, including a speech by an actor portraying Francis Harrison Pierpont, Virginia governor from 1865 to 1868 and an architect of West Virginia statehood. wheelingcvb.com/150th-celebration.php

The day will also include concerts, fireworks and tours of the state's first Capitol. The Blue & Grey Choir will perform at 7 p.m. June 21 at Independence Hall, and the Wheeling Arts Fest will take place Saturday, with a Civil War Ball scheduled for the McLure Hotel at 6 p.m.

Leading up to the big day, Wheeling is putting the birth of West Virginia in historic context, with a talk this Thursday by historian and scholar Forest "Jack" Bowman called "The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln: Emancipation and West Virginia Statehood."

Wheeling, located in the state's northern panhandle, is about a five-hour drive from Baltimore and is known for its historic architecture and scenic riverfront along the Ohio River. Visitors can walk across the Wheeling Suspension Bridge, built in 1849 and considered a gateway to the American West, see glass-blowing demonstrations at the Carriage House Museum, and visit the Historic Centre Market, the oldest continually operating market in the state, for collectibles and food, including famous fish sandwiches from Coleman's Fish. http://www.wheelingcvb.com

Lewisburg

Lewisburg is celebrating the state's birthday on the lawn of Carnegie Hall, 105 Church St., with a birthday cake and music starting at noon June 20. Carnegie Hall, a nonprofit performing arts center built in 1902 and one of just four Carnegie Halls in the world, will also host a traditional square dance starting at 7 p.m. Lewisburg's downtown is crowded with sidewalk cafes, art galleries and locally owned clothing stores. About a five-hour drive from Baltimore, it's in the heart of the Greenbrier Valley and less than 20 minutes from the luxurious Greenbrier Hotel in nearby White Sulphur Springs. If you're in White Sulphur Springs on June 20, consider checking out Third Thursday, a downtown celebration with arts and music. 

Beverly

This small town (population 702) is home to the Rich Mountain Battlefield, site of a decisive 1861 Civil War battle that gave Union troops access to an important mountain pass known as the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike. The Beverly Heritage Center, an interpretive museum and visitor center, is the starting place for learning about the history of the region. Constructed between 2004 and 2012, the center combines four historic buildings in the heart of Beverly, including the 1808 courthouse and the 1856 Bushrod Crawford building, where Gen. George McClellan made his headquarters during the Rich Mountain campaign. 

On June 15, the Beverly Heritage Center (4 Court St.) will host a birthday celebration, with period music and re-enactments, including talks from actors portraying Governor Pierpont and John S. Carlisle, a Virginia senator from 1847 to 1851 who opposed the formation of West Virginia.

Driving to Beverly from Baltimore takes about 41/2 hours. Beverly is known for its rural charms and access to hiking, biking and horse-riding trails. Most of the downtown buildings were constructed in the 19th and early 20th century. Lodging and restaurants can be found in the nearby towns of Davis and Elkins