Excuse for An Excursion: West Virginia Day at Independence Hall

By Alex, VISTA

Known as the “Birthplace of West Virginia,” Independence Hall is located in Wheeling, West Virginia. It is also known as the “Custom House.” Originally built as a federal custom house in 1859, it is considered the birthplace of West Virginia because it was the site of a series of events leading up to the state’s creation. The building has been lovingly restored with period rooms and exhibitions which interpret the historic and architectural significance of the site.

The structure is recognized as the birthplace of the state of West Virginia because the constitutional conventions that led to the formation of the 35th state took place in this building. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark, the highest designation given to a structure. The building is now operated and maintained by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, with the cooperation and assistance of the West Virginia Independence Hall Foundation.

Located in downtown Wheeling, the three-story structure was built to be the federal custom house for the Western District of Virginia. The building also housed the post office and the federal district court.

Construction began in September 1856, and the building opened in April 1859. On June 13, 1861, the Second Wheeling Convention began in the federal courtroom on the third story of the Custom House. This convention declared the Confederate state government in Richmond illegal; created a Reorganized Government of Virginia loyal to the United States; elected Francis Harrison Pierpont governor of Virginia; and called for the western counties to be formed into a new state. The legislature of the Reorganized Government met in the courtroom from July 1861 to June 1863, and the constitutional convention for the new state met there in late 1861 to early 1862. Governor Pierpont and other state officials used offices on the second floor of the Custom House from June 1861 to early 1864. Thus the Wheeling Custom House served as the capitol building for Reorganized Virginia, although it was never the capitol of West Virginia.

The Custom House remained a federal building until 1907, when a new federal building was completed. An insurance company purchased the structure and over time made many changes. An addition was built on the south end and a fourth floor was added. The variety of businesses located in the building while it was in private hands include a bank, liquor store, night club, and offices for the Hazel Atlas Glass Company.

In 1964, the state purchased the building and leased it to the West Virginia Independence Hall Foundation for a dollar a year. The foundation raised funds to restore the public areas to their 1860 appearance. Original drawings from the National Archives were used to ensure the accuracy of the restoration work. In 1979, West Virginia Independence Hall was opened as a museum administered by the West Virginia Department (now Division) of Culture and History. Independence Hall was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. Each year West Virginia Day is celebrated on June 20th with reenactments, music, speeches, and special programs.

Sources:

http://www.theintelligencer.net/page/content.detail/id/530374/Custom-House-Marks-150-Years—Historian-Honored.html

http://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/1068 (By Gerry Reilly; May 06, 2013) 

http://www.wvcommerce.org/travel/travelplanner/listing/west-virginia-independence-hall-museum/2757/default.aspx

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