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Floating Capitol

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Battle of the Coalfields



West Virginia
's 2005 population was 1,816,856

Principal Cities:

Charleston 53,421

Huntington 51,475

Wheeling 31,419

Parkersburg 33,099

Morgantown 26,809

Beckley 17,254

Martinsburg 14,972

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June 20, 1863 is the day West Virginia became the 35th State in the Union, the only state born out of the armed conflict of the Civil War. The three primary reasons West Virginia wanted to break way from her mother state, Virginia, were inequality in taxation, unequal representation in the legislature and unequal distribution of funds for public works in which the eastern part of the state was favored. On April 20, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation through which, 60 days later, West Virginia would become a state. On that day Arthur I. Boreman, the state's first governor, and other officers were inaugurated. Wheeling became the first capital. June 20 is now annually observed as "West Virginia Day," a legal holiday in the State.

Lincoln walks at Midnight Statue on the Capitol Grounds in Charleston, WV
Lincoln walks at Midnight Statue on the Capitol Grounds in Charleston, WV
From the beginning of the Civil War, the people in western Virginia fought against seceding from the Union. In the wake of Fort Sumter and President Lincoln's call for volunteers, sentiment in the Virginia Convention shifted. Many delegates who had opposed the secession now just as vigorously opposed the President's intention to use coercive federal powers against a state. When the questions of Virginia's position came to a vote, the majority cast their ballots to join the newly-formed Confederate States of America. However, of the 47 delegates from western Virginia, 32, more than two-thirds voted against leaving the Union. The future of the newly-proposed state depended upon control of western Virginia by the Union.

On June 20, 1861, a new government of Virginia, known as the "Restored Government," with Francis Pierpont as its head, was formed by the Wheeling Convention. This government pledged its support to the federal government in Washington. At a meeting in Wheeling, May 13, 1862, the "Restored Government" passed an act giving formal consent to the formation of a new state. On May 29, 1862, a bill was presented to the U. S. Congress requesting that a new state be formed and admitted to the Union. The bill forming the state of West Virginia was passed by the Congress and signed into law by President Lincoln on December 31, 1862. In 1915, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that West Virginia owed Virginia over $12 million in pre-separation debt. The final debt payment was made in 1939.

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When West Virginia became a state in 1863, the Capitol building was at the Linsly Institute in Wheeling. In 1870, the State Legislature designated Charleston as the Capital city. Citizens of Kanawha County provided a packet, Mountain Boy, to move all state records and properties down the Ohio River and up the Kanawha River to their new home in Charleston.

In 1875, the Legislature voted to return the Capital to Wheeling. This was appealed by the citizens of Charleston and finally settled by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals on September 13 in favor of Wheeling. However, state officials had boarded the steamers Emma Graham and Chesapeake on May 21 to start their trip to Wheeling. State archives and records did not arrive in Wheeling until late September aboard the Iron Valley steamer. This caused state government to be at a standstill for four months. On December 14, 1876, the city of Wheeling presented West Virginia with a new stone structure costing $120,000.

The Legislature struck once more in 1877 and ordered an election to be held on August 7 for the citizens of West Virginia to select a permanent location for the Capital. The vote was between Charleston, Martinsburg and Clarksburg. Thirty days after the election, Henry M. Mathews proclaimed that after eight years, Charleston would be the government's permanent seat. State officials again boarded the Chesapeake in May 1885 to move from Wheeling to Charleston. The steam towboat, Belle Prince, towed the barge, Nick Crewley, with its cargo of state records, papers and library.

The new Capitol opened on May 1, 1885, and served for 36 years until its destruction by fire on January 3, 1921. Ammunition, bought by the West Virginia State Police two years before, was stored on the top floor of the building. The ammunition had been purchased for use in the coal field disputes which had threatened to erupt into civil war. Supposedly several machine guns and rifles were also stored in the Capitol. The heat from the fire set off the ammunition and sent onlookers running in every direction. Smoke could be seen for miles. While firefighters were fighting the fire, two men mounted one of the fire trucks and took off for a joyride around Charleston. Police chased the men and arrested them.

A cry went out again to move the Capital, with Clarksburg, Parkersburg and Huntington expressing interest. State officials authorized the building of a temporary capitol in Charleston one week after the fire. This building was constructed in 42 working days and lasted for six years. The "Pasteboard Capitol," as it was known due to its construction of clapboard and wallboard, was destroyed by fire of unknown origin, on March 2, 1927.

Luckily, the Legislature had authorized the construction of the present Capitol on the north bank of the Kanawha River in 1921. This building was completed in 1932 at a cost of $10 million.

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West Virginia State Capitol in Charleston
West Virginia State Capitol in Charleston


Architect - Cass Gilbert

Completed - February 1932

Cost - $9,491,180.03

Ground Covered - 16 acres

Floor Space - 535,000 square feet

Outside Walls - over 700 carloads of Buff Indiana limestone


Main Unit - Imperial Danby Vermont Marble

Interior view of the dome.
Interior view of the dome.
Wings - Tennessee Marble

Floors - White Vermont Marble and Italian travertine

Dome - Chandelier is Czechoslovakian-imported crystal weighing two tons; 15,000 candle power; 179 feet, 9 inches from the floor; 54 foot-long gold chain lowered by hand winch at a set speed, requiring 3 1/2 hours to lower and 4 1/2 hours to return to stationary position. The chandelier is lowered for cleaning every four years upon the inauguration of a new governor or re-election of an incumbent.

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During the decade following its organization in 1890, the United Mine Workers of America had endeavored to unionize the West Virginia coalfields. The organization's greatest success was in the Kanawha field, where, with the assistance of "Mother" Mary Jones, an elderly union organizer with almost uncanny influence over the miners, most mines were organized by 1902. Unionization proved exceedingly difficult, partly because the law generally favored the operators, who made use of court injunctions to restrain miners from picketing, striking, or molesting company property.

In 1912 - 1913 one of the most serious labor disturbances in West Virginia history occurred on Paint Creek in the Kanawha field. The trouble, which spread to nearby Cabin Creek, arose when coal companies refused to renew contracts under which the miners had worked for several years. The miners countered by striking, whereupon the companies evicted them from their company-owned homes and attempted to operate their mines with imported labor and other strikebreakers. The strike continued for weeks, with tension steadily mounting. Hundreds of coal mining families took up residence in tents and improvised shelters along the public highways and occasionally clashed with the Baldwin-Felts detectives and their armed guards employed by the companies. At Mucklow a pitched battle occurred in which 12 miners and four company guards lost their lives. A few miles below that town, mine officials and others aboard a moving train shot into a tent colony in the middle of the night.

In an effort to combat the disorders, Governor Glasscock proclaimed martial law over the area, and about a hundred persons, including "Mother" Jones, were arrested. When Governor Hatfield took office, he forced the operators to bargain with the United Mine Workers, and the bloody strike came to an end. By then it had gained national attention, and a U. S. Senate committee conducted an investigation into conditions on Paint Creek.

During 1920 - 1921, serious trouble broke out in Logan and Mingo counties. At Matewan a clash between miners and Baldwin-Felts agents resulted in nine deaths, and other confrontations proved almost as bloody. In August, 1921, about three thousand miners from the Kanawha Valley assembled at Marmet for a march upon Mingo County. Although "Mother" Jones tried to dissuade them from their course, they set out for the southern counties. At Blair Mountain they were met by about 1,200 state police, deputy sheriffs, mine guards, and others, who sought to prevent them from reaching their destination. In the ensuing battle of Blair Mountain, with its First World War atmosphere, three men lost their lives and about 40 others were wounded. The miners were defeated, and 543 of them were tried on various charges including treason.

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