There are about 200 museums in West Virginia. Most are dedicated to one subject, usually some aspect of history, but there are many that take more than one or two subjects as their mission. Some museums display traveling exhibits on various subjects. Some have diverse permanent collections.
There are 12 museums operated by the state or national government in West Virginia. The West Virginia State Museum in the Culture Center in Charleston is the oldest museum in the state, founded in 1905, and has the largest collection, 56,000 objects of history, art, technology, and natural science. There are 13 historical state parks. Cass Scenic Railroad State Park’s collection of geared, steam, mountain-logging locomotives is unique in the nation.
There are six county historical museums and nine city museums. There are about 60 historic house museums. One of the finest is the Oglebay Mansion Museum in Wheeling. It is one of the four largest museums in West Virginia. There are also many historic courthouses. The historic federal building where the statehood debates took place in Wheeling is today a museum, West Virginia Independence Hall.
There are 11 forts, military museums, and battlefield parks. Pricketts Fort is a reconstructed stockade with cabins, where the 18th-century frontier is interpreted. Adjacent to the stockade is the restored early 19th-century Job Prickett House.
There are seven glass museums. Oglebay Glass Museum has a superlative collection from five 19th-century glass factories in Wheeling. The Fenton Glass Company has a room with a large selection of the many types of glass that the company made throughout the 20th century. There are two glass factory museums.
There are three police museums. For example, the Fayette County Jail and Law Enforcement Museum is in an old jail and tells about penology and law enforcement.
There are nine transportation museums, most related to railroads. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum is located in the 1905 Beaux Arts-style station in Wheeling, now West Virginia Northern Community College. There is a firefighting museum in Huntington.
There are seven restored schools and education museums. For example, the Nicholas County Historical Society has restored the Irish Corner one-room school and located it in Memorial Park in Summersville. There are two farm museums, including the West Virginia State Farm Museum at the Mason County Fairgrounds near Point Pleasant.
There are 23 art museums. Eight are associated with colleges, but the most prominent is the privately administered Huntington Museum of Art housed in the Bauhaus-style building designed by architect Walter Gropius. There, the museum shows its important permanent collection and a regular program of changing exhibitions. It is one of the four largest museums.
There are two children’s museums, including the Youth Museum of Southern West Virginia in Beckley. The Youth Museum presents changing exhibitions. In 2000, it received a prestigious national award from the National Endowment for the Arts. The Buckskin Area Council Boy Scout Museum in Charleston is the largest such museum, although there are good scout exhibits in other museums.
There are 12 science museums and nature centers. The Museum of Radio and Technology in Huntington shows the development of electronic technology in the 20th century. The Core Arboretum at West Virginia University is one of three arboretums. The Good Children’s Zoo in Oglebay Park and the West Virginia Wildlife Center in French Creek are the two zoos in the state.
Sunrise Museum, previously located in Sunrise Mansion in Charleston and one of the four largest museums, changed its name to the Avampato Discovery Center and moved to a new home in the Clay Center for the Arts & Sciences in 2003. The Cook-Hayman Pharmacy Museum at West Virginia University is the only pharmacy museum. There are two coal institutions. The Exhibition Coal Mine and Coal Camp in Beckley exhibits methods of mining and mining artifacts.
There are six African-American museums. The Zion A.M.E. Church and the Freedom Cabin show what life was like when Booker T. Washington was a child in Malden.
There are four religious sites. Among them is the Rehoboth Church Museum in Union, Monroe County, one of three 18th-century log buildings in the state.
The West Virginia Association of Museums was organized in 1990 to strengthen the state’s museums individually and as a group. Every year an annual conference is held, and workshops are presented on a variety of specialized subjects including conservation of objects, basic museum operations, cataloging, disaster preparedness, and interpretation.
This Article was written by James R. Mitchell
Last Revised on October 20, 2010