“The weather conditions were ideal. The sky was purest azure, and a breeze which at times became strong enough to make hearing difficult tempered the rays of the bright sun.” The Wheeling Intelligencer described the weather when thousands, representing at least 28 states, gathered to celebrate West Virginia’s 50th birthday. The semi-centennial was unique among other observances, including the centennial in 1963, in that persons who helped form West Virginia were still alive and able to participate in the celebration.
John E. Day, in a June 1909 editorial in the Wetzel Republican, was the first to suggest that June 20, 1913, be made a special occasion. Public support for the idea was strong. On October 1, 1909, Governor William Ellsworth Glasscock appointed former senator Henry Gassaway Davis to chair a Semi-Centennial Commission. Virgil A. Lewis, state archivist, was named the commission’s historian, but after becoming ill, was replaced by James Morton Callahan, a professor at West Virginia University. Funding for planning and the celebration itself was authorized by the legislatures of 1911 and 1913.
The major focus was on Wheeling, the birthplace of West Virginia. “State Day,” June 20, 1913, featured a “grand parade,” which included Civil War veterans, active army and cadet military units, bands, school groups, and social and fraternal organizations. The latter, representing various ethnic groups, demonstrated the diversification of West Virginia’s population. The parade was followed by a historical pageant, a “sham” battle, speeches by Davis and Governor Henry D. Hatfield and a reading of “Ode to West Virginia,” by its author, J. R. Taylor of Chicago. Joining these dignitaries were five of the six surviving members of the Wheeling Convention of 1861: George R. Latham, William Thomas Brown, John J. Davis, Perry M. Hale and Alpheus Garrison. The sixth surviving member, 91-year-old William T. Grant, was unable to attend. William H. Mann, then the governor of Virginia and a Civil War veteran, had been invited to attend to represent the “mother state” but sent his regrets. Mann attributed his absence to ill health, but he offered no congratulations. Later that day, a male-only “grand banquet” was held with additional remarks by Hatfield and Davis. As West Virginia’s law prohibiting the sale and manufacture of intoxicating beverages was to be effective just 10 days later, Hatfield’s toast to Wheeling, “the best city in the state,” was made with ginger ale. The “court ball,” to which women were invited, began at 10:00 p.m. and extended into the early hours of June 21.
The Semi-Centennial Commission wanted to create a lasting image of the state and asked James. M. Callahan to write a book that would both detail the state’s history and provide articles extolling the state’s resources, natural beauty and economic opportunities. Callahan’s work, published as Semi-Centennial History of West Virginia, was the first comprehensive history of the state.
This Article was written by Kenneth R. Bailey
Last Revised on December 02, 2011
Wheeling Intelligencer, June 19-21, 1913.
James M. Callahan. Semi-Centennial History of West Virginia. Charleston WV: Semi-Centennial Commission of West Virginia, 1913.
Cite This Article
Bailey, Kenneth R. "The Semi-Centennial." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 02 December 2011. Web. 29 March 2017.