The first West Virginia state capitol was the 1859 Linsly Institute building in Wheeling, serving from June 20, 1863, to April 1, 1870. The building, still a Wheeling landmark, combines the Greek Revival and Italianate architectural styles. In 1870, the state capital was moved to Charleston. One of Charleston’s most prominent citizens, Dr. John P. Hale, was given the contract for construction of a suitable building and ended up paying most of the cost himself. The 1870 capitol was built in the Italianate style, with Romanesque details. The legislature approved the return of the capital to Wheeling and on December 4, 1876, the city presented the state with a new structure. The 1876 capitol was a handsome blend of Greek Revival and Romanesque architectural styles, each facade dominated by a full-height pedimented porch.
The 1877 legislature decided to put the question of the capital location to a vote of the people. The election pitted the three cities of Charleston, Clarksburg, and Martinsburg against each other. Charleston won the vote, and the governor proclaimed that after eight years the city would be the state government’s permanent capital.
The state’s fourth capitol building, the second one in Charleston, was erected, incorporating the 1870 capitol into the new structure. The 85 rooms of the new building, which housed all the departments of state government, were completely occupied in 1887. The so-called Victorian capitol was built in the Second Empire style, with a mansard roof, gabled wall dormers, and towers. In 1903, an annex was built across the street. The annex was torn down in 1967.
On January 3, 1921, the Victorian capitol was destroyed by a fire of unknown origin. A temporary wood-frame building, located on the future site of the Daniel Boone Hotel, was erected in just 42 days and became known as the ‘‘pasteboard capitol.’’ This 166-room building experienced the same fate as its predecessor when on March 2, 1927, it was completely destroyed by fire.
After the 1921 fire, a State Capitol Commission was created to find a permanent location for a complex of buildings that would serve the needs of the state government for a long time. A site in the east end of Charleston was selected, and noted architect Cass Gilbert was selected to design the capitol building. Gilbert designed three interconnecting units—the west wing was completed in 1925, the east wing in 1927, and the main domed unit in 1932.
This Article was written by Stan Cohen