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The Sesquicentennial


In June 2013, West Virginia celebrated its 150th birthday with concerts, parades, speeches, lectures, fireworks, and other activities throughout the state. Governor Earl Ray Tomblin launched the Sesquicentennial celebration at 1:50 p.m. June 20 with the ringing of a bell. During the ceremony, poet laureate Marc Harshman read excerpts from “A Song for West Virginia,” a poem commemorating the Sesquicentennial.

Over three nights, thousands of people gathered at the Capitol and across the Kanawha River to view a 3-D presentation, called “A Century and a Half of West Virginia Pride,” that was projected onto the front of the Capitol. The six-minute show highlighted tourism and industry as well as famous residents, including Mary Lou Retton, Robert C. Byrd, Jerry West, and Chuck Yeager. The show was followed by fireworks that were shot off from the roof of the Capitol.

Sesquicentennial activities took place throughout the state on June 20. At West Virginia Independence Hall in Wheeling, the milestone was marked by historic speeches, re-enactments, and musical performances. A concert at the city’s Heritage Port featured West Virginians Kathy Mattea and Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. Parkersburg celebrated with re-enactments at Fort Boreman.

The celebration of statehood came in the midst of the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. As the only state created out of the Civil War, this commemoration is special for West Virginia. For West Virginians, the Civil War era began with John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859 and accelerated with the commencement of fighting in 1861. As soon as it was apparent that Virginia would abandon the Union, the founders of West Virginia made plans to leave Virginia. President Lincoln called their action “our secession,” and on June 20, 1863, West Virginia became the nation’s 35th state.

The region that became West Virginia saw a great deal of military activity during the four years of conflict. What many consider the first land battle of the war took place at Philippi on June 3, 1861, when about 3,000 federal troops drove about 800 Confederates from the town. The largest military engagements fought within the borders of West Virginia were at Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown in 1862, Droop Mountain in 1863, and Summit Point in 1864.

Numerous smaller actions also were fought at places such as Scary Creek, Cheat Mountain, and Carnifex Ferry in 1861, Lewisburg in 1862, Bulltown in 1863, and Charles Town in 1864. West Virginians fought in both the Union and Confederate armies, and some towns changed hands numerous times.

The West Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission, created in 2009, coordinated the state’s commemoration. For information, go to

The West Virginia Humanities Council began its Sesquicentennial programming with an October 2009 lecture on the 150th anniversary of John Brown’s raid at the Jefferson County Courthouse where Brown was tried. The event was broadcast nationally on C-Span’s Book TV. The Council offered other commemorative programs, including the Sesquicentennial Speakers Bureau. In addition, a special exhibit called Born of Rebellion toured the state. This exhibit explored the constitutionality of statehood.

e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia, a project of the West Virginia Humanities Council, includes hundreds of articles pertaining to the Civil War and the creation of West Virginia. These are marked with a special “150” logo.

Watch the October 2009 lecture at the Jefferson County Courthouse on Book TV

View the video 150 in 3-D: A Century and a Half of West Virginia Pride at the state sesquicentennial website.

Search for all sesquicentennial articles.

Written by Becky Calwell