Explore history at Independence Hall

WHEELING – Visitors can take a step back in time at the birthplace of West Virginia at Independence Hall.

The state of West Virginia was formed within its walls in the third floor courtroom where arguments rang forth supporting loyalty to the Union.

“We are a first class museum, historical site with programs offered throughout the year. We also have special programs, concerts, re-enactments, plays, lectures and presentations,” said Travis Henline, site manager.

West Virginia Independence Hall, 1528 Market St, was built in 1859 originally as a customs house as the economy expanded in the second largest city of the state of Virginia. The structure of wrought iron I-beams and box girders with cast iron columns was a forerunner of today’s skyscrapers.

Independence Hall is operated by the Division of Culture and History.

“Of course, West Virginia Day June 20 is always a special time for us. This was the birthplace of the state and that is the biggest event for us during the year. We do a lot of school group tours and other groups and offer scavenger hunts, mock trials. We have 28,000 square feet of museum exhibits dealing with the Civil War and West Virginia statehoood,” Henline said.

Visitors from the Wood County area will be interested in displays and exhibits relating to Parkersburg residents who played a part in the formation of the new state including U.S. Federal Judge John Jay Jackson Jr., Henline said.

Jackson’s father, Gen. John Jay Jackson attended the Wheeling Convention. Jackson’s brother, Jacob Beeson Jackson, served as governor of West Virginia and his other brother was circuit judge and congressman James Monroe Jackson.

His grandfather, John George Jackson preceded him as judge of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia

Peter VanWinkle, a Parkersburg attorney, was a member of the Virginia State constitutional convention in 1850. He was a member of the Wheeling reorganization convention in 1861 and a delegate to the state convention that framed the constitution of West Virginia.

He was a member of the House of Delegates in 1863. Upon admission of West Virginia as a state, he was elected as a Unionist to the U.S. Senate.

Arthur Boreman of Parkersburg, the first governor of West Virginia, had his offices in the building for the first year of statehood.

According to the Division of Culture and History, nearly six years before President Lincoln signed the proclamation making West Virginia the 35th state in the Union, construction had begun on the Wheeling Custom House, headquarters for federal offices for the Western District of Virginia.

Its completion, coinciding with the beginning of the Civil War, provided a facility for heated political discussions and constitutional conventions that led to eventual statehood for West Virginia in 1863. Here, issues dividing many Virginians, including slavery, were debated, compromised and shaped into the skeleton of statehood.

In 1902, the state acquired a collection of 60 Civil War battle flags. The collection was placed in the state museum in Charleston.

Over time, the flags deteriorated and at about mid-century they were placed in storage. An attempt was made to restore and preserve the flags, but the process sped up the deterioration. Thus the flags remained hidden from public view for nearly 50 years.

In 2001, the commissioner of the Division of Culture and History decided Independence Hall, because of its unique connection to the Civil War, was the perfect location to exhibit these flags. Twelve West Virginia flags and one captured Confederate flag were selected and a project was launched to repair the damages from previous preservation efforts.

Admission to the museum is free and visitors can take a self-guided tour, or schedule a tour.

The museum, which is on the National Registry of Historic Landmarks is nonprofit.