WHEELING - Visitors to Independence Hall can learn about West Virginia's birth as the 35th state through the eyes of the wife of a newspaper editor and postmaster who supported the Union during the Civil War or the wife of a doctor who supported the Confederacy.
Visitors can hear from the father of West Virginia, Francis Pierpont, his widowed cousin or a free woman of color as part of the Faces of Wheeling tours.
The new historic characters at Independence Hall will tell tales of history as they guide visitors through the historic landmark which is on the Civil War Discovery Trail.
Originally built as a federal custom house in 1859, Independence Hall was the home of the pro-Union state conventions of Virginia during the spring and summer of 1861 and as the capitol of loyal Virginia from June 1861 to June 1863. It also was the site of the first constitutional convention for West Virginia, which is the only state born of the Civil War.
The state will celebrate its sesquicentennial in 2013 while the sesquicentennial of the Civil War is currently being celebrated.
The first-person character tours will offer perspectives of Wheeling residents during the early years of the Civil War and West Virginia's statehood.
Dee McDowell will portray Ann Campbell, the wife of Archibald Campbell, who was a postmaster and editor of the Daily Intelligencer newspaper. The Campbells were strong Union supporters.
Sue Beth Warren will assume the character of Mary Hughes, whose husband, Dr. Alfred Hughes, was held as a political prisoner for not taking an oath of loyalty to the Union.
Pierpont's character will be portrayed by site manager Travis Henline. Pierpont played an integral role in the formation of the new state of West Virginia, having led the loyal people of the state of Virginia during the Civil War.
Christie Fontaine will assume the character of Elizabeth Blanchard, a free person of color, Union supporter, widowed mother of four, midwife and homemaker. Blanchard moved to Wheeling after her husband obtained his freedom in North Carolina.
Sandy Smith will portray Hannah Shaffer Fortney, Pierpont's widowed cousin. Fortney spent much of her time rallying support for the Union and the Restored Government of Virginia.
The historic characters are available for free to all school programs and tours. For community presentations, bus tours or other groups of 10 or more, a guided tour can be scheduled at a cost of $3 per person. The fees help to defray the cost of the characters and related expenses. For more information or to schedule a tour, contact Henline or tour coordinator Lois Nickerson at (304) 238-1300.