WHEELING - West Virginia turns 150 years old today, and to mark the 35th state's birthday Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and state legislators gathered Wednesday at West Virginia Independence Hall.
The event marked the first time in 50 years that a sitting governor and Legislature had convened at Independence Hall, which served as the gathering place during statehood talks in the early 1860s. The group heard speeches from June 20, 1863, the day West Virginia formally was admitted into the Union.
Tomblin told those present West Virginia has "a unique past." He recalled the state's 100th birthday - he was 11 - and the pride he felt during that time.
TIME TO CELEBRATE — West Virginia Independence Hall Site Manager Travis Henline portrays Gov. Francis Pierpont during a historical re-enactment of the debate leading to West Virginia’s statehood in that building Wednesday evening. Watching is state Senate President Jeff Kessler. - Scott McCloskey
"The centennial filled all of us with pride ... all of us West Virginians," Tomblin said. "It's a day I will never forget. Fifty years from now, people will still be talking about this great celebration and all those around the state of West Virginia. Today, everyone in this room is bursting with pride because they can say they are West Virginians.
"And today, I'm proud to be the 35th governor of the 35th state in the Union."
During the event, Travis Henline, Independence Hall site manager, portrayed Francis Pierpont, the governor of the Restored Government of Virginia. Henline presented the farewell speech Pierpont gave in Wheeling on June 20, 1863, when West Virginia became a state. Jeremy Richter of Wheeling portrayed Arthur Boreman, West Virginia's first governor, and presented Boreman's speech from that date.
Introduced during the event was Wheeling lawyer Harry Buch, who served in the Legislature from 1958 until 1964. Buch participated in the centennial events at West Virginia Independence Hall.
"In 1963, we all had to wear costumes," Buch said. "It was a fabulous time, and one of those things you never forget."
Northern Panhandle lawmakers also presented Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie with a check for $20,000 to help defray the cost of the sesquicentennial celebration in the city. City leaders had anticipated the 150th birthday celebration would cost Wheeling about $130,000.
McKenzie also spoke of Wheeling's role as the birthplace of West Virginia, and the pride he feels at being mayor of such a historic city.