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Editorial: Celebration provides chance to explore W.Va. history

Jun. 20, 2013 @ 12:11 AM

So many of the tensions that caused The Civil War collided in what we know today as West Virginia.

The ideological and practical battle over slavery. The differing cultural values of the coastal plantation economy and the rugged individualism of the frontier. Natural allegiances between North and South.

The citizens of western Virginia felt all of that, along with regional conflicts with eastern Virginia over politics, representation, taxation and infrastructure that had been simmering since the late 1700s.

With the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 and Virginia's decision to secede in 1861, a final break was near and a movement to create a new state began. It took a year of conventions and consideration, but Congress and President Lincoln finally approved a bill for statehood in December 1862.

Amid the tumult of The Civil War -- two weeks before the Battle of Gettysburg -- West Virginia became the 35th state 150 years ago today.

The Mountain State's unique beginning is one of American history's most interesting stories, and one that deserves to be explored by residents and visitors alike. Fortunately, there are dozens of events and celebrations today and through this weekend that will help tell the West Virginia story.

In Wheeling, a bell that rang on June 20, 1863, to herald statehood will toll once again in a 165-year-old Presbyterian Church building, part of a statewide bell ringing. In Charleston, the governor will unveil the new West Virginia birthday stamp, and the city will host a West Virginia Symphony concert, a broadway musical on The Civil War and fireworks with a 3-D video presentation projected on the Capitol building.

That will be followed by more celebrations Friday and Saturday, including a special program at the Huntington Museum or Art and a concert by the Huntington Symphony Orchestra on the riverfront. Today's Weekend section has a complete list of times and places for these celebrations.

For those who want a quick refresher on what actually happened 150 years ago, West Virginia Public Broadcasting will premiere a new documentary, "The Road To Statehood," at 8 tonight. The 40-minute film includes interviews with state historians, dramatizations, archival letters, sketches and photographs that explain the events of the early 1860s and the roles of attorney Francis Pierpont and Cabell County's Albert Gallatin Jenkins in particular.

The state also is home to many historic sites that can be visited throughout the year, including many in our own backyard such as Heritage Farm and Museum in Wayne County or the replica of the Revolutionary War Fort Randolph near Point Pleasant.

We hope this year's Sesquicentennial celebration will inspire a new interest and pride in our state's heritage and achievements. Happy birthday, West Virginia.

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