Mountain Made: Robert C. Byrd
It didn’t take an unprecedented nine terms in the United States Senate for Robert Byrd’s name to be printed in history books. When the Chairman of the U.S. Appropriations Committee passed away on June 28, people all over the world stopped to reflect on his many contributions to American democracy. Though his life has ended, his legacy as a leader will live on in West Virginia for years to come, thanks to the projects he initiated and financed with more than $1 billion in federal funds. Here’s a look at a few of the ways Senator Byrd left his mark on the Mountain State.
The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope
Senator Byrd supervised the funding and construction of the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope, which is also the largest land-based movable structure. Byrd continually supported ventures in astronomy and the sciences by contributing to the Green Bank observatory, which sits at the heart of the United States National Radio Quiet Zone.
Universities and Teaching Centers
Marshall University, West Virginia University, Charleston Area Medical Center, Shepherd University, and Bethany College are just a few of the places Byrd lent his support. Academic institutions have continually benefited from millions in federal funding and personal donations by the senator. He obtained $35.6 million in Congressional appropriations for the Robert C. Byrd Biotechnology Science Center at Marshall alone. These educational establishments will carry on, giving thousands of people access to high-quality learning environments.
National Crime Information Center
Hundreds of federal jobs were brought to our state when the late senator rallied to have this FBI database housed here. The Center contains a computerized record of criminal justice information that is available to national, state, and local law enforcement agencies across America. The Clarksburg location is the most recently established NCIC site in the country.
Bridges and Roads
It’s not hard to find a road named after the senator while roaming around West Virginia. Travelers often encounter Robert C. Byrd freeways, expressways, interchanges, and corridors. His work wasn’t just limited to the asphalt—Byrd also contributed to the construction of a number of bridges. One major structure connects citizens in Huntington and Chesapeake, Ohio, and another was built in Ohio County.
Erma Ora Byrd
The senator named a number of artistic and educational landmarks for his beloved wife. The Erma Byrd Art Gallery at the University of Charleston houses the works of female artists from around the state, including Eileen Kay Woods, Dolly Hartman, June Kilgore, and Rosalie Atkins. Graceland Mansion in Elkins features a garden named for her that was dedicated in 1997.
The Byrds didn’t just leave their names on buildings. They each have a variety of plum named after them, too. The Bluebyrd plum was released by the USDA in 1999 and named for the leader. The fruit is deep purple, sweet, and very hearty. Erma was honored with her own type of plum a decade later, when the Orablue was unveiled.