Heavy with History
As we mark the 150th anniversary, remnants of the Civil War remain in every region of West Virginia. Honor the sesquicentennial by touring some of the state’s treasured Civil War sites.
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More than 150 years ago, brothers, cousins, neighbors, and friends took to the hills and valleys of the East Coast to fight a war. The Civil War forced men to take sides—pitting some loved ones against others for four years of bloody battle, from 1861 to 1865. On June 20, 1863, West Virginia was born.
As we commemorate the sesquicentennial, or 150th anniversary, of the war, we look at just some of the many historic sites that can be visited today. “Our heritage is unlike any other in the country,” says Betty Carver, West Virginia Tourism commissioner. “The 150th anniversary is a poignant time to tell our story as the nation remembers.”
In April 1861, the differences between western and eastern Virginia reached a new level of urgency as Virginia seceded and created a pro-Confederate government in Richmond and Union supporters dominated western Virginia. On June 11, delegates from 26 western counties met in Wheeling to discuss the matters at hand. A later session authorized a referendum to create a new state, Kanawha, later named West Virginia, though not all of the citizens who fell within the new state agreed with the decision. At Independence Hall, a state constitution was drafted. This National Historic Landmark was originally built as a federal custom house in 1859 before becoming known as the birthplace of West Virginia. The building has been restored with period rooms and exhibitions.
West Virginia Independence Hall Museum, 1528 Market Street, Wheeling, WV 26003; 304.238.1300
Reported paranormal activity and Civil War tales make this haunted tour a must for ghost hunters. This National Historic Landmark was constructed in 1858, before the Civil War, and is the largest hand-cut stone masonry building in North America. Designed to house 250 patients, the hospital peaked at 2,400 patients in the 1950s. The hospital closed in 1994 and is now open to the public for guided tours.
Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, 71 Asylum Drive, Weston, WV 26452; 304.269.5070
The seizure of the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry took place in 1859 by the fiery abolitionist John Brown. His plan for arming the slaves of northern Virginia and inciting a general uprising, together with the secrecy with which his plan was carried out, threw the South into a panic.
The John Brown Wax Museum shows us Brown’s hatred of slavery, traces his violent exploits, and depicts scenes from his raid on Harpers Ferry. The museum is open from mid-March through mid-December.
John Brown Wax Museum, 168 High Street, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425; 304.535.6342
Philippi Covered Bridge & Historic District
When you see the covered bridge in Philippi, you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time. Philippi was home to the first land battle of the Civil War on June 3, 1861. Built in 1852, the bridge was used by both armies. During battle, Union troops took control of the bridge and used it as a barracks. The bridge was severely damaged by fire in 1989 and has since been restored. “It’s hard to talk about the first land battle of the Civil War without talking about the covered bridge,” says Danny Franke, a Philippi resident for more than 15 years and a Civil War reenactor.
Philippi Historical Society Museum, 200 North Main Street, Philippi, WV 26416; 304.457.4846
Many, many years ago, this was the site of the boyhood home of General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. The Old Mill, the last of the original buildings, features a museum of artifacts relating to 19th century West Virginia homesteads. Other period structures include an operational 1794 water-powered gristmill, a weaving shop, blacksmith shop, a 1793 cabin, and a gift shop and heritage center. Bus tours are welcome with advance arrangement.
WVU Jackson’s Mill Historic Area & Lodge, 160 WVU Jackson’s Mill, Weston, WV 26452; 304.269.5100
This 1836 Greek Revival brick building was built on land donated by George Washington’s youngest brother, Charles. The courthouse was the site of the famous trial of John Brown in 1859. During the Civil War, it served as a barracks for Union troops. The museum includes information on John Brown’s Raid, plus china, textiles, toys, photos, and Civil War documents.
Jefferson County Museum, 200 East Washington Street, Charles Town, WV 25414; 304.725.8628