The West Virginia State Museum referred to by locals as the Cultural Center, is located on the West Virginia State Capitol complex grounds. The Cultural Center first opened in 1976 and has been modernized over the past few years. On my recent visit, I was blown away by how stylish and upscale the museum has become. This is the home to West Virginia artistic, historic, and cultural heritage at its finest. The Culture Center houses two government offices as well as the State Museum and State Archives. My friend, Charles Morris, is the Museums Director and has worked there for years.
Discovering the West Virginia Cultural Center
The Cultural Center has its own parking lot and is only a short stroll from the WV State Capitol. Take time to enjoy the beautifully manicured lawns, dotted with magnolia and dogwood trees, and super fat squirrels. Upon entering, expect to be dazzled by the Great Hall with white marble walls accented by oak, gold and coffee colored ceilings, and dodecahedron-shaped chandeliers. The chandeliers are bronze and crystal and have 86 lights each and weigh 1600 pounds each. Dodecahedron is a Greek symbol for infinity. During my visit, the 2015 Quilt Exhibition was taking place and beautiful handcrafted quilts were strewn up on the walls, complete with ribbons showing their score in said contest. My favorite was the quilt featuring the WV mountaineer.
The tour begins with a walk through the coal forest into western settlement and finally into current displays, representing the people, land, and industries of West Virginia life. There are 26 Discovery rooms that contain artifacts such as Frontier Life (cabin setting displaying craftsman of the pioneers, roles of women on the frontier, and mineral springs), the War Within a State (Civil War artifacts, weaponry, soldier life), The Company Store (mock setting of coal company stores and nostalgic merchandise) and Industrialization (introducing some of the states most important industries including oil, gas, chemical, glass, timber, and pottery). This would have to be my personal favorite due to the display of Homer Laughlin pottery and bottling plant discoveries.
My dad, a U.S. Veteran, loved the West Virginians at War room with exhibits showcasing military uniforms and artifacts from the Spanish-American War through current wars and conflicts. Do not miss the fact that the drawers open in this room to show even more artifacts.
Famous West Virginians
For those of you not familiar with notable West Virginians, the Celebrating West Virginia room showcases some WV’s most famous including Jerry West, Mary Lou Retton, Jon McBride, and Ernie Saunders. Artists and musicians will enjoy the last two rooms: Traditions of Music and A Legacy of Craftmanship. Many of the events in the museum are animated, contain AV presentations, audio, and feature spectacular displays.
West Virginia is Known for Many Firsts
- Mary Lou Retton, of Fairmont, was the first American to win the gold medal at the Olympics for women’s all-around.
- Mother’s Day was first observed at Andrews Church in Grafton on May 10, 1908.
- The first spa open to the public was at Berkeley Springs, in 1756. (at that time this was Bath, Virginia)
- The first brick street in the world was laid in Charleston on October 23, 1870, on Summers Street, between Kanawha and Virginia Streets.
- The Pinch Reunion is the oldest continuous reunion in the US.
- The Battle of Philippi was the first land battle of the Civil War.
- Meadow River Lumber Company in Rainelle at its peak cut an average of 110,000 board feet per day and was the world’s largest hardwood sawmill.
- Kelly Axe and Tool Company, located in Charleston’s west side, was the largest producer of axes, hatchets, and related tools in the world.
- In 1915, Randolph County held the first organized 4-H Camp in the world.
- Coal House, the only residence in the world built entirely of coal, is located in White Sulphur Springs. The house was occupied on June 1, 1961.
- Father’s Day originated in Fairmont and was held on July 5, 1908, in the Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church South, now known as Central Methodist Church.
- Michael Owens, of Mason County, invented the first automated bottle making machine used at Owens Bottling Co., Kanawha City, Charleston.
- The first natural gas well drilling in the US occurred in 1815, when Captain James Wilson accidentally hit natural gas while drilling for salt near the foot of the present day Brooks Street in Charleston.
- The first steamboat was launched by James Rumsey in the Potomac River at New Mecklensburg (Shepherdstown) on December 3, 1787.
- A variety of the yellow apple, the Golden Delicious, originated in Clay County. The original Grimes Golden Apple Tree was discovered in 1775 near Wellsburg.
- Outdoor advertising had its origin in Wheeling about 1908 when the Block Brothers Tobacco Company painted bridges and barns with the wording “Treat Yourself to the Best, Chew Mail Pouch”.
- The first electric railroad in the world, built as a commercial enterprise, was constructed between Huntington and Guyandotte.
- The Kanawha Valley was once known as the Chemical Center of the World.
- West Virginia was the first state to have a sales tax. It became effective July 1, 1921.
- Libbey-Owens-Ford, in Kanawha City, Charleston, was the largest window glass plant under one roof in the world.
- Elkinisia Polymorpha is the oldest seed in the world, Devonian Period, 360 million years ago, discovered near Elkins.
- The first organized golf club in America is the Oakhurst Links in White Sulphur Springs, 1884.
- West Virginia’s Memorial Tunnel was the first in the nation to be monitored by television. It opened November 8, 1954.
- Charles Elwood “Chuck” Yeager, of Hamlin, became the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound on October 14, 1947.
- Marble King in Paden City is the only producer of 100% glass marbles in the world.
- The first rural free mail delivery was started in Charles Town on October 6, 1896, and then spread throughout the US.
You Should Visit the WV Cultural Center, Even if Passing Through
The Cultural Center is a great family activity for those that live in West Virginia or those just passing through. The best part is that it is free to tour the museum. A gift shop featuring West Virginia made arts, crafts, foods, pictures, and souvenirs is available to all. The museum is handicap accessible and group tours are available upon request.
Bonus: The WV Cultural Center is home to the famous Mountain Stage, with Larry Groce, featuring live musical performances. Each 2 hour show typically features 4-5 artists or musical groups. The show is taped and aired on over 150 public radio stations across the country. Started in 1983, Mountain Show has hosted new and well-known artists for years. My favorite performances have been R.E.M, Natalie Merchant, Zap Mama, Jonatha Brooke, Paula Cole, Joan Baez, Ben Harper, and Amy Levere.
“A Local Look at the West Virginia Cultural Center” -Getting to Know Charles W. Morris III, Director of Museums
Charles, a former member of the University of Charleston basketball team, loves sports, art and history. His life’s work has been the preservation and presentation of contemporary and historic art as well as the history of the state of West Virginia.
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