Open Tuesday through Saturday
9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Sundays and Mondays
Admission to the museum is free.
Main: (304) 238-1300
West Virginia Independence Hall
1528 Market Street
Wheeling, WV 26003
Birthplace of West Virginia
Nearly six years before President Lincoln signed the proclamation making West Virginia the 35th State in the Union, construction had begun on the Wheeling Custom House, headquarters for federal offices for the Western District of Virginia. Its completion, coinciding with the beginning of the Civil War, provided a facility for heated political discussions and constitutional conventions that led to eventual statehood for West Virginia in 1863. Here, issues dividing many Virginians – slavery being one of many – were debated, compromised and shaped into the skeleton of statehood. Serving as the home of the Restored Government of Virginia (aligned with the Union) from 1861-1863, it is appropriately known today as West Virginia Independence Hall.
The grand architecture of the building’s interiors has been authentically restored. Visitors can view an interpretive video, “For Liberty and Union,” and take a self-guided tour of the structure. Groups may schedule tours featuring dramatic interpretations by authentically-costumed guides. Call for fee and scheduling information. Individual visitors are always welcome and please feel free to take a self-guided tour of the structure and exhibits.
Plan a visit to see “West Virginia: Born of the Civil War.” The permanent exhibition, located on the first floor of the museum, features dramatic displays with period artifacts, and explores the statehood process against the background of the Civil War. Watch this small video to learn more about the Civil War and West Virginia’s statehood.
Also view an exhibit of West Virginia’s Civil War battle flags, “Waving For Liberty and the Union.”
West Virginia Independence Hall is listed as a Heritage Site by the American Battlefield Trust. The Trust recognizes more than three-hundred sites in sixteen states that inspire and teach the story of the Civil War and its haunting impact on America. The American Battlefield Trust sites allow visitors to explore battlefields, historic homes, railroad stations, cemeteries, parks and other destinations that bring history to life. For more information on the American Battlefield Trust, visit them at battlefields.org.
West Virginia: Born of the Civil War
A new exhibition, entitled West Virginia: Born of the Civil War, opened to the public on West Virginia Day, June 20, at West Virginia Independence Hall in Wheeling. The extensive and permanent exhibition, located on the first floor of the museum, features dramatic displays with period artifacts, and explores the statehood process against the background of the Civil War.
Designed by Hadley Exhibits of Buffalo, New York, West Virginia: Born of the Civil War incorporates maps, audio-visual elements, film and artifacts to tell the story of the birth of West Virginia. “Out-of-state visitors viewing the exhibition will gain insight into West Virginia’s formation,” said David Johnson, president of the design firm. “We hope it will be interesting to the people who live in Wheeling too,” he added.
One of the most striking elements of the exhibition shows the area that formed West Virginia rising out of a three-dimensional topographical map depicting the original land mass of Virginia. As narration describes the drive for statehood, West Virginia splits away and rises out of Virginia. Another area displays a copy of a mural depicting leaders in the West Virginia Independence Hall historic courtroom, signing the document that resulted in the formation of the Restored Government of Virginia in Wheeling in 1861. In the middle of the panel is a reproduction of the original document known as “The Declaration of the People of Virginia.”
Parallel exhibitions explore Union and Confederate viewpoints illustrated with memorabilia and artistic renderings of soldiers’ uniforms and weaponry. Artifacts from the West Virginia State Museum, located at the Cultural Center in Charleston, including a military drum used during the Civil War and historic farming equipment representing West Virginia’s agricultural roots, add color and dimension to the display. Images of documents and Wheeling prints, borrowed from Oglebay Institute also are incorporated into the exhibition.
One display panel features a print of a painting by modern-day artist John Paul Strain depicting Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and his troops traveling through the snowy mountains on their way to Romney. Other panels explain military aspects of the Civil War from both Union and Confederate positions. An illuminated map details locations where battles were fought in West Virginia.
Other aspects covered in the interpretive exhibition include the historic differences between eastern and western Virginia, the legality of the creation of West Virginia, President Abraham Lincoln’s role in the birth of the state, life in Wheeling during the war and its leadership role in West Virginia’s formation.
Gerry Reilly, West Virginia Independence Hall director, says “The exhibit explores the only change in territory brought about by America’s greatest conflict, the Civil War, which was responsible for more than 600,000 casualties. Differences between eastern and western Virginia included residents’ views on slavery, economic considerations, types of farming and the ethnic composition of the population,” he added.