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WVU Libraries Celebrate WV Sesquicentennial

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
June 20th, 2013

The West Virginia University Libraries and the West Virginia and Regional History Center have organized multiple events to celebrate West Virginia’s 150th birthday on June 20.

“We plan events to mark every anniversary, but the sesquicentennial – 150 years – is a momentous milestone. We are pulling out all stops to make sure this is a special West Virginia Day celebration,” WVU Libraries Interim Dean Myra N. Lowe said.

This Harper's Weekly cover, sketched by Jasper Green, captures a glimpse inside of the Second Wheeling Convention. At the convention, delegates voted to establish the Reorganized Government of Virginia, which was loyal to the Union.

Festivities will feature a panel discussion, an exhibit of historical artifacts and documents, a traveling exhibit on President Abraham Lincoln, a Lincoln impersonator well-versed on the 16th president, a commemorative West Virginia Day poster, and, of course, a birthday cake.

The day begins at 8:30 a.m. in Wise Library’s Milano Reading Room with a reception followed by a panel discussion that includes Dr. John E. Stealey, III, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Shepherd University; Robert Bastress, the John W. Fisher, II Professor of Law, the WVU College of Law; and Dr. Matthew Foulds, Professor of History, Shepherd University.

A noted scholar in the areas of American economic and legal history, Stealey just published his fourth book, West Virginia’s Civil War Era Constitution: Loyal Revolution, Confederate Counter-Revolution, and the Convention of 1872.

Bastress, whose areas of expertise are constitutional and local government law, is the author of The West Virginia Constitution: A Reference Guide.

Foulds has focused his work on the intersection of religion and politics in the antebellum and Civil War-era border states. His upcoming book, tentatively titled Enemies of the State, examines how Methodist ministers used their influence to become grassroots political leaders during the secession crisis and the formation of West Virginia.

At 11 a.m., the exhibit opens in the WVRHC. The first 150 people in attendance will each receive a commemorative West Virginia Day poster.

The exhibit takes a broader look at the state’s creation, examining the differences between eastern and western Virginia.

“The notion that Virginia west of the Allegheny Mountains was fundamentally different from the eastern part of Virginia is an idea that goes way back,” WVRHC Director John Cuthbert said. “In Colonial times, at one point, there was consideration of lopping off the western part and making a separate colony out of it. It would have been our 14th colony.”

Economics played a key difference and will be an exhibit focus. Two business ledgers from western Virginia will be displayed detailing frontier economic concerns. Visitors can also view documents focusing on the Richmond government’s lack of interest to spend money to improve roads and education for their western citizens.

A few other highlights include:

  • A collection of early maps with a land-grant document signed by Ben Franklin and a compass used to survey the Fairfax Line.
  • A sketchbook by Joseph H. Diss Debar, an artist and creator of West Virginia’s State Seal, with drawings related to statehood.
  • Documents and artifacts relating to West Virginia’s three founding fathers, Senator Waitman T. Willey, Governor of the Reorganized Government of Virginia Francis H. Pierpont, and Governor Arthur Boreman.
  • A new acquisition – a large 35-star flag, bigger than the flag currently on display in the Center – will be unveiled.

Activities then move to the Erickson Alumni Center, site of a traveling exhibit titled Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War.

From noon-2 p.m., the public is invited to browse the exhibit and enjoy a reception with hors d'oeuvres and birthday cake. On display in Erickson’s Nutting Gallery, the 1,000-square-foot exhibition examines the political and constitutional challenges Lincoln faced during the Civil War: the secession of Southern states, slavery, and the suspension of wartime civil liberties.

“Abraham Lincoln was president during a tumultuous time in our country’s history,” Cuthbert said. “This exhibit provides an opportunity to learn more about the complex issues Lincoln grappled with while fighting to preserve the Union.”

The National Constitution Center and the American Library Association Public Programs Office organized the exhibit, which was made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

Based on an exhibit of the same name developed by the National Constitution Center, the traveling exhibit features photographic reproductions of original documents, including a draft of Lincoln’s first inaugural speech, the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment. ALA selected WVU as one of a handful of sites to host the exhibit.

At 2 p.m., in conjunction with the exhibit, attendees will meet President Lincoln himself, as portrayed by impersonator Michael Krebs. He will tell stories and answer questions concerning the 16th president’s attitudes toward West Virginia statehood.

The Lincoln exhibit will remain on display through July 17. It will be open to the public from 8:15 a.m.-4:45 p.m. Monday-Friday. For more information, contact Monte Maxwell, 304-293-0306 ormonte.maxwell@mail.wvu.edu.

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