The Capitals and Capitols of West Virginia
- from the “West Virginia Legislative Hand Book and Manual and Official Register (West Virginia Blue Book),” 1922, pg 706-723.
THE CAPITALS AND CAPITOLS OF WEST VIRGINIA
The State of West Virginia since its organization has had two Capitals and five Capitols. Two of the buildings have been located at Wheeling, which became the first capital, and three at Charleston, and each city named has the distinction of having been twice designated as the capital city of the State. Wheeling, the birth-place of West Virginia, became the capital of the new State at its organization on June 20, 1863, and remained the seat of government until April 1, 1870, when the capital was removed to Charleston, where it remained until May 21, 1875, when the seat of government was removed to Wheeling, and remained there for a period of ten years. Charleston again became the capital on May 1, 1885, and was then designated the permanent capital of the State.
The city of Wheeling was the capital of the Restored Government of Virginia, organized by the loyal citizens of northwestern Virginia immediately following the secession of Virginia from the Federal Union. Two conventions looking to the restoration of a loyal government of Virginia were held at Wheeling, the first on May 13th, 1861, and the second convened on June 11th next ensuing. At the second convention the Restored Government of Virginia was organized with Francis H. Pierpont as Governor and an ordinance was adopted providing for the formation of a new state out of a portion of the old state of Virginia. Both Conventions of the People of Northwestern Virginia at which the ground plans for the formation of West Virginia were laid were held in Washington Hall.
Washington Hall—the birth-place of West Virginia—stood on the corner of Market and Monroe Streets—now Market and Twelfth Streets—Wheeling. The building was erected in 1851 by a corporation known as the Washington Hall Association, at a cost of $46,000. It was first opened on January 1, 1853, when the city of Wheeling gave a banquet in honor of the President of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and his guests who arrived at Wheeling on that date, on the first through train from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ohio River. The building was totally destroyed by fire on November 80. 1876.
- Image from WV Blue Book, 1922. Collections of the Ohio County Public Library.
*Note: The image above is the second Washinton Hall, not the Washington Hall in which the Conventions took place. The original Washington Hall was destroyed in a fire in 1875. The Washington Hall depicted above was built upon the same ground in 1878. ▶ See Washington Hall
The Constitutional Convention which assembled on November 26, 1861, and framed the first constitution of West Virginia held its sessions in the United States Court Room in the Custom House. The General Assembly of the Restored Government of Virginia held four sessions while the capital of that government remained at Wheeling and while arrangements were being made for the organization of the new state government. Of these the first and fourth sessions sat in the United States Court room; while the second and third sessions convened in the Linsly Institute building.
Linsly Institute building, erected in 1858 at the corner of Eoff and Fifteenth Streets, Wheeling, became the first capitol of the new State. A large platform was erected in front of this building on which Arthur I. Boreman, the first Governor of West Virginia, delivered his inaugural address on June 20, 1863, and within it on that day at 12.30 p. m. the first Legislature of West Virginia convened.
The question of a permanent seat of government and state house was brought to the attention of the Legislature by Governor Boreman in his first message, sent to that body in the evening of the first day of statehood. In it he said:
“I recommend that you take speedy action for the establishment of a permanent seat of government. I know it is said by some that it would be best to wait until the war is ended, but I fear that if the question is not settled by the present Legislature, it will, in a short time, enter into contests for office throughout the State and thus become a matter of contention for years to come; and until it is settled the Legislature will not be justified in expending the money necessary in preparing the accommodations for themselves and the other officers, which are demanded, not only as a matter of comfort and convenience, but for the reasonable dispatch of the public business. When the location is made and the public grounds selected in such manner as you may provide, you will then be warranted in making appropriations for the public buildings, and they may soon be in process of construction.”
The Legislature did not act upon this recommendation of Governor Boreman, but instead that body on the 9th of December, 1863, adopted a Joint Resolution authorizing the Governor to secure the Linsly Institute building for a State Capitol. The Resolution was as follows:
“Resolved by the Legislature of West Virginia: That the Governor be authorized, whenever he may deem it expedient to do so, to cause the Executive Offices, or any of them, to be removed to the Linsly Institute building; and to designate what room, or rooms, in the said building, shall 0 occupied by any office so removed.
“Resolved further, that the Governor have the authority to rent any portion of the said building not required for use of the Legislature, or for Executive Offices as aforesaid, to such persons and on such terms as he may deem expedient; Provided, that no part of the building shall be occupied or rented for schools during any session of the Legislature.”
The Legislature continued to make annual appropriations to pay rent on this building from 1863 to 1870, despite the urging of Governor Boreman in several messages that a permanent location of the State capital be made. In his message of January 16, 1866, under the heading “Permanent Capitol," Governor Boreman said:
“It may be proper for me to state that the lease on the building now occupied as the State Capitol expires in 1868. With this statement I submit the question of the propriety of early action with a view to the permanent location of the Capitol without making any recommendation whatever on the subject.”
No action was taken at that session of the Legislature and the matter was not even discussed in that body. At the next annual session of the Legislature the recommendation of Governor Boreman was renewed more fully and in his message under date of January 15, 1867, he said:
“The subject of the permanent location of the capital of the State will no doubt, be considered by you at the present session; and I have no hesitation in saying that, in my opinion, the interests of the State require definite and final action thereon before you adjourn. It has hitherto been a source of much controversy and irritation between different sections of the State, and will probably continue to be until it is settled. It is also referred to by the enemies of the State as an evidence of a want of confidence in its permanent existence, which although wholly without foundation, nevertheless has its influence on some who are not advised on the subject, and who, otherwise, contemplated making their homes among us. It should be settled also with a view to the location of the other public buildings that are needed, the construction of which would be entered upon as soon as practicable. It may also in time, if left 0 n, have an undue effect upon other subjects of legislation, and will , probably, until finally disposed of, occupy the attention of succeeding sessions of the Legislature to the prejudice of other matters entitled to consideration.”
Again no action was taken by this session of the Legislature and Governor Boreman, seemingly a little impatient because of the failure of that body to take action on what seemed to him of such importance, renewed his recommendation in his message to the Legislature dated January 21, 1868, as follows:
“The permanent location of the capital of the State is a subject which will, no doubt, be considered by you at the present session. In my message to the first Legislature of the State, in 1863, I recommended immediate action on this question, and my opinion ever since has been as expressed in subsequent messages, that its settlement would tend to the harmony and prosperity of the State. I refer to what I have heretofore said, and have nothing to add on this subject.”
The subject of a permanent location of the capital WM deferred by the 1868 session of the Legislature. Governor Boreman saw that the continued delay was exerting an influence on legislation, and, not discouraged by the failure of his recommendations in former years, in his message of January 19, 1869, for the fourth time in succession, under the heading “State Capital,” again referred to the subject:
“I think it my duty to again call your attention to the subject of permanently locating the capital of the State. I am aware that this is regarded by some as a matter of little consequence. With such, of course, I differ, but do not propose to trouble you with any extended discussion of the subject. It is my opinion, however, that the omission to settle this question has, in some degree at least, retarded the improvement and prosperity of the State; and I submit to the more experienced members of your body, whether it has had an influence on the legislation of the State. I trust you may find it compatible with your better judgment to put an end to this existing controversy before an end of the present session.”
At this session of the Legislature, on January 20, 1869, Hon. Andrew Mann, a member of the House of Delegates from the Greenbrier-Monroe Delegate District, offered the following preamble and Joint Resolution No. 2:
“Whereas, The location of the State Capital has been deferred from time to time without any good reason for such delay; and whereas the failure to locate the State Capital has created great dissatisfaction on the part of the people, deterring enterprising parties abroad from locating in the State, rendering ourselves an unsettled people in the estimation of the public. Therefore,
“Resolved by the Legislature of West Virginia: That we use our utmost endeavors to locate the State Capital during the present session of the Legislature, and the people we represent, as will finally settle this vexed question harmoniously, placing the Capital where it will develop the natural resources of the State the most, and accommodate the largest number of inhabitants.”
This Resolution was adopted by the House and at once reported by Mr. Mann to the Senate which body referred it to its Judiciary Committee with instructions to report a bill in relation to locating the Capital. In the meantime, Hon. James T. McClaskey, a delegate from Monongalia county, on January 21st, introduced House Bill No. 4, entitled “A Bill permanently locating the seat of government of this State,” the first section of which provided that “The permanent seat of government for this State is hereby located at the town of Charleston in the county of Kanawha.”
This bill passed the House on February 17th by a vote of 29 yeas to 23 nays, and passed the Senate February 26th, the vote standing, yeas l7, and nays, 4. The Act was to take effect April 1, 1870—more than thirteen months after its passage.
The citizens of Charleston, jubilant over the location of the State Capital at their town, soon after the passage of the Act began to devise ways and means to provide necessary accommodations for the officers, records and archives of the State. Public meetings were held to discuss the subject, and on May 27 1869, enterprising citizens resolved to form a joint stock company for the purpose of erecting a building to answer the purpose of a capitol.
This plan succeeded and on August 25, 1869, when $16,500 had been subscribed and $1,650 paid in, the subscribers were incorporated under the name of “The State House Company.” The original stock-holders in the State House Company were as follows:
|GEORGE JEFFERIES, two shares
JOHN CLAYPOOL, one share
GREENBURY SLACK, two shares
NICHOLAS FITZHUGH, one share
EDWARD B. KNIGHT, one share
BENJAMIN H. SMITH, two shares
HILL & LAIDLEY, one share
JOB E. THAYER, one share
JOHN SLACK, SR., two shares
THOMAS B. SWANN, two shares
JOHN DRYDEN, one share
JOHN P. HALE, one share
DAVID EAGAN, one share
DULCE R. LAIDLEY, one share
GILLILAND & ANDERSON, one share
|L. L. COMSTOCK, two shares
WILLIAM A. QUARRIER, one share
HENRY C. MCWHORTER, one share
SAMUEL A. MILLER, one share
HENRY CHAPPELL, one share
MOSES FRANKENBERGER, one share
WILLIAM T. THAYER & SAMUEL CHRISTEY, one share
HEDGEMAN SLACK, one share
JAMES H. BROWN, one share
ALBERT M. DOYLE, one share
HENRY C. McWHORTER, agent for Charleston Extension Co., one share
WILLIAM H. EDWARDS, one share
The first meeting of the State House Company was held at the Kanawha county court house for the purpose of organization. Benjamin H. Smith was elected President; Alexander T. Laidley, Secretary; John Slack, Sr., Treasurer; and George Jeffries, William A. Quarrier, Greenbury Slack, L. L. Comstock, Thomas B. Swann, Edward B. Knight, Henry C. McWhorter and John Slack, Sr., Directors.
An architect was employed and plans, specifications and estimates of cost of a building thought to be adequate for the wants of the State, were obtained. The contract for the erection of the building was let to Dr. John P. Hale, of Charleston.
The block fronting on Capitol Street, between Lee and Washington Streets was secured for the capitol site at a cost of $8,000. The ground was laid 05 on Monday, September 20, 1869, and on the next day excavation for the foundation was begun. The first stone was laid at the south-west corner of the building on September 29th and on the 3rd of November ensuing the cornerstone was laid by the Masonic Grand Lodge. Work was prosecuted as rapidly as possible but the building could not be completed by April 1, 1870, the date set by law for the removal of the seat of government from Wheeling to Charleston.
Other arrangements were made for the accommodation of the state government temporarily until such time as the new building would be ready for occupancy. The “Mountain Boy,” a Kanawha river packet, was chartered by the citizens of Charleston to bring the executive officers, with the archives and paraphernalia of the State government, to Charleston. The “Mountain Boy" arrived at Wheeling at 5:00 A. M. on March 28, 1870, having on board a Reception Committee composed of Dr. Albert E. Summers and Dr. Spicer Patrick, of Charleston; Colonel Jerome T. Bowyer, of Winfield, Putnam county; and Colonel Hiram R. Howard and Hon. John M. Phelps, of Point Pleasant, Mason county, who waited on Governor William E. Stevenson and the other State officials and informed them of the plans of transportation. Preparations had been made for the removal and the day was spent in transferring to the steamer the boxes containing the books, papers and records of the executive officers, the State library and the baggage and household goods of the officers. The “Mountain Boy” left the Wheeling wharf at midnight on the same day, decorated with flags, bunting and banners, carrying the representatives of the State government. Wheeling had been the Capital six years, seven months and eleven days.
The “Mountain Boy” made her first landing at Parkersburg, the home of Governor Stevenson, and many persons of the town went on board to greet the officials. A welcoming committee of Charleston citizens, accompanied by a brass band, went down the Kanawha river on the steamer “Kanawha Belle” early in the morning of March 30, and escorted the “Mountain Boy" to the Charleston wharf. The landing was made at eleven o’clock, March 30, and a salute was fired from the head of the wharf by a company of United States Artillery, then stationed at Charleston.
The State officials were warmly welcomed by the people of Charleston and vicinity. A procession composed of the company of artillery, the several committees, city and county officials, members of secret orders, school children and citizens generally, headed by the Charleston Brass Band, was formed, and after an address of welcome had been delivered by the Mayor, the State officials were escorted to the residences provided for them.
The Capitol building being erected by the State House Company was not ready for occupancy, but provision was made to house the State offices temporarily. The Bank of the West gave the entire building theretofore occupied by it for use by a number of the State officers; the Merchants Bank of Charleston furnished a portion of its building to the State Treasurer; while the St. John's Protestant Episcopal Church gave the free use of its school room for the State Library.
On December 20, 1870, the State House Company made formal delivery of the Capitol to the Governor and it was immediately occupied by the State officials. When completed the building had cost $71,000, the cost of the grounds having been $8,000. Governor Stevenson in speaking of the building in his next message to the Legislature, said:
“It is, as you cannot fail to observe, a neat, commodious and substantial structure, and reflects much credit upon the public spirited citizens under whose management it was completed and finished."
For a time all went well with Charleston as the seat of government, but dissatisfaction soon became apparent, especially in the northern part of the State. The chief cause of complaint was based on the then inaccessibility of Charleston and the long, hard over-land journeys necessary to reach the Capital from the northern part of the State. Charleston then had no railroad connections and from the up-state Section could only be reached by stage or boat. Going to the Legislature, as it was familiarly spoken of, was not so easy at this period. At times, in the winter river navigation would be shut off. Many stories are told by the legislators of that period of the hardships of trips across country from points on the Baltimore & Ohio railroad and from the towns in central West Virginia. The agitation to remove the Capital from Charleston was carried into the Legislature, when, on January 18, 1875, Hon. Jonathan M. Bennett, of Lewis county, representing the Ninth Senatorial District, introduced Senate Bill No. 29 entitled “A Bill to remove the seat of government temporarily to Wheeling." This bill passed the Senate by a vote of thirteen yeas to eleven nays on the 13th of February. Five days later the House of Delegates passed the bill by a vote of thirty-eight yeas to twenty nays. The Act was not approved by Governor John J. Jacob and it became a law on February 20th without his signature. The Act, with its preamble, is as follows:
“WHEREAS, Henry K. List, Michael Reilly, John McLure, Geo. W. Franzheim, and Simon Horkheimer, citizens of Wheeling, have agreed to furnish the State without cost thereto, suitable accommodations, in said city for the legislative, executive and judicial departments of the State, including the State library should the seat of government of the State be removed temporarily to said city: and,
“WHEREAS, It appears to the Legislature that the capital of the State should be located at a more accessible and convenient point; therefore,
“Be it enacted by the Legislature of West Virginia: That on and after ninety days from the passage of t is act, until hereafter otherwise provided by law, the seat of government of the State of West Virginia shall be at the City of Wheeling.
“The Governor is hereby authorized to cause suitable accommodations to be prepared in the City of Wheeling for the several departments of the State governments, including the legislative, executive and judicial departments and to remove thereto and cause to be properly placed an arranged the books, papers and movable property, now in the City of Charleston, belonging to the several State offices, including the State library. The said Henry K. List, Michael Reilly, John McLure, Geo. W. Franzheim, and Simon Horkheimer agreeing to indemnify the State against the expenses thereby incurred.’
Immediately upon the passage of the Act providing for the removal of the capital to Wheeling the citizens of that city proceeded to provide a suitable building to house the State Government. A Capitol Committee was appointed with Captain John McLure as Chairman to devise ways and means of providing the building. The city council, on March 17th, adopted an ordinance providing for the issuance of city bonds to the amount of $100,000, the proceeds to be used for the erection of a public building. No reference was made in the ordinance as to its occupancy, but it was well known to all that the State government was to be its tenant as long as Wheeling remained the capital city of West Virginia. The ordinance was approved by a vote of the people on the first Monday in April following. The bonds were issued and all were sold above par on July 19th, the purchasers being:
John J. Brown, of Morgantown
Exchange Bank, of Wheeling
Bank of Wheeling
Kingwood National Bank, Kingwood
Total bonds sold
J. S. Fairfax, an architect, was employed and his plans for the building were accepted by the city council early in May. The contract for the erection of the new Capitol was let to A. H. Sheppard, of Meadville, Pennsylvania, on July 19th, at his bid of $82,940. He immediately sub-let the contract for the stone work to Henry A. Gunther who began work two days thereafter—July 21, 1875—The foundation was completed on the 4th of September and on the 18th of that month the corner stone was laid by the Masonic Order.
As the time approached for the removal of the capital to Wheeling the citizens of Charleston determined to test the constitutionality of the Act, and instituted court proceedings to stop such removal. The date fixed by the Act for the removal to Wheeling was May 21st. On March 30th, John Slack, Sr., John T. Cotton, Edward C. Stolle, John C. Ruby, John T. White, Alexander H. Wilson and Gustave Stolle, representing the interest of Charleston, applied to Evermont Ward, Judge of the Ninth Judicial District, for an injunction restraining the State officials from removing the books, records and other State property to Wheeling or elsewhere. The applicants entered into bond of $5,000 and in [sic] the injunction was granted, and thus began one of the most remarkable legal proceedings ever recorded in the judicial history of the State.
On May 18th, John L. Cole, State Librarian, appeared in the Circuit Court of Kanawha county and asked that the injunction be dissolved. Able arguments for its perpetuation were made by William A. Quarrier and James H. Ferguson, but Judge Joseph Smith, presiding, ordered the injunction dissolved. His decree of dissolution was, however, suspended until the 27th in order that the plaintiffs might apply to the Supreme Court for an appeal. The appeal was granted by Judge Charles P. T. Moore, of the Supreme Court of Appeals, at Point Pleasant, on May 20th. The time allowed by Judge Smith, from May 18th to 27th, extended beyond the date fixed by law for the removal to Wheeling.
In the meantime, preparations were going forward for the removal. Carpenters had been employed to make boxes for packing the official records, and draymen to convey them to the wharf. Governor John J. Jacob issued a notice to the State officials to have their records ready for shipment on May 21st.
The city council of Wheeling appropriated $1,500 to defray the expense of removal and the steamer “Emma Graham” was chartered at a cost of $1,000 to transport the officials and State property from Charleston. At the appointed time she reached the Charleston wharf, 10:00 a. m., May 21, 1875. The Wheeling Removal Committee was represented by its chairman, Captain John McLure, who notified the State officials of the presence and purpose of the steamer. Draymen conveying the State property to the wharf were arrested and hailed into court on a charge of violating the terms of the injunction. Writs were also served upon all State officials, all of whom made answer except Governor Jacob who gave the matter no attention and he was not arrested.
All of the State officials went on board the steamer and at 12:30 p. m. started the return trip, leaving all public property behind in the custody of Judge Smith. At Parkersburg the State officials were transferred to the steamer “Chesapeake,” bound for Wheeling, and when near Sistersville they were met by a committee of twenty Wheeling citizens who had descended the river on the steamer “Hudson” for the purpose of conducting the party to the new capital city. The “Chesapeake" arrived at Wheeling at 8:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 23rd.
The erection of the new Capitol building was not yet begun and on Monday morning the State officials established their offices in the Linsly Institute building, which had served as the Capitol from 1863 to 1870. The State officials were at Wheeling with empty offices, all records, books and papers being at Charleston, and nothing could be done until the Supreme Court of Appeals should render a decision in the case.
At that time the Supreme Court was composed of three members, Alpheus F. Haymond, John S. Hoffman and Charles P. T. Moore. Arguments were made in the case on August 23rd by E. Willis Wilson, William A. Quarrier and James H. Ferguson, who appeared for Charleston; and by W. W. Arnett, Daniel Lamb and Henry Mason Mathews, the latter the Attorney General of the State, for Wheeling. The Court rendered a decision dissolving the injunction on September 13th, the opinion having been written by Judge Haymond. Soon after Edward A. Bennett, State Auditor, and Benjamin Daley, private secretary to Governor Jacob, left Wheeling to superintend the shipping of the State property left at Charleston in the custody of the court. The records and archives were placed on two barges, and the steamer “Iron Valley," with the barges in tow, left Charleston September 22nd and at 3:00 p. m., Saturday, the 25th, arrived at Wheeling. The property was taken to the offices of the State officials on Monday and on the 28th Governor Jacob issued a proclamation declaring the Linsly Institute building the Capitol, and Wheeling the Capital of West Virginia. The session of the Legislature which met on the 10th of November assembled in Washington Hall. The new Capitol building erected by the city was not ready for occupancy by the State until December 4, 1876.
Scarcely had the State government settled in its temporary quarters at Wheeling when the question of a permanent seat of government became a topic that was earnestly discussed by the people of the State generally. The State was now in its thirteenth year of existence with no permanent Capital and the people had grown tired of the ever-recurring capital removal agitation, and of having the capital on steamers plying between Charleston and Wheeling. The members of the Legislature in the 1877 session were aware of this dissatisfaction and set about providing means to end for all time the location of the capital.
On January 16, 1877, Hon. Peregrine Hays, a member of the House of Delegates from Gilmer county, introduced House Bill No. 25 entitled “A Bill providing for the location of a permanent seat of government of this State, and the erection thereat of the necessary public building for the use of the State.” By the provision of this Act the sense of the people was to be taken on the question of a permanent location of the capital at an election to be held on the first Tuesday in August, 1877. The places to be voted for were Charleston, Kanawha county; Martinsburg, Berkeley county, and Clarksburg, Harrison county. The one receiving a majority of the votes cast was to become the permanent capital of the State after May 1, 1885. The bill passed the House on February 5th by a vote of 40 yeas to 16 nays, and on the 19th of that month it passed the Senate, yeas, 12; nays, 9. This Act, like the Act authorizing the removal of the capital to Wheeling, was not approved by Governor Jacob and it became a law without his signature.
A spirited contest between the three cities proposed was aroused. Charleston received a majority of all the votes cast, and thirty days after the election on the first Tuesday in August, 1877, the Governor made proclamation of the result and declared Charleston to have been selected as the permanent capital of the State, after the expiration of eight years. The following table shows the vote by counties on this question:
The Act further provided that when the permanent location had been decided by the people, the Board of Public Works should select and procure a suitable site on which to erect the public buildings; and it was authorized to receive such donations in land or money or both, as should be tendered. And in order to further aid in carrying out the provisions of the Act $50,000 was appropriated from the State Treasury. This money, together with such donations as might be received, was to be expended in the erection of the new Capitol building, or upon any building which might be upon the site acquired so far as deemed necessary to fit it for occupancy by the several departments of the State government.
The State House Company still owned the building at Charleston which it erected for the State in 1870, and this property was conveyed to the Board of Public Works by deed dated August 3, 1878. The State of West Virginia thus, for the first time, owned a Capitol. The building had to be remodeled, in fact razed, and a new one erected on the site.
The Board of Public Works employed C. C. Kemple and A. Peoples as architects to prepare plans and specifications for the building, and on May 27, 1880, the contract for its erection was let to A. H. Sheppard, of Meadville, Pennsylvania, who had erected the Capitol provided by the city of Wheeling, at his bid of $183,245. The Legislature, in addition to the $50,000 carried by the Act providing for the location of the permanent seat of government, made additional appropriations of $50,000 in 1881; $34,000 in 1882; and $50,247 in 1883. Sheppard failed to complete his contract and, in June, 1884, the Board of Public Works employed S. W. Howard as architect and superintendent and let the contract for the completion of the work to Henry D. Ruffner and James Grady, of Charleston, whose bid was $61,500. Jones 8: Kelly, of Pittsburgh, put in the steam heating apparatus, ventilators, plumbing, gas-fitting, machinery and elevators at a cost of $34,000. Then came the painting, carving, frescoing, metal ceilings, glazing and stair-building, which brought the total cost of the building up to $389,923.58 at the time it was formally received by the Board of Public Works, July 7, 1888. This included $79,000 cost of grounds and building transferred to the State by the old State House Company.
The front wall of this building, facing Capitol Street, was 230 feet in length and surmounted by a tower 194.03 feet high, being 125.5 feet to the center of the dial of the clock placed in the tower. The central hall extended back from the main entrance 180 feet; while the east and west wings extended in the same direction 130 feet.
The removal of the State property, archives and effects from Wheeling to the new Capitol at Charleston was effected quietly and at the time fixed by law—May 1, 1885. The property was placed upon the barge “Nick Crawley,” and two steamers, the “Chesapeake,” and the “Bell Prince” were chartered. Early in the morning of May 2, 1885, the two steamers, the former having onboard the State officials and their effects and the latter having the barge in tow, left the wharf at Wheeling for Charleston. At 7:00 p. m. Sunday, May 3rd, the steamers arrived at Charleston. A canon on the deck of the “Bell Prince” was fired and the steamers in port kept up a continuous blowing of whistles. This was the only demonstration, but the population of the town was well represented on the banks of the river.
The building erected by the city of Wheeling for use of the State is now occupied by Ohio county and Wheeling city officials.
At the time the new Capitol was first occupied by the State, and for many years after, the building with its eighty-five rooms housed all the departments of the State government, and as late as 1892 the third floor was used for an armory with a few rooms for use by committees of the two branches of the Legislature. With the growth and expansion of the State the building became inadequate to house the several departments. The urgent need for more office space resulted in the erection of the Capitol Annex, a large native stone building. The Annex is located at the corner of Lee and Hale Streets, opposite the Capitol, and was completed in 1902 at a cost of $225,000. The first floor of the Annex is occupied by the offices of the Auditor and Treasurer; the second floor by the Supreme Court of Appeals and the State Law Library. The entire third floor is given over to the Department of Archives and History. The offices of the Adjutant General are in the basement of this building.
During the year 1893 the State acquired a valuable piece of property between Capitol and Summers Streets, almost directly fronting the Capitol, on which is located the Executive Mansion and the Board of Control building. This latter building was erected about the year 1910, a two story brick building which houses the State Board of Control which was created at the legislative session of 1909 to supersede and replace the various boards managing the several State educational, charitable, penal and correctional institutions.
The fourth State Capitol, and the first one built and owned by the State, was totally destroyed by fire on the afternoon of January 3, 1921, the fire originating from defective electrical wiring on the fourth floor. The fire started in room used for storage and when discovered at about 3:00 p. m. it had gained such headway and spread so rapidly that nothing could be done to quench the flames. While the fire companies of Charleston and the surrounding towns, which were hurriedly called in, and with a volunteer force, were battling the flames, officials and attaches of the various departments with another volunteer force were removing and carrying from the doomed building as many of the records and as much of the equipment of the offices as possible. The destruction of the historic old Capitol was not without loss of life, one volunteer worker being crushed to death under a falling wall and a member of the Charleston Fire Department so badly injured that his death resulted some months later.
Scarcely had the walls fallen in when the executive officers set about finding temporary quarters for the several departments. Office rooms were found in a number of buildings in the business section of the city and within a short time the State government, though in much confusion and disorganized by the loss of books and records, was again in full operation.
The Board of Public Works immediately after the fire set about the erection of a temporary office building on the grounds of the Executive Mansion, between the Mansion and the Board of Control building. A Building Committee composed of Secretary of State Houston G. Young, State Treasurer W. S. Johnson and Attorney General E. T. England was appointed and David Dick & Son, of Charleston, 'were employed as architects and builders. The first brick on the foundation of the temporary capitol building was laid on January 14th, eleven days after the destruction of the Capitol, and the building was completed in forty-two working days. The main building, which extends from Capitol to Summers Streets is 40 by 294 feet with seven wings, two stories in height, and is composed of one hundred and sixty-six rooms. The construction of the building required 229,500 feet of framing lumber, 59,000 feet sub-floor, 45,000 feet of sheathing, 45,000 feet roofing, 38,000 feet siding, 95,000 feet flooring, 180,000 feet beaver board, 17,000 feet inside trim, 335 windows, 253 doors, 119 kegs of nails, 20,000 feet conduit, 40,000 feet electric wiring and 2,050 gallons of paint. The building is equipped with a complete steam heating plant with 6,500 feet radiation. The temporary office building was occupied about the first of March 1921.
The regular session of the Legislature convened on January 14th, eleven days after the destruction of the Capitol. The auditorium of the Baptist Temple had been secured for the sessions of the House of Delegates, while the sessions of the Senate were held in the assembly hall of the Y. M. C. A. building. When the Legislature reconvened for the March session both bodies had been provided quarters in the Kanawha county court house.
In his message to the Legislature, transmitted at the opening sessions, Governor John J. Cornwell said:
“Your meeting is marred by the calamity which befell the State on the 3rd inst—the burning of the Capitol building. While the State will suffer little monetary loss, the building and contents having been amply insured, it occurred at a most inopportune time. You will be obliged to share some of the inconvenience suffered by the State officers, heads of departments and employees, but the Committee upon which devolved the responsibility of selecting places for your meeting felt that the buildings chosen were the most available ones, all things considered.
“Inasmuch as the State has suffered the loss of its Capitol building, it is a duty, which I assume you will face fearlessly, to take immediate steps for the erection of a new one of fitting size and architecture. The State had outgrown the old building. The State Health Department and the State Road Commission were housed in business buildings out in the city. The Board of Control has its separate building, while the Department of Public Safety, the State Board of Children’s Guardians and the Adjutant General’s office were in the Armory building. The estimated rentals for these departments for the coming year would aggregate probably more than twenty thousand dollars.
“While the problem of providing for a new Capitol is one for the Legislature, I cannot refrain from expressing the belief that it would be the part of wisdom to erect a building of modest size and of fitting design as a Capitol building, to contain halls for the two houses of the Legislature, a sufficient number of committee rooms, the Governor's offices, offices for the Secretary of State and the Attorney General, and then construct a modern office building nearby to house all the other boards and departments. Those various departments are business organizations, with many clerks and employees and can best be provided for in a modern office building. I think a great deal of money can be saved the State by such an arrangement, for a Capitol building large enough to house all the various departments would, with its high ceilings and architectural designs, have much wasted space. Either that, or an attempt to economize space would spoil the architectural effect of the building."
Having thus been brought to the attention of the Legislature the question of a new Capitol became a matter of earnest discussion early in the session. The first Legislative action on the matter was the adoption of Senate Joint Resolution No. 3 on January 22, 1921, which provided for the appointment of a commission to be composed of the Board of Public Works, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House and five members from each of the two houses of the Legislature to procure plans and specifications for the erection of a State Capitol. The Commission thus created was instructed to take under consideration the plans suggested by Governor Cornwell in his biennial message, relative to the erection of a Capitol building and an office building, for the proper conduct of the business of the State. The Commission was further instructed to take no action to carry the resolution into effect until such time as the question of the relocation of the Capital had been determined in the regular constitutional manner.
While the ruins of the historic old Capitol were yet smoking an agitation was begun for the removal of the capital to some other city. The cities of Clarksburg and Parkersburg were the leading contenders for the honor, though Belington and other towns in the central and northern part of the State were not without their champions. This question was carried to the Legislature at its session in January and was finally and definitely set at rest on January 26th by the adoption of Senate Joint Resolution No. 13, “expressing it as the sense of the Legislature that the seat of government should remain in Charleston." The preamble and resolution is as follows:
“WHEREAS, the city of Charleston is the Capital of the State of West Virginia, the seat of government having been located in said city by a vote of the people in one thousand eight hundred and seventy-seven, and the mere burning of the capitol building has not had the effect to change the seat of government, but on the contrary the State government is in full operation in said city with all of its departments discharging their functions; and
“WHEREAS, The city of Charleston is the capital of the State of West Virginia which not only owns the ground upon which the Capitol building stood, but also owns the handsome Capitol Annex, in which have been located for many years the auditor's office, the treasurer’s office, the court rooms of the supreme court of appeals, the offices of the judges and of the clerk of said court, the law library and the department of archives and history, and also owns the land upon which is located the governor’s mansion and the offices of the board of control and other governmental offices, none of which were affected by the fire which destroyed the Capitol building, and
“WHEREAS, The officers of the State government and the clerks and the attaches of the various departments are all living in Charleston many of them having moved to this city and acquired their homes there because it was the Capital city, and this is true also of several of the judges, the clerk and t e attaches of the supreme court of appeals; and
“WHEREAS, A change in the location of the seat of government would disrupt all this, would seriously interfere with the work of the Legislature, would interrupt for a long time the orderly work of the government, cause great confusion and inflict great loss and distress upon many persons, as well as tremendous expense upon the State; and
“WHEREAS, If a serious effort should now be made to remove the seat of government from Charleston it would result not only in delaying the rebuilding of the Capitol building, but also in a bitter and unseemly contest which would be a calamity to the State, both political and economically, and would interfere with the important work of the Legislature and probably destroy the spirit of cooperation which now exists between the different sections of the State in sustaining and cordially supporting the different public institutions of the State which have heretofore been designedly located in different sections of the State, and would set a precedent for the inauguration in the future of movements to change the locations of other State institutions which have been regarded as permanently fixed, and such a contest for the removal of the Capitol would be a great economic waste involving the expenditure of large sums of money; and
“WHEREAS, We believe it is imperative that this question be settled at this session of the Legislature so that the work of the adjourned session in March may not be interrupted and embarrassed by the useless agitation of this matter and in order that an unseemly an disastrous contest may be avoided; be it
“Resolved by the Legislature of West Virginia: That the seat of government should not be changed, but should remain at the city of Charleston and the Capitol building should be rebuilt at said city without any unreasonable or unnecessary delay, and that for good order, the peace and welfare of the State, all efforts for the removal of the Capital from said city should be abandoned."
Having expressed itself in this manner the Legislature set about providing ways and means to carry the sense of this resolution into effect and for the motion of a new Capitol worthy of the State of West Virginia, and one of such magnitude as to command a respect for the State which erected it.
On May 3rd the Senate substitute for House Bill No. 1, known as the general appropriation bill, was passed by the Legislature, section 24-J of which, under the caption “Capitol and Office Buildings” provided an appropriation of $750,000 for the fiscal year 1922, and $1,500,000 for the fiscal year 1923. This section also created a Capitol Building Commission empowered to proceed to select a site and erect the necessary building or buildings. Following the appropriation, the section reads as follows:
“The above is to expended upon the order of the Capitol Building Commission hereby authorized to be appointed by the Governor immediately after the passage of this Act.
“The said Commission shall be composed of seven members of which the Governor himself shall be ex-officio chairman.
“Said Commission is hereby authorized and empowered to enter into contracts for the construction of suitable Capitol and office build
“Said Commission is hereby authorized to purchase, acquire, sell and exchange real estate and to co-operate with the city of Charleston on an equitable basis in acquiring the land on which to erect Capitol and office buildings.
“Said Commission is authorized to enter into contracts for the above named purposes for Capitol, office buildings, and land in a total amount of not to exceed six million, five hundred thousand dollars, plus the amount received by the State as insurance for the destruction of the old Capitol building, and the amount from the sale of land."
The appointment of the Capitol Building Commission, of which the Governor was designated by the act as ex-officio Chairman, was announced by Governor Ephraim F. Morgan on May 11, as follows: Gohen C. Arnold, President of the Senate, of Buckhannon, Upshur county; Edwin M. Keatley, Speaker of the House, of Charleston, Kanawha county; Fred M. Staunton, of Charleston, Kanawha county; John J. Cornwell, former Governor, of Romney, Hampshire county; N. Price Whitaker, of Wheeling, Ohio county; and William McKell, of Glen Jean, Fayette county. Because of urgent business and professional duties former Governor Cornwell declined to serve on the Commission and Herbert Fitzpatrick, of Huntington, Cabell county, was appointed in his stead. The resignation of Mr. McKell was tendered the Governor and accepted by him on January 9, 1922. To fill this vacancy the appointment of Harry P. Camden, of Parkersburg, Wood County, was announced on April 5, 1922. Because of ill health, Mr. Whitaker tendered his resignation as a member of the Commission, effective May 1st, 1922. The appointment of Virgil L. Highland of Clarksburg, Harrison County, to fill the vacancy, was announced a few days later.
The first meeting of the Capitol Building Commission was held on June 3, 1921, when Houston G. Young, Secretary of State, was designated as Secretary. A number of meetings were held to complete the preliminary work and on July 15th the selection of Cass Gilbert, a noted New York architect, was made to prepare plans and specifications of the new Capitol. Among Mr. Gilbert’s best known works are the State Capitol at St. Paul, Minn, the Woolworth Building and United States Custom House in New York City, and the Detroit Public Library.
The question of selecting a site for the new State House now arose. Sites were proposed in various parts of the city and its suburbs, but most prominent were the old site on Capitol Street, in the business section of the city; Capitol Hill, at the head of Capitol Street, overlooking the city; South Ruffner, on the opposite side of the Kanawha river, and the Duffy Street site. After many meetings of the Commission had been held the selection of the Duffy Street site was announced the latter part of December, 1921.
The grounds selected for the Capitol and office buildings are in the residential part of the city and distant about one and one-fourth miles from the old site. The tract comprises four city blocks—about sixteen acres—fronting on the Kanawha river and Kanawha Street and extending back to Washington Street, and between Duffy Street and California Avenue. The grounds are intersected by Oney Street, running from Kanawha to Washington Street, and by Quarrier Street, east from Duffy Street to California Avenue. Some months prior to the destruction of the old Capitol the State had purchased a lot on Duffy and Kanawha Streets, just below the site selected for the new Capitol, for the erection of a new Executive Mansion.
The new Capitol site is a part of a tract of one thousand and thirty acres surveyed in 1775 for Thomas Bullett. A patent for this tract was issued in 1779 by Thomas Jefferson, Governor of Virginia, to Cuthbert Bullett, devisee of Thomas Bullett, The tract, of which this is a part, was sold to George Clendennin, in 1789 the first settler on the site of what is now Charleston. The old Clendenin fort was located on this tract a short distance west of the site selected for the new Capitol. Clendenin sold the land to Joseph Ruffner in 1799, and, with the exception of two-thirds of an acre which was sold in 1873, the land was held by the Ruffner family until 1890, when it was sub-divided into town lots, designated as the town of Ruffner. In later years, with the growth and expansion of the city, the town of Rufiner became a part of Charleston.
Under authority contained in the act creating the Capitol Building Commission that body, on April 25, 1922, sold the old site on Capitol Street to A. S. Alexander, Trustee, his bid for the block being $1,301,000. A part of the block had been sold some time prior to the City of Charleston for the purpose of widening Lee and Washington Streets, for $250,000.
The Capitol Building Commission has selected Bonner H. Hill as its agent and supervisor, his appointment effective May 15, 1922. Mr. Hill served as City Manager of the city of Charleston from 1919 until his appointment as Agent of the Capitol Commission, during which time and under his direct management and supervision the magnificent new City Hall of Charleston was erected.
Events in Wheeling Home | Wheeling History Home | OCPL Home