West Virginia, endlessly covered with forests and known as the “Mountain State,” offers breathtaking scenery, natural resource-related sights, and year-round, outdoor activities.
Once rich in coal and timber, it was shaped by the mines and logging railroads which extracted them, but when decades of removal began to deplete these commodities, their rolling, green-carpeted mountains yielded secondary byproducts-namely, hiking, biking, fishing, rafting, climbing, and hunting to tourists and sports enthusiasts alike. Its New River Gorge, which offers many similar activities, is equally beautiful with its rugged banks and azure surfaces, while the principle city of Charleston, revitalized during the 1970s and 1980s, now features museums, art, shopping malls, restaurants, and world-class performance venues.
Located on the Kanawha River, and sporting an easily negotiable street grid system, it is subdivided into the Capitol Complex and the downtown area with the East End Historic District linking the two.
From the former, which is the heart of state government, juts the ubiquitously visible, gold-domed Capitol Building itself. Constructed of buff Indiana limestone and 4,640 tons of steel, which themselves required the temporary laying of a spur rail line to transport them, the building had been laid in three stages during an eight-year period: 1924 to 1925 for the west wing, 1926 to 1927 for the east wing, and 1930 to 1932 for the connecting rotunda. It was officially dedicated by Governor William G. Conley on June 20, 1932, on the occasion of West Virginia’s 69th birthday as a state.
Its gold dome, which extends five feet higher than that of the Capitol in Washington, is gilded in 23 ½-karat gold leaf, applied between 1988 and 1991 as tiny squares to cover the otherwise copper and lead surface.
Two-thirds of its interior, which encompasses 535,000 square feet subdivided into 333 rooms, is comprised of Italian travertine, imperial derby, and Tennessee marble, and the chandelier in the rotunda, its center piece, is made of 10,180 pieces of Czechoslovakian crystal illuminated by 96 light bulbs. Weighing 4,000 pounds, it hangs from a 54-foot brass and bronze chain.
Across from the State Capitol, but still within the complex, is the West Virginia Cultural Center. Opened in 1976 and operated by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, it was created to showcase the state’s artistic, cultural, and historical heritage, and houses the West Virginia State Museum, the archives and history library, a gift shop, and a venue for cultural events, performances, and related programs.
The former, a collection of items which represents the state’s land, people, and culture, is subdivided into 24 significant scenes covering five periods: Prehistory (3 million years BC to 1650 AD), Frontier (1754-1860), the Civil War and the 35th State (1861 to 1899), Industrialization (1900 to 1945), and Change and Tradition (1954 to the 21st century). The 24 representations themselves trace the state’s evolution and include such periods as “Coal Forest,” “River Plains,” “Wilderness,” “The Fort,” “Harper’s Ferry,” “Building the Rails,” “Coal Mine,” “Main Street, West Virginia,” and “New River Gorge.”
Thirteen monuments, memorials, and statues honoring West Virginians for their contributions to the state and the nation grace the Capitol Complex’s landscaped grounds.
Culture can also be experienced at the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences, a modern, 240,000-square-foot, three-level complex which opened on July 12, 2003 and represents one of the most ambitious economic, cultural, and educational projects in West Virginia’s history. Offering sciences, visual arts, and performing arts under a single roof, the center houses the dual-level Avampato Discovery Museum, an interactive, youth-oriented experience with sections such as Health Royale, KidSpace, Earth City, and Gizmo Factory. A 9,000-square-foot Art Gallery, located on the second floor, features both temporary and permanent exhibits, the latter emphasizing 19th and 20th century art by names such as Andy Warhol, Stuart Davis, Alexander Calder, Frank Stella, Vida Frey, and Albert Paley. The ElectricSky Theater, a 61-foot domed planetarium, offers daily astronomy shows and wide screen presentations. Live performances are staged in two locations: the 1,883-seat Maier Foundation Performance Hall, which is home to the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra, but otherwise offers a variety of performance types, from comedy to popular singers, bands, repertory, and Broadway plays, and the 200-seat Walker Theater, which features plays and dances with cabaret-style seating for the Woody Hawley singer-songwriter program. The Douglas V. Reynolds Intermezzo Café and three classrooms are located on the lower level.
Shopping can be done at two major venues. The Charleston Town Center Mall, located adjacent to the Town Center Marriott and Embassy Suites Hotel, and near the Civic Center, is a one million square foot, tri-level complex with more than 130 stores, three anchor department stores, six full-service restaurants, and a food court with ten additional fast food venues, and is accessed through three convenient parking garages. Sporting a three-story atrium and fountain, the upscale, Kanawha Valley complex was the largest urban shopping center east of the Mississippi River when it opened in 1983. duke energy customer service