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West Virginia Independence Hall Museum to celebrate 150th anniversary of laying of the cornerstone on Sept. 16 2006

West Virginia Independence Hall Museum in downtown Wheeling will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the laying of the building’s cornerstone on Saturday, Sept. 16, at 2 p.m. All activities are free and open to the public.

On Sept. 18, 1856, there was a mile-long procession of Freemasons, firefighters, military units and bands in Wheeling to celebrate the laying of the cornerstone of a new federal custom house, post office and federal court. Wheeling had been chosen for the site of the Federal Custom House as part of the U. S. Treasury’s building plan of the 1850s to aid in the growth of the country. The city was considered a gateway to the west because the Ohio River and the National Road intersected within its boundaries.

The sandstone Renaissance Revival-style building was designed by Ammi B. Young, one of the country’s first professional architects. The structure is architecturally significant because the building’s innovative internal skeletal structure includes wrought iron “I” beams, box girders and cast iron columns–very early uses of the technology that later made skyscrapers possible. Independence Hall is one of the earliest surviving examples of this engineering.

The building was under construction for three years. It opened on March 21, 1859, as the post office. Now known as West Virginia Independence Hall Museum, the old federal custom house and post office was purchased by the state of West Virginia in 1964 and extensive renovations began. In 1971, during the decade of restoration, the West Virginia Independence Hall Foundation decided to open the cornerstone, in hopes that it would increase interest in the restoration of the building.

At the event, Douglas McKay, an original member of the Foundation, will recount the activities that took place the day the cornerstone was opened more than 30 years ago at 2 p.m. The casket of the cornerstone will be on display. Visitors also are invited to a Victorian-era tea party.

For more information about the cornerstone celebration, contact Melissa Brown, site manager of the museum, at (304) 238-1300.

West Virginia Independence Hall (WVIH) served as the home of the pro-Union state conventions of Virginia during the spring and summer of 1861 and as the capitol of loyal Virginia from June 1861 to June 1863. It also was the site of the first constitutional convention for West Virginia. WVIH was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1988 and added to the Civil War Discovery Trail in 1995. It is operated by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History with the cooperation and assistance of the West Virginia Independence Hall Foundation. The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the exception of major holidays, and is located on the corner of 16th and Market Streets in Wheeling.

The West Virginia Division of Culture and History, an agency of the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts, brings together the state’s past, present and future through programs and services in the areas of archives and history, the arts, historic preservation and museums. Visit the Division’s website at www.wvculture.org for more information about programs of the Division. The Division of Culture and History is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.

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Ginny Painter
Deputy Commissioner/Communications Manager
West Virginia Division of Culture and History
The Cultural Center
1900 Kanawha Blvd., East
Charleston, WV 25305
Phone (304) 558-0220, ext. 120
Fax (304) 558-2779
Email ginny.painter@wvculture.org