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Division announes plans for West Virginia Independence Hall exhibit of Civil War battle flags

The West Virginia Division of Culture and History has announced plans for the largest exhibit of West Virginia Civil War battle flags anywhere. The new exhibit at historic West Virginia Independence Hall in Wheeling will feature the state’s rare collection of original flags, none of which have been on public display for more than two decades.

The Division is partnering with the non-profit West Virginia Independence Hall Foundation Inc. to conserve and exhibit a selection of the 140-year-old flags, which for many years were among the most popular items on display in the West Virginia State Museum in Charleston. Because of their fragile condition, however, they have been protected in dark storage for the last 20 years.

Independence Hall was selected for the exhibit both because of its connection to the Civil War in West Virginia and because there is space at the facility to display a number of the flags, many of which are more than 6 feet long. The facility is part of the West Virginia State Museum network operated by the Division.

Flags in the collection represent regiments of soldiers from what is now primarily central and northern West Virginia. Research has shown many of the banners probably were carried in some of the war’s most important battles and campaigns, including Vicksburg, Second Bull Run and Appomattox. A few flags even have what appears to be battle damage, including bullet holes in the fabric and shattered staffs. Others flew over military headquarters or were used for ceremonial purposes for years after the war.

The new exhibit will feature the flags displayed in specially designed pressure-mounted frames, complete with a state-of-the-art, motion-activated lighting system to help protect the fabric. Expanding upon the existing statehood exhibits at Independence Hall, the flag display also will include historic photos and documents about individual soldiers and regiments, as well as interactive displays that will allow visitors to learn more about the Civil War and its soldiers.

The Division has contracted with one of the country’s leading textile conservation firms, Textile Preservation Associates Inc. of Keedysville, Md., to do the first-ever comprehensive assessment of the state’s Civil War flag collection and recommend a plan for conserving and exhibiting the flags.

The conservation project, which is estimated at $190,000, will be funded in part through the Division and a grant from the National Park Service’s Save America’s Treasures program. The Foundation has initiated a campaign to assist with the costs of conserving and exhibiting the flags.

David B. McKinley, president of the West Virginia Independence Hall Foundation said, “The Foundation is delighted to assist with this important project of statewide and national significance. Not only is this an opportunity to help preserve these endangered relics of our state’s history, but the public will be able to view the newly conserved flags for the first time right here at West Virginia Independence Hall.”

He added that the rarity of the battle flags should help increase tourism in the Wheeling area by attracting Civil War enthusiasts, genealogists, students and other travelers to Independence Hall.

One Civil War flag in the state’s collection, the regimental flag of the 1st West Virginia Veteran Infantry, was conserved last year. The flag was displayed during today’s announcement and will remain on exhibit at Independence Hall through the celebration of West Virginia Day on June 20.

For more information about the flag project, call Ryan Burns at (304) 558-0220, ext. 172.

West Virginia Independence Hall, originally built as a federal custom house in 1859, 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. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1988, the museum is owned and 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 daily 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 facility is closed on Sundays in January and February.

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 its programs. The Division is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.

The West Virginia Independence Hall Foundation led the effort, beginning in the 1960s, to restore the building to its Civil War appearance. The group continues to provide support by sponsoring a number of programs at Independence Hall, including the annual West Virginia Day celebration.