CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia got its 150th birthday party started Thursday with a bell-ringing ceremony, festivals, speeches, concerts — and lots of cake.
On the state Capitol steps, hundreds of people watched as a bell rang 35 times to honor West Virginia’s entrance as the 35th state on June 20, 1863.
“This is not just an important day in our state history,” Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said. “It’s a great day in American history.”
The state Culture Center also was bustling with activity as visitors listened to folk music, bought West Virginia Forever birthday stamps that debuted Thursday and attended the Charleston Light Opera Guild’s free performance of the Broadway musical “Civil War.”
Part of the festivities included the chance to eat cake — an 8-foot replica of the state Capitol that will serve 15,000 people at the Culture Center by the time the festivities wrap up this weekend.
Young Reagan Wilson and her brother, Luke, sported blue lips courtesy of flavored ice bought from one of dozens of food vendors as they tagged along with their mom, Caroline Wilson of Omaha, Neb., and grandmother, Joyce Baker of Charleston. The kids got their photo taken with Tomblin.
“We’ve enjoyed going to the Capitol and introducing my kids to a piece of West Virginia history,” Caroline Wilson said.
The event happened to be the final stop for 25 teachers on a history tour that also took them to Jamestown and Williamsburg, Va.; battlefields in Gettysburg, Pa., and Antietam, Md.; and parts of New England. The American Heart tour — which stands for History Education through Activities, Research and Technology — was possible through a federal grant to West Virginia Wesleyan College.
Sesquicentennial celebrations were held statewide.
In Harpers Ferry, a special naturalization ceremony was held Thursday for 20 people on the banks of the Shenandoah River. The newest U.S. citizens come from 16 countries.
In 1963, President John F. Kennedy spoke in Charleston during the state’s 100th birthday celebration. His nephew, Mark Kennedy Shriver, was scheduled to speak in Wheeling on Thursday night. Shriver’s appearance came at the invitation of West Virginia Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall.