Plans to mark W.Va.’s 150th birthday are unveiled

WHEELING – The West Virginia Legislature, historical reenactments and a commissioned musical work celebrating the Mountain State’s history all will be part of West Virginia’s 150th birthday celebration on June 20.

The orchestral work “Forever Free” will be unveiled that day during West Virginia Day concerts in the city. The Wheeling Symphony Orchestra has commissioned the work from American composer Kenneth Fuchs.

Conductor Andre Raphel described the piece as “a fanfare overture that captures the musical spirit” of the people of West Virginia, and he noted Fuchs has arranged the music into both orchestral and band versions.

The work will be royalty-free for one year, allowing it to be played by the state’s high school and college bands, added Bruce Wheeler, executive director of the Wheeling Symphony.

Wheeling and state leaders announced the schedule of events for the event Thursday morning at West Virginia Independence Hall – the same place where the former western counties of Virginia became their own state on June 20, 1863.

“We are the birthplace of West Virginia – we are where it all happened 150 years ago,” explained Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie. “We were the capital of West Virginia, we are where the legislature and the people of West Virginia came together to make a decision to secede from the state of Virginia.

“We are happy to be the birthplace of West Virginia, and ultimately where it all happened.”

The West Virginia Legislature returns to Wheeling for the sesquicentennial, and state lawmakers begin their June interim sessions in Wheeling on June 19.

Twelve hours of events in Wheeling are slated for throughout the day on June 20, beginning with the presentation of a proposed statue of Francis Pierpont, governor of the Restored Government of Virginia, at 10 a.m. Reenactments pertaining to West Virginia’s statehood then are scheduled to begin at noon.

There will be tours of the First State Capitol building at 1413 Eoff St. from 2-4 p.m.

The first of two West Virginia Day concerts is set for Heritage Port from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., while a second one is to begin at 7:30 p.m.

The Wheeling Symphony Orchestra will unveil “Forever Free” during the concerts. West Virginia’s poet laureate, Marc Harshman, also will read an original poem created for the event.

Fireworks are set to begin at Heritage Port at 10 p.m.

Events continue on Friday, with a Blue and Grey Choir concert at 7 p.m. at West Virginia Independence Hall, and the movie “Lincoln” is to be shown at 9:30 p.m. at Heritage Port.

The celebration concludes Saturday night with a Civil War Ball at the McLure Hotel in downtown Wheeling.

During Thursday’s announcement, state Sens. Jack Yost, D-Wellsburg, and Robert “Rocky” Fitzsimmons, D-Wheeling, presented two separate Community Participation Project grants to help with the cost for West Virginia’s 150th birthday celebration in Wheeling.

The first was presented to Randall Reid-Smith, commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, for $15,000 to cover staging and promotion for the concerts at Heritage Port.

The second was given to Frank O’Brien, executive director of the Wheeling-Ohio County Convention and Visitors Bureau, for $25,000 for the Capitol Theatre renovation project.