“Every ending is a new beginning
State 2: West Virginia - June 6th 2017
We departed the Walmart in Clarksburg, WV around 10:00 am, and headed to Charleston to tour the Capitol and State's Museum. It was a long, and lonely 4-hour drive along the windy mountain roads from Clarksburg to Charleston. Most of the towns we came across were one-horse towns teetering on the brink of existence. We noticed a recurring pattern of homes that had fallen into disrepair, and businesses that clearly closed up shop long ago. It was evident West Virginia was severely hurting economically, but we would not fully come to understand the magnitude of the situation until our visit to Charleston.
Even though Charleston is the state’s capitol and the largest city in West Virginia, one thing we noticed immediately was it did not have that typical “city feeling”. We both found this very refreshing as we both dislike cities, as does Rosie. Our first stop was the state's capitol building. We did not have any difficulty locating it, because the rotunda is so large it was visible from outside the city limits. Not only was the rotunda gigantic, but it was 24k gold leafed, and is actually 4 ½ feet taller than the Rotunda in the Washington, DC Capitol. We entered the capitol building, and made our way to the information desk where the tour began beneath that massive rotunda. Looking up at that dome from the inside was quite the sight, and it had a single massive crystal chandelier hanging down from the apex.
While we were touring, we learned that the state's congress was in a special session to pass a state budget to avoid a government shutdown. The legislators needed to cut 500 million from the budget, and lobbyist were also there in full force to ensure their specific interests were not on the chopping block. We learned the cause of the economic downturn was an eroding tax base, decrease in demand for coal, and the loss of a few large chemical companies that had recently relocated out of the state. The City of Charleston used to have a population of over 100,000 just a decade ago, but now has a population of 54,000. When the jobs leave an area, so do the people. You could clearly see the stress and despair on the faces of legislators as we toured. When we reached the House Chamber it was in recess. One of the delegates invited us up to stand on the Speaker of the Houses’ podium and he took the picture below. It was a very kind act for him to take time to create a special memory for 2 out of town tourists while being engrossed in the stressful task of balancing the state's budget. This example is just one of the many kind actions we would experience from citizens of West Virginia during our visit. Our tour ended in the governor’s office which was nice of them to allow us access. Although the governor was not currently in, we did get to see where he delivers his press conferences, and signed his visitors book.
After touring the State Capitol building, we went across the way the State's House Museum. Admission was free, and the museum was very cleverly designed. The path through the Museum followed the linear history of West Virginia beginning in prehistoric times. Each room you entered, had a date on the floor, and the room was designed to reflect that period in West Virginia in history. We were instantly transported from a prehistoric jungle, to a civil war battle field, to a coal mine, a 1950’s soda shop, and more all with in a 2-hour time period! The most interesting thing we learned during the tour is how West Virginia became the 35th state. As you might have already assumed, West Virginia was once part of the state of Virginia. In 1961 Virginia voted to succeed from the US prior the start of the Civil War. West Virginia also voted and decided it did not want to succeed from the US, but that it did want to succeed from Virginia. As a result, Abraham Lincoln formally admitted West Virginia into the US as the 35th state in 1863, giving it the unique distinction of being the only state ever formed by succession from a Confederate state. Currently, West Virginia is attempting to brand itself as a tourist destination, and I believe with time and effort they will be successful. We walked away from the museum realizing West Virginia has a long history of booms and busts. However, West Virginia and its people are strong, resilient, and will recover.
After leaving the State museum tour, we were absolutely ravenously hungry. We decided to hit the town to see what culinary creations Charleston had to offer. We ended up at a pizza joint called Pies & Pints located on a cute and bustling brick lined city street. We had an arugula, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes white pie that was one on the top ten pizzas I have ever had in my entire life. It could best be described as a hybrid between a traditional pizza and a salad pizza. Whomever it was who had the idea to put arugula salad on a pizza was a was truly a genius. When we returned to our van, Rosie had a $5.00 parking ticket on her windshield. Apparently, the spot we parked in had a 30 minute time limit and we were there for 47 minutes. Rosie said she tried to talk her way out of the ticket, and even showed some skin all to avail.
On the way out of Charleston we were treated to an amazing sunset and we were able to take a picture to share with all of you. We then drove to a Beckley, WV Walmart to sleep for the night.