History of the Capitol

Before the capitol was in its current location in Charleston, several West Virginia cities had served as the capitol location for the State of West Virginia. The capitol was first located in Wheeling from 1863-1870 in the Linsly Institute Building. It was moved to downtown Charleston from 1870-1875. The state’s capitol then moved back to Wheeling where it remained from 1875-1885, partially in the Linsly Building, and later in an original structure constructed by the city of Wheeling. The capitol returned to Charleston in 1885 where it remains in present day. The capitol was previously located in downtown Charleston from 1885-1921, then moved to the “Pasteboard Capitol” from 1921 to March of 1927.

The construction of the present capitol took eight years to complete at a cost of just under $10 million.  Cass Gilbert, a New York native, was appointed chief architect of the building in 1921. The state purchased 65 pieces of property between California Avenue and Duffy Street for the building’s foundation.  George A. Fuller Company was awarded the general construction, a steam shovel was moved on site, and a groundbreaking service was held on January 7, 1924.

It was constructed in three stages: The West Wing was built in 1924-25 and the East Wing was constructed in 1926-27. The rotunda connecting the two wings was completed in 1932. Governor William G. Conley dedicated the new capitol on the state’s 69th birthday, June 20, 1932. The total construction cost of the capitol was $9,491,180.03.

The capitol holds 530,000 square feet of floor space and 333 rooms in its main unit and two wings.  The building encompasses more than 14 acres of floor space.  Two thirds of the interior consist of marble. The walls are made of Imperial Danby, and the floors are a combination of white Vermont marble and dark Italian travertine.  The Rotunda features a chandelier hanging from a 54-foot brass and bronze chain. The 4,000-pound chandelier is eight feet in diameter, made of 10,080 pieces of Czechoslovakian crystal, and illuminated by 96 light bulbs. 

The exterior of the Capitol is made of buff Indiana limestone.  More than 700 train carloads of limestone and 4,640 tons of steel were used in its construction. The West Entrance to the East Wing, East Entrance to main building, and East Entrance to West Wing feature the carved heads of mythological creatures above the entranceways. Two biblical inscriptions are carved in stone tablets on the north and south bases of the capitol dome. On the north side: "Wisdom is the principle thing. Therefore, get wisdom. And with all of thy getting, get understanding." On the south side: "Happy is the man that findeth wisdom and getteth understanding."

The 293-foot gold atop the capitol is five feet taller than the dome of the United States Capitol.  The dome is covered in copper and gold leaf. The dome was originally gilded by Mack Jenney and Tyler Company in 1931. The dome was restored to the original plans of Cass Gilbert in 2005, which included the reconstruction of the eagle at the top of a 25-foot bronze spire built on a 34 and a half-foot lantern. 

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