The West Virginia State Museum is operated by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History with a mission to preserve and promote the history, culture and arts of West Virginia. The museum is located on the first floor of the West Virginia Culture Center at the West Virginia State Capital. Visitors to the museum may follow a path through twenty-six different exhibition rooms.
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The showpath takes guests on a journey through the history of West Virginia beginning with exhibits on the state’s geology, coal forests and the pre-historic cultures that lived along the river plains. Exhibits follow the state’s history through European settlement and frontier life, to the struggle for statehood, explore life as a coal miner in a coal town, and how things changed with the Great Depression. West Virginia’s history during the Civil Rights movement, and 20th century changes to culture and transportation are also displayed. Visitors may end their tour with a 5-minute audiovisual presentation on the state’s efforts to preserve cultural and historical artifacts and what it means to be a proud West Virginian today.
The museum displays over one thousand artifacts from the state’s collection. Artifacts from the pre-historic collection include the world’s oldest known seed, and part of a mastodon jaw. An audiovisual presentation in the Conflict and Settlement room features the history of the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, and battles related to early European settlement. A special exhibit on Wheeling, one of the state’s largest cities, introduces the concept of immigration and highlights the cultural achievements of the city and the influence of the railroads. Significant objects include numerous Civil War artifacts, a reproduction of an early 1900’s coal company store, historic and contemporary painting and sculpture by West Virginia artists, and a springboard wagon from the late 1800’s from which the Reverend George W. Kesler would preach to the public. Perhaps the most asked-about artifact in the museum’s collection are Emmiline and Alexander, two fleas who passed in 1906, but enjoyed a lavish life as entertainers with the flea circus of New York City.
History: The collection of the West Virginia State Museum was begun in the 1890’s with the organization of the West Virginia Historical and Antiquarian Society. Although the society had limited state support, it was given space in the first floor of the state capital building to house exhibits. The exhibits officially opened to the public as a museum in 1894, featuring a small permanent collection, as well as a number of items that had recently been on display at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The Historical Society’s collection legally became part of the West Virginia State Museum in 1905 with an act of legislation. The collection was then moved to it’s own home in the Capitol Annex, which by a stroke of luck, saved it from the fire which devastated the capitol building in 1921.
The collection moved to the newly opened West Virginia Science and Culture Center in 1976, where it remains today. A 2009 renovation expanded the exhibits and added architectural enhancements and interactive displays.
Ongoing Programs and Education: Guests may explore the exhibits via a self-guided tour. Guided tours are available for groups of 15 or more. The museum offers an extensive array of materials to support teachers with lesson plans and educational videos. Lessons are geared towards students in grades four through eight. Activity Packages allow students to participate in interactive learning experiences. Over nine activities to choose from include a Young Writers Kit, an Adventure Kit, a Team Challenge and Classroom Jeopardy. A once-weekly afterschool program offers educational activities for children in grades two through five. Saturday programs are geared towards the whole family. Each Saturday centers on a different theme and allows for exploration of the exhibits as well as family participation in classic games.
Past and Future Exhibits: Two exhibit rooms at the museum are dedicated to changing displays. Temporary exhibits allow for the museum’s permanent collection to be showcased on a rotating basis, and allow for the display of visiting artifacts and artwork. Recent exhibits have included a juried quilt show and a juried art show in collaboration with the West Virginia Commission on the Arts.
What’s Nearby: The West Virginia State Museum is located on the first floor of the West Virginia Culture Center. The Culture Center hosts a variety of performances and events and houses the State Archives. The Culture Center is located within the Capitol Complex, home to the State Capitol.
1900 Kanawha Boulevard East Charleston WV 25305, Phone: 304-558-0220