Charleston, the capitol of West Virginia, has a long and varied history. But, the capital of the state hasn’t always been Charleston. For years in the 1800’s it bounced back and forth between the towns of Charleston and Wheeling. Citizens of West Virginia simply couldn’t decide on the best location for the state’s capital. It took them over ten years to decide on a permanent location for the capital city. It wasn’t until 1877 that the final decision was made, in fact.
In 1863, the state of West Virginia was born through the presidential proclamation of Abraham Lincoln, permanently seperating the states of Virginia and West Virginia. A major victory had been won by the Union Loyalists in Charleston and across the newly formed state. Attaining statehood, however, was not the end of the story for Charleston. History was still to decide it’s fate. It was not a foregone conclusion that Charleston would be the new state capital. Instead, over the next decade and a half, citizens would vote and courts would decide where the capital would be. The decision was a difficult one to make, and citizans remained undecided for many years.
Between 1863 and 1877, the West Virginia state archives made their way up and down the Ohio River several times on large barges, as the capital city changed from Charleston to Wheeling. Charleston was a good choice for the state capital since it was one of the largest cities in the state at the time, however, it lacked proximity to other northern states. Despite its worthiness as a choice, citizens repeatedly voted to move the capital city from Charleston to Wheeling, in the Northern Panhandle, nearer to Ohio and Pennsylvania. After several such moves, a final vote was held in 1877, and the citizens of West Virginia overwhelmingly chose Charleston as the permanent capital city. By this point, industry was settling into Charleston, and it was becoming more of a centralized industrial hub.
Now, Charleston is in an extremely centralized location in the center of the state. Nestled in the valley where two major rivers meet, it is easily accessible by boat. Three major interstate highways also join near the city, making it a central hub for industry. The once undecided location has proven to be the perfect spot for a state capital – easily accessible, centrally located, and close to many neigboring areas. What once was a remote area near the outskirts of the Northern border has become a centrally located, booming industrial center.