West Virginia Independence Hall is the building where the majority of the legislature took place in West Virginia's journey to statehood, housing the first and second Wheeling Conventions. These conventions dealt with rallying support for secession from the communities, then placing political seats once the Virginia Ordinance of Secession was ratified, and also setting boundaries for the new state. The West Virginia Constitutional Convention was held here as well, and dealt with the formation and naming of the new state. Today the West Virginia Independence Hall is a museum and holds numerous events year round.
The Wheeling Custom House opened in 1859, and is one of the oldest structures still standing with large rolled wrought iron sections in it's framing. The developers used an wrought iron frame as opposed to wood, because of the many devastating fires that had previously happened in larger cities. Supervising Architect of
the U.S. Treasury from 1852 to 1865, Ammi B. Young, designed the Wheeling Custom House under Captain Alexander H.
Bowman from the U.S. Department of Treasury. Young's design was so solid, that there have been no major changes, except for the roof, since 1861. Wheeling was named as a port of entry in 1831, and became a bustling industry town. This resulted in the B&O Railroad laying track through Wheeling in 1852 . The city became a critical
transportation center with the National Road, and had the first bridge across the Ohio River, the Wheeling Suspension Bridge. These industries called for the need of federal buildings in the city of Wheeling, and the custom house doubled as a post office. However, the Wheeling Custom House became nationally significant during the Civil War era when it housed the the pro-Union
state conventions of Virginia in the spring and summer of 1861, the capitol of loyal
Virginia from June 1861 until June 1863, and the site of the first constitutional
convention for West Virginia from November 1861 to February 1862, and the recalled session
of the convention in February 1863.
Its completion, coinciding with the beginning of the Civil War, provided a facility for heated political discussions and constitutional conventions that led to eventual statehood for West Virginia in 1863. Here, issues dividing many Virginians - slavery being one of many - were debated, compromised and shaped into the skeleton of statehood.1
It is our duty on an occasion like this to elevate ourselves into an atmosphere, in which party passion and prejudice cannot exist - to conduct all our deliberations with calmness and wisdom, and to maintain, with inflexible firmness, whatever position we may find it necessary to assume. - John Janney of Loudoun County at the Virginia General Assembly of 1861.2
Let us act, let us repudiate these monstrous usurpations; let us show our loyalty to Virginia and the Union; and let us maintain ourselves in the Union at every hazard. It is useless to cry peace when there is no peace; and I for one will repeat what was said by one of Virginia's noblest sons and greatest statesmen, 'Give me liberty or give me death!' - John Carlile at the First Wheeling Convention.3
In this Convention we have no ordinary political gathering. We have no ordinary task before us. We come here to carry out and execute, and it may be, to institute a government for ourselves. We are determined to live under a State Government in the United States of America and under the Constitution of the United States. It requires stout hearts to execute this purpose; it requires men of courage - of unfaltering determination; and I believe, in the gentlemen who compose this Convention, we have the stout hearts and the men who are determined in this purpose. - Arthur Boreman, President of the Second Wheeling Convention.4
Doubtless those in remaining Virginia would return to the Union, so to speak, less reluctantly without the division of the old state than with it; but I think we could not save as much in this quarter by rejecting the new state, as we should lose by it in West Virginia. We can scarcely dispense with the aid of West Virginia in this struggle; much less can we afford to have her against us, in Congress and in the field. Her brave and good men regard her admission into the Union as a matter of life and death. They have been true to the Union under very severe trials. We have so acted as to justify their hopes; and we can not fully retain their confidence, and co-operation, if we seem to break faith with them. - Abraham Lincoln.5