The Rich History of Charleston, West Virginia

West Virginia has its fair share of historical events that shaped national history and culture. Visit West Virginia, and you would find countless historical sights and landmarks, each with their own story that anyone fascinated with history would love to learn. The state’s capital, Charleston, has its unique heritage that you might learn about while touring around the city.

The Battle of Charleston
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

The Battle of Charleston

The secession of the slave states wasn’t the only case of secession during the American Civil War. The state of Virginia joined the Confederate cause and seceded from the Union while the western portion opposed the secession and remained occupied by Union forces.

Throughout the more well-known and documented engagements in the American Civil War, the battle fought between the Confederate forces of General William Wing Loring and the Federal Command of Colonel Joseph Andrew Jackson pales in comparison.

Despite that, the battle and activities that happened in the Battle of Charleston held more strategic importance and held a special meaning for its participants as this is a battle where the Union Army was defeated.

After this battle, the Union Army came back and recaptured the city until the war ended. By 1863, the western region of Virginia was declared to be the state of West Virginia.

The Search for a State Capital

The Search for a State Capital

Despite becoming a state, settling on a permanent state capital took a few years for West Virginia. West Virginia has designated two cities as their capitals since its organization, alternating between Wheeling and Charleston.

Wheeling was the first capital of the state as this was where the delegates from the western counties that seek statehood gather to begin the process of joining the union. It shifted to Charleston in 1870 but returned to Wheeling in 1875.

It even earned the name “the Floating Capital” as the capital had been on the move on West Virginia riverboats.

After alternating between Wheeling and Charleston for years, West Virginia voters finally voted on Charleston to be the permanent state capital in 1877. Charleston won easily with more than half the votes. After being voted, the capital changed cities for a final time, moving from Wheeling to Charleston.

First Brick Street

Photo Credit: Only In Your State

First Brick Street

The first brick street in the entire world was laid in Charleston, West Virginia on October 23, 1870.  A man named Mordecai Levi had an idea that would improve the hard-packed dirt streets of the city.

At the time when automobiles were decades away, the roads were constructed out of gravel or compacted dirt. Some parts of the road would often get washed away or become a giant mud puddle when it would rain. In turn, travelers would have a hard time during a storm as it makes roads treacherous.

Levi created the idea of using brick roads to pave the early streets and started experimenting by paving Summer Street. By 1873, he finished paving an entire block.

Bricks became a great solution to the problems with the roads. They are extremely durable, making them an answer to heavier traffic. They also looked good in the process. This ended the limitations caused by the weather and revolutionized transportation, not just in Charleston, but other cities as well.

Modern technology and development allowed the use of other methods to create roads, and brick roads stopped being necessary, but Levi paved a new path for the American road system. While the brick road in Charleston is no more, it would be a nice fact to know if you’re ever strolling through Summer Street.

Learning about history while traveling is a whole different experience from learning in the classroom. It’s more than just simply learning about forgettable dates and names, but it’s also about gaining new insight on the past of the place you are visiting while also understanding the culture of the people you’ll be interacting with first-hand.  

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