Situated approximately 50 miles east of Huntington, 75 miles south of Parkersburg, and 125 miles southwest of Clarksburg, Charleston, WV is a great travel destination.
Its earliest inhabitants were the Cherokee Native American tribes, followed by European frontiersman who settled the area, initially chartering it as “Charles Town” in honor of Charles Clendenin, the father of founder George Clendenin, in 1794. In in 1818 the name was changed to Charleston.
Today, with its location at the confluence of the Kanawha River (pronounced “Kaw-naw-wuh” and representing the largest inland waterway in the state) and the Elk River, and at the junction of Interstates 64 and 77, Charleston is the largest city in West Virginia with approximately 50,000 residents, and the state capitol.
Because it sat on the riverways, the city has always been an epicenter of commerce, including salt, fuel, coal mining, hospitality (in fact, Charleston possesses the highest concentration of hotels in West Virginia), and slavery.
The salt mine industry was also a mainstay here decades, and during the 1970s the city and area used to be called “Chemical Valley” due to the preponderance of firms like DuPont, Monsanto, Union Carbide that established bases here.
A great place to grasp the history of Charleston, the region and the state is at the West Virginia State Museum.
Unlike traditional visitor centers located in other state capitols across the country, the museum is an immense treasure trove of interactive galleries and exhibits, artifacts and archives, and more.
You could literally spend hours here meandering through the timeline associated exhibits dating back to the prehistoric era up until today. Each era has been expertly detailed and displayed to showcase not only the original and recreated relics from that period, but to immerse the visitor in the time and place of themes and events taking place in Charleston and further afield at that time.
The museum is located on the spectacular grounds of the State Capitol Complex, a stunning architectural masterpiece in its own right overlooking the banks of the Kanawha River. Wander the expansive hallways gazing at the soaring intricately detailed ceilings and centerpiece dome, visit the awe-inspiring Senate and House of Delegates chambers, and marvel at the decades-old buff limestone construction here which underwent several different iterations over the years.
It was originally located approximately 180 miles away in Wheeling, then moved to Charleston, back to Wheeling, then back again to downtown Charleston where it stood from 1885 to 1921 when it was destroyed by fire. In 1932 it moved to its now permanent home just a stone’s throw away from the West Virginia Governor’s Mansion, completed in 1925.
While here, be sure not to miss the somber West Virginia Veteran’s Memorial outside honoring the brave service men and women lost during the four major 20th century conflicts, the 10,000 names lovingly etched in granite on two-story high panels set in a beautiful circular plaza design.
While driving, walking, or riding the trolley loops (which only cost $1.50) around the downtown historic district you’ll no doubt come across the 1500 block of Virginia Street, holding the distinction as the longest continuous, unbroken city block in the U.S.
Other historic entities around town include The Craik-Patton House, a Greek Revival-style home built in 1834 and named after pioneer James Craik and Confederate Colonel George Smith Patton; the Daniel Boone Hotel (it has since been transformed into a luxury office building) as a tribute to his exploits as a fisherman and trapper in the Kanawha Valley; and Springhill Cemetery, Park and Arboretum.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Cemetery is the final resting place of many prominent early settlers of Kanawha County and the city. Set on a picturesque bluff overlooking the city and river and spanning 150 acres, it is more than a burial ground, rather a repository of history through its departed: The Civil War, slavery and emancipation, religious segregation, and so forth. The four-part historic walk guide at the main office provides a detailed history of many of the hundreds prominent folks buried here.
The grave markers and crypts run the gamut from Gothic to Romanesque, Neo-Classical Revival, Art Deco and other architectural styles, and among the living are scores of wildlife including wild turkeys, deer, foxes, and numerous bird species (the cemetery is also a popular birding spot).
For a city this size, Charleston has a great deal to offer in the visual and performing arts, including the Charleston Ballet, Clay Center for the Arts & Sciences, West Virginia Symphony Orchestra, Kanawha Players Theater, Erma Byrd Art Gallery (on the campus of the Univeristy of Charleston), the Albans Art Center, and at numerous live music venues, many where Appalachian and Bluegrass music are popular genres, just to name a few.
Residents and visitors alike also enjoy a wealth of outdoor activities throughout the County including public art displays, white water rafting, ATV trails, hiking, water and snow skiing, fall foliage exploration (80% of the state is forested and the WV Fall Foliage Train will be making a stop here) and special events at Haddad Riverfront Park set on the banks of the Kanawha River.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of what Charleston has to offer.
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