Attractions August 08, 2018
The Mysterious Hidden Gem Attraction In West Virginia You Never Even Knew Existed
To read about our history is one thing. To see pictures and drawings of it enhances our stimulation. But what if you could take an interactive walk through time in which the settings and structures of the past are recreated? Well, it just so happens that you can.
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Most people have no idea that The West Virginia History Museum even exists. Not even when they enter the building where it is housed.
The museum is in The Culture Center on the west side of the capitol complex, but even as you enter the Culture Center, you will have no idea of the gem hiding just below your feet.
As you explore the main floor, walking among works of art and decorative quilts, you will notice an escalator leading underground.
When you reach the lower floor, you will enter the museum proper, and still it will look like nothing special. You will encounter some cool displays, like firearms and artifacts from the old west. You will even see items worn by Billy the Kid himself, including a pair of his leather chaps.
But as you explore further, you will enter a darkened area. The temperature will drop and a cool breeze will brush your face. From somewhere up above the sounds of forest creatures and crickets emanate. A metal plaque on the floor reads
300 million B.C. You have just entered an ancient coal forest - West Virginia before the existence of humans.
After a moment, a voice begins to speak, introducing you to West Virginia, 300 million B.C. Prehistoric plants line the illuminated walls, interspersed with natural artifacts in glass boxes. As you move through the area, you realize you are not in a single room; what you are following is actually a trail. A trail through time.
As you follow along the path, metal plaques begin to count down the years. The first humans will appear: early Native Americans. Then the settlers arrive, and begin to build cabins of wood and glass on native lands.
Next, you will enter the frontier age, a time of log cabins and war with the natives. Along the way, these recreated structures house actual artifacts. The edifices may be replicas, but the relics they house are not.
Before long, you will bear witness to the American Revolution, then the Civil War. You will pass cannons and the sound of cannon fire and gunshots. The sound of men at battle will surround you. Another cannon shot will blast. The announcer continues to pop up along the way, describing the time period you have just entered.
As you walk further, the war will end, things will quiet down, and you will enter the old west. Wooden structures, farms and horses are your first glimpse of life in the late 1800s.
Soon, you will pass into an old west town, brought to life by the ever expanding railroad that has become a major industry now that the war no longer inhibits its production.
Along the way, you will enter a general store, its shelves lined with products of the time. Everything from medicine to dried goods to glass lanterns are on display.
Slowly, technology will advance and the 20th century will dawn. Your path is no longer the color of earth and dust, but is now paved with brick. Building are made out of stone instead of wood. The structural effects of modern industry are on full display.
Soon, the brick roads will become asphalt, and West Virginia as we know it begins to take shape.
There are now interstates and highways. As you walk along this one, the familiar Mail Pouch Tobacco billboard prominently displayed, you will see wooden poles rising above you, power lines strung between them. Leaves cling to the poles, while motionless raccoons and birds peer down at you from above.
Eventually, you will pass into the 50s, were you will find a typical diner of the day. From this point forward, you will see technology emerge. You will come across an actual switchboard from a time when all calls were connected by an operator, and you will encounter a wooden phone booth. Many other displays will lead you forward to the modern day.
Near the end, you will find a small scale model of the New River Gorge Bridge, one of West Virginia's most impressive modern structures, a marvel of American industry. At last, you will enter an illuminated, curving hallway lined with photographs of famous and influential West Virginians.
Finally, you will exit the museum and step into the present day. It was a long journey - from a prehistoric coal forest to the 21st century, but at least you didn't have to take the long way around.
The West Virginia State Museum is inside The Culture Center, next to the state capitol building. It is located at 1900 Kanawha Blvd E #435 in Charleston.
Have you ever visited the West Virginia State Museum? Feel free to comment below and tell us about your visit.
Would you like to interactively explore West Virginia’s past in other ways? Check out
this recreated frontier town that will take you back in time.