WHEELING, W.Va. – An old, familiar set of eyes will watch Market Street in Wheeling from the corner of the West Virginia Independence Hall after being unveiled Saturday at West Virginia Day 2015, celebrating 152 years of statehood.
Francis Pierpont, first governor of West Virginia and one of the state’s founders, is memorialized by a large bronze statue which stands as a piece of public art and heritage in the heart of West Virginia’s birthplace.
As Independence Hall Site Manager Travis Henline prepared to unveil the 1,200 pound bronze statue, he described Pierpont as a self-made man who took the unenviable task of setting up a brand new state in the middle of the Civil War. More than anything, he said Pierpont lived with a strong sense of duty.
Before this, only one statue of Pierpont existed in Washington, D.C. Now, Henline said, it is appropriate that his statue finally graces downtown Wheeling for the role the man and the city played in the state’s birth.
“Finally we have a fitting tribute for the man who was the father of our state,” Henline said. “It’s appropriate that it’s here because he governed the Restored Government of Virginia from here for several years.”
For U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., the Francis Pierpont statue brings West Virginia history to life.
“We’re trying to make it real, not just a history book,” McKinley said. “I want people to get that these people are real.”
Sculptor Gareth Curtis, of Montana, said the Pierpont statue will always stand out as one of his finest works.
“When you say ‘work in progress’ it’s really more of a journey,” Curtis said. “Pierpont was a special project for me. I’ve really enjoyed this project. It’s been a great honor to do it. Thank you.”
Wheeling Vice Mayor Eugene Fahey said the city remembers Pierpont’s contribution to its history and the new statue will ensure his legacy lasts through generations.
“Governor Pierpont, welcome home. Welcome home to Wheeling,” Fahey said. “You will never be forgotten as the father of our state.”
Even the Pierpont family itself turned out on Saturday to witness the unveiling of the Francis Pierpont statue. Ted Beyer of Connecticut is a direct descendent of Pierpont who came in for the occasion.
“It’s nice that he’s finally got a statue,” Beyer said. “It dominates the square. It’s nice to see that realized. West Virginia should have this statue. This city, this building, that man served to (help) make this state.”
Other West Virginia Day activities were dancing by the Heritage Dance Association and a concert by the United States Army Field Band and Soldier’s Chorus. Keeping up with another annual tradition, West Virginia birthday cake also was provided for free to visitors.