Fifty years ago, on the occasion of West Virginia's centennial, then-President John F. Kennedy spoke at the West Virginia State Capitol in Charleston on the origins of a state "born to turmoil."
Kennedy ranked the statehood of West Virginia among the top three news events of 1863, right next to the Emancipation Proclamation and the Battle of Gettysburg.
"This state was born in a period of difficulty and tension," Kennedy said. "It has known sunshine and rain in 100 years. But I know of no state-and I know this state well-whose people feel more strongly, who have a greater sense of pride in themselves, in their state and in their country, than the people of West Virginia."
Now, on the eve of the state's sesquicentennial, residents in Hancock County and beyond are taking stock of West Virginia's 150 years of history. Special events are scheduled on the State Capital Grounds from Thursday-West Virginia Day-through Sunday. Local communities also are holding sesquicentennial events.
The Hancock County Museum, 1008 Ridge Ave., New Cumberland, is holding special hours on Thursday in honor of West Virginia's 150th birthday. The museum will be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and will have on display special archives, including the original "Roll of Commissioned Officers of the 1st Regiment of West Virginia Militia, Hancock County."
The document lists, in faded ink on browned paper, the names of 18 officers, two fife players and one drummer, among others. "Just looking at the document transports you to that exciting, difficult time," said Linda McNeil, president of the Hancock County Historical Museum Commission.
The museum is housed in the original home of Oliver Sheridan Marshall and his wife, Lizzie Tarr, of Wellsburg-built only 24 years after the end of the Civil War.
Also Thursday, the Weirton Area Museum & Cultural Center, 3149 Main St., will hold a birthday celebration that will include hands-on activities for children, museum displays, and food and beverages. Hours are noon to 4 p.m.
Because the Hancock County Courthouse is closed on Thursday, Hancock County Commissioners have rescheduled their regular meeting for 2:30 p.m. today.
On Friday, the Weirton Event Center, 3322 East St., will host a concert by Johnny Staats and the Delivery Boys. Gates for lawn seating open at 6 p.m., and a balloon launch by the children of the Never Alone program is scheduled for 7 p.m. Fireworks begin at 9:30 p.m. (or dusk).
"We wanted to do something memorable at the Weirton Event Center for the 150th birthday celebration for the state of West Virginia," said Dan Greathouse, executive director of the Top of West Virginia Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Johnny Staats is a great entertainer, and we will have special collector key chains to give away."
The band will take a break at 8 p.m., giving the children of Never Alone a chance to lead the crowd in singing "Happy Birthday" to West Virginia, followed by the cutting of the "state-sized" birthday cake. Also during the break, the winners of the iPad giveaway will be announced.
The Fourth of July parade in Chester will have the theme "Celebrating 150 Years of West Virginia Pride."
In October, the Hancock County Museum will host a traveling Smithsonian Institution exhibit on West Virginia's journey to statehood, McNeil said. The exhibit will include an appearance by Mary Todd Lincoln, as well as Union and Confederate soldiers.