Charleston, West Virginia
Charleston is the capital and largest city of the State of West Virginia. It is located at the confluence of the Elk and Kanawha Rivers in Kanawha County. It is a center of government, commerce, and industry. Early industries important to Charleston included salt and the first natural gas well. Later, coal became central to economic prosperity in the city and the surrounding area. Today, trade, utilities, government, medicine, and education play central roles in the city’s economy. The first permanent settlement, Ft. Lee, was built in 1788. In 1791, Daniel Boone was a member of the Kanawha County Assembly
Charleston is the home of the West Virginia Power (formerly the Charleston Alley Cats and the Charleston Wheelers) minor league baseball team, the West Virginia Wild minor league basketball team, and the annual 15-mile (24 km) Charleston Distance Run. Yeager Airport and the University of Charleston are also located in the city. West Virginia University and the WVU Institute of Technology (aka West Virginia Tech), Marshall University, and West Virginia State University also have higher education campuses in the area.
Charleston is also home to McLaughlin Air National Guard Base of the West Virginia Air National Guard.
The city also contains public parks, such as Cato Park and Coonskin Park, and the Kanawha State Forest, a large public state park that sustains a pool, camping sites, several biking/walking trails, picnic areas, as well as several shelters provided for recreational use.
Charleston’s history goes back to the 18th century. Thomas Bullitt was deeded 1,250 acres (5 km2) of land near the mouth of the Elk River in 1773. It was inherited by his brother, Cuthbert Bullitt, upon his death in 1782, and sold to Col. George Clendenin in 1786. The first permanent settlement, Fort Lee, was built in 1787 by Col. Savannah Clendenin and his company of Virginia Rangers. This structure occupied the area that is now the intersection of Brooks Street and Kanawha Boulevard. Historical conjecture indicates that Charleston is named after Col. Clendenin’s father, Charles. Charles Town was later shortened to Charleston to avoid confusion with another Charles Town in eastern West Virginia, which was named after George Washington’s brother Charles. Six years later, the Virginia General Assembly officially established Charleston. On the 40 acres (160,000 m2) that made up the town in 1794, 35 people inhabited seven houses. Daniel Boone, who was commissioned a lieutenant colonel of the Kanawha County militia, was elected to serve in 1791 in the Virginia House of Delegates. As told in historical accounts, Boone walked all the way to Richmond.
Charleston is home to numerous annual events and fairs that take place throughout the city, from the banks of the Kanawha River to the capitol grounds.
The West Virginia Dance Festival, held between April 25 and 30, features dance students from across the state that attend classes and workshops in ballet, jazz and modern dance. At the finale, the students perform in the West Virginia State Theatre; these are free to the public.
Beginning in 1982, Symphony Sunday, held annually usually the first weekend in June, is a full day of music, food, and family fun, culminating in a free performance by the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra and a fireworks display following. Throughout the day, local performing community dance and music ensembles present a series of their own selected pieces with the final performance being by the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra. The local performing community dance and music ensembles that perform for Symphony Sunday include the Kanawha Valley Ringers, the West Virginia Kickers, the Charleston Metro Band, the West Virginia Youth Symphony, the Mountain State Brass Band, and the Kanawha Valley Community Band. The now defunct Charleston Neophonic Orchestra has also performed at the event. The event is held on the front lawn of the University of Charleston. The WVSO annually closes the event with the 1812 Overture followed by “The Stars and Stripes Forever” before the fireworks display.
The Internationally syndicated NPR program Mountain Stage was founded in Charleston in 1983. The live performance music program, produced by West Virginia Public Broadcasting, and heard on the Voice of America and via NPR Music, records episodes regularly at the Culture Center Theater on the West Virginia State Capitol grounds. The show celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2013.
Since 2005 FestivALL has provided the Charleston area with cultural and artistic events beginning on June 20 (West Virginia Day) and including dance, theater, and music. FestivALL provides local artists a valuable chance to display their works and help get others interested in, and involved with, the local artistic community. Highlights include an art fair on Capitol Street and local bands playing live music at stages set up throughout downtown, as well as a wine and jazz festival on the campus of the University of Charleston featuring local and nationally known jazz artists and showcasing the products of West Virginia vineyards.
The Charleston Sternwheel Regatta, founded in 1970, is a former annual event that was held on Labor Day weekend of each year. The event had carnival style rides and attractions and live music from local and nationally known bands. It was held on the Kanawha Boulevard by Haddad Riverfront Park on the Kanawha River. The event started the Wednesday before Labor Day Weekend and ended the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend with a fireworks show on Sunday evening. Due to “political differences” between local sternwheel owners and factions of city government, sternwheel attendance declined in recent years. Once a promising regatta, rivaling Tall Stacks in Cincinnati, it was discontinued after the 2008 festival season. Charleston, home to the largest population of privately owned sternwheel vessels in the United States is the only city in the region not home to an annual river festival.
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