At the turn of the twentieth century, West Virginia was in the throes of its formative years as a state. After more than two decades of alternating its government seat between Wheeling and Charleston and the destruction of the Gothic Revival Capitol in Charleston by fire in 1921, a building commission was formed to create a permanent Capitol that would display the young state’s pride, wealth, and sophistication to the entire nation. To achieve these goals, the legislature approved a budget of more than $6.5 million for the design and construction of this statehouse and the Commission appointed by the Governor hired internationally renowned Cass Gilbert as its architect. After much debate, an impressive site along the shore of the Kanawha River in Charleston was selected as its location.
As one of the most influential architects of the early twentieth century, Cass Gilbert is known for structures such as the Woolworth Building, the United States Supreme Court building, and the Minnesota State Capitol. He believed architecture should reflect historic tradition and established social order, and this conservative philosophy is evinced within the classic form and proportions of the West Virginia State Capitol. As one of his final commissions, the West Virginia Capitol, with its golden “dome of majestic proportion,” marble interiors, ornamental reliefs, and rich woodwork, remains a distinguished example of noble simplicity in American architecture.
Cass Gilbert’s West Virginia State Capitol narrates the intricate story behind this architectural feat. Its close examination of the design, construction, and execution of this commission not only reveals the social, political, and financial climate of West Virginia during this period but also provides insight into the cultural importance of this public building. As Cass Gilbert’s design process is traced through unpublished documentation, drawings, and letters from several archives, the over one hundred accompanying photographs—many historical and others newly commissioned for this book—divulge the subtle beauty of the Capitol complex. At the same time, an extensive analysis of historical and contemporary illustrations and primary sources further elucidates the architectural value of this structure.
With welcomes by West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin and State Senator Brooks F. McCabe, Jr., a prologue by art historians Bernard Schultz and Mary L. Soldo Schultz, and an epilogue by Chad Proudfoot, this revealing and comprehensive study examines the importance of this often overlooked architectural accomplishment, solidifying its significance as a socio-political symbol as well as its place within the history of American public architecture.