The installation of the statue of Francis H. Pierpont, the “Father of West Virginia,” will begin on Wednesday, June 10, at Wheeling’s West Virginia Independence Hall, the historic site of the state’s founding, on the corner of 16th and Market streets. The statue will be assembled over the course of 10 days and unveiled on June 20 during Wheeling’s celebration of West Virginia Day.
The 9-foot-tall bronze statue, the first public monument to Pierpont in the state of West Virginia, is the result of a $135,000 project begun in 2012 by the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation. Under the guidance of the Francis H. Pierpont Statue Committee, the project received support from the city of Wheeling, Ohio County, the West Virginia Senate and House of Delegates, as well as numerous private donors whose names will be inscribed on a bronze plaque to be hung in Independence Hall later this summer.
In 2013, Wheeling Heritage commissioned sculptor Gareth Curtiss of Montana, selected from a field of 20 artists, to create the statue. Curtiss’ design shows Pierpont holding a copy of the U.S. Constitution, from which Pierpont gleaned the idea to create a separate state of West Virginia and remain loyal to the Union.
Curtiss unveiled a maquette, a scale model of the statue, on June 20, 2013, as part of Wheeling’s celebration of the 150th anniversary of West Virginia’s founding.
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The Pierpont Statue unveiling ceremony is set to begin at 12 p.m. on June 20 on the main stage of the Wheeling Arts Fest located at 16th and Chapline streets on the West Virginia Northern Community College Campus. Remarks will be delivered by Curtiss, Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie, Congressman David McKinley, Independence Hall Site Manager Travis Henline, Executive Director of the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation Jeremy Morris, and a representative of the Pierpont family. The ceremony will last about 30 minutes, and then the statue will be officially unveiled.
Upon its arrival from Montana, Walters Construction of Wheeling will set the statue. Its granite base was ordered and produced by Randall L. Gallagher Memorials of St. Clairsville, Ohio.
The notable achievements for which Wheeling Heritage honors Pierpont began when he became a representative to the First and Second Wheeling Conventions, which were convened in response to Virginia’s secession from the Union. At the conventions, the Reorganized (pro-Union) Government of Virginia was formed. Pierpont, who was named its governor, placed its offices in Wheeling, and his efforts led to West Virginia officially becoming its own state on June 20, 1863. Pierpont, formerly a teacher, lawyer, and coal mine owner, served as governor of Virginia during Reconstruction before returning to his home of West Virginia and serving in the West Virginia House of Delegates.
Pierpont is one of only two West Virginians honored at Statuary Hall in the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., but the Wheeling statue will be the first erected in his honor in the state of West Virginia.