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Celebrations in Eastern Panhandle mark W.Va.'s 150th birthday

June 20, 2013|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mail.com
  • The William Henshaw Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution in Martinsburg provided cake to pedestrians on the city's square Thursday to celebrate West Virginia's 150th year.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — West Virginia, a state born of a nation torn, joined the Union in the midst of the Civil War 150 years ago — and celebrating that event Thursday was a piece of cake for two Eastern Panhandle cities.

Western Virginia broke away from Virginia and the Confederacy on June 20, 1863.

On Thursday morning, members of the William Henshaw Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution in Martinsburg cut a huge chocolate and white sheet cake into 100 pieces, and set it on a table on the city’s public square.

Simultaneously, employees at the Shepherdstown Sweet Shop Bakery did the same with a similar size yellow cream cake to note the historic event.

“I’ve been telling people all day that we have free cake, coffee and ice tea for West Virginia Day,” said Hailey Howard, the bakery’s lead sales clerk. “A lot of people didn’t know about the anniversary.”

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The inscription on the Martinsburg cake read: “West Virginia 35th State June 20, 1863 Montani Semper Liberi.”

“It’s important to celebrate this anniversary,” said Nancy Myers, a descendant of Thomas Laidley, who supplied the Continental Army with supplies during the Revolutionary War.

William Henshaw was one of 200 Virginia riflemen who made the Beeline March from Shepherdstown to Boston to join George Washington’s army in the Battle of Bunker Hill in June 1775.

The Henshaw DAR chapter was organized by Sally Virginia Henshaw, Henshaw’s great-great granddaughter, in 1899, Myers said. “Our chapter was the first one in West Virginia.

“We’re celebrating West Virginia’s 150th anniversary because the DAR promotes patriotism and participates in historic events like this one,” Myers said. “We’re doing this because we didn’t think anyone else in the panhandle was doing anything,” she said.

Jill Wolfe of Martinsburg was one of about 100 people who came to celebrate the sesquicentennial and talk to other West Virginians, native or adopted, and share the cake.

“A lot of people aren’t learning about their heritage. They don’t care about it,” said Wolfe, who grew up in Moorefield, W.Va. “History is important. It’s about where we came from.

“I like the mountains and simple way of life,” she said. “I’m proud to be a West Virginian.”

Lowering her voice, she said,“But I don’t buy my gas in West Virginia.”

Gretchen Kemman and her son, Jake, 14, came in period costumes. Both volunteer as docents at Aspen Hall, Martinsburg’s oldest home.

Jake, who is home-schooled, said history is important.

“We shouldn’t forget what happened in the past because it can benefit us in the present and future,” he said.

“This event is important because West Virginia is the best state in the Union,” said Sylvia Orendorff, regent of the Henshaw DAR chaper. “We need to make its history known to young people.

“I sat in history class but I was never really interested in it. All I knew that it was my state, and that I grew up in it. Now as an adult, I see the benefits of living in West Virginia.”

Janet McBee, 83, came to the celebration in a yellow T-shirt emblazoned with WV Mountaineers. She wore West Virginia earrings.

“Everyone in West Virginia should be celebrating our 150th anniversary,” she said.

Charles Town, W.Va., historian and author Bob O’Connor, in his recently published book, “Countdown to West Virginia Statehood,” said years of animosity between the people of eastern and western Virginia came to a head when Virginia seceded from the Union.

Virginia’s secession “was only the last straw. People in the west had had enough of being left out of everything so they started the movement to have their own state,” he wrote.

U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., earlier this year launched the 150 Reasons to Love West Virginia project in which she collected the many reasons people love the state and highlighted the entries in a floor speech.

“As West Virginians, we are deeply rooted in the value of hard work, and the kindness and respect of our neighbors,” she said in a news release.

“From its rich history to its beautiful mountains, I am proud to call West Virginia home and I look forward to our state’s bright future,” she said.

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