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Book Chronicles Construction of West Virginia Capitol

The work chronicles the intricate symbolism found in much of the building.

Fri July 11, 2014 - Northeast Edition
Mackenzie Mays - The Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) David Wilkins urged people at the state Capitol to pay attention to the details.

The intricacies of the chandelier covered in European crystals hanging from a gold chain in the rotunda. The often-unnoticed gold plaques of bulls and boars above the doorways in the Doric vestibule. The one-of-a-kind gold dome and marble-covered interior.

“When you’re in here, it’s almost like you’re back in ancient Greece — even down to the proportions of the columns,” Wilkins said, standing in the state Capitol building. “But people very seldom notice some of it.”

For Wilkins and his wife, Ann Thomas Wilkins, both retired art history professors, it’s as much about the building itself as it is about the man who designed it: Cass Gilbert.

The Wilkinses recently authored “Cass Gilbert’s West Virginia State Capitol” — a close examination of Gilbert, known as one of the most influential architects of the 20th century, and his creation of the nationally recognized West Virginia state Capitol building.

Gilbert also designed the United States Supreme Court Building and the Woolworth Building in New York City — the tallest building in the world when it was constructed in 1913.

But the West Virginia Capitol was a project close to his heart, David Wilkins said. He turned down other offers to design state capitols at the time, and took dozens of train rides between New York City and Charleston in the preliminary stages of the project.

The book is full of little-known facts about Gilbert and his intentions for West Virginia’s Capitol. For example: he fought tirelessly to build the gold dome despite criticisms that it was a waste of money on something that was more symbolic than functional. Symbolism can be seen all throughout the building, Wilkins told a crowd gathered there for a tour and book signing June 10.

The book also provides a comprehensive look at the history of the construction process and its execution, featuring hundreds of photos.

“It’s still doing what he intended it to do — enhance the state’s reputation. It emphasizes that West Virginia is an equal to any in the nation,” Wilkins said. “It’s a beacon in this place.”

West Virginia University hosted the event to celebrate the book, which was published by the WVU Press.

WVU President Gordon Gee spoke about Gilbert’s “eclectic vision,” saying the building is an especially great feat considering it was built in the midst of the Great Depression.

“It has been the symbol of West Virginia — always rising, even in our darkest days,” Gee said.

Other state officials attended the book launch, including West Virginia Board of Education President Gayle Manchin, former governor Gaston Caperton and Sen. Brooks McCabe (D-Kanawha.)

“We did this through the Depression. We built a nationally prominent, really in many ways a world-class facility, in the middle of the Depression in the state of West Virginia. We set the bar high, we stayed with it even when we had to have skirmishes between the North and the South. ... It was just one conflict after another,” McCabe said. “But this structure represents West Virginia — what it has been, what it is and what it can be. It makes me think that maybe the best is still ahead of us, and we have the capitol to prove it.”

For more information on the book, visit

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