Charleston, West Virginia’s Capitol Building


West Virginia has one of the most beautiful state houses you’ll find in America.  On the bank of the Kanawha River, West Virginia’s Capitol Building has a gold-leaf-covered dome glistens against the green hills that surround it.  The capitol building, and the rest of Charleston, are worth exploring.


Charleston, West Virginia is located at the crossroads of Interstates 64, 77, and 79.  The State Capitol complex can be accessed by using exit 99 off I-64/77.  Downtown is easily accessed by several exits, including 58C off of I-64.

My Visit

You just can’t miss that gleaming dome atop West Virginia’s Capitol Building.  Find a parking spot in the lot off of Greenbrier Street and take a walk towards the dome.

The north side of the West Virginia Capitol Building faces a courtyard, with a fountain as its centerpiece.

On the south side, the stairs exit towards the Kanawha River.  A statue of Abraham Lincoln honors the president who created the state of West Virginia when it separated from Virginia during the Civil War in 1863.

Inside West Virginia’s Capitol Building

Inside, you’ll find another statue of a more recent local hero — the state’s most famous lawmaker Robert C. Byrd.  He’s pointing at the ground, as if to say, “Take all that money and throw it in this giant hole!”. Byrd famously funneled federal money into the Mountain State during his more than 50 years in the U.S. Senate, which is why you’ll see so many buildings that bear his name.

Directly under the capitol dome, you can look straight up for a dizzying perspective.  That tiny white dot in the middle is actually a very large hanging light fixture.

Grand halls stretch out to the east and west of the rotunda, one leading to the House of Delegates, the other to the State Senate.  Everything is pretty plain — there isn’t a whole lot to see, to be honest.

West Virginia’s State Capitol building was constructed in three phases, between 1924 and 1932.  Surprisingly, the middle rotunda portion was the final piece to be built.  Its architect, Cass Gilbert, also designed state capitols for Arkansas and Minnesota, as well as the world’s first skyscraper, the Woolworth Building, in New York City.  The top of West Virginia’s capitol dome is five feet higher than the capitol dome in Washington, D.C.

Elsewhere in Charleston

Just for fun, I drove around downtown Charleston, West Virginia and ended up at the Charleston Town Center mall.  I know that these days, malls are becoming ghost towns, but believe me, back in the 1980’s, it was really something.  Back then, I was growing up an hour away in Beckley.  The trip to the mall in Charleston became a regular escape from the small-town backwardsness of southern West Virginia.

The Charleston Town Center was pretty revolutionary back then.  It was the biggest shopping mall located in a downtown business district east of the Mississippi River.  It takes up an entire city block, has two floors of stores, plus a big food court on the third level.  And yes, it’s not as glamorous today as it was back then.  But, I hadn’t been there for some 20 years, so I thought it was worth a visit.

And once that visit was over, it was time to make the final push up Interstate 79 from Charleston, West Virginia towards Pittsburgh.  I was going to stop in Morgantown for my final night, before driving on to PIT in the morning for my flight home.  But I found one last place to stop along the way.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s a look at the drive from Bluefield, through Beckley, to Charleston, on the West Virginia Turnpike (Interstate 77):

The Bottom Line

It’s always interesting to check out a state capitol building, and West Virginia’s state house is no exception.  It’s a beautiful building nestled in the mountains.  Stop and experience it, if you have the time on your journey.

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