Recently, the Byrd Center was honored to have our traveling exhibit, Robert C. Byrd: Senator, Statesman, West Virginian featured in the City of Ripley, West Virginia's Independence Day Celebration. The exhibit was hosted by the I-77 Auto Group and sponsored by the city. We thank Ripley Mayor Carolyn Rader for coordinating our trip and for hosting a great reception to open the exhibit at the beginning of the town's festival. Ripley's Independence Day Celebration is renowned as the "Largest Small Town Independence Celebration" in the United States and has in the past welcomed prominent speakers including President George W. Bush in 2001. The grand parade which takes place during the festival is the oldest Independence Day parade in the state of West Virginia.
Ripley is located in the western region of the state, about halfway between the cities of Parkersburg and Charleston, the state capitol. Settled in the 1820s around Mill Creek which powered the area's milling industry, the town was chartered by the Virginia Assembly in 1831. Ripley is the seat of Jackson County, formed in 1831 from parts of Wood, Mason, and Kanawha Counties and named in honor of President Andrew Jackson. Throughout his career in Congress, Senator Byrd represented the interests of Jackson County in the effort to save the region's aluminum manufacturing industry. He also helped to support local infrastructure projects including the county's airport. Each year, the Mountain State Art and Craft Fair, started during West Virginia's centennial in 1963, is held at nearby Cedar Lakes and highlights artisans who continue the traditions of the various cultures represented in the diverse population of Appalachia.
On Thursday, June 29, the city of Ripley welcomed the Byrd Exhibit with a public reception which included participants from the community, remarks by Mayor Rader and our own Director of Programs and Research, Jay Wyatt. The keynote speaker was the Hon. Carte Goodwin who served in the United States Senate from July 20, 2010 until the close of the 111th Congress that fall. Goodwin was appointed by West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin to serve out the remaining months of Senator Byrd's term following his death on June 28, 2010. In his remarks, Goodwin, who spent his childhood in nearby Mount Alto, reminded the audience of the legacy of Senator Byrd's work in the state, especially his devotion to education. As with so many stops on our journey with the Byrd Exhibit, the opportunity to speak about Senator Byrd and to hear people's stories and recollections demonstrate that the impact of the life and career of our country's longest-serving senator remains vital and present in the minds of West Virginians.