In a referendum on August 7, 1877, West Virginia voters chose Charleston to be the permanent state capital. The capital’s location had become a running joke, as government records had been moved from Wheeling to Charleston and then back to Wheeling again, all in 14 years.The capital was on the move so much on West Virginia riverboats, it earned the nickname of “the floating capital.”
Tired of the constant shuffling, legislators allowed state voters to decide the issue once and for all. Democrats in the legislature took one last poke at their current capital of Wheeling, which was staunchly Republican. Despite being West Virginia’s largest city at the time, Wheeling was left off the ballot entirely, in lieu of Charleston, Clarksburg, and Martinsburg, all of which launched promotional campaigns. Charleston supporters even traveled with a circus, giving their sales pitch along the way. And educator Booker T. Washington gave speeches urging black citizens to vote for Charleston.
In the 1877 referendum, Charleston won easily, capturing more than half the votes. So, the capital changed cities one last time, moving from Wheeling to Charleston in 1885.