As West Virginia’s first capital city marks its semiquincentennial, we’re taking a look at five places in the city that have shaped its past and its future.
This Italian Renaissance Revival-style landmark in downtown Wheeling began its life as a federal customs house for the Western District of Virginia. But just two years after its completion in 1859, it took on a very different role, becoming the birthplace of West Virginia.
It was here that the Second Wheeling Convention declared Virginia’s secession from the United States illegal, organized the Union-loyal Reorganized Government of Virginia, and elected Francis Harrison Pierpont governor of the “new” Virginia. A later session here authorized the creation of the State of Kanawha, later re-named West Virginia, and adopted the state constitution.
After its starring role in the Civil War, the building lived a few different lives as a post office and headquarters for an insurance company. For a time, there was even a nightclub inside. But in 1964, the state purchased the building. It is now a museum dedicated to the Civil War and the birth of West Virginia. 1528 Market Street
In 1926, banker and industrialist Earl W. Oglebay left his 1,700-acre estate to the city of Wheeling. The land became Oglebay Park and, for nearly a century now, has been a hotspot for family fun in the Friendly City. Along with its sister property, Wheeling Park, Oglebay offers golf courses, tennis courts, swimming pools, ski and snow tubing slopes, horseback riding stables, hiking trails, and more.
Oglebay’s Good Zoo features 30 acres of animal exhibits as well as a planetarium. The Mansion Museum—once Colonel Oglebay’s summer estate—now takes visitors through the history of the Oglebay family and the city of Wheeling via an impressive collection of antiques. The Glass Museum offers a look into the region’s glassmaking industry and also houses the largest piece of cut glass in the world. Once you’re exhausted from a busy day outdoors, crash at the 271-room Wilson Lodge. The hotel features a 5,000-square-foot spa, fine dining, an indoor and outdoor pool, a Jacuzzi, and a sauna. The resort also has 54 cottages available to rent. 465 Lodge Drive
The Market District in the 19th century was a gathering place for the neighborhood’s largely German citizenry—roughly 20 percent of Wheeling’s population was German at the time. Many lived in the market district, and thus many of the stalls at the Centre Market were operated by Germans.
The upper section of the Centre Market was built-in 1853 and was originally an open-air market, framed in neoclassical columns made from cast iron forged by Wheeling’s own Hamilton and Rogers Foundry. The lower market house was added in 1890 and was also originally an open-air design, though built in brick in the neo-Romanesque style. Later, when the city closed the market in, the cinder block walls were built around the columns so they would be visible from outside.
The market is still a bustling culinary destination. Stop by Michael’s Beef House for a roast beef sandwich, Oliver’s Pies for a slice of homemade of coconut cream pie, a few pounds of Amish cheese from Valley Cheese Co., or a fish sandwich from Coleman’s Fish Market. 2200 Market Street
Located along Wheeling’s picturesque riverfront, the Capitol Theatre opened on Thanksgiving in 1928. Construction cost a staggering $1 million—nearly $15 million in today’s money. The building featured a
copper marquee, a large neon sign, a stateof-the-art sprinkler system, two box offices, two balconies, seating for 3,000 on downy cushioned seats, and three movie projectors—one for silent films, one for the “talkies,” and the third for an emergency backup.
In the 1960s, the theatre became the permanent home for The Wheeling Jamboree, a country music showcase that was once one of the nation’s top music programs. The Jamboree broadcast from the theater until December
2005, when a group of local nonprofits and other organizations bought the Capitol Theatre. The building changed hands again in 2009, when the Wheeling Convention and Visitors Bureau purchased the theater and began a series of renovations.
The theatre still regularly hosts nationally recognized music acts and comedians, touring Broadway productions, and performances by the Wheeling Symphony. 123 Summers Street
Wheeling Suspension Bridge
While driving across the Wheeling Suspension Bridge might just seem like a convenient way to cross the Ohio River, it’s actually a piece of living history. The bridge was the first suspension bridge of its kind in the world and, until the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883, was the longest bridge in the country. It remains the oldest vehicular suspension bridge still in use.
The bridge actually replaced an earlier span that was destroyed by a windstorm in 1854. The new bridge became the subject of a U.S. Supreme Court battle between Virginia, who wanted the bridge to increase traffic and commerce on the National Road, and Pittsburgh, which feared the structure would hinder river traffic. Virginia won the battle, and the new bridge was completed in 1856.
It has undergone some changes during its lifespan. In 1956, workers rebuilt the deck using open steel grating to lighten the bridge’s weight and reduce wind resistance. The bridge was named a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1969, a National Historic Landmark in 1975, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Virginia Street