West Virginia’s first capital has a lot to offer both residents and visitors.
Written by laura jackson roberts
photogaphed by Nikki Bowman Mills
What’s so great about Wheeling? If you ask the mayor, residents, and visitors, you’ll get the same answer: It’s friendly. Known as The Friendly City, Wheeling may feel like a world away from the rest of the state, but this riverfront community is rich in West Virginia history. Once a rough and rowdy town populated by rough and rowdy folk, Wheeling has settled into a safe, vibrant place that combines the best parts of a big city and a small town.
Mayor Glenn Elliott believes that Wheeling offers a unique quality of life. “What other city of 27,000 can boast a world-class symphony, a professional sports team, a 1,600-acre municipal park and resort, and countless examples of both commercial and residential Victorian architecture?” he says. “When you factor in our location on Interstate 70 and the Ohio River coupled with our close proximity to the Pittsburgh International Airport, there are many reasons to make Wheeling one’s home.”
Perhaps the question should be: What isn’t here? Wheeling’s cultural scene continues to grow. Choose from a variety of art galleries and museums showcasing glass, toys, trains, and airports, among others. Catch a show or a performance by the Wheeling Symphony Society at the Capitol Theatre. Wheeling’s Heritage Port, along the Ohio River, hosts food festivals, vintage boat races, a summer concert series, and BluesFest.
Dog lovers will meet new friends at the Fitzsimmons Family Dog Park, while red panda lovers will meet new friends at the Oglebay Good Zoo, which houses a total of 50 species from around the world, including red pandas.
Outdoor enthusiasts will find ample opportunities to get moving. Rail-trail fans have easy access to the Ohio River and Wheeling Creek trails. The Wheeling Creek Water Trail runs the length of Ohio County, through rural farmland to the creek’s mouth at the Ohio River in downtown Wheeling. It’s a popular spot for tubing, fishing, and canoeing. Kayakers can rent a boat from an outfitter or bring their own and paddle with the local kayaking group.
One of Wheeling’s crown jewels is the 2,000-acre Oglebay Park, the nation’s only self-supporting municipal park. Visitors have access to golf, tennis, swimming, skiing, and mountain biking. Fifteen miles of trails, both paved and wooded, weave their way through Oglebay past a garden center and a stately mansion museum
Wheeling is happy to share the spotlight with nearby cities and attractions. Some of its appeal lies in its central location along Interstate 70. Wheeling is one hour from Pittsburgh and Morgantown, two from Columbus, and three from Cleveland and Cincinnati. Residents travel to these cities for business, recreation, and university-level medical care, then return home to the warmth and familiarity of a smaller town.
It’s a perfect hub for fun day trips, too. Tomlinson Run State Park in nearby Weirton is a short jaunt away, and state parks like Cathedral, Blackwater Falls, and Valley Falls take only a few hours to reach. Five ski resorts and two world-class whitewater rivers sit within a hundred miles.
Wheeling is a great place to raise a family. Most neighborhoods have newly updated playgrounds, and residential areas enjoy above-average walkability. Thanks to a low statewide crime rate, residents feel comfortable getting outside.
“For a city of our size, our violent crime statistics are remarkably low,” says Mayor Elliott.
Students, too, find themselves at an advantage. Ohio County is among the top three public school districts in the state and has one of the highest concentrations of top-ranked public schools. Fourteen public schools serve 5,300 students in Ohio County, and 98% of Ohio County students graduate. Students’ reading and math proficiency scores are above average, as are racial and ethnic diversity. Wheeling also boasts several high-quality private elementary and middle schools and two excellent private high schools: The Linsly School and Wheeling Central Catholic High School.
Students seeking higher education have a range of choices. Wheeling is home to West Virginia Northern Community College; 86% of its students remain in the region after graduation. Those seeking a four-year course of study can look to Wheeling University and West Liberty University. The latter is a four-year public university that offers undergraduate, graduate, and professional education. Beyond Wheeling, any student seeking a little more independence has a choice of 15 colleges and universities within a two-hour drive.
While it’s no secret that West Virginia is losing population, Wheeling’s renaissance has begun. Median household income is rising, as are property values. Large employers like the law firm operations centers of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and Williams Lea Tag as well as the The Health Plan of West Virginia have moved into town, bringing jobs with them. The number of retail shops, restaurants, and breweries is climbing steadily, and with them has come a revitalized nightlife.
“While the story for the latter half of the 20th century and first decade of the 21st was one of contraction and industrial decline, Wheeling is poised to see its first population growth in nearly 100 years in the coming decade,” says Mayor Elliot. “In the past few years alone, more than $300 million in public funds has been invested in our roads, our local schools, and our underground infrastructure, while the private sector is responding with tens of millions of dollars invested into our resurgent downtown. The city has made restoring downtown Wheeling as a destination location a priority, and that is paying dividends. Stay tuned!”
Wheeling by the Numbers
- Cost of living 24.1% lower than the U.S. average.
- Ranked 6th nationally in affordable housing.
- Operational costs 10-15% below the national average.
- Cost of doing business: $13 per square foot in Wheeling vs. $45 in Washington, D.C.
- Colleges and universities in the immediate area: 8.
- Average commute: 19 minutes, compared to 26 nationally.
- Median property tax $906 vs. U.S. average of $2,471.
- Nearest international airport: 55 miles.
- Number of neighborhood playgrounds: 35
- Number of rare or endangered species in the zoo: 20
Discover Wheeling’s Public Art collection
The Wheeling Public Art Trail features more than 65 works of art created by talented artists from near and far. Their interactive map is just a starting point to encourage you to put on your walking shoes, hop on your bike, and explore the hidden spaces of Wheeling.
READ MORE ARTICLES FROM WV LIVING’S SPRING 2022 ISSUE
Leave a Reply