This past summer, my son and I stopped off in Wheeling, West Virginia during a driving trip.
We arrived in the afternoon, and took a walk around downtown before stopping for dinner. Wheeling, located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, was originally settled as a township in the state of Virginia.
It is here that discussions took place (Wheeling Conventions) to create the new state of West Virginia in 1861, in response to Virginia’s secession at the outset of the Civil War. West Virginia was admitted to the Union as an independent state in 1863, and Wheeling served as the new state’s first capital city.
Wheeling developed into an important manufacturing center in the late nineteenth century, thanks to its strategic location along a national road and as a major stop on the railroad lines.
The town also straddles the Ohio River, and barges served as important transport for coal and other products.
The discovery of coal in West Virginia in the 19th century (although already known to the Native Americans in the region much earlier) and its importance in fueling the Industrial Revolution led to busy train and barge transportation that passed through Wheeling.
Even today, you can still watch the coal barges maneuever along the river.
Wheeling’s importance as a manufacturing center began to decline after World War II. Sadly, the city also shows obvious signs of the recent opioid epidemic that has especially affected this area. We wouldn’t have been wandering the city after dark and were cautious even during the daytime.
We were lucky while in town to visit the Capitol Theatre, the largest theatre in West Virginia. This spectacular 3000-seat theatre opened in 1928, having cost a whopping 1 million to build. It offered vaudeville shows, musical reviews and a Symphony orchestra. Later, in the 1930s, it also began screening movies – starting with silent films and eventually screening the “talkies”.
More recently, this historic theatre has played host to famous country acts, comedians and traveling Broadway performances. It was closed due to COVID on our visit, but a worker there was kind enough to let us look inside and to tell us a bit of the history, definitely look forward to coming back to catch a show!
Our hotel had recommended we eat at the fairly new River’s Edge restaurant, with its outdoor terrace overlooking the Ohio River and Wheeling’s suspension bridge. The view over the river at sunset was perfect, and the menu was interesting. Our fish dishes were quite good and I would recommend dining here if you’re passing through Wheeling.
Usually I prefer staying in city centers, but in Wheeling, I was happier to be in a hotel outside the city limits. The next day, we also had fun wandering the streets with Victorian homes just outside Wheeling before continuing on our drive – I’ll write about that historic neighborhood in my next post.
Still, our short visit to Wheeling was interesting – and we enjoyed watching life (and barge traffic) along the Ohio River.