Explore Local History With Walking, Bicycle Tours

As bicyclists converge on downtown Wheeling Sunday, May 30, area residents also may grab a “passport” and take a walk to explore the history of the Heritage Port area.

A walking tour of Wheeling’s history, sponsored by Friends of Wheeling, will accompany the Heritage Trail Bicycle Tour that day. Nearly 200 cyclists are expected to participate in this year’s event, and an unlimited number of children and adults may put on their walking shoes for the newly-developed historical tour.

The walking tour, dubbed “Passport to Wheeling Heritage,” will consist of nine locations in and around Heritage Port. Between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Sunday, May 30, costumed characters will present highlights from Wheeling’s history ranging from the experiences of Native Americans and early settlers; the development and use of railroads, riverboats and the Wheeling Suspension Bridge; and the important issues of immigration, the Civil War and industrialization.

Ryan Stanton, project chair for “Passport to Wheeling Heritage,” said, “This is a great way for history buffs – children and adults alike – to enjoy a walk along the waterfront and learn something about Wheeling’s history.”

Stanton will portray Henry Schmulbach, one of Wheeling’s most successful brewers and businessmen. Other Friends of Wheeling members will portray additional figures from the city’s past.

For an unusual feature of the tour, Bob Miller, one of the founders of Friends of Wheeling, will use a model to demonstrate how the Wheeling Suspension Bridge was constructed. Miller explained that his model is a schematic, not a scale model, of the span.

The bridge, built in 1849, was the longest single-span suspension bridge in the world at that time. The bridge was designed by Charles Ellet Jr., who later designed ironclad ram boats for the Union during the Civil War.

Stabilizing cables were added in later years by Washington Roebling, designer of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Presentations at other stops on the “Passport” tour will be given by these participants:

  • Bambi Bevill, who will talk of the history of Native Americans in the area;
  • Vicky Musicaro, who will tell of early settlers;
  • Kate Quinn, who will talk about riverboats and show an iron ring – still embedded in a stone wall at Heritage Port – where ropes were tied from boats docking at the port;
  • Margaret Brennan, who will discuss immigration;
  • Judi Hendrickson, who will talk about railroads while portraying 19th-century Wheeling resident Eliza Jane Greathouse Zane, who traveled by train to St. Louis, where she died while visiting her daughter and son-in-law;
  • Jeanne Finstein, who will address the Civil War in Wheeling;
  • Art Musicaro, who will portray Wheeling native and labor leader Walter Reuther and share stories of the labor movement through Reuther’s eyes.

The Wheeling National Heritage Area Corp. is providing finsncial support for the costumes being worn by the presenters.

In recent years, Friends of Wheeling has offered several historical tours of Greenwood Cemetery, with presenters portraying promiment Wheeling residents who were buried in the graveyard.

Finstein, Friends of Wheeling president, said the “Passport to Wheeling Heritage” tour will be done in the same general format as the Greenwood tours, with participants walking from place to place, where first-person characters will share brief histories. “In this tour, most of the histories will be general in nature, although a few will focus on a particular person, such as Henry Schmulbach and Walter Reuther,” she said.

The history tour also provides a walking option for participants in the Heritage Trail Bicycle Tour, a non-race event for cyclists and trail enthusiasts. Registration for the cycling tour may be paid in advance or for a higher fee on the day of the event. A family fee is available for each additional rider, up to a maximum amount.

Riders under age 12 may participate free of charge, but must be accompanied by a registered adult. Helmets are required for all cyclists.

Proceeds from the bicycle event will be used to enhance the Heritage Trail. Three routes will be followed on the bicycle tour: 10 miles, 25 miles and 62 miles (100 kilometers). All routes begin at Heritage Port at 10 a.m. Sunday, May 30.

No advance registration is needed for the free historical tour.