Michigan Students Surveying Ohio Valley Architecture

Photo by Joselyn King Wheeling native Dan Bonenberger, left, associate professor of historic preservation at Eastern Michigan University, and Melissa Milton-Pung, adjunct faculty at EMU, await the arrival of EMU students at the Cockayne Farmstead in Glen Dale.

WHEELING — Found in Wheeling’s North Wheeling neighborhood is a treasure trove of homes built prior to the Civil War, and today young historians are documenting the significance of these structures.

Students from Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilante, Mich. have been visiting neighborhoods in Wheeling and Glen Dale this week, taking a closer look at some of the oldest structures in the area. The project is being coordinated through the Wheeling Heritage group, and this is the second consecutive year the students have visited the area.

The group is under the direction of Wheeling native Dan Bonenberger, now an associate professor of historic preservation at EMU.

He has discovered over the last decade that many of the historic homes found in North Wheeling haven’t been documented.

“Even though much has been written about Wheeling’s rich history, there are a lot of details that haven’t been covered. You think history has been done, but it’s not even close to being finished,” Bonenberger said. “We’ve barely scratched the surface. I came across some really old houses that hadn’t been part of formal surveys or preservation efforts.

“These buildings are diamonds in the rough and we’re losing them. We want to show people that these buildings matter,” Bonenberger continued. “They tell the story of Wheeling, of the working class and the immigrants who lived and worked here.”

The focus of the students in the American Cultural Landscapes class is the area’s antebellum structures — those constructed prior to the Civil War.

Their work started Thursday in Glen Dale at the Cockayne Farmstead, followed by a tour of the nearby Grave Creek Mound. Then it was on to Wheeling to view West Virginia Independence Hall.

Friday they started out at Mount Wood Cemetery for a headstone conservation workshop. The students then visited the City-County Building in downtown Wheeling and the Ohio County Public Library, where they researched deeds, old city directories and maps to determine the exact age of many of the homes.

There was also lunch at historic Centre Market, where they examined the Market House, constructed in the 1850s.

On Saturday, the students began their survey of pre-Civil War homes in North Wheeling. That work continues today.

The students are recording the building materials used in North Wheeling’s homes constructed before 1870, as well as their height, chimney placement, roof type, window placement, entrance ornamentation and other notable details.

Along the way they stopped to view the Blue Church in East Wheeling, built in 1837; the Artisan Center in Wheeling, constructed in the 1850s; and the Wheeling Suspension Bridge, completed in 1849.

Once the study is completed, the group will compare their findings to building traditions found elsewhere in the country, such as Philadelphia and Baltimore.

Rebekah Karelis, a historian with Wheeling Heritage, said the students enjoyed their visit so much to Wheeling last year “they wanted to come back for more.”

“It’s exciting. What they are here studying is something that hasn’t been looked at before, and it’s great to have them here to shed some light on Wheeling history that hasn’t been developed. … North Wheeling is a great neighborhood that is more noted for its high style and late-Victorian architecture. What they are looking at now is the antebellum architecture — which is not as flashy … but no less historically significant.”