THE TOP STORIES OF 2013: Changes Continue To Neighborhood
WHEELING – The ongoing transformation of East Wheeling from a troubled neighborhood into one with better days ahead continued to make news through 2013.
Developments in the neighborhood included a groundbreaking for the future J.B. Chambers Recreation Park that was three years in the making, the emergence of a plan to sell several vacant and decaying city-owned properties to developers who hope to breathe new life into them and an effort to save one of the city’s oldest and most architecturally significant churches.
Those developments also included the bizarre, as workers at the recreation park site this fall unearthed unidentified human remains and the grave marker of a War of 1812 veteran – items apparently overlooked or ignored when the former Elks Playground was built more than a century ago.
More than three years after announcing the project, Wheeling broke ground on the $3.3 million J.B. Chambers Recreation Park – a development that will feature the area’s first artificial turf field open for public use, and one city leaders believe will draw children from all over the city and surrounding communities.
The anticipated completion date has been a moving target. When work began in late summer, officials hoped construction would wrap up by year’s end. However, the turf can’t be installed during cold weather, meaning work likely will stretch into May, according to City Manager Robert Herron.
In addition to the turf field -which will be suitable for football, soccer, lacrosse and softball – plans for the park include a playground with restrooms, a variety of new equipment built over a protective surface and two lighted basketball courts.
Residents learned last year that the J.B. Chambers Foundation had pledged $750,000 toward the project, earning it the naming rights for the park. But after much speculation, city officials this year began to reveal those who contributed financially to the project. Mayor Andy McKenzie has said it’s his goal eventually to fund the project entirely through private donations.
Additional contributions identified to date have included $250,000 from Wheeling Hospital, $150,000 from the Schenk Foundation and $50,000 each from the Bordas & Bordas law firm and the Roy and Dorothy Chambers Foundation, for a total of $1.25 million in identified private contributions. The city has spent $560,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant money on the project, and also has taken out a $1.15 million loan in order to get construction started as fundraising continues.
During excavation at the site in late October, a worker with James White Construction unearthed a partial human skeleton and a 6-foot obelisk bearing the names of War of 1812 veteran Fielder Berry, his wife and one of his sons. The site had been a cemetery prior to the opening of the former Elks Playground in 1910.
When human remains or grave markers are discovered on either public or private property, according to state code, work that may cause further disturbance is to cease immediately. The procedure calls for notifying the Preservation Office, which is supposed to conduct an on-site inspection before anything is removed.
But according to a letter dated Oct. 31 from the city to the preservation office notifying them of the discoveries, the worker who found the stone believed it to be an old National Road marker and didn’t realize what it was until he cleaned the mud from it, after it already had been removed from the work site.
City officials have said they believe they took all required steps upon learning of the discoveries.
The grave marker has been relocated to Mount Wood Cemetery. The bones, meanwhile, have been buried at the cemetery off Rock Point Road.
After the Church of God and Saints of Christ decided to put their building at 12th and Byron streets – what many have come simply to know as “the blue church” – some expressed concern over what would become of the classic Greek Revival building which has stood in East Wheeling since 1837.
Two organizations, the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corp. and the newly formed Ohio Valley Young Preservationists group, are teaming up to raise funds in hopes of purchasing the building and rehabilitating it for use as a community arts center. Fundraising efforts continue, but leaders of the effort have been pleased with the support they’ve received thus far.
Also early next year, the East Wheeling Community Gardens Inc. hopes to open a community greenhouse at the corner of 14th and Wood streets where residents will be able to grow crops such as tomatoes, squash, peppers, lettuce, spinach, beets, carrots, radishes, onions, garlic and kale year-round.
Organizers say a south-facing stone retaining wall that’s been in place for more than a century is perfectly positioned to trap sunlight during the winter, allowing them to keep the greenhouse running continuously.