Collapsing Downtown Wheeling Building Has Storied Past

Wheeling police, fire and building codes officials were on hand Thursday afternoon in the rear of 1056 Main St. where a portion of the building can be seen hanging over the alley. Photo by Scott McCloskey

WHEELING — The Colvig’s store at 1056 Main St. closed its doors 42 years ago. Now, the building that housed the storied business that grew over generations along with the city is collapsing and must come down.

In recent weeks, portions of the building have collapsed inward. City building inspectors and safety officials were called to the building again Thursday as parts of structure were “flapping in the wind,” according to police. The structure is scheduled to meet the wrecking ball because it has been condemned.

The original store that first occupied the building opened in 1861 — two years before West Virginia became a state — as a women’s millinery shop owned and operated by Mary Ann Colvig. It was a time in history when hat-wearing was expected among men and women of stature.

The prospering business used all floors of the building. At one point in its history, 21 women were employed there to make hats. Colvig’s was the first business in town to have electric lights. Although the building was destroyed in a fire at some point, the structure was rebuilt and remains standing — for now.

Wheeling Economic and Community Development Director Nancy Prager said the building sustained a partial collapse on the upper floors of the back side of the building above the alley several weeks ago.

She said the owner was contacted immediately about the collapse at that time, and he indicated he would contact a demolition contractor.

Prager said following Thursday’s further collapse at the same location, the owner was contacted a second time by the development office about the situation. She said the owner was scheduled to meet with the contractor on site late Thursday afternoon to expedite the demolition process.

Wheeling Fire Chief Larry Helms surveyed the scene and said the “immediate threat” will be eliminated today when crews will be tearing off the portion of the building dangling over the alley. The complete removal of the building will happen in coming weeks.

The last known businesses to occupy the four-story building were two night clubs: the 1056 Lounge and Yesterday’s Draught House and Stag known as Club 1056. Sandhu Properties LLC of Wheeling is listed at the current owner of the building, according to city officials.

However, as a store in its early years, the building went through a succession of owners — all in the Colvig family. That included Will H. Colvig and his daughter, Mrs. O.T. Laupp. Under Will Colvig’s tutelage as a jobbing millinery, retailer and wholesaler, the business flourished along with the city, according to historic records. Will Colvig was somewhat of an inventor, and wisely sold electricity to his neighbors. He reportedly owned the first automobile in Wheeling and even raced a car-owner from Martins Ferry at the fairgrounds on Wheeling Island.

Next, Laupp’s brother, John Baptist Colvig, took over the business and his son, John Baldwin Colvig, was named president of the corporation. The latter’s daughter, Cheri, married Randy Smith and he took over the manager’s position at the store. For a time, Norman Greig also managed the business.

In modern times, the store offered women’s sportswear, accessories, ready-to-wear dresses and formal gowns. John Baldwin Colvig, who resided in Richmond, Virginia, was the last of the Colvig owners. He closed the store after attempts to sell the business failed.

Staff Writer Scott McCloskey contributed to this story.

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