A Dream Fulfilled

Two days ago, the city of Wheeling proved there is life in its old streets. Thousands of people came from across the tri-state area to hear music, watch fireworks and sing happy birthday to the Mountain State on its 150th anniversary.

Years ago, long before concrete met the water’s edge, boats would pitch anchor at Wheeling’s downtown waterfront. The sailing vessels would be filled with visitors on some, and on others, all kinds of goods, including bananas and “exotic” foods from other ports of interest.

When my father was a kid in the ’30s, he would work to unload those boats, all for a few coins to fill his poor pockets. He loved that waterfront that provided as much work as it did play for kids of the time. The railroad, with all its power and fascination, also attracted its young fans. Those trains spurred an awful lot of business for toy train makers and many basement “rumpus rooms” held train layouts in the ’50s and ’60s.

After World War II, my dad returned to his beloved Wheeling, a place he remained homesick for while serving in the Army across the often cold and hungry European Theater.

He made his living as editor of the Wheeling News-Register for five decades. Before his death in 1991, he wrote a plan – WHEELING 2000. It was his vision for Wheeling’s future as a mecca for visitors and a wholesome place to continue to raise children and watch yours and his grandkids grow up.

Among his focus for the future was developing the downtown waterfront with educational and entertaining venues.

The first order of the day included removing the old Wharf Parking Garage, which blocked the vista from the shore and across the river to Wheeling Island and beyond. This monstrosity of concrete and metal had lost its luster after serving a bustling downtown for years.

I loved the place when I was a kid because it had a vending machine that sold ice cream sandwiches and such. That 25-cent treat was a big deal when shopping with your mother all day.

Once the garage was removed, it opened minds and hearts to those things my father would not live to see occur in his beloved hometown.

He saw the beginnings of the changes and shook a lot of politicians hands to help steer some of the “pork” to Wheeling’s reinvention of itself. He was not shy in selling the importance of Wheeling’s heritage and future to the powers-that-be in Washington and Charleston.

I’m sure he would be happy with what he saw happening along Heritage Port this week. His spirit was present in the waving of that large American flag, in the music and especially in the fireworks he always enjoyed.

Wheeling has come a long way from the days of banana boats and steam engines at its river’s edge. With removal of some of the city’s old, unused buildings in the downtown, the city opens its arms to new life once again. Now we watch and wait.

Heather Ziegler can be reached at hziegler@theintelligencer.net.