The Fort Henry Club, a Wheeling social organization dating back to 1890, closed the doors of its headquarters indefinitely on Friday.
Club President Jim Kepner confirmed the club will no longer serve lunches or host meetings or events until further notice. He noted, however, that if investors can be found to rent space on the second and third floors of the structure at 14th and Chapline streets, the club could reopen.
The organization - which has about 86 members, according to Kepner - had been working with the nearby St. Matthew's Episcopal Church since late 2009 to find tenants for space within the building that was no longer used by the club. That search, though, ultimately proved unsuccessful.
"St. Matthew's has been extremely gracious," Kepner said of the church, which had an option to buy the building. The Rev. Mark Seitz previously said the church, working through Kennan & Kennan Realtors, hoped to renovate the second and third floors and market them as office space and luxury apartments, respectively.
"We were in the process of trying to rent out floor space and get investors to come forward with money to help carry the club into future," Kepner said. "We were in a scenario where we needed to do that.
"The situation now is if the project moves forward, the club will reopen," he added. "But it is closed until further notice."
Kepner said the club membership has not disbanded, though he noted there were not enough members to continue operating the large building with high ceilings and corresponding high heating bills. He estimated at least another 14 people would need to join the club, bringing the membership to 100, for it to have sufficient resources to operate the facility. He said at this time, club members plan to maintain the structure under a closed status.
Kepner pointed out that when Wheeling's population numbered 55,000-60,000 people, the Fort Henry Club "was just the cat's meow." He said the organization and its site used to be very active and very well attended.
With the declining population of the local region, however, the Fort Henry Club and other social and service groups have faced declining membership.
"As the valley declines, so do these organizations," Kepner said.
"We've been working very, very hard to get all the pieces of the puzzle in place," Kepner added of efforts to sustain the club and maintain its facility. "Without everything coming together like we wanted, this was something we had to do. Right now, everything is in limbo."