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‘Warwood ... A Great Place to Grow Up’

December 22, 2012
By LINDA COMINS - Life Editor , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

A large crowd filled the auditorium of the Ohio County Public Library to share memories of Wheeling's Warwood section Tuesday, Dec. 18.

Sean Duffy, coordinator of adult programming at the library, organized the Lunch With Books program on "Warwood Memories." At the close of the session, he remarked, "Whatever generation you are from, Warwood was a great place to grow up."

Current and former residents of that part of the city shared their "great memories" and related family members' accounts of events and places in Warwood.

Article Photos

A show of hands identifies audience members from the Warwood section of Wheeling during a “Warwood Memories” program at the Ohio County Public Library.
Photo by Linda Comins

One of the long-lost and nearly forgotten treasures of Warwood was an amusement park located on First Sister Island in the Ohio River in the early 1900s. Flooding and building of dams greatly diminished that island; two nearby islands were obliterated when the first dam was constructed in the 1920s.

Historian and Warwood resident Margaret Brennan said she has found tidbits on First Sister Island which, she noted, "is disintegrating before our eyes." The island once covered 19 acres, she said.

According to historical accounts found by Brennan, 6,000 people attended the opening of the amusement park on First Sister Island on June 11, 1905. The account alluded to other buildings, including a pavilion, that had existed on the site previously, she said.

Four Wheeling men and a man from New York invested $100,000 to construct the amusement park in 1905, Brennan said. The man who laid out the World's Fair in St. Louis designed the park, which was described in one account as "a resort of dazzling beauty."

The amusement park featured a central tower, a dancing pavilion, a ballroom, a roller rink, a German beer garden and an attraction known as "the streets of Cairo," Brennan said. The complex was known as Coney Island or Luna Island.

She related that the amusement park had a "big season" in 1906, but a huge flood in the spring of 1907 heavily damaged the island and the park didn't open that season. The complex reopened before closing permanently; a flood in 1913 "obliterated anything left," she said.

In the 1920s, the island was a popular spot for picnics. However, the construction of Lock 12 in that decade put part of the island under water, she said.

Mary Beth Letzelter, who grew up on Hazlett Avenue, is connected to two well-known Warwood businesses. Her father, James Letzelter, operated J.L. Letzelter Plumbing. Her mother was one of 15 Sobray children; her family owned Sobray's Bakery from 1932-72. Her maternal grandfather, Walter Sobray, and two of his brothers - who were part of a family of 14 children - came to America from Poland. Members of the family are now connecting with relatives in Poland, she said.

Bob Schmitt - one of seven Schmitt boys - said his father, Lawrence Schmitt, and Raymond Thalman started Warwood Armature Co. in Thalman's garage in 1927. The elder Schmitt and Thalman met in 1924, while working together in another man's shop for 16 cents an hour.

Evelyn Cupp Phillips, 90, related that her grandfather settled in Warwood and formed Cupp Roofing. She recalled swimming at a sandy beach along the Ohio River.

Howard Hutchison said his family moved to Warwood in 1928, when he was 1 year old, and his father worked as a carpenter for Costanzo Coal.

He attended a grade school on Cherry Hill Road in the 1930s; another grade school was located in the south end of the community.

Phyllis Stewart said her mother worked at a pottery on North 25th Street where she and other women placed decals on pottery and painted gold rims on plates, cups and saucers. Another woman, who did not give her name, said she worked at the pottery from 1939-41.

Tom Dailer of Warwood recalled "Bill the barber" who had a shop on Warwood Avenue. "If he wasn't cutting hair, he was up at the Vets Club, drinking whiskey and singing," Dailer quipped.

He added that a friend said if one visited the barber's shop at lunchtime, "you could get a haircut, a ham sandwich and a shot of whiskey for 75 cents."

Dorothy Parshall, 98, recalled that Blackburn's store "was the first to have beer in the store - that was pretty exciting."

Renatha Stenger Cornelia said her grandfather owned all of the property behind the current Corpus Christi Catholic Church and Warwood United Methodist Church; he operated a truck farm on the site. Her great-uncle owned Sun Addition and had a truck farm there. When Corpus Christi was being built, her two great-uncles provided a horse-and-wagon team and dug out the foundation for the church building.

Sandy Miller Mauck of Warwood related that when Warwood United Methodist Church was constructed, women of the church made soup and sold it to workers downtown to pay for the new building.

Bill Beckett, 79, observed that when he was growing up in Warwood, it was "one of the most sectionalized towns in West Virginia." He contended that peoples were allowed to date only residents of their same section of the community.

"It was a nice place to raise a family," Beckett said. "Warwood was a fabulous, fabulous place, except when it flooded."

Don Mercer said his grandfather moved from Pittsburgh to Warwood to become the second owner of the Lincoln Theater, which opened in 1920. Mercer's father, Loran Mercer, was the longtime band director at Warwood High School. In the 1950s, the band was one of four selected to perform on Paul Whiteman's show in Philadelphia.

"I have great memories of Warwood," Barbara Yost Baker said. "Warwood's a great place."

Baker related that four generations of her family have owned a structure that is now the oldest house in Warwood. She said it was the third house built in the community; the two older houses were later demolished.

The house at 121 N. 20th St. faced the Ohio River originally, but the house was turned to face a newly-built street, she explained. Her grandfather and father lived in the house; it is now the home of her son. "That house has a lot of great memories," she said.

Ron Sebulsky said he "grew up in a house that had two locations." He explained that when the city acquired Garden Park, two houses at the site had to be eliminated. His grandfather bought one house, dismantled it and reconstructed it on Richland Avenue.

A smaller house was taken off its foundation and pulled by a team of horses to Hazlett Avenue, he said.

Duffy, who grew up in Warwood, started a social media group, "Warwood Memories," a year ago.

He said the Facebook group now has 607 members and continues to grow, with thousands of posts being made.