WHEELING - The state of West Virginia has nothing on buildings in Wheeling when it comes to celebrating birthdays.
Even before the Mountain State was born on June 20, 1863, the local area boasted numerous grand structures. Among the most notable still standing and in working order today is the Wheeling Suspension Bridge.
The bridge, originally built in 1849, was the longest span of its type in the world for many years and was the first to cross the Ohio River. The bridge was heavily damaged by a wind storm in 1854 and rebuilt a few years later. The bridge was the design of Charles Ellet Jr., who was known for his work on the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge, and John A. Roebling. The main span is 1,010 feet from tower to tower. The east tower is located on the downtown Wheeling side of the river and the west tower is on Wheeling Island.
Monument Place Mansion, built in 1798 by Moses Shepherd, saw Civil War troops from both the North and South cross its lawn. Today, it serves as home to the Osiris Shrine.
Photo by Heather Ziegler
Cables supporting the bridge on the Wheeling side can be seen in the dirt floor sub-basement of The Capitol Music Hall on Main Street in downtown Wheeling. The bridge was designated a National Historic Landmark on May 15, 1975.
Also in the downtown at 12th and Market streets stands the McLure Hotel, constructed in 1851 and opened in 1852. During the Civil War, the building housed soldiers from both sides of the battle and served as headquarters for Union Gen. William Rosecrans. In its early years, the multi-storied hotel had a special entrance with wide doors on the 12th Street side to accommodate women's large hoop skirts.
One of the hotel's most notable events was on Feb. 9, 1950, when U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy made his now-famous speech during which he claimed to have a list of communist sympathizers within the U.S. State Department.
Today, after numerous renovations, the McLure continues to operate as a hotel, currently serving the general public and providing housing for oil and natural gas drillers working jobs involving the Marcellus Shale.
Not far from the hotel sits another structure known for its hospitality toward businessmen. Originally the Howell Mansion, built in the 1850s at the corner of 14th and Chapline streets, it was later utilized as the Fort Henry Club, a private social club. In addition to social events held there, it was a mecca for traveling businessmen and celebrities including Charles Lindbergh and Herbert Hoover.
The club dissolved and the building was closed in September 2011. St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, located across the street, purchased the building but soon learned that it was not able to attract new tenants.
Plans to demolish the building were initiated but McKinley and Associates architectural firm in Wheeling has shown interest in renovating the stately four-story brick structure.
In South Wheeling, the LaBelle Nail Works, established in 1852, at 31st Street was the leading producer of cut nails in the world at its peak. The business is no longer operating and the structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In Elm Grove, the landmark Monument Place mansion keeps watch over the intersection of National Road and Kruger Street as it did since its construction in 1798 by Moses Shepherd at the then site of Fort Shepherd. Often referred to as Shepherd Hall, it served as a stopping place for many noted guests throughout its time as a private residence. Lydia Boggs Shepherd, Moses' wife, was known for entertaining statesmen and other influential people in an effort to have the National Road completed through Wheeling. When Moses died, Lydia married Col. Daniel Cruger, a former congressman.
Their stone mansion continued to serve Wheeling's high society as the couple was wealthy and Lydia enjoyed lavish surroundings. While renovations and modern amenities have been added over the years, Monument Place remains outwardly the same as it did as the Civil War was being fought. Today it houses the Osiris Shrine.
At 16th and Market streets stands one of Wheeling's most prized diamonds saved from the rough. West Virginia Independence Hall opened in 1859 as the federal custom house for the Western District of Virginia. It also served as a post office and federal district courtroom. An Italian Renaissance Revival style structure, the building became known as Wheeling: The Birthplace of West Virginia. The new constitutional convention that led to the formation of the Mountain State met there. The building also served as the capitol building for the Restored Government of Virginia.
In the 1900s, the building was purchased by a private investor but in 1964, the state acquired the property and a foundation was formed to help raise funds to restore the structure to its historic state from the 1860s. Over the years, that has been accomplished and today WVIH is a state museum with an important link to the history of the Civil War and the birth of West Virginia. The structure also is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Wheeling area is home to many other structures from the 1800s that are still standing today including the Mansion Museum at Oglebay Park, the former Linsly Institute Building, also known as the First State Capitol Building, at 15th and Eoff streets, and the B&O Building now occupied by West Virginia Northern Community College.
(Note: Historic information provided by references from the Wheeling Room at the Ohio County Public Library.)