Pandemic hasn’t dulled South Wheeling’s fierce neighborhood pride

WHEELING — Stuck at home? Many of us have listened to health officials during the COVID-19 pandemic and have remained close to or at home. In one Wheeling neighborhood, time has not stood still for many of its residents and businesses. Just ask the folks at the South Wheeling Preservation Alliance whose museum is located at 3501 Jacob St.

This group, whose sole aim is to preserve the history of its now national historic district, has not let the grass grow beneath its feet — literally.

Ginger Kabala, co-founder of the group, reports the pandemic has not prevented residents of this once-bustling area from continuing to take pride in their neighborhood. While some businesses, from manufacturing to corner pubs have disappeared, there is still a sense of productivity.

Swisher International Inc. continues its success in the tobacco industry at its South Wheeling factory. Panhandle Cleaning and Restoration has expanded several times, keeping its thriving business centered in South Wheeling. There are tire stores and clubs, churches and little of everything in between. A lunchtime favorite, L.J.’s Hoagie King on Jacob Street is a popular spot for many workers in the area. Also, the Polish American Patriot Club has maintained its following of members since its inception 101 years ago.

A new addition to the neighborhood is Appalachian Outreach, an organization that collects items that it sells very reasonably to help others in need. It has set up a storefront inside the former South Side Hardware store on Jacob Street. Household essentials are stored at another location, but you can check out the windows of the former Cooey-Bentz store to see some of the larger items the outreach store offers. The store is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

Kabala said despite everything going on around them, members of the SWPA have been busy keeping up the neighborhood by tending gardens and flower boxes and erecting flags.

She writes in the SWPA’s summer newsletter, “Carla Vessels and her crew put up and took down the American flags for Memorial Day; Brother John (Byrd) and my John did for the Fourth of July. Ken Saxton and his crew faithfully keep the pathways and edges of the gardens and 46th Street alley. One of the gardeners said that persons passing by have stopped to say thanks for the garden and its beauty.

“Jerome Reinhart built, installed and donated the flower boxes in front of the museum. Brother John planted and maintains the flowers. Brother John continues to dress and change the windows at the holidays and seasons. Notice as you drive by; they are always good. The Youth Group of Metropolitan Baptist Church keeps the triangle with the flag and war memorial at 33rd Street neat and tidy. My John keeps the water barrels filled at the gardens and cuts the bank around the Children’s Garden next to the trail on Chapline Street, south of 37th Street.”

Kabala and Brother John also prepared a site on 29th Street for a rose garden that was planted by Nancy Knight’s family to honor her life. Knight and her husband R. David Knight, operated Conrad Crafters in South Wheeling.

Ed Gorczyca with the help of grandchildren, has maintained the Polish-American War Memorial at 45th and Eoff streets in South Wheeling. This is in the grotto of the former St. Ladislaus Catholic Church property.

Kabala and Donna Freter, meanwhile, are most excited to report their continued work on “The Saga of South Wheeling” book. Kabala said after an article appeared in the Sunday News-Register earlier this year, they were contacted by a dozen people who wished to offer memorabilia from their families. Among the items are a quilt made during the Depression in South Wheeling with Stifel prints on some of the patches; local ads from the Firemen’s Yearbooks; photos of Elmer Trussell’s auto body work, before and after; flood photos, photos of a marimba band of local children and more.

A date has not yet been set for release of the book. For more information about the SWPA or the pending publication, call Ginger Kabala at 304-233-8917. SWPA meetings are on hold at the current time due to the COVID-19 meeting restriction set forth by Gov. Jim Justice.


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