‘Destination Weekend’ in Wheeling to Celebrate Historic Events
WHEELING — Community leaders have organized a “destination weekend” full of heritage activities and fun events in downtown Wheeling this week.
The celebration features commemoration of historic milestones and exploration of the city’s waterfront and neighborhoods. Different events are planned each day from Wednesday through next Sunday.
Coordinating the festivities are Olivia Litman, marketing director for the Wheeling-Ohio County Convention and Visitors Bureau;, Travis Henline, museum project manager for Wheeling Heritage; and Jay Frey, chairman of the Wheeling 250 committee.
“We tried to create a destination weekend,” Frey said. “We’ve had great volunteers.”
For a number of years, community leaders have envisioned a series of events on consecutive days around West Virginia Day, he said. The year-long Wheeling 250 observance, marking the 250th anniversary of the city’s founding, provided the perfect vehicle to implement this project.
Activities begin at 6 p.m. Wednesday with a Juneteenth celebration on the Market Plaza. Juneteenth, observed in many cities, commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. The date is significant because on June 19, 1865, Union troops, led by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved people were free.
Wheeling’s observance will begin at the north end of Market Plaza, near 10th Street, where a slave auction block once was located. The ceremony will include a wreath laying and Mayor Glenn Elliott’s presentation of a Wheeling City Council resolution acknowledging the existence of slavery in the city.
The event will then move to the south end of Market Plaza, near 11th Street, where food and music will be offered. The celebration is free and open to the public.
Planners of this event are Wheeling historian Margaret Brennan; Elliott; Ron Scott Jr. from the YWCA Wheeling; Daryl Clausell, Wheeling Branch NAACP; Owens Brown, a state NAACP leader; Erin Rothenbuehler, archives and special collections specialist at the Ohio County Public Library; Betsy Sweeny, historian of Wheeling Heritage; John Mattox, founder and curator of the Underground Railroad Museum in Flushing; and Frey.
Also participating in the ceremony will be Loma Nevels, vice chair of the Wheeling Human Rights Commission; Rabbi Joshua Lief, Temple Shalom; the Rev. Marshall Davis, Macedonia Baptist Church; Voices of Praise choir and the Pitts Sisters.
Next on the schedule, the 156th anniversary of West Virginia statehood will be celebrated at noon Thursday with a special program and birthday cake at West Virginia Independence Hall, 1528 Market St.
West Virginia Independence Hall also will be the site of an open house and reception at 5 p.m. Friday to mark the 160th anniversary of the building’s opening as the U.S. Custom House. Completed in 1859, the Custom House is a National Historic Landmark and is recognized as the birthplace of the state.
The free reception is being presented by the West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History.
Meanwhile, a full slate of activities is planned at Heritage Port from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday to celebrate the Wheeling Suspension Bridge’s 170th anniversary. The iconic bridge, completed in 1849, is a National Historic Landmark and a National Engineering Landmark.
The bridge-related festivities, sponsored in part by the Wheeling Arts and Cultural Commission, coincide with the Ohio Valley Chicken and Rib Cook-Off, which is being held at the port Friday and Saturday.
The day-long anniversary observance will include a plein air painting party from 9 a.m. to dusk, storytelling sessions about the bridge from noon to 5 p.m., river cruises, live music and fireworks.
Storytelling will be offered from a stage at 12th Street and Heritage Port. The schedule of presentations is as follows:
– Noon, ” Meet Charles Ellet Jr., Designer of the Bridge,” portrayed by Henline.
– 1 p.m., “The State of Pennsylvania vs. the Wheeling & Belmont Bridge Co.: The Lawsuit to Tear Down the Bridge,” presented by C.J. Kaiser, a partner in the law firm of Phillips, Gardill, Kaiser and Altmeyer.
– 2 p.m., “Collapse of the Bridge in the Great Storm of 1854,” by storyteller Rich Knoblich.
– 3 p.m., “An Engineering Marvel,” by Christina Schessler, senior architect of McKinley Architecture and Engineering.
– 4 p.m., “Builders of the Bridge: The Wheeling and Belmont Bridge Co.,” by Frey.
Ohio River excursions on a Gateway Clipper boat, the 180-passenger Queen, will be offered from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday. The Queen will depart from Heritage Port and travel under the Wheeling Suspension Bridge before returning to the port.
Tickets are required for the cruises, but are priced modestly, Frey said. Tickets may be purchased online at WesBanco Arena’s website.
Henline, as Ellet, will be aboard the Queen for the 2:30 p.m. river excursion. Knoblich will relate the story of the bridge’s collapse on the 4:30 p.m. cruise.
In addition, a fireworks cruise aboard the Queen will take place from 6:30-10 p.m. The higher-priced, ticketed event will feature food, desserts by Whisk, drinks and live music.
The fireworks display, free and open to the public, begins at 9:30 p.m. at the waterfront. Pyrotechnical devices will be launched from the ground near the mouth of Wheeling Creek, Frey said.
He added, “The fireworks are going to be great … bigger than the Fourth of July.”
The final event of the weekend will be the Historic Wheeling Bicycle Tour, departing at 8 a.m. next Sunday from Centre Market at 22nd Street. The event is sponsored by Friends of Wheeling, Ohio Valley Trail Partners and Bike Wheeling.
Bicyclists will visit 14 historic sites along the route, pedaling on Chapline and Market streets, crossing the Wheeling Suspension Bridge to Wheeling Island, riding down Main Street and returning to Centre Market.