WHEELING - A new group of energetic, young professionals coming together in Wheeling is committed to the idea that Wheeling must keep its past alive in order to realize its brightest future.
As historic buildings around the city continue to disappear and crumble from neglect, the Ohio Valley Young Preservationists are trying to show a broader audience that the stories contained within their walls can be a vehicle for economic development.
The group includes historians, real estate developers, educators, artisans, construction professionals and more. Some are longtime residents, while others are relatively new to the area.
Heather Slack of St. Clairsville creates a heart for the Ohio Valley Young Preservationists’ “lovescaping” project in downtown Wheeling in February.
Photo by Linda Comins
"It's been a really fun group to be a part of. ... It amazes me how many young people are here that have moved here from other places," said Elizabeth Paulhus, one of the group's founding members.
Paulhus grew up in Wheeling and recently moved back to the city after living elsewhere for about 12 years. After she met Jeremy Morris and Bekah Karelis of the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corp., their discussions led to seeking more people with the same ideas about preservation.
Paulhus said she was impressed when 17 people turned out for the group's first meeting in October. But just a few months later, the Ohio Valley Young Preservationists' Facebook page has more than 130 followers, with about 30 or 40 people regularly involved.
Paulhus noted she moved back to Wheeling about the same time news broke of the impending demolition of several buildings in the 1100 block of Main and Market streets and an entire block of homes in East Wheeling.
Though she said "it's been a rough year and a half for those of us who care about buildings," she added one of the group's rules is acknowledging that what's in the past is in the past - enabling members to keep the tone positive and focus on what they can change.
Although the hub of their efforts is in Wheeling, as the organization continues to grow they hope to branch out into other parts of the Ohio Valley and beyond, Paulhus said.
The group grabbed some attention earlier this year with its first major project as it adorned more than 20 historic buildings throughout downtown Wheeling - some vacant, others occupied - with handmade hearts and inspirational messages during the week of Valentine's Day. The "lovescaping" idea, designed to call attention to often forgotten architectural treasures, was borrowed from a group in Buffalo, N.Y., although that effort only targeted a few buildings.
"We were really pleasantly surprised with the reaction," Paulhus said, noting the Buffalo preservationist group heard about the Wheeling effort and reached out to them.
Now, the Young Preservationists are turning their attention to the city-owned Mount Wood Cemetery, the final resting place of many prominent Wheeling residents. This project, led by Karelis, entails photographing each monument, recording as much information as possible from them, and using GPS mapping to create an online system for people interested in genealogy.
"We have all this amazing technology. We should start integrating that technology into preservation more than we currently do," Paulhus said.
At this point, the Ohio Valley Young Preservationists are focusing on education - making more people aware of local history, finding ways to market historic properties that are for sale and serving as a resource for people interested in restoring historic buildings. Paulhus said the group hopes to attain nonprofit status by this time next year, and once that happens, seek funding to take on some more extensive projects, including possible restoration of a historic building.
Owned by the Vandalia Heritage Foundation, the George Cotts house in the 700 block of Market Street dates back to the 1830s and is one of the oldest still standing in Wheeling, according to Paulhus. The yellow-painted, Federal-style brick building would be an ideal place to hold workshops on various aspects of restoration, she said.
The group also has taken a look at the former Tom's Pizza building, located next to Braunlich's on Main Street downtown, as a potential future project.
The Ohio Valley Young Preservationists generally meet at 6 p.m. on the last Wednesday of each month at River City Ale Works, 14th and Main streets. Their next meeting will be April 24.
For more information, visit www.ovyp.org or search for the group's page on Facebook.