By Steve Novotney
(Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of articles that will include profiles on each of Wheeling’s established neighborhoods.)
No other neighborhood in Wheeling is similar to the Elm Grove section.
No other neighborhood has evolved in the manner it has during the past century, and no other possesses the amount of amenities it contains today. Residents of “The Grove” appreciate the convenience factor, and they appreciate the historical importance the neighborhood has had on the story of the Friendly City.
That’s not to say, however, the residents are completely satisfied.
“I like to say Elm Grove is where the real people live,” said Gene Fahey, Wheeling’s vice mayor and Sixth Ward council representative. “There are no pretenses here. We are who we are, and we do what we do.
“This neighborhood is packed with good people who are willing to fight for improvement and to keep our streets safe for our children. These folks want to take care of each other, and it shows,” he said. “A lot of changes have taken place over the years in Elm Grove, but because of the people. Our residents are the reason why there’s no need to reinvent this area like so many others are in Wheeling.”
Today, Elm Grove has a population of 4,600, and it is divided into 17 areas within Ohio and Marshall counties, including Elm Terrace, Mil Acres, Mar-Win, Hil-Dar, Elm Court, Patterson, Overbrook, Cedar Rocks, Stone Church, Thornburg Place, Elm Heights, Stacy’s Crossing, Springdale, Glen Holin, Park View, Clifton Heights, and Burkham Court.
It was during the 1960s when Elm Grove was sliced and diced by the construction of Interstate 70. The city section lost more than 200 homes and businesses at the time and also an industrial area where the Elm Grove Crossing Mall is currently located. The railroad once ran through it too, but that changed in during the 1980s. The drive-in closed decades ago, and the bowling alley recently vanished from the East Cove Avenue landscape.
“As the home of the Shepherd family, Elm Grove played an important early role in Wheeling’s status as a transportation hub,” said author Sean Duffy, program director at the Ohio County Public Library. “Thanks in part to the Shepherds, the National Road was constructed through the Grove and on into downtown Wheeling.
“By the turn of the century, the B. & O. Railroad, Elm Grove Coal Mine, and a variety of factories provided jobs for immigrants, primarily from Sicily, some of whose children – notably the Figarettis and Zambitos – became prominent Wheeling restaurateurs. Elm Grove remains a vital community, having transitioned into a retail hub,” Duffy explained.
What has not changed in Elm Grove is the level of convenience in the most eastern part of Wheeling. More than 30 businesses operate along National Road, the Crossing Mall features Riesbeck’s, Family Dollar and Tractor Supply Co., and the Elm Terrace Shopping Plaza offers Ben Franklin, Dollar Zone and Dollar General, as well as a deli and a Hallmark store.
“Elm Grove is all about convenience; it really is,” said lifelong resident Dave Palmer. “Almost everything we need is just a few minutes away in a car, or we can walk where we need to go.
“If we can’t get something we need, we’re located just four miles away from downtown Wheeling and only four miles away from The Highlands,” he continued. “It’s easy-on and easy-off as far as the interstate is concerned, and there are a lot of restaurants, taverns, gas stations, and car dealers. We even have our own DiCarlo’s Pizza.”
Fahey reported that businesses within the Elm Grove section of Wheeling contribute more to the city’s B&O Tax generations than any other district in the Friendly City.
“The economy is strong here, and that’s because of the membership of the Elm Grove Business Association,” he said. “It’s a grassroots effort, and I can’t give them enough credit.
“It is a very proactive organization, and I don’t know if there is a more active organization in the city of Wheeling,” Fahey continued. “One project that those folks took on involved the beautification of an area I refer to as ‘Downtown Elm Grove’ along National Road, and it looks better than ever.”
Business co-owner Jessica Barclay opened the Play N’ Stay Pet Camp near Burkham Court in March 2012, and she explained that she and her partner selected this neighborhood in Wheeling for several reasons.
“We struggled for some time to find the right location. Fortunately, we were contacted by an eager property developer who introduced us to a great location! He was easy to work with and was excited to watch our business grow,” she explained. “After two months of remodeling, we opened our Wheeling location with many state-of-the-art features, including central wet/dry vacuum, antimicrobial dog turf, and 58 bedrooms.
“We chose Elm Grove because it is a great neighborhood with a slightly more rural feel,” Barclay said. “It’s lower traffic than downtown but very easy access because it’s just a mile from the interstate. That’s a huge priority for our daycare clients, who are on their way to and from work. And being close to Oglebay and the hospitals is also a great benefit to our customers.”
The partners opened their first location in St. Clairsville, Ohio, in 2006, but they discovered their Wheeling clientele found the travel to be impractical.
“Thanks to the demands of our passionate clientele, we began looking to open a second location in the Wheeling area in 2011,” she said. “Elm Grove has welcomed us warmly, so now every day we serve lots of great dogs and their owners who love both our boarding and our dog daycare.”
The Grove also is home to a plethora of recreational facilities. The J.B. Chambers I-470 Complex houses five softball and baseball fields and the Miracle League Field for the special-needs athletes from the Upper Ohio Valley. The Wheeling Heritage Trail and the Wheeling Skatepark are situated in the same area along Community Street, and the Patterson Recreational Complex features three ball fields including the Capt. David Van Camp field dedicated to the memories of one of the area’s fallen American heroes.
“Don’t forget about the Chambers YMCA and the pickleball courts at Patterson,” said Palmer. “The ‘Y’ has great facilities, and Elm Grove has the only pickleball courts in Wheeling.”
Pat Carroll, according to Fahey, took the initiative to engage Wheeling city government leaders to lead the transition for the courts. The facility, once used often by tennis enthusiasts, fell into disrepair from a lack of use and a lack of attention.
“The popularity of pickleball has caught on in Elm Grove, and I expect it to spread throughout the city,” he said. “And that’s another example of how the people of this neighborhood fight. That’s how positive change happens.”
And if residents like Palmer have anything to do with what takes place in the future, the improvements will continue.
“I enjoy the annual Edgar Martin Beast of the East Baseball Tournament every year, and so do a lot of my neighbors, so I would hate to see the organizers of that event make a decision to take it out of the field in the Patterson area because of a lack of attention from the city,” he said. “The teams’ coaches complain, and I know that because they tell us every year. The I-470 fields are taken care of every single day, and that’s a great facility with a lot of traffic, but these fields are used a ton, too, so I would like that to change.
“In no way am I trying to be critical of the people who do a great job at the I-470 complex. I am being critical of the decisions that have been made,” Palmer said. “I’d hate to see our neighborhood lose the Beast of the East. Those tourism dollars are important to our community.”
Fahey, currently serving his second four-year term as vice mayor and Sixth Ward councilman, acknowledged Palmer’s concerns. He explained his concerns about the Patterson facility have been addressed, but only the minimum effort has been made, in his opinion.
“I’ve realized for some time the Patterson complex needs a lot of work, and that there’s not been a complete overhaul for a very long time,” the city lawmaker said. “It’s been frustrating, and while I’ve not heard about the possibility of losing the Beast of the East, I can tell you that we can’t allow that to happen.”
Palmer and many other residents have also registered complaints about the intersection of Kruger Street and U.S. 40. McDonald’s, Rite Aid, the Elm Grove Pharmacy, and Monument Place (the historic headquarters of the Osiris Shrine organization) cover three of the intersection’s four corners, and the traffic congestion is unnerving during peak travel times.
Nearly six years ago, Fahey joined city leaders and W.Va. Division of Highways officials in announcing a long-overdue intersection expansion. Little progress, he said, has been realized since.
“We’ve heard that it is designed, we’ve heard that it is funded, and now all we’ve been hearing for a while is that the final step is property acquisition of a tiny portion of property,” Fahey insisted. “This intersection may be the busiest in the city of Wheeling, and it was very poorly designed from the beginning.
Fahey continued, “The people in Charleston march to the beast of another drummer despite the needs of the people.”
“All we want is for the officials in Charleston to finally tell us the truth,” Fahey said. “The people of Elm Grove deserve an answer, and it infuriates me that the DOH has not given them that.”
The oldest bridge in West Virginia, the Monument Place Bridge, is also in need of attention. A consultant, according to Dave Sada with WVDOH, has been hired, but again Fahey has heard nothing more about addressing the issues of the 1817 span despite the fact it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981.
“The DOH is doing nothing proactive right now. Everything is reactive, and that has to change,” the councilman said. “The city even had to come up with the plan to get it restored, and they even liked our plan for the detour. Since then, nothing.”
The citizens of the Grove also are very engaging when it comes to the crimes that take place within the neighborhood. Fahey explain that he attended the community’s monthly crime watch meetings and that an average of 40 residents attend each gathering.
“Our streets are quiet, and our kids are safe, and the people here want to make sure it stays that way,” he said. “Violent crimes are very, very rare, but nuisance crimes do take place, so we address those issues.
“The people are paying attention, and that’s because they love where they live,” Fahey added. “This neighborhood offers nice, average-priced homes and a lot of affordable rental properties. In fact, Elm Grove could stand as its own community, and I don’t think that can be said about any other area in our city.”