I don’t remember Wheeling in its “heyday.” I’ve seen black and white pictures of shops and businesses lining downtown and the sidewalks packed with shoppers. I’ve heard stories and flipped through history books about how important Wheeling was “back in the day.”
As a current college student at West Liberty University, who grew up in Wheeling, I don’t remember how Wheeling used to be, and I don’t remember when it changed, or how, or why. But that’s okay, because I feel like my experience, in some ways, was even better: I, like all Wheeling kids of my generation, have gotten to grow up alongside a new Wheeling.
I think my generation and those after us are lucky in that we have gotten to grow up with a lot of the history and traditions of the Ohio Valley alongside new growth and changes. As a student at St. Michael’s and then Wheeling Central Catholic High School, I got to grow up in the historic churches all over the area, participate in Central’s long-running annual canned food drive for the 18th Street Center, and spend lots of time in the parks of Wheeling, going to Wheeling Park and Oglebay both with my family and with my schools for camps, picnics, dances, and high school graduation. My first job was at the Oglebay Good Zoo. Like those before and after me, I grew up getting to go to football games at Wheeling Island Stadium, the Christmas Parade downtown, the Festival of Lights at Oglebay, and track meets all over the Ohio Valley.
Photo by Kensie Mason
But my generation has also had the privilege of growing up alongside a growing new Wheeling area, with places like the Highlands in Triadelphia and new businesses and restaurants cropping up alongside old favorites like Coleman’s Fish Market and Ye Olde Alpha in downtown and around Wheeling. When I was in middle school, the Highlands really started to expand, with the first stores and restaurants besides Cabela’s opening their doors. I barely remember a time, now, before the Highlands Walmart, Marquee Cinemas, and the little village of other shiny new chain restaurants and stores that I’ve frequented regularly with my family and friends all through high school and college.
Even looking back on the Wheeling schools I attended just a few years ago, I’m impressed by all of the improvements and growth that they’ve made since I left. St. Michael Parish School’s beautiful and impressive Angelus Center facility was built just a year or two after I graduated, and four years out, I barely recognize Wheeling Central anymore in pictures for all of the renovations and technology that have packed into its classrooms and halls. Familiar teachers and principals have left, and new ones come in, and laptops and tablets have replaced a lot of the books and notebooks I used to use, and technology labs have replaced the libraries. And yet, with all this cool new innovation going on, I’m glad to see some things never really change, like the churches and the schools’ dedication to them, Central’s annual canned food drive tradition, and Maroon Knight school pride in academics and sports.
Photo by Hannah Mason
As a student at West Lib, I’ve started noticing that many of my classmates are graduating and staying here. They’re opening businesses downtown, getting jobs at growing companies like Williams Lea, and staying involved and invested in this community they grew up in.
During my college experience, I had the opportunity thanks to West Liberty to spend a couple of weeks one summer in the United Kingdom, in London and Edinburgh, Scotland. There, it’s obvious and incredible how modern skyscrapers and buildings grew up right next to centuries-old, history-rich stone structures like the Tower of London and Edinburgh Castle. I see a little bit of that starting to happen here in Wheeling, too. To me, crumbling downtown buildings, old memorial plaques and statues, and those black and white pictures don’t serve as sad reminders of a Wheeling that used to be, but as stories and heritage that the 2016 Wheeling I live in and see around me are building its foundation on. The Wheeling area encompasses old and new: beautiful Victorian homes in Warwood, and historic churches and downtown businesses and buildings among them, but also new businesses and homes and plans for a dog park emerging right beside them, and at the Highlands.
Photo by Hannah Mason
And one of the best new things about growing up in Wheeling in my generation? Not only have we gotten to grow up alongside a new, innovating Wheeling, but we get to record that newness and growth in a new way thanks to modern technology and the Internet. We can still take those black and white photos (thanks to filters on our smartphone cameras), but we can also post them online and share our stories in a new way.
I’m grateful to have gotten to grow up alongside Wheeling, I can’t wait to see what 2016 will add to the Wheeling story.