Story and Photography By Steve Novotney

Weelunk.com

There was zero political correctness involved when I was first told the tales of Roney’s Point.

Legend had it then that this was where the county’s crazy people were locked away, tortured, and then discarded if shock therapy failed to smack them back to reality. It was an insane asylum. That’s what I was told.

Oh yes, and it was haunted. Anyone who dared visit this unmarked and isolated area just off of U.S. Route 40 near Valley Grove in Ohio County would be chased off by the ghosts of deranged souls intent on revenge for the archaic treatments they had suffered. If the dead demons didn’t scare you away, a crazed man with a shotgun would.

1- Roneys Point - Entrance

So, of course, a creepy cruise to Roney’s Point was a must, a dare, a fraternity prank, and a place to park and party in the deep dark. My initial visit was planned as an expedition of sorts, with flashlights, blankets and baseball bats within reach. But after navigating the brick road and noticing the perfectly lined trees on each side and the burned-out mansion on the way, the adventure turned into a quick-paced and nerved-up drive-through.

I did not return again until I was pledging a fraternity while attending West Liberty State College. The mission this time was a sleepover in the basement of the long, boarded-up facility with no flashlights and no defense. We lasted only a few hours.

Many in the Upper Ohio Valley are aware of the legends of Roney’s Point, but few know the true stories concerning this former facility and the remnants of the Schmulbach Mansion that rests to the right of the roadway leading to the asylum.

Terry Davis: One of the best stories I’ve had that creeped me out when I was younger – I was told the trees are evenly spaced apart because there’s layers of dead bodies in between them from where the patients died. Check them out. They’re pretty close!

2 - Roneys Point - the trees

Terri Riggle-Helt: My great grandparents are buried there. No headstones. It was called a pauper’s plot. People who had no money or life insurance to pay for a burial were buried there. My mother was very familiar with the place and told me stuff. They also sent people there with TB. I had an aunt there.

Tim Edge: Roney’s Point was required visiting back in the ‘70s. Fall was great because the trees on the way up were bent over the road like a live tunnel, and the sound of the wind blowing through the dying leaves was enough to scare your pants off before you even got to the main house. With broken windows, the leaves would blow into the house, and whenever someone would step on and crunch some leaves, everyone would freak out. A bunch of us were up there once, and we found a bunch of round, paper, printout discs; they looked like they recorded brain waves or something. Just added to the creepiness of the place.

3- Roneys Points - signs posted everywhere

Later that night we heard some sirens from up on the hill. We all took off like a bat out of hell and jumped in the car and cleared out big time. Wasn’t until we got the bottom of the hill that we realized we left one of our friends at the mansion. By the time we got up the nerve to drive back up to get him, he had run almost all the way back down the hill.

Judy Parsons Luzader: When I was a kid I used to go up with my mom to visit and play games with the patients. I always felt sorry for the people. At that time it was called the halfway house.

The Mansion and the Hospital.

The medical facility was constructed and operated by the state of West Virginia. Initially the staff concentrated on the tuberculosis outbreak, and then it was transitioned into a mental health facility. State officials, however, handed over the facility to the Ohio County Commission, and the county soon closed the hospital in 1972 because of the structure’s condition.’

5- Roneys Point - front entrance

After tuberculosis patients were no longer being treated, drug addicts, alcoholics, and the clinically insane received treatments at the former state hospital, a type of facility that was common in the 1950s and 1960s, according to Ohio County Commissioner Orphy Klempa.

“Those kinds of hospitals used to sprinkle the countrysides all over our country,” he said. “We separated those people from the rest of us. We weren’t very good to some of the people of our past.”

Former Ohio County Sheriff’s Deputy (and currently Ohio County magistrate) Charlie Murphy was frequently dispatched to Roney’s Point between 1978-87, and he has lived his entire life in this area of Ohio County. Many continue to believe the Schmulbach Mansion was used at one time as the sanitarium for tuberculosis patients, but Murphy confirmed that is merely urban myth.

“To the best of my knowledge , and I was born in 1955, the mansion was never used as a hospital,” he said. “The medical facility, first for the tuberculosis patients and then for the mentally ill, was always in the bigger building at the top of the hill.

“Most of the time I was sent to Roney’s Point to chase the parkers out or break up parties,” Murphy recalled. “People didn’t realize how dangerous it was up there because there were a lot of open water wells all over the grounds.”

6 - Roneys Point - Collapsed Wing

The Schmulbach Mansion, according to local historian Ryan Stanton, was constructed for several years by brewer Henry Schmulbach, an investor in horse racing who didn’t run in the same circles of most of Wheeling elite citizens.

“Some people believe he was shunned in Wheeling, but I haven’t found that to be true. He wasn’t shunned. He was the one who shunned,” Stanton said. “He did what he wanted to do.”

Schmulbach moved into the mansion in 1913 at the age of 69 and soon married Pauline Bertchy the same year so he would have, Stanton said, “a hostess for the house.” It was also the year when West Virginia’s government enacted prohibition, forcing the closure of the brewery in South Wheeling.

“Her family was in the funeral home business, so they were pretty prominent in the Wheeling area, too,” Stanton said. “But then Schmulbach died in 1915, and she admitted she hated living all alone out there. That’s when she sold it to the county.

“After the county took ownership, it was opened as Ohio County’s poor farm. If you needed work, that’s where you went,” he said. “The mansion is where some of the workers used to stay so they could keep working. There are records that show some of the men lived there for as long as three years working that farm.”

7 - Roneys Point - rotted inside

Stanton also explained that, at one time, Schmulbach’s property featured a carriage house, a dairy barn, a greenhouse, a water fountain, and an ice house, as well as 11 other structures.

“In an article I found from 1972, it states those structures were used by the Valley Grove and Triadelphia volunteer fire departments for training,” Stanton said. “They burned them down.”

It was an accidental fire in 1975 that reduced the Schmulbach Mansion to the shell it is today.

“It destroyed the house, and I believe it was still in good enough condition where it could have been saved,” Stanton said. “After the hospital closed and the county took control, a lot of kids started going up there, and that’s most likely how the fire got started.

“I know there are a lot of rumors about the property, including the mansion and the asylum building, but the two structures are really about very different times in the history of Ohio County,” he continued. “But I do find it ironic that Ohio County now is making money from Henry Schmulbach from the oil and gas industries.”

8 - Roney Point - basement room

The Man with the Shotgun.

His name was Cecil Tominack, a local coal miner whose family resided in the former nurses’ quarters near the hospital. Soon after Cecil was laid off from a local coal mine in 1986, his father, John Tominack, then a county commissioner, hired him to maintain and supervise the grounds. Cecil received zero compensation, but the Tominack family was permitted to move into the former nurses’ house.

So Cecil and his wife, Donna Lou, moved their three children (Jeremy, Olivia, and Lindsey) to Roney’s Point.

“The road going up the hill was a yellow-brick road, so that’s what my dad used to make us look forward to living there,” explained Cecil’s middle child, Olivia Litman. “And the house was a really nice place once my parents fixed it up. We had six bedrooms and five bathrooms all on one level.

“Because it’s where the nurses used to live, there were numbers on the door. No. 4 was where my mother did her sewing, No. 7 was our guest room, and No. 6 was the one Santa visited,” she recalled. “It was a great house, but then there was always that view out of our window of the old asylum, and that was always creepy to me.”

So creepy that Olivia slept with a large, white stick.

9 - Roneys Point - basement

“The whole place was like a scary movie, so I had that stick with me until I hit my father so hard with it, he took it away, and he burned it,” she said. “He was coming into my bedroom to be the tooth fairy, and I whacked him really, really hard.

“It didn’t matter that my parents always told us that the ghosts up there were friendly ghosts because we were there taking care of their home,” Olivia continued. “There was always some kind of sounds coming from the asylum that sounded like slamming doors. Now I realize it was probably the ceiling collapsing, but when I was a kid, it sounded like unhappy ghosts.”

Olivia and her brother and sister did enter the former hospital, and her parents staged Halloween parties inside. She said when the county closed the facility, a plethora of supplies were left behind.

 

10 - Roneys Point - rear of building

“I remember seeing a bloody handprint in the operating room, and there were straightjackets lying around everywhere,” she said. “And the basement was filled with nothing but cages and colored rooms. There was a blue room that I was told was used to calm down the patients. There was a red room that was supposed to help patients feel some kind of emotion.

“There was another room that had nothing but restraints in it, and one entire wall was lined with cages with steel bars and locks on them,” Olivia said. “It looked like a prison.”

By the time Olivia was in ninth grade at Wheeling Park High School, she realized her fellow students were telling tales about her father and his methods of clearing the grounds of trespassers. Cecil, at times, would fire a warning shot from his shotgun to scatter the high school and college kids. What she heard from her classmates was that if one dared to venture to Roney’s Point, a crazed man would find you and shoot you.

But that was because a homicide took place near the Schmulbach Mansion in the late 1970s.

“Soon after I became a deputy, I responded to the scene where a man had shot and killed another man with a shotgun,” Murphy reported. “The shooter found his daughter in the car with this man, and apparently he didn’t like that very much. He shot the man in the left shoulder area, and then put the gun to his temple and pulled the trigger. And he was tried and convicted for that murder.”

“My dad was one of the nicest people you would ever meet. He wasn’t some crazed killer,” Olivia said. “It was really an odd feeling sitting in the classroom listening to all these horror stories because I knew he wasn’t doing anything they were saying. He shot his shotgun, but there were also times when there were more than 100 kids up there.

“I remember one time when there was a big homecoming party up there,” she added. “He went to back of our house and fired a shot that chased them out of there.”

The Tominacks lived in that house until the summer of 1993, when her parents were finished constructing a log cabin. Olivia has returned to the ground only once since.

“I had some friends who wanted to take a ghost tour up there, so I got us the permission to go up,” she said. “We walked around it, and the others were pretty scared. But I wasn’t. I just kept pointing out where me and my brother and sister used to play.”

The Grounds Today.

I visited Roney’s Point during the early afternoon this past Thursday with fellow Weelunker Jason Koegler, and the property was different in some areas from what I recall. After turning left onto Roney’s Point Run Road, the next turn was farther than I remember. I even told Jason we may have to turn back.

11 - Roneys Point - New building today

But then we saw it. County Farm Road.

Gone is the yellow-brick road as well as most of the aligned trees that once lined the roadway. On the way to the hilltop a new road has been cut by Chesapeake Energy for fracking per the agreement signed by the Ohio County Commission. The commission signed the deal in 2010 for the county farm’s 490 acres.

We could see hundreds of trees that have been stapled with “Private Property” and “No Trespassing” signs, and the only reason we could notice the mansion’s shell was that the far-below-freezing temperatures that have gripped the region this fall season had decimated much of the overgrown foliage. The old house was littered with graffiti, beer bottles, broken glass, and bricks. Blocks and boards taken down by time and the elements were scattered on every floor.

12 - Roneys Point - rear - new building

The hospital grounds are maintained today, according to Klempa, by West Virginia Trooper Jimmy Dean, and we saw his cruiser once reaching the hilltop. The grass was cut. but the former asylum is now hidden behind bushes that are obviously taller than they were initially intended to be.

Every entrance to the hospital is now boarded with screws driven into the building so tightly it was impossible to get even a fingertip behind any of the boards to test their integrity. Most of the structure’s windows are now broken, but they are too high for easy entry. There is no longer a way to see inside the building, let alone to enter it..

There is a small neighborhood of 10 or so houses behind the facility and then nothing but the woods beyond.

“From what I understand, it’s calmed down up there quite a bit,” Klempa said.  “And as far as I know, the folks who live up there haven’t reported anything about ghosts or anything like that.”

Still, Olivia Litman insisted that during her seven years living nearby, the unusual became, well, the usual.

“There was a light inside the asylum that would come on from time to time,” she said. “You could see it plain as day from the back of the building, but it didn’t stay on. One night it would be on, and the next it would be dark – and no one was in the building. My dad made sure of that.

“And one day I was sick and laying down in my parents’ bed, and my brother and sister started yelling to go to the living room. When I got in there, I saw a man dressed in all grey, like work clothes of some sort, and his face was grey, and his eye were kind of see-through.

“This man even bent down and petted our dog, Bowser,” she continued. “But when my brother ran outside to find out who he was, the man was gone. He vanished, and at that time the land was clear, so there’s no way he could have disappeared the way he did.”

13- Roneys Point - basement and beer

There are no plans in place at this time, according to Klempa, to demolish the former hospital or what remains of the Schmulbach Mansion. Most of the 490 acres are covered with trees, and wild animals indigenous to the area include bobcats, coyotes, deer, raccoons, squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, fox and skunks. The county commission allows some county residents to hunt on the property, but the “someday” dreams are focused on development.

“It’s now a piece of property the county owns that I would like to see be developed in the future,” Klempa said.  “I believe that could be a location of some residential development or something in the area of light industry.

“At this point, the buildings on that property do not pose a threat to anyone unless they break the law, so why spend the dollars when there are a lot of more important things we can do? It’s not high on the priority list,” Klempa added. “ Now that would change if someone approached us about development.”

As we were leaving, Jason and I stopped at the bottom of County Farm Road for one more glance back into our memories. I had not been there since returning in 2004 after we moved home from Pittsburgh, and it marked Jason’s first time since he and two friends listened to the Pittsburgh Pirates capture the 1991 National League East Division title in early October.

This time was different for both of us, though, because I think we each hoped silently to be spooked by something, anything, but the light was off, we heard not a single gunshot, and the grey man was nowhere to be seen.



27 Responses

  1. Bruce

    It is too bad there are no pics of this hospital when it was still in operation. I bet the grounds were beautiful.

    Reply
  2. Art

    My father-in-law has lived up there for more than 50 years right behind the Sanitarium I’ve been going up there since 1976 when I first started going up there there was a boxes marked human heads facing outward from inside the Sanitarium I’ve been inside of the sanitariums many times in one of the sanitariums me and my daughter went in and we heard something on the walls and then we left that was my last time being inside the newer Sanitarium I still from time to time go in the old one

    Reply
  3. Ties

    I have had ties to the run, for most of my existance. I do believe in the paranormal. There are forces at work in the world both good and dark that cannot be explained! I have had experiences that i shared only with family and close friends. For me it was never really about the county farm, although the happenings on the hill over the years may have attributed. It was more about the run as a whole. There is activity there, and maybe i know this cause i am an open person. As time has gone on… the feelings and the vibes have lessoned, and that could be because there are scary things happening everytime i watch the news

    Reply
  4. Theresa Chambers

    In 1996 I was there with a couple of friends. We went inside the building and wandered around the outside trying to scare each other. We were behind the building and decided to leave so we started to walk back towards the car. One of our friends tripped over something on the ground and fell. When he felt around for what he had stumbled over, it was a metal handle sticking out of the dirt. He dug it out and it was a sword. He took it home and as far as I know still has it today. I don’t know why there would’ve been a sword behind Roney’s point… maybe it was hanging on the wall in one of the offices when the building burned?

    Reply
  5. Don Hans

    That place was also a retirement home of sorts because that is where my grandpa was back in the 50’s. But it was state funded for the poor at that time

    Reply
  6. Sue Weigand

    My husband’s Aunt & Uncle lived up there in the nurse’s residence. It had to be in the late 80’s or early 90’s. We attended a family reunion held there and I believe my daughter was probably in 3rd or 4th grade and our son probably about 4 or 5. We were able to go into the asylum but had to be very careful. It was so creepy and needless to say we didn’t stay in there very long.

    Great article Steve.

    Reply
    • Paul in WV

      It’s been a long time, but I worked for the state in the mid to late 70s and remember taking a “client” out there for mental health treatment at one of the out buildings. My point is, although the main facility had been closed, I believe one of the smaller buildings remained in service past that time.

      Reply
  7. e3en

    Just went there today! We drove all the up and circled around the hospital and snapped a few pictures from the car. Then we drove back down the hill and parked near the entrance to the fracking road. As we were walking up the hill almost to the mansion, an older man and his dog were walking down the hill! The dog was friendly and we said hi to the man and he said hi back and walked down the hill. About 5 min later the cop who lives at the top by the hospital pulls up and said to not enter any buildings, just to stay outside by the street. We walked around, explored, and listened to what he said. About 45min later we see a car pull up and park near the mansion. As soon as we started back down the hill, the car did the same. Almost as if he was checking up on us. It was a different old man and a different dog! WEIRD! He drove past and said hello as well. This place is way more guarded than I expected. Got some great shots and even video!

    Reply
  8. Kendra33

    I really enjoyed this article. I really wish we could do more in this valley to protect places like this. It’s a shame to let history be destroyed. I have heard a few stories over the years, but never been there myself. Would love to explore!!!

    Reply
  9. mqdollars

    Excellent article Steve! I really enjoyed reading it…shared it with my brother Jeff (who still lives in Wheeling)….and my cousin John from Atlanta. I think we all heard many strange stories about Roney’s Point over the years…this article sort of sums them all up!…THANKS!

    Reply
  10. My Machine and Some Finds

    […] was a movie filmed there a few years back. Here are some of the stories and a little more history. The Legends of Roney?s Point Examined – Weelunk Here is some info on the movie. Bird's-Eye Media set to shoot $2.5-3 million thriller […]

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      Awwww, Prof Hattman was also my English prof at West Lib.
      Great article Steve!! It’s always fun to relive Roney’s Point stories at Halloween time. Visited there around 87 or so, we were scared to death!! I can just see you, Normie and Wayne trying to sleep in the basement as pledges.

      Reply
  11. jack hattman

    SINCE I CAME TO WHEELING IN 1958, I HAVE HEARD STORIES OF RONEY’ POINT.AND I HAVE BEEN FASCINATED BY THE VARIETY AND NUMBER OF LEGENDS.STEVE’S ARTICLE WAS A MASTERFUL COMPENDIUM OF INFORMATION AND LEGEND.

    Reply
  12. D K Mamula

    Great article! I grew up in South Wheeling and graduated from Wheeling Park High in 1983, but I had never heard of these buildings until within the last few years. The pictures are great and very much appreciated, but I would love to see some shots of the mansion and the hospital in their heyday. Also, could you tell me where in South Wheeling the brewery was located? I grew up on the 38th block of Eoff Street, the last block before reaching Bloch Brothers Tobacco Plant. I was wondering if the brewery building was still in existence

    Reply
  13. mnoble@deflaw.com

    Really am enjoying this website. And this article was particularly well done. Very refreshing to see articles written from an upper Ohio Valley perspective. Keep up the great work.

    Reply
  14. owyn88

    Well I hate to tell the daughter of the crazed shot gun man is true, but it is. In 1995 my classmates and I headed to the point to scare ourselves a bit. Within minutes the crazy man drove down a pull a shotgun on all of us. When the cops arrived the man still had the audacity to punch a young teenager in the face. (Bruce Dunken) The cop was in such sock he did absolutely nothing. Needless to say 1995 was my last appearance there!!! 100% true story! I’ll never forget how scared I was of that shotgun!

    Reply
    • Steve Novotney

      Owyn88 – If it happened in 1995, it wasn’t her father. They moved from the nurse’s quarter before then so it would have been a different grounds manager.

      Reply
    • J T

      “owynn88”- we didn’t live there in 1995.
      Cec’ died and cant defend himself, but I’ll defend him.
      This is Jeremy Tominack. His son. One of the many who saw the gray man.
      That’s about the only thing true in that story.
      My dad didn’t need to pull a gun on that guy cause he could have kicked his ass in two seconds, then throw him out.
      He didn’t need a gun. Definitely not Cec’s style.

      Reply
  15. Karen Merritt

    Great article. Oh, the memories this place brings back. We used to go there and hang out back in the 80s. I was always too scared to get out of the car. But one of my friends did, and he looked though the windows into the basement, and he swore he saw chains on the walls, we guessed to restrain the patients of the past. It was so black dark there at night, you couldn’t see a thing. I heard every one of the stories you mentioned and then some. Thank you for this trip down memory lane.

    Reply

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