I have lived in several nice homes during my life. One morning I was surfing the net, and came across these pictures of a place I once lived in Wheeling. The pictures were taken about 1889. Around that time, Wheeling was the wealthiest city in the United States. Very elaborate homes were all over the place. After I graduated from college, I decided I needed an apartment, so I contacted an elderly lady who had divided this mansion up into apartments. The picture above must have been taken before the place was fully landscaped. The original owner had statues and many other artful items in a formal garden in front of the house. The part of the building I lived in had a strange history. Behind the building, you see, was another entire building that did not fit the design of the front at all. Apparently the husband got mad at the wife and had a separate addition built for himself. The addition was as large as the original house.
The elderly woman who was my landlady was a kind old person. She lived entirely in the living room. The living room was so large that she used office room dividers to make various living quarters for herself. I don’t know how she came to own the place, but it was strange that she was so destitute that she had to rent out the house, but the house still had to be worth a fortune. The staircase sticks in my memory because it was so elaborate. The steps were about ten feet wide with fine woodwork on both sides. At the landing there was a stained Tiffany Glass skylight that must have been worth a fortune. The skylight was probably 15 feet by 12 feet across.
When this home was built, most of the material was brought from Italy. There was a great deal of marble and fine wood. Since the home sits high on a hill, an inclined rail system was built to get the material up the hill. I would love to have seen my hometown in its time of glory. Wheeling was at one time the jumping off point for the West. The people who supplied the travelers going West made fortunes. Two other things helped Wheeling at the time. Wheeling was the western terminus for the first major government highway in this country, The National Road. The second important transportation system was rail. The B & O Railroad terminated at Wheeling. To add more, you had the Ohio River. It all came together to make an ideal business setting.
The number of these mansions was amazing, and they were in various parts of the town. I cannot recall visiting another town with such a population of these marble palaces. Growing up, I assumed every town was like this, but I have come to realize very few actually are. At the time most of these homes were going full bore, they each had a tennis court: many had swimming pools, goldfish ponds, and separate carriage houses for the servants. All the big homes and many of the smaller nice homes had old fashioned intercoms. There was a system of pipes you could speak into like they did on the old ships. As a child I remember seeing these strange gizmos.
Visiting these big old homes was a lot of fun because they had all kinds of secretive little areas in the attics and under the steps. The attics were always amazing because they often were the servants quarters. Most of the attics were nicely finished and had as much living space as most homes do today. I would guess that even up until the depression about 20 percent or more of the homes in Wheeling had live in servants. At one point when we were growing up the family across the street moved into one of these old marble mansions. As kids we were amazed they had an old brass elevator that took them from floor o floor. The stairway to the second floor was a curved marble affair that had no support underneath. It must have been an engineering feat for its time. The real mansions of that time made today’s McMansions look Micky Mouse.
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on Mike’s blog, Kadizzled. He has generously agreed to look the other way while we pilfer his material that pertains to Wheeling.