It was The Windmill, and it will be The Windmill once again. That means its four unfurled sails will rotate once again if Dan Millhouse has anything to say about it.
“So far, we’ve managed to get the lighting on them working again, and it will rotate a little bit but not as much as what it will,” he said. “But it will, if I have anything to do with it.”
That’s only the beginning of Millhouse’s plan for this historic structure, constructed in the early 1900s for a Sterling Oil Gas Station and then utilized for various different businesses including a tavern, a glass company, and a locksmith. Millhouse has entered into a partnership with Mikey Pandelos, the widow of longtime restaurateur Ernie Pandelos, who passed away a little more than a year ago.
The couple owned and operated eateries in the Wheeling area and in Greensburg, Pa., for many years, including Ernie’s Esquire in Bethlehem and Ernie’s Cork & Bottle in downtown Wheeling. The sprawling structure that once housed the Esquire is now being transformed into an apartment complex, and the Cork & Bottle was recently razed because of structural issues following more than a decade of sitting vacant.
“The Pandelos family first contacted me about eight years ago to do some plumbing work at the Esquire because someone had broken in and had stolen a bunch of their plumbing inside the building,” Millhouse explained. “And I’ve been working with them ever since because they still do have a number of other properties. Not only have I done work at the Esquire, but also at their house, the Cork & Bottle, and now we’re at The Windmill.
“Mikey still owns the properties, and I chose The Windmill because I thought it was the best location of them all. I considered the Cork & Bottle because of everything that has been taking place in the downtown over the past few years, but because of parking, and because of what we want to do with the property, I thought the top of Wheeling Hill would be the best spot.”
But for what brand of business?
Millhouse has studied past uses for the property, and he has discovered that when it was “The Windmill Pub” the location was popular. He has decided to return The Windmill to something similar, but with a twist.
“What we are planning to do with the property is to open a social club, but it’s going to be a non-alcoholic social club,” Millhouse said. “It’s going to be for anyone who would like to come. We’re not going to cater to any certain age group or anything like that. We’ll have the bar restored and that’s where the customers will be able to order whatever kind of non-alcoholic beverages they would like, and we’ll also have a menu with wings, mini-pizzas, and things like that.
“We’re also going to have ice cream and milkshakes and things like that, too. It’s just going to be a place that people can come to and not have to worry about the booze and the drugs,” he said. “Since my daughter, Samantha, was born, I have been very involved with the local kids, and I have seen how that stuff affects them. We don’t want to be a part of that.”
So, in the near future, The Windmill at 501 Stone Boulevard will offer dart leagues for teenagers, a pool table, and an internet jukebox, and Millhouse also plans to demolish two adjacent structures to make way for an area for corn hole.
“We want to offer a place where people can come and be in something of a structured environment, and we’ll also have security on site to make sure that the kids and young adults are safe from what others like to bring to the equation,” Millhouse said. “And we’re going to listen to our patrons. If there is something they suggest that would add to the fun people can have here, we’re going to do our best to add it.
“From coaching to just being involved with my kids, I know they need a place like this that they can go to so they can enjoy a relaxed atmosphere with their friends. Plus, their parents will be able to be confident that their kids are safe here, and as a parent that means a lot these days. You really do worry about where they go and who they are around,” he explained. “If we did get the liquor license, then we would not be able to welcome the youth of this area, and that’s not our goal. That’s not why we have been working so hard here. My children have lost friends to this drug epidemic, and I think everyone in this Valley has, too. Unfortunately, it’s become part of the lifestyle, and I want to offer the kids a chance to stay away from it.”
At this time, Millhouse hopes to open The Windmill in a few weeks following two solid months of construction work on the building’s interior.
“We have been working to bring everything up to code, and we have replaced the floors on the main level, and we’ve done a lot of improvements to the building’s roof,” Millhouse explained. “Our plan for the exterior is to keep it as original as we can because I think people like it that way. People know this building, and they seem to be very fond of it and its history.
“I am a general contractor, and my son works with me every day, so we have been able to get a lot of the work done very quickly. I know people think that it’s destined for demolition, but it’s stronger than a lot of people know. That building will be there a lot longer than a lot of us will be,” he said. “The first floor has been gutted down to the bare walls and we’ve replaced everything. The only part we’re going to re-use is the old bar that’s been in here for a lot of years.”
His 21-year-old daughter will manage the business, one Millhouse hopes to open to customers as early as May 1.
“We need to finish the flooring, and we do have some ceiling work to complete, and there are windows to replace, and the outside will get a fresh coat of paint,” Millhouse said. “There’s not been a business in this building for several years because after the bar closed, Ernie pretty much used it for storage, and it did take us sometime to clear everything out and assess what still held any worth and what didn’t.
“Before the bar, there was an auto glass business, and also a locksmith worked out of here before Ernie purchased the property. We know it was a Sterling gas station to start, and that’s why those “L” logos are on the side of the building and also in the middle of the windmill,” he said. “It’s important to us to preserve as much as we can because, as far as everyone who lives here in the Valley, this building has always been here and it has always provoked conversation. It may be one of the unique structures in the Valley, and I want it to stay that way.”
Millhouse, a 1992 graduate of the former Praise Christian Academy in Glen Dale, has been assisted by his 18-year-old son, Michael, during the renovation, and his wife, Candi, is set to assist with the food service side of The Windmill. After posting information about the building’s new life on social media, Millhouse received a much larger reaction than expected.
“We’ve had a huge response from the people of the Valley or from people who used to live here on the internet,” Millhouse said. “And people stop here, every day because they are so curious about it. Everyone wants to see inside and they ask what we’re going to make it and when we are opening. Hopefully, all of those people come back after we do open.
“After I had put something up on the ‘Memories of Wheeling’ Facebook page, I think it ended up collecting more than 260 Likes,” he continued. “And there were so many comments, too, so that has us all very excited for the future.”
(Photos by Steve Novotney)