Although Oglebay Park is widely known for its rolling vistas, hiking trails, and golf courses, sometimes guests like to spend a bit more time than just an afternoon fishing at Schenk Lake or swimming at the outdoor pool. For guests who want the Oglebay experience without the hustle and bustle of Wilson Lodge, the many cabins and cottages nestled into the woods around the perimeter of the park offer rustic getaways with modern luxuries.
The tradition of welcoming guests at Waddington Farm began with the Oglebay family who offered hospitality to family and friends at the mansion for nearly 25 years. Visitors would walk the colorful garden paths and enjoy tranquil sunsets on the mansion lawn throughout the summer months through Thanksgiving. In many ways, the Oglebays’ turn-of-the-century guests wanted what today’s visitors to the park long for as well: quiet evenings, time to explore the natural world and indulgences, like delicious libations and excellent hospitality.
Building on a Tradition of Hospitality
Although the City of Wheeling took possession of Oglebay Park in 1928, the first cabins weren’t constructed until 10 years later. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a work relief program sponsored by President Roosevelt’s New Deal, built these first structures out of recycled utility poles. Given that the poles ranged in size, there were no blueprints; therefore, each of the earliest of Oglebay’s cabins, including Tulip and Ulmus, were unique in dimension and layout. Some were small and cozy, while others were the size of dorm rooms. Each cabin cost around $250 to build, which would be about $4,300 today.
Construction costs went up dramatically by the time the first winterized cabin opened in 1950. By the middle of the decade, 10 of these cabins had been built at the staggering cost of $7,000 each, which would be over $70,000 in today’s economy.
In the 1970s, five four-bedroom deluxe cabins were built above the Speidel Golf Club and would serve as the prototype for future cabins. A renovation program was started around this time to rebuild existing cabins. A generous gift from Earl W. Oglebay’s grandson, Courtney Burton Jr., financed the Waddington House, an executive retreat.
The next decade saw the renovation of 12 of the original cabins and the establishment of a permanent maintenance endowment. In addition, Maple Chalet and four cottages overlooking the Jones (and now) Palmer golf courses were constructed. All of these improvements were made possible by generous gifts from donors like the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and families such as the Mooneys, Higleys and Crosbys.
At the turn of the millennium, a more concentrated effort was made to ensure that Oglebay Park continues to sustain itself. One of the ways it does so is by using proceeds from some of the cabins, cottages and estate houses to help finance other park operations. For example, a portion of the revenue generated by Palmer Estate House, which was built in 2006 by the generosity of the late Chris Hess, is earmarked for Pine Room maintenance. In addition, portions of the revenue from the three eight-bedroom cottages built below Wilson Lodge is designated for the Good Zoo, Bissonnette Gardens and the Access to the Parks program. And a portion of the proceeds from the Wheeler house, built in 2009 above the entrance to Speidel Golf Club, supports the maintenance of Oglebay’s many walking trails.
In those intervening years of building and renovating, many families have chosen to celebrate their togetherness in the cabins and cottages of Oglebay Park, doors of which might have changed their looks over the last 80 years, but have always been open and inviting to guests from across the country and right here in the Ohio Valley.
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Coming Home to Oglebay Park
The Downey family has been gathering at Oglebay Park since the mid-1990s. Their annual St. Patrick’s Day stay is in honor of the family’s matriarch, Helen Patricia (Lawler) Downey, who was born on that day in 1915. Her son, Robert Downey, reports that family members head to Oglebay each March from 23 different states as far away as Alaska and Hawaii and as close as Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Each year they make camp in a couple of Oglebay cottages and spend their time enjoying all the park has to offer, including walking, hiking and their favorite family pastime — playing basketball. In fact, they love playing the game so much during their reunions spent at the park that the Downey family generously donated money to restore the basketball and sports courts across from Hess Shelter.
On one of their many family gatherings at the park, Robert Downey remembers going sled riding “on snow sleds brought all the way from California so that kids who had never seen snow could have the experience.” These kinds of memories not only connect persons to each other but to a place that is both familiar and magical.
Not all guests who stay in the park cottages and houses are from out of state. Many locals choose Oglebay for their staycations. The more than 1,700 acres and numerous activities entice people from across the Ohio Valley to stay for the weekend or even a week, and this has been a tradition for locals for decades, including the Hofreuters.
Liz Hofreuter remembers spending many summers of her middle school and early high school years in a park cottage with her family. Both doctors, the Hofreuters did not have much time to travel outside of the area, so they would pack up the family car and head to Oglebay for a week or more of family togetherness peppered with trips to the city to take care of their patients. Liz recalls, “We would pack up and ride up 88 as if we were going on a trip — it wasn’t acceptable to forget something and go home and get it — this was our vacation.”
The cottages became a cozy home away from home that allowed them to leave the stresses of everyday life behind. Liz remembers large family meals at the picnic tables and other kinds of togetherness — something that she thinks would be nearly impossible “without a place like Oglebay to come home to.”
Staying at Oglebay Today
To find out more about staying at Oglebay’s cottages and to book your future memories, visit the Oglebay Park website at oglebay.com/stay/cottages.
(Photos provided by Oglebay Park and Oglebay Foundation)
• Christina Fisanick, Ph.D., is an associate professor of English at California University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches expository writing, creative non-fiction and digital storytelling. She is the author of more than 30 books, including her most recent memoir, “The Optimistic Food Addict: Recovering from Binge Eating Disorder.” She has been a Weelunk contributing writer since 2015. Christina is a 1996 graduate of West Liberty University and a member of Ohio Valley Writers. She lives in Wheeling with her family.
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