The city of Wheeling, W.Va. has a rich and colorful history. Wheeling was home to many prosperous businesses including iron, steel, and tobacco industries. Wheeling remains a historical city today. One group primarily in South Wheeling continues to seek community preservation with great passion for the city.
The South Wheeling Preservation Alliance (S.W.P.A.) is a group of residents from the South Wheeling community who work diligently to promote preservation and restoration of some of South Wheeling’s landmarks and history. South Wheeling was and continues to be a wonderful neighborhood that at one time was arguably Wheeling’s most economically successful and ethnically diverse neighborhood. The S.W.P.A. is committed to helping restore public pride in its community.
“It’s really about preserving the character of the neighborhood,” said Brother John Byrd, Vice President of S.W.P.A. “I have lived in different parts of the United States, and when you come back home, you realize the treasures that are actually here.”
To understand the motives of S.W.P.A., you really should understand the rich history of South Wheeling. South Wheeling, formerly known as “Ritchietown,” was very industrialized in its heyday. Glass and iron works, brickyards, and a tobacco company riddled the neighborhood. Not only did these blue-collar workplaces provide Wheeling with an outstanding economy, it provided jobs and support to the local residents. Although the industries of yesteryear are gone, S.W.P.A. yearns to remind the public of the neighborhood’s forgotten history.
The S.W.P.A. is a small tight-knit group that is run by their President, Ginger Kabala, and their Vice President, Brother John Byrd. Although the group itself is small in stature, their goals and aspirations reflect their dedication for change. Their past accomplishments account for that. The group has constructed a large neighborhood garden that brightens South Wheeling. They have also landscaped and maintained two war memorials that were once overlooked. One of Ginger Kabala’s most fond memories involves the massive neighborhood cleanup they had in 2009.
“The cleanup was absolutely massive! We had a guy driving around with a bucket just to pick up glass, and we had people placing trash bags around at certain points,” said Kabala. “Connie Hoge, one of our charter members, had it completely organized, and she did a wonderful job.”
The S.W.P.A. also started their own Neighborhood Crime Watch, they frequently give local 8th grade students a walking tour of the unique sites in the neighborhood, and most recently, the group held a “Golden Trowel Competition” for residents of South Wheeling. Each resident could compete for cash prizes for the best front porch area, best brick sidewalk, best side yard, and the most whimsical. The group prides itself on committing themselves wholly for the South Wheeling community.
Kabala and Byrd are not only looking for preservation of history and bettering the livelihood in South Wheeling, they are looking to spread positivity throughout the Ohio Valley. “Over the years, the Ohio Valley has become increasingly negative. With the wonderful group that we have, we eagerly try to spread positivity not only for South Wheeling, but for the valley as a whole,” said the two.
While the industries of yesteryear have long been shut down, it should be noted that some of the city’s most prominent businesses still call South Wheeling home. Panhandle Cleaning and Restoration, Tri-State Machine, Carpet Showcase, Jamison Carpets, Kennedy Hardware, and Direct Online Marketing all provide local jobs and add to the city’s tax-base.
Despite the negative connotations of the neighborhood due to its economic decline, Kabala and her preservation group seek to enlighten with positive thoughts. It is vital that the group serve up reminders of South Wheeling’s role in the rise of Wheeling as an industrial powerhouse and as the founding city of our state.
The South Wheeling Preservation Alliance holds monthly meetings every 4th Tuesday at the Trinity Lutheran Church on 3536 Eoff St. Meetings begin at 7:15 p.m., with the Neighborhood Watch meeting beginning at 6:30. S.W.P.A also has a small office and mini-museum on 3501 Jacob St.
The S.W.P.A. would like to thank the Metropolitan Baptist Church and the Trinity Lutheran Church for allowing them to hold monthly meetings; Christopher Dean for allowing the usage of the office and museum space; Jeremy Morris and the Weelunk team; and most importantly, the residents of South Wheeling.
The group’s motto fits quite well.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead