Anyone who knows about Wheeling knows this city is steeped in history. Luckily for those wanting to learn more about the area’s rich histstory, there are books, encyclopedia articles, academic papers, oral histories, and photo essays about the Friendly City. There is also a figurative pile of newspaper clippings to flip through. As Wheeling Heritage’s AmeriCorps Member, most of my time is spent researching and writing historic content for Weelunk. I often use all of these tools when digging up interesting stories from Wheeling’s past to share with fellow Weelunk readers.
When researching a new topic for Weelunk the first place I look is the Ohio County Public Library Digital Newspaper Archives. While the library has had much of Wheeling’s newspapers available on microfilm, making them available online is invaluable. Now, people near and far can access this deep well of local history.
You can search the archive by inputting text search terms, or you can browse by date. The Tips and Tricks page is a helpful resource for better searching; the quality of the scans sometimes affects how well the computers can search for your terms. By entering partially-spelled words or browsing by date if I know where articles on a topic may have been printed, I am usually able to obtain my desired search results.
This also means I find some weird stuff! By weird I mean charming, quirky and beloved. Weird is an honorific term in my book, and I think it fits nicely along with Wild and Wonderful, two other “W” words that have officially described the Mountain State since 1969.
While these clippings are interesting in their own right, they don’t always have enough information or weirdness to warrant a full Weelunk article. However, some are too good not to share! I hope you enjoy browsing through my latest collection of clippings below. If you have thoughts, questions, or additional information on something we publish, we would love to hear about it in the comments!
Lawns – Fabric, Not Grass
Wheeling Daily Register, May 25, 1880
The headline of this advertisement, “Remnants of Lawns” had me scratching my head for a minute. Was there a Victorian Sod Farm that I somehow had not heard of? However, as soon as I saw “yards” I knew J.S. Rhodes & Co. were attempting to liquidate their fabric stash.
Like many words in the English lexicon, “lawn” refers to an anglicized placename. Laon is the city in France where the woven fabric originates.1 J.S. Rhodes & Co. ‘s dry goods store opened around 1848, and located on Main Street right where the Suspension Bridge would soon be built. J.S. Rhodes lived down the block at 923 Main, the current home of the West Virginia Snakes Club.2
New Year’s Comic
Wheeling Daily Register, January 1, 1890
Who’s this old guy with the scythe? It’s Father Time! Like his cousin, the Grim Reaper, he carries a scythe. Scythes were once commonly used for grain and grass harvesting, and as such have come to represent the passage of time by way of “harvest.”
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Left of him is a jaunty looking youth with the year “1890” on their belt. To the right is a silhouetted figure falling backwards while bearing the sash of the outgoing year. Using a baby to symbolize the new year has roots going back as far as ancient Greece.3
Skating on the River
Wheeling Intelligencer, December 31, 1909
When was the last time you remember the Ohio River freezing over? It’s hard to imagine the river being solid enough for “skating on both sides of the island” this year, but that’s exactly what happened in 1909. Looking for an ice skating fix despite the weather? Head over to the J.B. Chambers Memorial Ice Rink at Wheeling Park during open skate to show off your moves.
“Compliments of William G. Lias”
Wheeling Centennial Souvenir Program, 1939
Looking through the 1936 Wheeling Centennial Souvenir Program, this advertisement caught my eye. Nestled in between the restaurants, banks, factories, and other businesses was the simple message: Compliments of William G. Lias.4
What does it take to be so well-known in bustling 1930s Wheeling? With ownership or interests in the Wheeling Downs Race Track, Zeller’s Steak House, among other restaurants,5 Lias was a notorious racketeer with ties to organized crime across the Rust Belt.
If you need to brush-up on your Lias-lore, check out George T. Sidiropolis’ book, “Murder Never Dies”, which was featured in our WEEREAD book review series.
Other Curious Clippings
Most people discard their magazines after reading them, but apparently there was a market for binding your treasured magazines to preserve for years to come! (Page 7 of Wheeling Daily Register,published in Wheeling, West Virginia on Saturday, March 11th, 1899)
In the 1940s, children gathered at the annual peanut roast in Woodsdale in hopes of becoming the next "Peanut King."
There was no room for name-calling in 1906 when Frank Diablessiana, an Italian Stone-cutter, was arrested on the charge of profanity.
Say it ain't so! In the 1940s, a local parent-teacher association took issue with the song "It Ain't Necessarily So" by Frankie Masters.
5 “Wheeling History- William G. Lias.” Ohio County Public Library. Accessed January 2022. https://www.ohiocountylibrary.org/wheeling-history/william-g.-lias/4995
• Kate Wietor is currently studying Architectural History and Historic Preservation at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia. She spent one glorious year in Wheeling serving as the 2021-22 AmeriCorps member at Wheeling Heritage. Since moving back to Virginia, she’s still looking for an antique store that rivals Sibs.