Editor’s note: While downtown Wheeling living has always been a thing, it seems as if there are more apartments than ever. With the refurbishment of the Boury Lofts, the Stone Center and the Flat Iron Building, the idea of urban living seems to be gaining in popularity. Weelunk visits with a few downtown residents to discover why they chose the neighborhood, what they like about it and what’s on their wish list. Today, meet Betsy Sweeny, preservationist.Betsy Sweeny’s background is in “reading buildings,” she says. And when she “read” the Boury Lofts, it said, “Move here.”
And she — and Marshall — couldn’t be happier.
Marshall was definitely part of the decision process. “I picked my apartment for my dog — that’s what it boils down to. I made a pro and con [list] of all the things I wanted, and Marshall wanted to be by the trails,” she said of her “buddy,” her 6-year-old mutt, who has been with her every step of her adult life.
“I got him immediately after getting my first job. I saw him and got him on the spot. My first night in my first adult apartment was his first night, too. He’s been with me through it all; through my first job, through my master’s degree. He’s built log cabins and done fieldwork and all kinds of things … run races. He’s my buddy,” Sweeny said, who took a job as historic preservation program manager with Wheeling Heritage last year.
A Pittsburgh native, she lived in Orange, Virginia, where she worked as an architectural historian at James Madison’s home, Montpelier, before she moved here.
When she came to Wheeling she looked at “a million” places — “I wanted to get a feel for the neighborhoods.” She checked out six apartments in downtown Wheeling, as well as some in other neighborhoods. Her “must-have” list was relatively short.
“It had to accommodate Marshall. Had to be old. Had to have a dishwasher. Had to have a bathroom that was bigger than a closet like in my old house,” she said.
So what was it about downtown Wheeling — more specifically the Boury Lofts — that attracted Betsy and Marshall?
For one, close proximity to work. She’s a whole 400 feet to her office in the Wheeling Artisan Center. “It’s awesome. I drove a ton in Virginia. I felt like I was always in my car, so the idea of walking to work was so appealing to me.”
The historic aspect of the building, of course, was a plus. She’s design-conscious, she noted, and loves that the rehabilitation was done well.
“They took me on a tour, and there was some writing on one of the walls that they hadn’t covered up and I thought ‘this is a well-done adaptive reuse, not just a money-maker, this is … thoughtfully rehabbed.’ That won me over.”
And she also liked the fact that the apartment was a “blank slate.”
But the big thing — the thing that sealed the deal — was the trail, practically right outside her door.
“The trail absolutely was the dealmaker to me. When I realized I had trail access through the parking lot, that was, hands down, a huge, huge thing for me. I love to walk him, but I love to run and bike, and I like to kayak, and the creek is right there. That’s really cool,” she said.
The urban spot had all the comforts of country.
The Boury Lofts building, she pointed out, is also very dog-friendly. (On Chewy delivery day, the lobby is full of Chewy boxes.)
“Marshall never lived in anything like this. He always lived in little houses, and he was really a country dog before this. The first time he got in an elevator he was really scared. He’s still pretty scared of the automatic doors. But he’s learned that sometimes when the elevator doors open, there are friends in there! And he loves it!”
His favorite thing — and Betsy’s, too — is to sit on the couch and look out the large arched window that offers a view of downtown Wheeling and Wheeling Creek. She also loves the kitchen and the open floor plan. And, the dishwasher, of course. And the apartment has tons of storage and a big bathroom.
THE WISH LIST
But what does downtown lack? What would she like to see in downtown’s future?
When, Betsy first addressed this question, the Public Market had not yet opened. That was No. 1 on her list. Now fresh produce, a cup of coffee and a quick lunch is less than a block away from home and just across the street from her office.
“Two. A downtown gym. A downtown gym. A downtown gym,” she says adamantly. “[That] would be huge.” While the Boury Lofts has a room with exercise equipment that is “totally” adequate, she said, she’d like the classes and social aspect of a gym. While she is a yoga teacher, she said she loves being a student. A spin studio or something like Orange Theory would be great.
No. 3 on her wish list is a “nicer cocktail bar … a little more upscale” than what’s out there now. “Something with a happy hour for the after-work crowd.”
One annoyance — although a trivial one, she admits — is that when there’s a big event at WesBanco Arena, the flat lot where Boury Lofts tenants park, is not available. “Each unit gets a parking pass for the flat lot and the Intermodal. I always park in the flat lot, but when there’s a big event, which happens three or four times a year, they’ll clear the flat lot and I have to use my intermodal spot, and that always annoys me.”
Boury Lofts stands at 16th and Market streets on property where the Hubbard sawmill once stood, according to Jeanne Finstein of Friends of Wheeling. “In 1827, Dana Hubbard (1789-1852) built the first sawmill and the first gristmill in Wheeling. … the sawmill was undoubtedly kept busy providing lumber for the boat-building enterprises along Wheeling Creek,” she said.
Hubbard purchased the property in 1850 (most likely having leased it prior, Finstein surmises) for $12,250, which in today’s dollars is about $380,000. Henry Baer purchased it in 1890 for $16,000 ($460,000 today).
“It was after this that the property housed Baer Brothers Warehouse. In my opinion, the building should be called ‘Baer Lofts’ instead of ‘Boury Lofts,’ since the Bourys didn’t own it until much later. In both cases, the building served as a warehouse,” Finstein added.
Other interesting facts:
• In 1899, there was a lawsuit that resulted in ownership by Morris, Louis, Julius and Bernard Horkhheiner and their wives.
• In 1906, the Horkheimers sold the building to Baer Grocery Co. for $42,500.
• The building once had its own railroad siding, where train cars could be backed in and unloaded. Remnants of the track can still be seen in Boury Lofts where the fitness room is located. It was one of these train cars that crushed Bernard Horkheimer on July 7, 1906. His death certificate states the cause of death as “accidentally killed by being crushed between cars and Baer Bros. Wholesale Building.” One of the construction workers who was involved in the recent rehab of the building died when he accidentally fell down an elevator shaft.
Subsequent transfers include:
• 1920 — to Archie b. Marcus from Baer Grocery Company
• 1921-22 — City Directory shows three businesses at 2 16th St.: Union Warehouse & Storage company (along with a half-page ad for the company “General Merchandise Storage, Distributing and Forwarding” — connected with all railroads); Horkheimer Brothers Wool (Julius and Louis Horkheimer); and Atlas Grocery Company (H.F. Menkemeller)
• 1953 — to Ralph L. Miller from Union Warehouse Holding Company, trustee for Archie B. Marcus, then from Miller to Louis Marx and Company
• 1976 — to Boury Inc.
• 1990 — to MEG Properties for $490,000
• 1995 — to 808 Corporation
• 2007 — to Edward Gompers, land sale ($8,000), and then to 404 Partners LLC
“My background is building pathology … reading historic buildings … I could look at this wall all day … I can see where they framed out the window, I can see that was whitewashed, I can see the nailer block where that brick is. I could look at this all day and learn something new about the history of how this space functioned,” she said.
“If you look hard enough, you can see the cut nails in the walls that are historic, that probably came out of LaBelle [Nail Factory] — not probably, almost definitely came out of Labelle’s. That’s really cool. … You can see saw marks on the wood,” she said.
Betsy pointed out that tax credits were used for the rehab of the building, which means it followed the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for rehab, meaning it was accurately done.
“So those big beautiful windows, those are aluminum remakes of the exact profile that was there. If you look carefully, each floor is shaped a little different. It would have been easier to make one size fits all, but they didn’t. Another thing I love is the random writing on the exposed beams. It was really common, especially in warehouse-type settings, to see people just jotting notes all over the place.
“I like what they’ve done with it. If you didn’t put apartments, if you didn’t rehab this building, its lifespan would’ve been over. … I’m happy to see it where it is.”
And she’s happy where she is, too.
“I love Wheeling. It’s frustrating when people talk about it in any way other than positive because I could’ve gone anywhere in the country, and I wanted to be here. I haven’t second-guessed that all. I think I’m consistently impressed by how many things are going on and how engaged the community is. There’s a lot going on here.
“It’s awesome. There’s something for everyone. There’s a great art scene here; its really vibrant and also accessible. You don’t feel unwelcome or uncomfortable in almost any of these places. I think that’s great.”
And when she’s inside her apartment, there’s a spot she loves.
“When I stand right here, and I can see my big window and my side window … and I feel like I can see all of that part of Wheeling. Especially at night when the trees aren’t so full, especially when there’s no leaves on them you can see the barges, the lights … that’s really cool.
“I can see myself here for a long time.” And Marshall, too.
• Having spent nearly 38 years as reporter, bureau chief, lifestyles editor and managing editor at The Times Leader, and design editor at The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register, Phyllis Sigal now serves as Weelunk’s managing editor. She lives in Wheeling with her husband Bruce Wheeler. Along with their two children, son-in-law and two grandchildren, food, wine, travel, theater and music are close to their hearts.