A once-in-a-lifetime celebration experience is on tap from Thursday, June 20, through Sunday, June 23, marking milestone anniversaries with family-friendly signature summer events.

“A number of elements came together to create an opportunity for a unique destination weekend,” said Jay Frey, chairman of the Wheeling 250 Committee. “Bill Brooks, organizer of the Ohio Valley Chicken and Rib Cook-Off, graciously welcomed the idea of teaming up with Wheeling 250 for our bridge celebration.”

The jam-packed weekend will kick off early — on Thursday, June 20 —  with a West Virginia Day celebration, and continue through Sunday, June 23, with a bicycle tour. Sandwiched between that will be art, food, history, music, fireworks and riverboat cruises.

On West Virginia Day, the 156th anniversary of statehood will be observed with a free program and birthday cake at noon, June 20, at West Virginia Independence Hall, 1528 Market St.

At 5 p.m., June 21, an open house and reception will commemorate the 160th anniversary of the U.S. Custom House, known now as West Virginia Independence Hall. The event is free and hosted by the West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History.

Wheeling Heritage Port is the site for the 170th anniversary of the Wheeling Suspension Bridge, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, June 22.

On Friday, June 21, and Saturday, June 22, the Ohio Valley Chicken and Rib Cook-Off will offer meal options, live music and a beer garden for adults to enjoy. Brooks’ goal is to have community members from different walks of life come together and enjoy what the weekend has to offer.

“I hope to see white people and black people eating together and laughing together. That’s the kind of thing we are trying to do,” he said.

Brooks noted that the Ohio Valley Rib and Chicken Cook-Off was slightly different at its start, but still projects its main purpose — bringing people together.

“This used to be the African American Jubilee. … We changed it from that because I want people to come and not feel that it is just for African Americans. I want everyone to come and have a good time.”

From 9 a.m. to dusk on Saturday, June 22, local artist Mindi Yarbrough will host a plein air painting party. Community members can bring their own art supplies to paint alongside Yarbrough as she creates unique pieces of work.

“Some people think they aren’t an artist, and I want people to get over that and participate no matter what the skill level and try something new,” said Yarbrough. “People love art, and I want it to be a day where artists from all over the community can come together. I want it to be something that is no pressure and fun and let people try it.”

Additional guest artists are art professional Greg Siegwart and West Liberty University art professor Brian Fencl.

To celebrate the Suspension Bridge from the river, excursions aboard Pittsburgh’s Gateway Clipper Queen will be available from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, June 22. A Fireworks Dinner Cruise is set for 6:30 p.m. with live music, food and drinks. For tickets for the day cruise down the river, visit this link. For more details about the dinner cruise and to purchase tickets, visit this link.

Throughout the day on Saturday, June 22, speakers will present storytelling programs about the Suspension Bridge.

“We have five local historians scheduled to share stories about the bridge’s engineering features, its construction by the Wheeling and Belmont Bridge Company, and the collapse of the roadbed and cables in a storm in 1854,” said Frey.

“Attorney C.J. Kaiser will relate the story of Pittsburgh’s lawsuit, claiming that the bridge obstructed river traffic, with the goal of tearing it down. Travis Henline of Wheeling Heritage will portray Charles Ellet Jr. who designed the bridge,” Frey said.

“This day is a unique, stand-alone, one-time experience, anchored in the recognition of the importance of Wheeling’s most iconic structure, the Suspension Bridge,” Henline said. “The bridge is a designated National Historic Landmark and the first bridge to cross the Ohio River as part of the National Road and as a gateway to the West.”

Saturday will be capped with a fireworks display at 9:30 p.m.

At 8 a.m. Sunday, June 23, a Historic Wheeling Bicycle Tour offers cyclists an itinerary stopping at 14 historic locations, beginning at the north end of Centre Market at 22nd Street. The tour is free and is sponsored by Friends of Wheeling, Ohio Valley Trail Partners and Bike Wheeling.

Olivia Litman, marketing director of the Wheeling Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), believes this festival is unlike anything she ever had the opportunity to attend as a little girl.

“As a person that has grown up in Wheeling, my childhood memories are different,” said Litman. “The Heritage Port didn’t exist, and weekend events of this caliber were unknown. Wheeling has an incredibly rich history. From a frontier outpost and a gateway to the West, to the birthplace of our state and an industrial powerhouse, Wheeling has had a tremendous impact on the history of our region, state and nation.”

The multi-day festival is made possible by Wheeling 250, Wheeling Heritage, the Wheeling Arts and Cultural Commission, the Wheeling Convention and Visitors Bureau, Bill Brooks of the Ohio Valley Rib and Chicken Cook-Off, and local artists and historians contributing their time and talents.

Event sponsors include the City of Wheeling, Wheeling Island Hotel, Casino and Racetrack, Wheeling Nailers, The Health Plan, Main Street Bank, AEP, McKinley and Associates, Bordas & Bordas, Panhandle Cleaning and Restoration, WesBanco Arena and Visit Wheeling, West Virginia.

To learn more and for ticket information, visit the event site’s homepage for further details.

• With a background in journalism and being a true Wheeling native, Jessica Broverman was destined to work with Weelunk. She holds a degree in journalism with a minor in criminal justice and works with Williams Lea Tag as a legal proofreader. When she isn’t typing away for Weelunk or WLT, she is enjoying a coffee at one of her many favorite spots in Wheeling, spending time with friends, or having fun with her husband Zachary and their two cats, Proctor and Max.

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