Farm to Fork Takes Leap Through History

A property with nearly 250 years of Wheeling history hosted the Wheeling Symphony Auxiliary’s annual Farm to Fork dinner this past weekend. The McColloch Farm, named for Major Samuel McColloch who plunged his horse from the side of Wheeling Hill in 1777, has been passed through several families and has seen the rise and fall of Wheeling’s population.

It’s again owned by a family with young children who can frequently be found hanging on branches and running through the fields.

Jason and Valerie Wahl purchased the homestead almost a year ago. After living all over the country and moving as often as once a year as dictated by Jason’s job as a U.S. Navy master diver, they were looking for permanency and the perfect setting to raise their three children. The couple knew they “wanted this house for the history.”

“The idea of making it a farmhouse again and the opportunity to be part of its long story sold us,” Valerie said. Both Valerie and Jason are Wheeling natives and have been looking forward to the opportunity to return home. “Knowing the old stories about McColloch’s leap and being able to keep Wheeling history alive is exciting for us. We love knowing that our kids will grow up with this history.”

The current exterior of the house has kept all the character and charm of the original homestead.

The property has been called home for some of Wheeling’s notable historic figures. Bill Whitaker, who was fortunate enough to spend his childhood in the home, has created a timeline of the history of the house. With help from Judi Hendrickson, they have compiled a history of the homestead complete with pictures from all stages of the home’s construction and rehabilitation. View TIMELINE here.

In the 1770s, when Sam McColloch decided to stay in the relative wilderness of Ohio County, he made a claim by Tomahawk Grant — meaning he put notches in the trees bordering the property he was claiming with a tomahawk or ax. He constructed a log cabin on the property, probably where the house currently sits. McColloch was killed in 1782 with no children to inherit his property. Most of it reverted to his brother John but passed out of the family by 1809.

In 1846, Abraham McColloch, Sam’s nephew, purchased the home and 125 surrounding acres. The McColloch family would own the property and expand the home and other structures for the next 100 years. The oldest stone portion of the house dates to the 1840s and large additions were constructed in 1856. Over the next 150 years, other additions, updates, refinishing and expansion work continued to be done on the house.

The photo at top left was probably taken in the late 1800s or early 1900s. The back of the photo identifies it as “the W.E. McColloch home & family” and identifies, from left:  Thomas Henson “Hanse” McColloch; William Emery McColloch (1850-1923), father of “Hanse” and Chester, among others; Belle McColloch; Chester Emery McColloch (1878-1950) who owned the house until he died in 1950; Lulu McColloch (1880-1933), sister of Chester (not his daughter Lulu); Mary McColloch (by dog); and Sue McColloch. (photos provided by Bill Whitaker)

The Wahls are currently remodeling interior rooms to bring back some of the original integrity. Their first big project is to restore the original fieldstone fireplace in the oldest part of the house. They are doing all of the work themselves, just as the McColloch and Whitaker families did. Projects take time, but the Wahls are working to maintain the history and integrity of the house. They have exposed old studs and cleaned up fieldstone with their children bearing witness to the hard work it takes to preserve this piece of Wheeling history.

During the mid-1800s, the McColloch family was busy with construction on a number of sites just outside of Wheeling. Table Rock Farm was built in 1840. Lawrencefield, which was located near where the church currently sits, was built in 1846. Fair View Farm, which eventually became Sandscrest, was also constructed in the 1840s by members of the McColloch family. The McColloch homestead is in close proximity to the other three farms, just off today’s GC&P Road.

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Next to the house is a stone springhouse. The fireplace on one end was used for smoking meat, while wool and milk were stored in other areas of the building. An underground cistern near this building collects water within easy reach of the kitchen door. The city of Wheeling did not supply water to the homestead until the 1990s, and that was primarily to service the pool that was installed in 1983.

The spring house is just outside the kitchen door, where it would have been most useful for the home’s first family.

The large pine tree to the left of the walkway is a “century tree.” In 1876, in honor of the nation’s centennial, the federal government sent two pine saplings to many homes. Homeowners often planted these trees on either side of the main walkway. The McColloch homestead did likewise, but only one tree remains.

In 1951, 59-year-old Leta McColloch was widowed and decided to move to her daughter’s home in Woodsdale to enjoy her golden years. She lived to the age of 104 and was able to watch the evolution of the farmstead to a more modern facility when Robert W. Hazlett purchased the property. At that time, the house still had no plumbing, only an outhouse and water pump, and limited electricity. The Whitaker family recalls her coming to visit and generously doling out both praise and critiques of the changes to the homestead.

Hazlett’s daughter and son-in-law, Jane and Louis Stifel Whitaker, purchased the house in 1959. Like the current owners, their children grew up in this idyllic setting and speak fondly of their childhood there. Their son Dan still lives on the eastern portion of the property, in a smaller house built in the late 1950s for his grandfather. At the Farm to Fork event, he regaled the attendees with stories of his father remodeling the kitchen and adding the entire east wing on the house.

An article in the Feb. 22, 1959, edition of the Wheeling News-Register notes the restoration of the McColloch farmhouse. (provided by Bill Whitaker)

The house now has about 18 acres with it. The smaller house that Dan lives in is separated from the main house by a grove of trees. Much of the original acreage was divided into lots in the post-World War II construction boom. But nestled back behind the newer homes and freshly paved roads, the McColloch homestead still stands. While the electricity and plumbing are decidedly 21st century, the large blocks of fieldstone, the gnarled trees at the entrance and the disused springhouse recall a different time when Wheeling was still the west, and people struggled to survive there.

All of this history was celebrated at the Aug. 4 Farm to Fork event. A jazz trio played on the back porch, and the open backyard left space for mingling and a very long dinner table to accommodate the approximately 100 guests. Cocktail hour was followed by dinner on the east lawn. Appetizers, soup and salad led up to the entree of grilled sirloin with lobster butter prepared by Chef Charlie Schlegel of Ye Olde Alpha. Dominick Cerrone of Good Mansion Wines expertly paired wine with each of the five courses of the meal.

At left, the long banquet style table was crowded for the feast. A jazz trio, right, was at home on the covered porch of the oldest part of the house.

The Wheeling Symphony Auxiliary crafts this unique dining experience to bring the best of Wheeling’s local food to the table. Their goal to “provide a delicious and locally grown menu full of food that travels a simple and responsible path from the farm to the table” creates an atmosphere of family and a meal that leaves a lasting impression. Along with the simple pleasures of a wonderful meal, diners this year will never forget enjoying cocktails and friendship on the lawn where Major Sam McColloch celebrated being alive after his harrowing leap from our familiar hill.

Stacey Sacco is a Wheeling native currently living in Martins Ferry with her husband and four children. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social work and previously worked for several social service agencies. She is currently the production editor for InWheeling Magazine and a blogger at OV Parent.