Writer’s note: When thinking of Wheeling’s scenery, it’s hard to turn a corner without marveling at one of the city’s many churches. Whether it’s the architecture, history or fellowship that draws you in, the buildings are something to admire. While many of these spaces are occupied by churchgoers and clergies, some have been repurposed for new ventures. Through this adaptive reuse, the community gets to experience a new type of fellowship as spaces for entertainment, creativity and beauty. Let’s check out a few churches in Wheeling that have stood the test of time through adaptive reuse. Today, we look at a church-turned-gift-shop and a synagogue that is now an accounting firm. 

136 Edgewood St.

Original Occupants: Christian and Missionary Alliance Church

Current Occupants: The Jeweled Bird

As mysterious as it is beautiful, there isn’t much public information regarding the history of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church of Wheeling. According to the Woodsdale-Edgewood Neighborhood Historic District Nomination submission, the building is simply described as a “brick Gothic Revival Church, 1 ½ stories, 3 bays, side entrance with portico, square bell tower, gable entrance, pointed gothic windows with colored lights.”

What we do know about the congregation is that it held its first meetings as early as 1897, and the church on Edgewood Street was not built and dedicated until 1932.

Today, Joan Berlow Smith and Samuel Posin who operate The Jeweled Bird, are making their own history by offering a wide variety of specialty gifts and fine jewelry. For six years, the duo has been committed to creating a special place for visitors from near and far, many of whom describe The Jeweled Bird as their “happy place.” Combining Smith’s love of birds with Posin’s passion for jewelry is what inspired The Jeweled Bird, along with a peacock-themed tree that won Oglebay Institute’s Festival of Trees prior to opening their shop.

The Jeweled Bird is located in what once was the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church.

By Smith’s account, after the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church left, the building was occupied by a Baptist church, followed by the Ohio Valley Christian Center, then used as a storage center for a short period of time before sitting vacant for over 15 years, then being purchased by Pittsburgh native Charlotte Morris.

Smith and Posin were searching for over a year when they came across the former Christian and Missionary Alliance Church as a potential location for their shop. At the time, Morris used the church as her primary residence while renovating it to its former glory. However, Morris was interested in moving closer to friends and family, giving Smith and Posin the opportunity to make the building their own.

When touring the building today, it’s clearly a space that has been curated with intention. Smith had a vision from the very beginning. Whether you’re admiring the beautifully preserved stained-glass windows or appreciating the original woodwork that’s been repurposed to create the fine jewelry room, you can see the thoughtfulness around every turn. In fact, some of their customers are former church members who marvel at the care and effort that’s been put into preserving the building that holds many of their childhood memories.

Gift items are displayed against the backdrop of stained-glass windows at The Jeweled Bird.

Smith and Posin’s ultimate goal is to offer their visitors high-end, unique pieces at a reasonable cost. They both live in the neighborhood and are proud to serve the local community. They offer a large assortment of gift items, many of which are eco-friendly or benefit causes such as animal welfare or health.

Posin, a third-generation Wheeling jeweler, maintains an impressive inventory of fine, custom jewelry and offers appraisals and repair. They also have a collection of estate jewelry, with many items sourced from here in Wheeling.

117 Edgington Lane

Original Occupants: Synagogue of Israel

Current Occupants: Gompers Lohri and Associates

What started as a group of 11 men meeting in a living room on Washington Avenue grew to a congregation of over 130 families as the Synagogue of Israel. During the time the Synagogue of Israel was being constructed, Sabbath and holiday worship services were held at the homes of Herman Levin and Sam Sax, two of the congregation’s founding members.

The synagogue was completed and dedicated in 1927 and offered the community an abundance of services, including religious services, adult and children’s Hebrew classes, Sunday morning religious school, youth programs, cultural programs, interfaith, civic and charitable activities and social events.

As the congregation grew, so did its need for space, which is why in 1959, the Synagogue of Israel hosted a three-day dedication celebration of its new education wing — and there was certainly plenty to celebrate. The new wing included 10 new classrooms, a library, an arts and crafts room, offices for the rabbi and education director, and an all-electric kitchen. The library was a focal point of the addition, as it boasted over 2,000 volumes of adult and children’s books and a collection of Jewish art and ceremonial objects prominently displayed in a glass enclosure. The library was intended to provide the community with educational resources and serve as a lending library.

By the 1970s, there was a decline in Wheeling’s Jewish population, which led to the Synagogue of Israel merging with the nearby Woodsdale Temple to become what we now know as Temple Shalom. With over 75 families making up its congregation, Temple Shalom continues to be dedicated to Jewish education through its adult and children’s education programming.

A painting of the Synagogue of Israel hangs inside Temple Shalom.

Local resident Stuart Pavilack and his family had been involved with the Synagogue of Israel for three generations. He recalls spending a great deal of time at the synagogue for bat mitzvahs, religious school and recreation.

The merger of the two synagogues was a sad time for Pavilack, as it played such a prominent role in his childhood. Although Pavilack was away at college when the two synagogues merged, his younger brother was living in Wheeling and preparing for his bat mitzvah.

While the merger was well underway, the Synagogue of Israel building had not yet been sold. Given the Pavilack’s connection to the synagogue, their family successfully lobbied to keep the family tradition alive by having the bat mitzvah at the Synagogue of Israel. To Pavilack’s knowledge, this was the last service held at the old location, and he was happy to have been able to celebrate in the building one last time.

Today, the synagogue looks much different. With the sanctuary now removed, you could easily pass by the building without ever knowing about its rich history. The property currently serves as office space for Gompers Lohri and Associates, which provides financial guidance to individuals and businesses.

The former Synagogue of Israel new houses Gompers Lohri and Associates.

IMAGINING NEW POSSIBILITIES

It’s encouraging to know that these buildings continue to serve our community by providing useful services that better our lives in a variety of ways and, if we’re lucky, this is just the beginning. There are plenty of vacant buildings in the area that are ripe for reuse, allowing us to honor our past while reinventing our present and future.

One such building that is currently available is the Blue Church, located at 1206 Byron St. in East Wheeling. Built in 1837, this Greek Revival church is one of Wheeling’s oldest church buildings, and it has recently undergone some extensive renovations thanks to the support of Wheeling Heritage.

The Blue Church was consecrated as St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church on Oct. 27, 1837. When that congregation moved to its fourth home, the church was purchased by the First Baptist Church, whose members called it home for nearly 100 years. The building was used by the Church of God and Saints of Christ.

According to Betsy Sweeny, historic preservation program manager for Wheeling Heritage, the Blue Church is one of the most significant historic buildings that remains in Wheeling.

“Between its location in East Wheeling and its name recognition as the Blue Church, compounded with its architectural significance position, it as a great candidate for a creative reuse,” said Sweeny.  “We see projects like this happening all over the country. It’s just a matter of finding the right person to do it in Wheeling.”

While there is still work to be done, the property has connected utilities and a new roof and gutter system, making it a great start for the right buyer looking to invest.

Perhaps someday in the near future, we’ll have another sacred space to celebrate as a music venue, restaurant or event space.

In PART 1 we learned about how Towngate Theatre and Design & Image Studios/Hall of Frame are using two former churches.

Alex Panas is a marketing and public relations specialist at Wheeling Hospital. She earned an undergraduate degree in health communication from Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, and a master of arts in communication studies from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Since moving back to the Ohio Valley, Alex has been involved in a variety of organizations dedicated to revitalizing Wheeling, including the Wheeling Young Preservationists, Generation Wheeling and the United Way. A self-proclaimed cat lady, Alex lives in St. Clairsville with her two cats, Zoey and Millie, and her husband, Aaron Moore.

Leave a Reply