If you are looking for a bit of vanished history, drive the winding roads from Downtown Wheeling up to the Mozart Volunteer Fire Department. There you’ll find the last remaining plot of land of what used to be one of Wheeling’s largest, liveliest parks.
When Mozart Park opened in 1893, the first park goers would have similarly scrambled up the hill – on foot – to reach the top. But, on Monday, October 25 of that year, a 205-yard-long, coal-powered inclined railway made the park accessible to petticoats, bowler hats, cassocks, and all other manners of patrons.1 According to the Ohio County Public Library, “The president of the Brewery, Henry Schmulbach, had the vision and means to create a recreational park for the people of the area. He purchased land that encompassed the top of a high hill overlooking south Wheeling and developed Mozart Park on a portion of the land.” Remnants of this incline and the park remain in the names of the roads: Incline Avenue, Lower Incline Avenue, and Park Road. There is even a bar called The Incline on Frazier Street.
That Monday morning, the press and a crowd of invited “gentlemen” and curious observers waited to test the first ride at the opening of the incline. About one thousand people waited at the bottom of the incline on 43rd Road – today, 43rd Street – before a mechanical issue caused a 6-hour delay and the crowd dwindled to four hundred.2 To represent Henry Schmulbach, a well-known local and brewmaster and founder of the park and incline, the vice-president of Schmulbach Brewery, Charley Horstmann was the first to hop in the car at around four o’clock in the afternoon.3 Read more on the singing, dancing, and dinner celebration that lasted through midnight on the Ohio County Public Library’s website.
To get admission into the park and ride the incline, a park-goer in 1894 would take their fifteen cents (about $4.50 in today’s money) and jump into one of the cars that came around every two minutes. The cost dropped as low as five cents before the incline was replaced by the Mozart Street Car Line in 1907.4
With 1,200 persons carried every hour up Mozart Hill, neighbors and out-of-towners bumped shoulders at the dancing pavilion that could hold 5,000 people, a casino, a restaurant, and an eight-lane bowling alley building.5 If you look at the 1902 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Wheeling, Ohio County, it looks like the current Mozart City Park is located on the land near where the bowling alleys used to be.
Activities were provided by brewmaster Schmulbach’s sponsored Mozart Singing Society, who served Schmulbach five-cent mugs of beer for patrons, scheduled performers, and would even take the stage for their own performances.6
Visitors at the time may also have attended a magnificent balloon launch, a number of summer eve’s operas, or contemporary music concerts depending on the night. Several of these events were pre-arranged organization picnics, which may be arranged in conjunction with a music activity.7 For example, some fifty to seventy-five yinzer post office employees arranged an outing out to Mozart Park in May of 1894.8
Mozart Park was often portrayed by the press as a resort where “society” folks – nouveau riche and wanna-be-rich – could retreat to for a day; but, the patrons ranged widely from grocers to bankers.9 Records of public events, like elections, church gatherings being held at the parks, and bowling competitions demonstrate that it was a common gathering place.10
Throughout the 1900s, the park was a focal point for visitors young and old. In the Summer of 1903, “society folks” were likely to attend a “popular dancing session” in the casino with a certain Professor Jacob J Reneke, and the next night, Becker’s Dancing Academy learned a new dance; then, two nights later, the Viola Dancing club entertained their friends with the help of a Professor Kronaeger on the piano. All that between Monday and Thursday.
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Since 1917, that bustling apex closed and most of the land parsed out by the brewmaster turned park-master, whose main livelihood—beer—was suffering from prohibition constraints. If you haven’t made the hike yet, go visit the lone playground and play some early opera or American pop tunes while you flip through the Ohio County Public Library’s Mozart Park image collection; and if you peer out to South Wheeling just so, you may catch a glimpse of how some guys in bowler hats must have viewed the West Virginia mountains. Only take your car. It’s steep up there!
• Bethany Leone is a graduate student at Duquesne University studying public history. She completed her undergraduate degree in history at Grove City College. Currently, she resides in one of the layered Pittsburgh neighborhoods with her husband and too many chocolate hiding places.
1Peter C. Boyd, “Old Mozart Mark Popular Hilltop Spot,” Wheeling News-Register. Wheeling W.Va., 1951. In Wheeling Parks Mozart File. OCPL.
4Kate Quinn, “Mozart Park and Incline”, June 18, 2007. In Wheeling Parks Mozart File. OCPL.
5 Dawn Marie Sampson, “Incline Railway Once Provided, Transportation to Mozart Park: Admission Price Fifteen Cents”, Wheeling News-Register, W. Va., Sunday, August 10, 1997. In Wheeling Parks Mozart File. OCPL.