What’s the History of Wheeling’s Windmill?

If you’re a fan of cute kitsch, like me, then you’ve probably spent some time on roadsideamerica.com pining after things like the world’s largest pistachio or teapot. It’s the teapot, located in Chester, West Virginia, that led me to see what other fun things our state has to offer. I was surprised to see a piece of Wheeling history on the site – the windmill!

The windmill on Stone Boulevard is one of the locations on the long list of roadside attractions in West Virginia. The information about the Windmill on the website reads “According to unverified local lore, the windmill, along the old National Road, was built in 1917 as part of a gas station.” That intrigued me. Unverified local lore? I simply must verify it. I must know more.

First off, the year of this lore appears to be off by about 12 years. A Wheeling Intelligencer article from 1929 is the first reference to the windmill I could find. A council of three men, Messrs Becker, Spargo, and Gilligan, was formed to investigate a petition made on behalf of the Sterling Oil company, which wished to build a gasoline-filling station. “The new structure will be built like an old Dutch windmill with blades that will turn in the wind. The blades will have electric lights on them and the effect will be stunning after night. The station will have a run-in driveway and the city will have to give the company permission to alter the sidewalk at the station.” The estimated cost of this project was $10,000, which would equate to $165,929.82 when adjusted for inflation today.

Wheeling Intelligencer, September 18, 1929

The trend of novelty gas stations stretches across the country. It is a wonderful way to get people talking about the business (I’m still talking about it all these years later). From airplanes to dinosaurs to giant cowboy hats, quirky gas stations can be found all over America. Interestingly enough, the Wheeling windmill is not the only one built in the state of West Virginia. The Quaker State Oil company built a windmill in Parkersburg, it pre-dates the Wheeling windmill by a year.

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The Parkersburgh windmill differs from ours in one way, it is on the National Register of Historic Places. Its significance is credited to its “unique design for a building type which signaled the introduction of the Motor Age.” The application to preserve the Parkersberg windmill in 1981, says: “The windmill is a significant example of W.Va. commercial archeology and is an architectural folly which has achieved landmark status in the opinion of Parkersberg citizenry. The Quaker State Oil Company maintains two oil refineries in W.Va., though no other examples of the early windmilled-styled stations of this company are known to remain in this state.” With the clearly defined historic relevance of similar buildings in the state, there is all the more reason to showcase the history of our own windmill service station!

Today, the Wheeling windmill is still open for business as a sports pub with several dart boards, arcade games, and other gaming options. Next time you drive up Wheeling Hill, consider making a pit stop to admire Wheeling’s own quirky roadside attraction. 

The Wheeling Hill Windmill, courtesy of the Ohio County Public Library.

• Makayla Carney, a Wheeling native, is the 2023-2024 AmeriCorps member for Wheeling Heritage, where she will get to write all about the history and culture of her hometown. She has a B.F.A. in Film and Television from DePaul University in Chicago. She adores all kinds of art, a lavender latte, and the occasional performance on the Towngate Theatre stage.