To use a sports analogy, Wheeling punches above its weight class. For a city of only 27,000, Wheeling boasts a tremendous number of high-quality cultural institutions and tourism attractions. Not many look like the outdoorsy ads you see promoted by our state tourism campaign, but each demonstrates the rich heritage and deep commitment to a high quality of life for our citizens and surprising attractions for our visitors.
I love talking to people from out of town, particularly those from larger cities, and hearing the surprise in their voice when they learn that Wheeling has its own symphony. What’s even more exciting is explaining that the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra is only the tip of the iceberg. From beautiful historic theaters to world-class riverfront parks, Wheeling’s venues set a stage for local and national entertainment. From boutique shopping in Centre Market to cheering on the Wheeling Nailers at WesBanco Arena, Wheeling is full of activities for the whole family.
As I look back through my Facebook memories at the end of each year, I’m impressed by the number and variety of activities we have here in Wheeling.
Seeing art exhibits at Stifel Fine Arts Center. Pierogies and fried fish sandwiches on Fridays during Lent at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in South Wheeling. Throwing a cannonball down a hill during the world’s largest Irish Road Bowling team tournament. Enjoying a drink and live music in Later Gator’s courtyard, pizza on the porch of Good Mansion Wines and a croissant at Sarah’s on Main. Walking through the gardens at Oglebay Park. Taking an obligatory photo from the midway point of the Wheeling Suspension Bridge. Learning about the birth of West Virginia and one of the most creative political maneuvers in American History at West Virginia Independence Hall. This list is only a small portion of the things to do here in Wheeling as a visitor and as a resident.
The institutions and attractions that fill our calendars are important in defining us as a community. Often, these still-thriving institutions were left here by generations past, and the events are the lasting traditions of the various groups of people who made Wheeling their home. The space and activities that are attractive to visitors are the same that comprise our collective community conscious.
— Jake Dougherty, Wheeling Heritage executive director
HISTORY IS EVERYWHERE
I really believe that Wheeling has something to offer everyone because history is everywhere. If you enjoy visiting museums, then you will find that Oglebay, Independence Hall and the Stifle Fine Arts Center are all great institutions with fascinating collections and exhibits. Exhibitions often rotate, so it’s worth visiting these places again and again.
Sometimes, history is more palatable when it’s told as a story. Wheeling has several organizations that offer regular lecture series. The Ohio County Public Library Lunch With Books program presents weekly talks that are often focused on historical themes. Additionally, the library’s People’s University has weekly lectures on the “wild, wonderful and weird” stories of Wheeling. The South Wheeling Preservation Alliance, Friends of Wheeling, Civil War Round Table and Victorian Old Town Association also have monthly speakers covering a variety of topics.
This year, in celebration of Wheeling’s 250th anniversary, there are also special programs happening all over the city. Lectures, events and rotating exhibits celebrate the history of Wheeling and offer something for everyone. The “pop up” history programs feature short, first-person interpretations of some of Wheeling’s most famous figures, and are a great event for kids.
Even if you don’t categorize yourself as a history buff, there are opportunities to learn more about the past. I would encourage everyone to take a closer look at the places and spaces they interact with every day. If you live in an old house or work in an older building, see if you can find any historic photographs of that space. Stop and read the highway marker you typically drive by or the interpretive sign in your neighborhood. Following these pockets of information throughout the city allows you to create a self-guided tour of Wheeling’s History.
— Betsy Sweeny, Wheeling Heritage historic preservation program manager
FOR ART’S SAKE
Anytime my husband and I visit a new town, we seek out art in the community. Our own town, Wheeling, has plenty of opportunities for visitors to experience art.
The Artisan Center retail shop is a great place to start. Located on the second floor of the Artisan Center, the shop carries West Virginia and regional handmade art and fine crafts. You can find pottery, jewelry, woodwork, paintings, glass and much more. There is also the third floor Loft Gallery, which features different artists during most months.
Then, take a short stroll to ArtWorks Around Town in historic Centre Market. Artworks is an artist’s co-op featuring a variety of local work. The gallery features an exhibit each month.
Oglebay Institute’s Stifel Fine Arts Center is another “must visit.” Stifel hosts a variety of exhibits throughout the year. The exhibitions vary and showcase all mediums of art by local, national and international artists.
Etc. is a gallery with work from local and national artists, as well, and the work on display is exceptional. Locally owned, this boutique gallery also offers antiques.
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If you like pottery, you should plan to visit East Wheeling Clayworks. Beth and Adam Bedway provide a welcoming space where they create great pottery and offer classes. Clientele Art Studio and the Wheeling Drawing Room are other spaces that showcase local art.
Wheeling also has some great public art. The Heritage Park & Sculpture Garden should be on your list. Bobo the Elephant is featured along with a turtle, heron and mouse, all created by local metal artist Jeff Forster. Another sculpture by Forster stands behind the B&O building.
Of course, art is not always visual. There is much more — music, theater, spoken word, dance, etc. — to experience. Wheeling is home of the Wheeling Symphony, the historic Capitol Theatre and Oglebay Institute’s Towngate Theatre. Festivals of art, music, dance, film and theater throughout the year authenticate Wheeling as a Certified Arts Community.
— Chris Villamagna, Wheeling Heritage program manager
Wheeling has much to offer for families with children. From entertaining and educational activities to fun and inspiring experiences, there is something for people of all ages. When visiting downtown, families can stop by the Children’s Museum of the Ohio Valley on Main Street. With plenty of hands-on play activities and ongoing special programs, the museum immerses children in a fun and creative environment.
Just a short drive away is the Kruger Street Toy and Train Museum in Elm Grove. There, kids and adults can explore various items of play from several generations. Adults can engage with the toys of their childhood while young visitors can race cars, build playsets and participate in several program offerings.
Located near the city is the renowned Oglebay Park. Families can rent paddleboats or cast a fishing line at Schenk Lake, swim in the large pool (with its climbing walls and water play area), play miniature golf, take a ride on horseback, explore the playground or hike beautifully landscaped trails.
The only accredited zoo in West Virginia, the Good Zoo at Oglebay provides families the chance to experience creatures large and small in its indoor and outdoor animal areas, and is home to several rare or endangered species. Programs at the Good Zoo offer children and adults up-close encounters with certain animals, and a train ride through the animal enclosures is a favorite way to experience their natural environments.
Weekends provide additional opportunities for families. Smart Center Market, Wheeling’s science and technology store, offers children’s programs on Saturdays that utilize fun activities to engross participants in STEM learning. In the evenings, family friendly sporting events are often on tap as the Wheeling Nailers hockey team and the West Virginia Roughriders arena football team create exciting experiences with a variety of themed game nights.
— Travis Henline, Wheeling Heritage museum project manager
BRING YOUR APPETITE
There’s no shortage of great food in the Friendly City. Of course, any article about food in Wheeling must mention both Coleman’s Fish Market and DiCarlo’s Pizza. If you haven’t had these Wheeling classics, do yourself a favor and grab a fish sandwich and a couple of slices of DiCarlo’s. (Pro tip: Take it to-go and head to Heritage Port to enjoy the scenery.)
But if you’re looking for something new, you’re in luck. Lately, Wheeling’s restaurant scene has grown, and there are plenty of new restaurants for visitors to explore. I can’t cover them all, but here are a few of my favorites.
One of the newest restaurants in Wheeling is located in Centre Wheeling at 2122 Main St. The appropriately named Sarah’s on Main has a delicious array of homemade breakfast and lunch items. Anything with Chef Sarah Lydick’s famous salty bread is sure to be a great choice, but it’s impossible to go wrong with her delicious sandwiches, soups, pastries and salads. If the weather is nice, dine alfresco in her courtyard. She also has a great espresso menu — I recommend the lavender latte!
Country Roads BBQ is a new, fast-casual BBQ restaurant, located at 56 Carmel Road. However, its owners aren’t new to barbecue. Scott and Jill Phair opened Mountaineer BBQ in 2008 in Triadelphia and then moved to a food truck in Dallas Pike. The family recently rebranded the company and opened a storefront, with their children, Kelly and Kyle, joining in as well. The chicken and mac and cheese are delicious!
Good Mansion Wines, located at 94 14th St. in East Wheeling, is way more than an amazing wine shop. The mansion has a lunch counter in the back with specialty sandwiches, soup, quiche and pastries. If your schedule allows, stop by on a Friday, when they offer fresh pizzas from scratch. Pair it with their free wine samples for the ultimate TGIF lunch. And while you’re there, stock up on fresh pasta, imported meats and cheeses, and other specialty items to take home — and grab a bottle or two of wine, of course!
This list just scratches the surface, and it isn’t complete without mentioning other favorites like Later Gator, Wheeling Brewing Company, Vagabond Kitchen, Avenue Eats, Tito’s Sloppy Doggs, Tacoholix, Figaretti’s and so many more.
Hope you brought your appetite!
— Alex Weld, Wheeling Heritage outreach and program manager