How much do you know about your hometown? Michael and I hail from Wheeling WV. Please note, not western Virginia; but “West Virginia.”
Wheeling is rich in history! I would like to share some of that history with you and I hope this will encourage you to research and share some of the interesting facts of your own hometown.
The year 1769, Ebenezer Zane staked claim to the land by way of “Tomahawk Right”. This meant that he stripped the bark off a tree and carved his initials into it. It took a nearly a year for him to return with his wife and family to establish the settlement of Zanesburg.
The early settlers had to deal with uprisings from the First Nations people. Even the name Wheeling was derived from the American Adena tribe meaning “place of the skull". A white settler was scalped and decapitated and the skull was posted on stake near what is now known as 16th Street.
Wheeling’s Fort Henry was once known as Fort Finecastle but was renamed to honor Virginia Governor Patrick Henry. Do you remember his famous word referring to British rule; ”Give me Liberty or Give me Death.”
Stories of Wheeling’s early days were anything but boring. Attacks and raids made by the Shawnee, Wyandot and the Mingo tribes were not uncommon. During one of these raids in 1777, Major Sam McColloch led a small force of soldiers from Fort Vanmetre to Fort Henry. Unfortunately, the Major was separated from his group and found himself chased by Indians to the edge of a 300 foot cliff. In desperation the Major jumped with his horse off the cliff. The Major survived but his horse did not. Today a monument identifies the spot where the jump occurred.
In 1782, the last battle of the Revolutionary War was fought at Fort Henry. During this event the settlers realized they were running dangerously low on gunpowder. They decided to dispatch a soldier to collect additional supplies from the Zane homestead. However, young Betty Zane volunteered for the harrowing sprint to the cabin figuring the Indians and British would not expect her intentions. She made it to the cabin and after filling her apron with the much needed gunpowder she returned to the fort. Thus the settlers won against the native army and the British soldiers preserving the American control of Fort Henry.
In 1793 Ebenezer divided the settlement into plots renaming the settlement to Wheeling.
In 1811 the first federally funded highway was constructed. It started in Baltimore Maryland and by 1818 it reached Wheeling Virginia. It was extended to Illinois at a later date. This public artery was known as “The National Road.” Such an undertaking was a major feat for the young nation. Then in 1853, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad came through Wheeling linking it to Ohio. However, as the automobile became popular The National Road was once again heavily traveled, and continued until the Interstate Highways were built.
In 1863, as the Civil War broke out, parts of Virginia chose to support the Union. Virginia was part of the Confederacy, with Richmond being the capital. The portion that chose to stay with the Union became known as “West Virginia“ making it a state in it’s own rite.
Independence Hall in Wheeling was the first capital for the new state. However, due to the fact that the capital moved from Wheeling to Charleston more than once, it was referred to as the floating capital. Eventually Wheeling lost out to Charleston as the state’s capital in 1885. Wheeling grew and became a prime industrial center for the state due to the Ohio River which allowed for easy river transportation of goods.
Wheeling was populated by many different ethnic groups. There was a section known as “Little Italy”, and a great deal of immigrants from the eastern Europe, and a large contingent of Germans.
Block Brothers Tobacco Company was famous for Marsh Wheeling Stogies and its products have been highlighted in movies of old. In the book “Captain’s Courageous, it was a Marsh Wheeling Stogie that caused the young lad to become sick and fall off the ship while leaning over the rail.
Wheeling also saw the growth of industries such as steel, coal mining and in surrounding areas glass manufacturing and chemical plants. Wheeling grew to a key industrial center for the state until the down turn of these industries caused both an economic and population decline.
Wheeling Jesuit College now known as Wheeling Jesuit University, the only Catholic college in the state, West Liberty University aka West Liberty State College, Wheeling Community College and Bethany College a private institution, has given Wheeling a strong educational standing.
The city has been featured in various movies and TV series. You may remember Wheeling being mention in series such as The Waltons, Family Ties, and Northern Exposure since John Corbett, one of the stars of the series, is from Wheeling.
Still there are things that warrant a visit to Wheeling. Oglebay Park has a holiday light display that can rival many such displays, and golf courses that roll over hills like none other. A gambling casino has been opened on Wheeling Island the largest inhabited inland island in the US located in the middle of the Ohio River and the home to once beautiful mansions.
I hope this inspires some of you to learn more about your hometown. You just might be surprised how your hometown may have struggled to become what you now know as Home Sweet Home.