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Paying Tribute to Wheeling, West Virginia

So what’s so special about Wheeling, a small city in West Virginia that most people have never heard about?  And why did Johnny and I even bother to stop by this place on our way home from Canada to Atlanta?

Wheeling, West Virginia

Wheeling, West Virginia

Honestly, the only reason Johnny and I knew about Wheeling was because it’s my stepfather’s hometown.  After my stepfather, Don, moved to South Carolina, he visited Wheeling every now and then to see family and to attend his high school reunion.  But being an awesome indifferent stepdaughter that I was, I never came along and usually halfheartedly listened to what my mom had to say about those trips back home.

But somehow my lack of enthusiasm for Wheeling disappeared last minute when I realized that we would be passing through West Virginia during our fifth-year wedding anniversary road trip.  Our itinerary was: Niagara Falls, Canada – Buffalo, NY – Pittsburgh, PA – Lexington, KY – home in Atlanta, GA.  Wheeling, it turned out, was only an hour drive southwest from Pittsburgh.  So there was no excuse not to visit Don’s birthplace.

As we were leaving Pittsburgh, I searched for things to do and sights to see around Wheeling.  The first thing that came up was a website for a festival that was being held on that very same day.  The event was called Wheeling Heritage Port Sternwheel Festival.  I was really excited that we happened to be in the area to see what it’s all about.  But before I write more about the festival itself, let me give you a brief introduction on Wheeling, and point out a few landmarks that make it a really cool town to visit.

– Nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains along the Ohio River, Wheeling was the first state capital of West Virginia.

– The city includes Wheeling Island, the most populated island in the Ohio River.  The island is known for its two favorite local attractions:  the Wheeling Island Racetrack and Gaming Center at Wheeling Downs and Wheeling Island Stadium, home of the West Virginia State Football Championships.

Historic homes on Wheeling Island

Historic homes on Wheeling Island, seen from the riverbank of the city of Wheeling

– Wheeling started to flourish with the arrival of the National Road in 1818.  The National Road connected the Ohio River with the Potomac River on the east coast; and with Wheeling being the endpoint, it became a gateway to early western expansion.

The Wheeling Suspension Bridge

The Wheeling Suspension Bridge

– The Wheeling Suspension Bridge was finished in 1849.  It linked downtown Wheeling to Wheeling Island, thus allowing the city to continue to grow westward.  The Wheeling Suspension Bridge had quite a few merits:

  • It was the largest suspension bridge in the world from 1849-1851.
  • It was the first bridge ever constructed over the Ohio River.
  • Its designer, Charles Ellet, Jr., also worked on the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge.
  • Five years after its completion, the bridge was partially destroyed by a strong windstorm.  It was rebuilt and continuously improved over the next three decades.  One of the civil engineers who performed upgrades on the bridge was Washington Roebling, the son of the original designer of Brooklyn Bridge, John A. Roebling.
  • It is regarded as the oldest functioning vehicular suspension bridge in the United States.
The Wheeling Suspension Bridge and the Fort Henry Bridge provide Wheeling Island with access to the rest of West Virginia.

The Wheeling Suspension Bridge and the Fort Henry Bridge provide Wheeling Island with access to the rest of West Virginia.

So there goes a little bit of background and history on Wheeling, a city that once held a relatively significant role in 19th century North America.

Fast forward to September 13, 2013.  Johnny and I found ourselves strolling along the Ohio River to check out the festivities happening at the Heritage Port.  I learned that since 2002, every year during the second week of September paddleboat owners gather along the riverbank in Wheeling for late summer fun of fellowship, good food, musical performances, and fireworks.  The event is modeled after other Sternwheel Festivals that take place in the summer time up and down the Ohio River.

Note: Click this link provided by the Ohio River Sternwheel Festival if you are not familiar with the different types of paddleboats or paddlewheelers.

The hunger-inducing smells of barbecue and fried food permeated the fresh mountain air as we walked past food trucks that lined Water Street/Greater Wheeling Trail.  A band was playing at the waterfront amphitheater against a backdrop of historic homes across the river on Wheeling Island.  And most folks had a friendly smile on their face, from the local police officer to the older gentleman who was eager to share his story growing up in this pleasant town.  All this, plus the fun of inspecting unique riverboats of all shapes and sizes (and chatting up with their owners).

What Johnny and I look forward to from every festival we attend: the food!

What Johnny and I look forward to from every festival we attend: the food!

The waterfront amphitheater hosts numerous festivals during the summer months.

The waterfront amphitheater hosts numerous festivals during the summer months.

I had never seen a gathering of this many riverboats all at one time.

I had never seen a gathering of this many riverboats all at one time.



After enjoying some barbecue and getting a to-go-order of a stack of fried seafood, we hurried back to the car to continue our journey to Lexington, Kentucky.  Although it was just a brief visit, I was proud for taking the time not only to experience a little bit of West Virginia, but also to pay homage to my stepfather who has been there for me ever since I moved to the United States.


28 thoughts on “Paying Tribute to Wheeling, West Virginia

  1. A gathering of beautiful riverboat. How fantastic!

    Posted by Rosa Sekar Mangalandum | March 11, 2015, 12:51 am
  2. Do you think you can rent the riverboats? Wouldn’t that be a great way to see the river!

    Posted by cvail | March 11, 2015, 5:16 pm
  3. I love riverboats/houseboats. Theres something quite special about them! Lovely pictures!

    Posted by jennmalka | March 11, 2015, 8:25 pm
  4. Looks like a good place for a day trip…. oh I wouldnt mind the apple dumplings 🙂

    Posted by Anne Klien ( MeAnne) | March 12, 2015, 8:20 am
  5. It is good you managed to visit your stepfather´s hometown…Nice little place 🙂

    Posted by Elena | March 12, 2015, 4:13 pm
  6. Congratulations on your anniversary! What a great way to celebrate! I think sometimes these smaller towns and cities are some of the best places to visit, they are just a surprise and you never really know what to expect, often they are so much more authentic that the over saturated tourist locations!

    Posted by The Roaming Renegades.com | March 13, 2015, 2:38 pm
  7. Now you are in my “old” neck of the woods…West Virignia. Glad you enjoyed Wheeling and the festival looked very fun. I hope you had one of those floats pictured and shown in the photo. NOM. I’ve been to Wheeling before and other than a noteworthy Italian restaurant, I hadn’t found much but you hit the jackpot!

    Posted by Melody Pittman | March 14, 2015, 3:27 am
  8. The weather looks great!

    Posted by Revati Victor (Different Doors) | March 14, 2015, 5:44 pm
  9. Every city has a story and reason for visiting, love that you guys stopped at a city not as well known! Not that I know about the suspension bridge, it might be something I add to the itinerary!

    Posted by lesvoyagesdumonde | March 14, 2015, 6:56 pm
  10. I have never heard of Wheeling before, Thanks for sharing

    Posted by titi81 | March 15, 2015, 11:53 am
  11. Sometimes the best places are the ones that you wouldn’t immediately stop to think about visiting, the ones that fly under the radar and are all the more special for being relatively unknown! Love the houseboats, that would be one very cool existence!!

    Posted by heather843 | March 15, 2015, 3:00 pm
  12. Wow this place looks right up my alley! I could just imagine your experience especially when you had no plans of stopping. Sometimes we are fated to be in a certain place at a certain time without knowing it and this was one of yours so you can enlighten us travellers about Wheeling. Such fab photos too.

    Posted by mdookeran | March 16, 2015, 2:03 am
  13. I love posts like this which I learn new things from. I haven’t heard about wheeling before!

    Posted by Gabor Kovacs | March 16, 2015, 2:45 pm
  14. I don’t know much about West Virginia. Actually, I don’t know anything about it. But it seems like Wheeling was a cute little place, filled with history and sentiment, that allowed you to see a side of your stepfather you may not have before seen.

    Posted by Cristina Luisa | March 17, 2015, 10:06 am
  15. I never used such a boat ever in my trips, but now I know where to find it, so this summer I will go there especially to travel using the wheeler.

    Posted by Jess | March 18, 2015, 3:44 pm

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