History of South Wheeling
In the early 19th century, as the nation moved west, Wheeling flourished as a manufacturing and a transportation center. With access to river and rail transportation and natural resources, industrial expansion drove much of its growth into areas south of Wheeling Creek. By the 1830s, English, Irish, and German craftsmen, artisans, and entrepreneurs began settling in South Wheeling, then known as “Ritchietown.” Business pioneers experimented with new mechanization, and South Wheeling’s glass, pottery, tobacco, beer, and cut nails would impress customers for years.
Polish, Ukrainian, Hungarian, Czech, and Greek immigrants were drawn to the factory jobs, making the area most ethnically diverse in the city. By 1900, many skilled workers were displaced by mass production techniques. Daily life also changed. “Grimy row houses” were packed along “smoky, dimly lit” streets and poor working conditions gave rise to the Ohio Valley Trades and Labor Assembly, the nation’s oldest labor organization. South Wheeling became the base for strong union activity which supported environmental, cultural, and educational improvements.
For two years, Wheeling Heritage dedicated the work of one full-time AmeriCorps member to conduct an architectural survey in order to identify a potential National Register historic district within the South Wheeling neighborhood. Previously, when most of Wheeling’s other 11 districts were designated, South Wheeling had been overlooked because of its non-contiguous nature and diminished integrity due to the many houses and industrial buildings that had been demolished over the years.
The process of surveying a neighborhood can be grueling. Extensive fieldwork is required to document existing properties and their conditions. Then, extensive archival research is done to develop historical context and determine boundaries of a potential district. There were a thousand properties to be evaluated in the neighborhood, and a 120-property district was whittled out of the larger area.
Wheeling Heritage is now looking to a hire a consultant to further the work of the AmeriCorps member and complete the National Register nomination that could name it as a historic district.
If the South Wheeling historic district is designated, those properties located within the district will be eligible for tax credits and development grants that could spur economic development and revitalization in that area of Wheeling.