There was a time when Wheeling, West Virginia, had more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the U.S. Once the capital of “newly restored” Virginia and the new state of West Virginia, it was America’s gateway to the West.
This was a city where captains of industry and robber barons made their fortunes. Wheeling was the terminus of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, a stop on the National Road that George Washington conceived, and located right on the Ohio River.
There’s a certain majesty that still remains in Wheeling’s downtown, both in cleverly repurposed buildings and in the gothic decline of areas that long to be restored.
Among other things in Wheeling that used to have national influence, but are now local treasure, is its proud musical tradition. The Wheeling Jamboree is the second-oldest country music and entertainment radio show after the Grand Ole Opry. Country stars hadn’t really made it until they played the Wheeling Jamboree, including Mac Wiseman, Loretta Lynn and Alabama. The Jamboree used to be broadcast from the historic Capitol Theatre on a 50,000-watt channel listenable by 2/3 of the Eastern U.S. and Canada. Thanks to Clear Channel and its hardball negotiations, the Jamboree is now a local show with internet streaming.
But you have to visit to see it live! The show has been relocated from the Capitol Theater to The Strand Theater in neighboring Moundsville.
The Wheeling Coffee & Spice Co. used to be known in 1895 as "Dawn, Delmonico and O. G. (Old Government) Coffee" – perhaps a sly Confederate reference. The coffee here has been sought out for well over 100 years and counting. Part of the secret is in the quality of Arabica beans they use, as opposed to Robusto.
Wheeling Island has a full casino, a greyhound racetrack and a marquee entertainment complex. It’s located on an island in the Ohio River, along with many luxurious Victorian-era homes.
One of the classic places to eat in Wheeling is River City in the Wheeling Artisan Center. It’s in full view of the wonderful West Virginia crafts store and small museum. Sadly, they no longer make the beer they were famous for, River City Ale; in 2003, they were victims of a terrible Ohio River flood that destroyed their brewing equipment. However, they take care to carry regional microbrews.
River City focuses on tavern fare with a regional flair. You’ll find pierogies on the menu because they’re not far from Pittsburgh. You’ll also see lots of Italian touches, influenced by the many Italians who came to West Virginia over 100 years ago to work in the coal mining industry.
Oglebay Resort is part of a park owned by the City of Wheeling. It may well be the most glamorous city park in the U.S., with historic buildings, luxury artisan shops and tasty places to eat. Oglebay restaurants are family-friendly and accessible for those casual occasions, while also carving out a space for luxury visitors too.
Ihlenfeld Dining Room is the upscale restaurant on site, with gorgeous picture windows that look out on the whole park and holiday light displays. Steaks are wood-fired with oak, for a toasty but not overly smoky or charred flavor. The house wine labels are elegant.