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Center Wheeling

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In 1871, writing in The Health and Wealth of the City of Wheeling, JamesE. Reeves lauded a part of the city that was “occupied by hundreds of fine dwellings, several costly church edifices [and] broad and busy streets [that] present all the signs of the ease and hurry of a populous and prosperous community.… In a word, one half of Wheeling is now ‘over the creek.’” Center Wheeling, the misnamed neighborhood south of Wheeling Creek and south of central, downtown Wheeling, still contains a blend of closely packed commercial, residential, and ecclesiastical architecture. Having said that, it must be admitted that much of the area is currently neither populous nor prosperous.

Unlike the narrow downtown to its north, Center Wheeling occupies a broad bench of level land, causing early observers to wonder why the city was not established here in the first place. Property was platted for development in 1829, and the neighborhood developed so rapidly that it was included as part of the city when Wheeling was incorporated in 1836. The 1839 Wheeling Directory and Advertisernoted that of the 1,270 lots in the city, 856 were on the north side of Wheeling Creek, and 414 were on the south. South Wheeling, as the 1839 directory logically called the neighborhood, remained its familiar name until 1851, when it was designated as the city's Center Ward. Soon the label “Center Wheeling” replaced South Wheeling in everyday parlance as well, and the neighborhood has been known as such ever since.

If Center Wheeling was never the actual center of Wheeling, it came close to being the center of the city's sizable German population, most of whom worked in the area's factories and mills. St. John's German Evangelical Protestant Church was organized in 1834, and in 1850 the U.S. Census recorded that one of every five persons living in the neighborhood had been born in Germany. During the 1850s, the First German Zion Evangelical Lutheran Congregation was formed, and the first St. Alphonsus German Catholic Church was dedicated. During and after World War I, the German element sought to reduce its visibility. The 1919–1920 and 1921 city directories listed the former “German” churches simply as Zion Evangelical Church and St. Alphonsus Catholic Church.

As Wheeling's population began to decline during the mid-twentieth century, Center Wheeling followed suit, but beginning in 1970, Friends of Wheeling, Inc., sponsored a longterm revitalization effort. Starting with Center Market and the buildings surrounding it, the work has gone steadily forward. The market, in operation for almost 150 years, virtually defines Center Wheeling and remains the vibrant heart of the neighborhood that surrounds it. In 1984, Center Market Square was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1987 the district's boundaries were expanded to include additional blocks.

The Ohio River curves southwestward where Wheeling Creek enters it, and Center Wheeling's major streets parallel the bend. Consequently, the grid lies at a different angle from the downtown grid.

Writing Credits

S. Allen Chambers Jr.

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