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Wheeling, West Virginia
Downtown Wheeling from the Chapel Hill neighborhood
Downtown Wheeling from the Chapel Hill neighborhood
Flag of Wheeling, West Virginia
Official seal of Wheeling, West Virginia
The Friendly City
Location of Wheeling in Ohio and Marshall Counties, West Virginia
Location of Wheeling in Ohio and Marshall Counties, West Virginia
Country United States
State West Virginia
Counties Ohio, Marshall
Settled 1769
Established 1806
Incorporated 1836
 • City 16.00 sq mi (41.43 km2)
 • Land 13.78 sq mi (35.68 km2)
 • Water 2.22 sq mi (5.76 km2)  13.87%
687–1,300 ft (209–396 m)
 • City 27,062
 • Density 1,691.4/sq mi (653.20/km2)
 • Urban
81,249 (US: 353rd)
 • Metro
145,205 (US: 288th)
Time zone UTC−5 (EST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−4 (EDT)
ZIP Code
Area code(s) 304
FIPS code 54-86452
GNIS feature ID 1548994

Wheeling is a city in Ohio and Marshall counties in the U.S. state of West Virginia. Located almost entirely in Ohio County, of which it is the county seat, it lies along the Ohio River in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Wheeling is located about 60 miles (96 km) west of Pittsburgh. Wheeling was originally a settlement in the British colony of Virginia, and later the second-largest city in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Wheeling was where the creation of West Virginia was planned, and it was the first capital of the new state. Due to its location along major transportation routes, including the Ohio River, National Road, and the B&O Railroad, Wheeling became a manufacturing center in the late nineteenth century. After the closing of factories and substantial population loss following World War II, Wheeling's major industries now include healthcare, education, law and legal services, entertainment and tourism, and energy.

Wheeling is the principal city of the Wheeling, WV-OH Metropolitan Statistical Area. As of the 2020 census, the MSA had a population of 145,205, and the city itself had a population of 27,062.

From the acceptance of the new state of West Virginia into the union on June 20, 1863, until the Restored Government of Virginia's move to Alexandria in August of the same year, Wheeling was the state capital of both West Virginia and Virginia.


Arrival of early Europeans

The area had been inhabited by Native Americans for thousands of years. In the 17th century, the Iroquois from present-day New York state conquered the upper Ohio Valley, pushing out other tribes and maintaining the area as their hunting ground.

Originally explored by the French, Wheeling still has a lead plate remnant buried by the explorer Céloron de Blainville in 1749 at the mouth of Wheeling Creek to mark their claim. Later, Christopher Gist and George Washington surveyed the land, in 1751 and 1770, respectively.

Establishment of European settlement

During the fall of 1769, Ebenezer Zane explored the Wheeling area and established claim to the land via "tomahawk rights." (This process meant to deaden a few trees near the head of a spring, and mark the bark with the initials of the name of the person who made the claim). He returned the following spring with his wife Elizabeth and his younger brothers, Jonathan and Silas; they established the first permanent European settlement in the Wheeling area, naming it Zanesburg. Other families joined the settlement, including the Shepherds (see Monument Place), the Wetzels, and the McCollochs (see McColloch's Leap).

In 1787, the United States gave Virginia this portion of lands west of the Appalachians, and some to Pennsylvania at its western edge, to settle their claims. By the Northwest Ordinance that year, it established the Northwest Territory to cover other lands north of the Ohio River and west to the Mississippi River. Settlers began to move into new areas along the Ohio.

In 1793, Ebenezer Zane divided the town into lots, and Wheeling was officially established as a town in 1795 by legislative enactment. The town was incorporated January 16, 1805. On March 11, 1836, the town of Wheeling was incorporated into the city of Wheeling.

By an act of the Virginia General Assembly on December 27, 1797, Wheeling was named the county seat of Ohio County.

Fort Henry

Originally dubbed Fort Fincastle in 1774, the fort was later renamed Fort Henry in honor of Virginia's American governor, Patrick Henry. In 1777, Native Americans of the Shawnee, Wyandot and Mingo tribes joined to attack pioneer settlements along the upper Ohio River, which were illegal according to the Crown's Proclamation of 1763. They hoped an alliance with the British would drive the colonial settlers out of their territory.

Local men, later joined by recruits from Fort Shepherd (in Elm Grove) and Fort Holliday, defended the fort. The native force burned the surrounding cabins and destroyed livestock.

McColloch's Leap
"McColloch's Leap"

During the first attack of the year, Major Samuel McColloch led a small force of men from Fort Vanmetre along Short Creek to assist the besieged Fort Henry. Separated from his men, McColloch was chased by attacking Indians. Upon his horse, McColloch charged up Wheeling Hill and made what is known as McColloch's Leap 300 feet (91 m) down its eastern side.

In 1782, a native army along with British soldiers attempted to take Fort Henry. During this siege, Fort Henry's supply of ammunition was exhausted. The defenders decided to dispatch a man to secure more ammunition from the Zane homestead. Betty Zane volunteered for the dangerous task. During her departing run, she was heckled by both native and British soldiers. After reaching the Zane homestead, she gathered a tablecloth and filled it with gunpowder. During her return, she was fired upon but was uninjured. As a result of her heroism, Fort Henry remained in American control.

Role as transportation hub

Wheeling Suspension Bridge
Wheeling Suspension Bridge

The National Road arrived in Wheeling in 1818, linking the Ohio River to the Potomac River, and allowing goods from the Ohio Valley to flow through Wheeling and on to points east. As the endpoint of National Road, Wheeling became a gateway to early western expansion. In 1849 the Wheeling Suspension Bridge crossed the Ohio River and allowed the city to expand onto Wheeling Island. Lessons learned constructing the bridge were used in the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. Rail transportation reached Wheeling in 1853 when the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad connected Wheeling to Pennsylvania, Maryland and markets in the Northeast. A bridge over the river connected it to Bellaire, Ohio and western areas.

Anti-slavery sentiment

Much of this area had been settled by yeomen farmers, few of whom owned slaves. With the railroad, a larger industrial or mercantile middle-class developed that depended on free labor; it either felt disinterest or hostility to slavery. The Wheeling Intelligencer newspaper expressed the area's anti-secession sentiment as tensions rose over slavery and national issues. The city became part of the movement of western areas to secede from Virginia after the beginning of the Civil War. It was the location of the aforementioned Wheeling Convention. It served as the provisional capital of the Restored Government of Virginia from 1861 to 1863, and became the first capital of West Virginia after it seceded from Virginia and was admitted to the Union in its own right in 1863.

The growing German population, which included immigrants after the 1848 Revolutions, was firmly anti-slavery. The Germans of Wheeling organized the "First West Virginia Artillery" to oppose the Confederacy and played a role in the initial movement to separate from Virginia. The Germans' culture influenced the city, such as their "German Singing Societies," the first of which began in 1855.

Post-Civil War growth

Although Wheeling lost its position as capital in 1865, it continued to grow. In the late nineteenth century, it served as a prime industrial center for the state. Noted businesses of the era included the Bloch Brothers Tobacco Company and steel concerns. As it grew, prosperous residents built an area of fine housing around Wheeling Island, but slums also grew. As a result of the growth, an ordinance was passed regulating personal cesspools, including a ban on pipe communications with other homes and businesses unless offensive smells were properly trapped.

With industry, Wheeling reached its peak of population in 1930. The Great Depression, and later changes and restructuring in heavy industry following World War II, led to a loss of working-class jobs and population. Capitalizing on its rich architectural heritage, Wheeling has worked to revive its main street and heritage tourism activities near the Ohio River. In addition, West Virginia has constructed fiber optics networks for advanced communication. Wheeling is becoming a center in health services and education as well.


Wheeling is located at 40°4′13″N 80°41′55″W / 40.07028°N 80.69861°W / 40.07028; -80.69861 (40.070348, -80.698604). According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 16.01 square miles (41.47 km2), of which 13.79 square miles (35.72 km2) is land and 2.22 square miles (5.75 km2) is water.

Wheeling is located in northern West Virginia, on what is known as the northern panhandle. The area lies within the ecoregion of the Western Allegheny Plateau. The city is directly across the river from the state of Ohio and only 11 miles (18 km) west of Pennsylvania. It is a part of the Tri-State area of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, which is commonly referred to as the Ohio River Valley Region or "The Ohio Valley".

Wheeling Creek flows through the city, and meets the Ohio River in downtown Wheeling.

The city is located both on the West Virginia side of the Ohio River, and on an island in the middle of the river called Wheeling Island.


Wheeling lies on the transitional climate zone between the humid subtropical climate and the humid continental climate (Köppen: Cfa/Dfa, respectively) with hot humid summers and cold winters. The annual precipitation is about 37 inches.

Climate data for Wheeling, West Virginia
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 2.7
Daily mean °C (°F) -2.4
Average low °C (°F) -7.5
Rainfall mm (inches) 63


Historical population
Census Pop.
1840 7,885
1850 11,435 45.0%
1860 14,083 23.2%
1870 19,280 36.9%
1880 30,737 59.4%
1890 34,522 12.3%
1900 38,878 12.6%
1910 41,641 7.1%
1920 56,208 35.0%
1930 61,659 9.7%
1940 61,099 −0.9%
1950 58,891 −3.6%
1960 53,400 −9.3%
1970 48,188 −9.8%
1980 43,070 −10.6%
1990 34,882 −19.0%
2000 31,419 −9.9%
2010 28,486 −9.3%
2020 27,062 −5.0%
U.S. Decennial Census

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 28,486 people, 12,816 households, and 6,949 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,065.7 inhabitants per square mile (797.6/km2). There were 14,661 housing units, at an average density of 1,063.2 per square mile (410.5/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 91.2% White, 5.1% African American, 0.2% Native American, 0.9% Asian, 0.2% from other races, and 2.4% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino people of any race were 0.9% of the population.

There were 12,816 households, of which 22.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 37.6% were married couples living together, 12.7% had a female householder with no husband present, 4.0% had a male householder with no wife present, and 45.8% were non-families. 40.4% of all households were made up of individuals, and 17.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.11 and the average family size was 2.84.

The median age in the city was 45.2 years. 18.5% of residents were under the age of 18; 9.4% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 21.8% were from 25 to 44; 29.8% were from 45 to 64; and 20.6% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 46.9% male and 53.1% female.


West Virginia Independence Hall from southwest
West Virginia Independence Hall

Historical buildings

The city of Wheeling has a rich and varied history. West Virginia Independence Hall was the site of the Wheeling Convention, two meetings held in 1861 that ultimately reversed Virginia's Ordinance of Secession. Twenty-six counties in Virginia's north and west voted against secession from the Union and created the new state of West Virginia, which the United States quickly admitted. Later in 1861 and continuing to 1863, the building was the site of many heated debates during the First Constitutional Convention of West Virginia including the name of the new state. The oldest building in the area is Shepherd Hall (Monument Place), built in 1798.

Wheeling is home to Centre Market, formerly Wheeling's market house. Built in 1853, the market house and the surrounding area have been adapted for use as retail shops and restaurants.

The first official memorial monument in the state of West Virginia, dedicated specifically to men killed in the Vietnam War, was dedicated in Wheeling, with full military honors, in a Memorial Day 1986 ceremony. The monument was erected in front of the flagpole near the main shelter of Bethlehem Community Park in the village of Bethlehem, just southeast of Wheeling. The roughly 6 foot tall granite memorial consists of a large, bronze dedication plaque with the names of KIAs from the Wheeling/Ohio County region. Below the dedication plaque is a bronze map of South Vietnam, complete with names of 28 major cities.

Parks and recreation

Wheeling features several municipal parks including Oglebay Resort & Conference Center and Wheeling Park. Ohio County has six golf courses, including designs by renowned golfer Arnold Palmer and architect Robert Trent Jones. The Wheeling Suspension Bridge, which was once the longest suspension bridge in the world, connects downtown Wheeling to Wheeling Island.

In October 2007 the City of Wheeling opened the state's first concrete skateboard park. The 12,000-square-foot (1,100 m2) facility was designed and built by world-renowned skatepark builder, Grindline, of Seattle, Washington. The park consists of 60% bowls and 40% street elements; it is located within the Chambers Ballfield Complex in the Elm Grove section of the City. An addition to the street section of the park was completed by Grindline in November 2009. A covered shelter, restrooms, and webcam are scheduled to be installed in early 2010. The park is lighted and open 24/7.

Wheeling in fiction

  • In the 1971 film "Fools' Parade" starring Jimmy Stewart and Kurt Russell, set in and around Marshall County, West Virginia during the Great Depression, the character Junior Kilfong, played by Morgan Paull mentions that he has to get to Wheeling by midnight to sing on the radio.
  • In Season 2, Episode 11 of Family Ties, Alex and his friends go to Wheeling to celebrate his 18th birthday.
  • In Season 1 of The White Shadow, the episode "Bonus Baby" has the Wheeling Wheelers as the semi-pro team that Warren Coolidge was being shopped to by unscrupulous agent, Walter Preston.
  • Wheeling, under the name Raysburg, occurs again and again as the centre for action in several of Keith Maillard's novels, notably in Gloria and Clarinet Polka.
  • In the 2005 film Walk the Line, Johnny Cash and June Carter performed at the Capital City Music Hall in downtown Wheeling while on tour.
  • Wheeling is referred to in Bat Boy: The Musical as the nearest large town to Hope Falls, where the story takes place.
  • Wheeling is referred to in the episode "Howard and Millie" of The Andy Griffith Show, where the couple, along with Andy and Helen, travel by train to Wheeling to get married. The wedding is then cancelled after arriving.
  • Wheeling is referred to in an episode of The Waltons, called "The Deed", set in and around Schuyler, Virginia, when Richard Thomas' character "John Boy" travels 335 miles (539 km) to the 'Big City' of Wheeling in 1934.
  • Wheeling is referred to in an episode of the sitcom Family Ties, set in Columbus, Ohio, when Michael J. Fox's character Alex P. Keaton says, "let's go down to Wheeling, West Virginia," to drink.
  • Billy Joel's hit song "The Ballad of Billy the Kid" identifies the birthplace of the ballad's antagonist as Wheeling.
  • In Season 2 of The West Wing, the episode "In This White House" names Wheeling as a location where two would-be assassins purchased firearms in their mission to kill the show's President, Josiah Bartlett.
  • John Corbett's character, Chris Stevens (Chris in the Morning), in Northern Exposure is from Wheeling.
  • "Life in the Iron Mills", a short story by Rebecca Harding Davis, was set in the factory world of nineteenth-century Wheeling. Her first published work, it appeared anonymously in April 1861 in the Atlantic Monthly; it caused a literary sensation and its powerful naturalism.
  • Whatever is a 1998 independent film, shot mostly in Wheeling, about teenagers facing the difficulties of growing up in Northern New Jersey.
  • A West Virginia–centric episode of Murder, She Wrote, "Coal Miner's Slaughter", has Megan Mullally's character passing the bar exam in Wheeling.
  • "Wheeling, West Virginia" was a hit song for Neil Sedaka in 1970. The song tells of an actor from Wheeling who works at MGM.
  • "Eliza and the House that Jack Built", a novel by Hungarian writer Albert Wass, takes place in the Wheeling area, around the end of the 19th century. The story is about the pioneers and immigrants who have settled there.
  • Fort Wheeling, a comics series by the Italian comics author Hugo Pratt, deals with events taking place in the Wheeling area during the American Revolution.
  • Wheeling is mentioned in the song "Bonita & Bill Butler" by Alison Krauss & Union Station
  • Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris) mentions Wheeling in "The Lighthouse" episode of How I Met Your Mother, aired November 4, 2013.
  • In Criminal Minds Season 9 Episode 20, called "Blood Relations" (directed by Matthew Gray Gubler), Wheeling was the setting for the crimes involving feuding families, being investigated by the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit.


Primary and secondary

As elsewhere in West Virginia, K–12 schools are organized at the county level of government. The public school system, Ohio County Schools, consists of 14 schools: nine elementary schools; four middle schools, which include Triadelphia Middle, nominated for the blue ribbon school award; and the nationally recognized Wheeling Park High School. Several parochial and private schools, including Wheeling Central Catholic High School and the Linsly School, are located in the city.


Wheeling is the hub of higher education in the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia. Wheeling University, a private university and the only Catholic college in the state of West Virginia, is located here.

The main campus of West Virginia Northern Community College has recently been expanding with centers in downtown Wheeling; it focuses on job training and community development. Also located in close proximity to the city are West Liberty University (formerly West Liberty State College), a four-year university, and private Bethany College, giving area residents a wide variety of educational options.


Fort Henry Bridge looking towards Ohio, in Wheeling, West Virginia - 20040706
The Fort Henry Bridge carries I-70, US 40, and US 250 across the Ohio River in Wheeling.

Roads and bridges

Interstate 70 and its spur Interstate 470 run through the city east-west and link it with suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to the east and Ohio to the west. U.S. Route 40/National Road links downtown with residential neighborhoods to the east. West Virginia Route 2 connects Wheeling with Moundsville to the south and Weirton to the north. U.S. Route 250 also runs through the city.

The Fort Henry Bridge and Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge carry I-70 and I-470, respectively, over the Ohio River. The historic Wheeling Suspension Bridge, completed in 1849, which was part of National Road, connects downtown and Wheeling Island; currently it is closed for safety reasons, by order of the state highway department, to vehicular traffic. I-70 passes under Wheeling Hill through the Wheeling Tunnel.

Bus transportation

Bus transportation to points throughout North America is available from Wheeling through Greyhound Lines. The bus terminal, the Robert C. Byrd Intermodal Transportation Center, was built with $11.1 million in federal funds.

The East Ohio Authority and the Ohio Valley Regional Transit Authority (OVRTA), which share the Intermodal Transportation Center as the hub for hub-and-spoke routes, provide regional transportation through West Virginia and Eastern Ohio.

Wheeling operated streetcars from the 1880s until 1943 under the Wheeling Traction Company and Co-operative Transit Company. Buses replaced streetcar operations due to operating costs.

Air transportation

The city is served by the Wheeling Ohio County Airport for general aviation and by Pittsburgh International Airport for passenger service.

Notable people

  • Jodi Applegate, TV news anchor
  • Leon "Chu" Berry, jazz saxophonist
  • Thais Blatnik, West Virginia journalist and politician
  • Robert Boury, classical pianist
  • Leo Brady, playwright, novelist, and director
  • Adelbert R. Buffington, U.S. Army general
  • Jesse Burkett, Hall of Fame baseball player
  • Bobby Campo, actor
  • Jack Canfield, motivational speaker
  • John Corbett, actor
  • Billy Cox, bassist
  • Henrietta Crosman, actress
  • Annie Sinclair Cunningham (1832–1897), religious worker, Wheeling Hall of Fame
  • Faith Daniels, network broadcaster
  • Rebecca Harding Davis, author
  • Joseph M. Devine, Governor of North Dakota, 1898–1899
  • Joyce DeWitt, actress
  • Joanne Dru, actress
  • William L. Elkins, 19th-century business tycoon
  • Doug Fetherling, writer
  • Walter L. Fisher, U.S. Secretary of the Interior
  • Mike Florio, sportswriter
  • Kelsey Fowler, Broadway actress
  • Virginia Fox, actress
  • Gene Freese, baseball player
  • Rosemary Front, disability rights advocate
  • Rob Garrison, actor
  • Cynthia Germanotta, philanthropist and businesswoman, mother of Lady Gaga
  • Jack Glasscock, Major League Baseball player
  • George Herbig, astronomer
  • Chuck Howley, NFL linebacker for Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys
  • Lois Kibbee, actress
  • Everett Lee, orchestral conductor
  • Alvan Macauley, president of Packard 1916–1939
  • Keith Maillard, writer
  • Bill Mazeroski, Hall of Fame second baseman
  • William J. Mitsch, Stockholm Water Prize laureate, ecology professor and author
  • Darvin Moon, 2009 World Series of Poker finalist
  • Cy Morgan, Major League Baseball pitcher
  • Marion Moses, physician, labor activist
  • Bob Ney, U.S. Representative from Ohio
  • Robert Nutting and family, principal owners of the Pittsburgh Pirates
  • Mollie O'Brien, Grammy-winning bluegrass singer
  • Tim O'Brien, Grammy-winning bluegrass musician, brother of Mollie O'Brien
  • Joe Pettini, former shortstop for the San Francisco Giants.
  • Mark Prosser, college basketball coach
  • Jesse L. Reno, Civil War general; namesake of Reno, Nevada
  • Walter Reuther, labor leader
  • Rick Schneider-Calabash, animation producer, writer, and director
  • Eleanor Steber, operatic soprano associated with Metropolitan Opera
  • Chris Stirewalt, digital politics editor for the Fox News Channel
  • Robert E. L. Strider, President of Colby College
  • Andy Tonkovich, basketball player selected first in the 1948 BAA Draft
  • Edith Lake Wilkinson (1868–1957), artist
  • Dave Wojcik, college basketball coach
  • Doug Wojcik, college basketball coach
  • Nan Wynn, big band singer and actress
  • John Yarnall, naval officer during War of 1812

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See also

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