Traveling in Wheeling, W.V.: Victorian majesty on the Ohio River

WHEELING, WV, September 22, 2011 – There was a time when Wheeling, West Virginia was one of the most prosperous cities in this country. It was once the site where the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad terminated. Wheeling’s on the historic National Road and the Ohio River.  With its hills and great Victorian architecture, the city still retains majesty.

Wheeling also has a proud musical tradition. The Wheeling Jamboree is the second oldest country music and entertainment radio show, just after the Grand Ole Opry. While it used to be broadcast on a 50,000 watt channel listenable by 2/3 of the Eastern U.S. and Canada, it is now a local show. Wheeling has a free app available on iTunes to help you navigate the city’s attractions.


The McLure Hotel & Conference Center is Wheeling’s oldest hotel: it’s hosted presidents, governors, Civil War generals, and other celebrities since 1852. The hotel is convenient to all of downtown’s attractions. The McLure is pet-friendly. While the hotels are historic, the rooms are modern in design. Parking has been recently connected internally through the building.

You can rent a room in the lodge, in a cottage, or even a whole home at Oglebay Resort. Oglebay is known for its luxurious amenities, including world-class golf. The grounds are expansive and hilly, giving travelers a view of deer roaming and also, holiday lights at Christmastime.

Things to do

Check out where West Virginia began and learn the history of that tumultuous time at Independence Hall. Their introductory film really clarifies the special issues West Virginia had at t he dawn of the Civil War. Learn about “Millionaire’s Row”– along with the insider’s view of the city – with a tour of the Victorian historic home, Eckhart House. The owner-guide is a treasure trove of knowledge.

Wheeling Island has a full casino/greyhound racetrack/marquee entertainment complex.  The Capitol Theater has been restored to a glorious state, hosting A-list entertainers, Broadway touring shows and the Wheeling Symphony. Oglebay Resort is part of a stunning park owned by the City of Wheeling, with historic buildings, luxury artisan shops, and tasty places to eat.  The resort has golfing, skiing, horseback riding, and a zoo.

Cabela’s is a destination sporting store and much more. Besides all the trophy catches, there are aquariums to see ‘em while they’re still alive. Cabela’s restaurant, modestly priced, has elk, wild boar, ostrich, and venison. You can check your dog in at the front desk for free.

Where to eat

Susan Kay Candies is now Smith Candies out of nearby St. Mary’s. They first started making handmade lollipops in the 1950’s. Smith Candies is also now making all kinds of more portable candies too these days, including cut rock candy. Just like the finest restaurants, they also do seasonal flavors, like a very fresh tasting strawberry; you can order them to be sent to your doorstep.

One of the classic places to eat in Wheeling – whether you’re watching the game or have a meeting with the suits (perhaps you are “the suits”?) – is River City in the Wheeling Artisan Center. They have the ability to host large parties in view of all the wonderful West Virginia crafts store and small museum. Sadly, they no longer make the beer they were famous for (“River City Ale Works”); in 2003, they were victims of the terrible flood of the Ohio River that destroyed their brewing equipment. However, they take care to carry regional microbrews.

River City focuses on tavern fare with a distinctly regional flare. You’ll find pierogies on the menu, because they’re not that 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.

The Super Chef Burger is 8 oz of marinated beef served on a freshly baked Kaiser roll with Provolone cheese, a big ravioli, and marinara sauce. Think of it kind of like a “hamburger Parmesan.”

The artichoke dip comes with a stunning presentation, making me rethink this common bar menu staple. It’s artichoke dip the way it should be: chunky, fresh tasting, with a tiny hint of garlic. River City also hosts lots of local bands.

Don’t dig the chain coffee stores? How ‘bout a coffee place importing, roasting, and grinding their own beans in the original 1884 equipment and in a building that predates the state of West Virginia?

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. Their buliding’s columns are labeled “Sweeneys Co. 1858 Wheeling, Va.”. The coffee here has been sought out by coffee lovers for well over 100 years and counting. Part of the secret is in the quality of Arabica beans they use, opposed to Robusto.

Oglebay Resort is part of a gorgeous park owned by the City of Wheeling. It may well be the most glamorous city park in the US, with historic buildings, luxury artisan shops, and tasty places to eat. Oglebay restaurants do a terrific job in their mission: being family-friendly and accessible for those casual occasions, while also carving out a space for world-class luxury visitors who love Oglebay, 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. The attention to detail is marvelous: they think of themselves as traditional with a trendy flair. Steaks are wood-fired with oak, for a toasty but not overly smoky or charred flavor. The house wine labels are elegant.

Ihlenfeld Dining Room’s duck liver pate’ had a hint of black pepper and was creamy and, rich It was accompanied by first-class fruit garnishes of lemon and bing cherry marmalade. Crab claws come presented in a cool blue fishbowl, with two sauces: house-made cocktail sauce and corn tartar sauce, which is a garden veggie mayo-based sauce. In an ideal world, Ihlenfeld Dining Room would offer their wild mushroom risotto online for the whole world to order 24 hours a day. It’s the must-order side dish: decadently rich and buttery.

It’s a great treat when a restaurant clearly has a dedicated pastry chef on staff. The offerings aren’t predictable and the flavors are special. The Brasillia Torte (and, by the way, their desserts are very modestly priced at $5.25) is nutty hazelnut jaconde sponge cake soaked in rum syrup and caramel buttercream, topped with crunchy almondy nougatine. It’s like candy and cake all rolled into one. The chocolate brandy snap galeau is a nice change of pace from ordinary chocolate cakes: it’s dark chocolate cake layered with rich chocolate gananche and ginger snaps, but I also noticed the brandy flavor shining through.

Centre Market has all kinds of food stalls, including the famous Coleman’s Fish Market (cash only) and Oliver’s Pies. Oliver’s started as a sports fundraising project, but the luscious cream and fruit pies quickly gained professional status. Coconut Cream is a best-seller and “must-order”.

A city with lots of good eateries tends to have the one place where people in the restaurant industry all congregate, because the quality is up to their own standards and it’s affordable. I got recommendations from a server at another resto to Later Alligator and sure enough, spied her there. The place has lots of Wheeling antiques and makes for a chic Happy Hour, no doubt. They have well-prepared crepes of all sorts, sweet and savory. Later Alligator is also known for its salads and coffee drinks. The place has a cool vibe and has the kind of modern cuisine that urban professionals like to eat for lunch, etc.


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