Today is the backwards edition of Works-for-Me Wednesday, when writers get to ask for help, so I’ll start with a question: We are planning to visit New York City this summer. Our son is six years old. What are some things we should be sure to see, do, eat, etc.? I visited my grandparents in New York every summer when I was a kid, so I know what was fun then and know that some of those places still exist, but I know some things have changed since I last visited New York in 1990! [UPDATES: We did the whole trip by public transit, and indeed, some things have changed.]
Now, on to the topic of my headline, our spring-break visit to Wheeling. We live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, about an hour and 15 minutes’ drive from Wheeling, but we’d never visited there. We’d only driven over and under it (bridge and tunnel) when headed west on I-70 and ridden through a small part of downtown on a few Greyhound bus trips that stopped there. Something about Wheeling always intrigued me. It appeared to be a smaller city with some of the same charms as Pittsburgh (very hilly, lots of riverfront, fabled industrial past) but more Victorian buildings. I often thought that someday I’d just get off the Greyhound there and see what’s to do in Wheeling.
We wound up deciding not to take Greyhound because, with three people going, it would be significantly more expensive than taking our car. However, once we were there, we parked the car (near the bus station) and walked everywhere, so everything we did could be enjoyed by bus travelers. Downtown Wheeling and Wheeling Island are quite walkable, and we found plenty to do for a whole day within less than one mile. We were surprised, though, that we didn’t find free parking downtown, in such a small town.
In fact, Wheeling turns out to have a population of only 31,000, smaller than the town where I grew up in Oklahoma. I had thought it was about half or one-third the size of Pittsburgh, but it’s only about one-ninth the size. We talked with several people who expressed surprise that we would make it a destination. But there was plenty to do!
We arrived at lunchtime and ate at the Bridge Tavern & Grill because it was nearby and looked like an authentically local and reasonably priced kind of place. It was. We enjoyed fried seafood, good coffee, and conversation with the waitress, who expressed her frustration that we were the first people in weeks to inquire about the vegetable of the day–“I used to get all this nice broccoli, fresh string beans, have it all ready to go, and nobody’d order it! Nobody eats healthy around here!” She had us pegged as foreigners right away!
Then we walked across the street to the Children’s Museum of the Ohio Valley. Admission cost much less than at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, yet they had about as many neat things to do! The size of the building is much smaller, but it was cleverly divided into many little activity areas. It’s in three storefronts of an old building, with big display windows, so each window is a different play area–crafts, toy kitchen, rice table (pour uncooked rice between various containers), toy trains, etc. They have a nice puppet theater, a large supply of giant Tinker Toys, several types of smaller building toys, various animals in terrariums and aquariums, lots of costumes, a climbing wall . . . all three of us had lots of fun! Our son Nicholas said firmly that we have to come back sometime when the giant bubble-blower is back in working order. It wasn’t spring break in Wheeling, so we had the place to ourselves for a while before a school field trip arrived.
The rain had stopped when we left the museum, so we walked across the 150-year-old Wheeling Suspension Bridge, designed and improved by the same father and son who created the Brooklyn Bridge, to Wheeling Island. The bridge has sidewalks on both sides. The roadway is strikingly narrow (two lanes with no room to spare!) and we could easily imagine horse-drawn carriages traveling on it. The view of the river and hills was beautiful.
Wheeling Island apparently has a casino on it, but we left that alone. Daniel and I wanted to admire the Victorian architecture, but Nicholas was cranky about that and wanted only to frolic in a particular meadow of dandelions which we could see from the bridge. Luckily, this meadow turned out to be accessible via an open gate next to some sort of semi-abandoned industrial building. We frolicked, enjoyed the springtime weather, threw some sticks into the river and watched them float backward (evidently the current near the shore is different from the main channel), and then agreed to walk around a few blocks of the residential neighborhood. The houses along South Front Street are loaded with fancy gingerbread and interesting towers! We found a playground on Caroline Street, which gave Nicholas a nice break in the boring architecture admiration, but he (and we) remained interested in another playground we’d spotted on the downtown side of the bridge.
This other playground is near 12th Street on the Wheeling Heritage Trail, which looks like a great place for hiking or bicycling! We had enough walking in our day that we didn’t explore it, but we had a great time at the playground. It’s the kind with lots of wooden platforms and many different ways to climb between them. When resting, we had a nice view of the river.
Our next stop was the Wheeling Artisan Center, a beautifully renovated building with exhibits about the local industrial history and a variety of locally-made things for sale. We enjoyed looking and bought some jam.
We had hoped for an even more authentic market-house experience at Centre Market, the oldest market house in the country, but by the time we walked over there it was about to close! We looked at an art exhibit and then sought out dinner. The staff of a place that appeared to be a restaurant, but turned out to serve just coffee and snacks, recommended Later Alligator, and we loved it! They have delicious sandwiches, including many vegetarian options (if you like cheese, which we do!), and we also got a dessert crepe with bananas and cream cheese and walnuts and honey and yummm! We were very hungry by the time we got there and appreciated the distraction, while waiting for our food, of reading framed antique ads for Wheeling Steel and looking at the strange steel-making accessories hung on the walls.
Walking back toward our car, I noticed a community-college building that indicated it had once been a train station. Thinking of the impressive architecture of the former Omaha train station where my brother had his wedding, I wanted to go inside, but it turned out to have been very thoroughly converted into an efficient academic building which might as well have been new. Oh well.
Because Nicholas doesn’t (yet?) have the appreciation for architecture that Daniel and I do, we didn’t see many of Wheeling’s Victorian buildings, and we also missed the Kruger Street Toy & Train Museum, which sounds fabulous but is closed weekdays during the school year. So there’s more to do than we did! Wheeling works for us as a family vacation destination!