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Livingston County History
Celebrating 150 Years, 1821-1981

Published by The Retired Senior Volunteer Program
reprinted by permission

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As much as 27 years before the town of Wheeling was started, part of the prairie had already been settled. In 1859 the Hannibal - St. Joseph railroad was built and towns sprang up all along the new railway. These railroad towns provided area customers with goods and services that had previously required many more miles of travel to obtain. The new town prospered and grew and their promoters made profits on the sale of supplies and services, and on the sale of town lots.

The town of Wheeling is located in a fertile glacier deposit area on the east side of Sec. 5, Twp. 57, Rg. 22. It was laid out by John Nay on October 7, 1865, on land the (south part) bought by his father Henry Nay and the (north part) owned by Josiah Hunt. The town was named after Nay’s native State Capital of Wheeling, West Virginia. On June 1, 1866, the town was plotted and recorded by John Jay and Josiah Hunt.

Henry Nay built the first house in May of 1866. It served not only as his family home but also as the first store, the post office, and the site of the first religious organization. It was located on the S. W. corner of the intersection of Lincoln and Market Streets. Early business buildings expanded west from the Nay home on Market Street south of the railroad.

By 1893 the population had grown to over 250 and was expanding rapidly. A business for nearly every need and a market for farm products and produce were now located on Grant St. north of the railroad.

The first buildings were all built of wood until 1891 when Gregg and Fell built a brick building of brick which was produced locally. It burned the night the Maine blew up in Havana Harbor in 1898, in a fire reportedly started by bank robbers next door. In the fire, several other business buildings burned and all the early cemetery records were lost.

The first birth in Wheeling was Riley Nay, June 2, 1866 and eight months later the first burial was Mrs. Linnie C. Barkley, age 27 on February 4, 1867. The first physician was Dr. James Gish, a member of the large Gish family from north of town.

The first depot was built in 1866 south of the railroad but it burned in 1881. A temporary building was used until a new depot was constructed in 1882 on the north side of the railroad. Rail service became less prominent in Wheeling as in many other communities in later years and the depot was torn down in July 1979.

In the early days, land around Wheeling was being patented from the U. S. Government for $2.50 per acre. The 80 acres which the north half of Wheeling sits upon, was bought by R. G. Swinburne for $200.00 ($10 per acre) in June 1865, about ten years after it had been patented. R. G. Swinburne sold it in March 1866, less than a year later, to Josiah Hunt for $1200.00 ($15 per acre). Josiah Hunt was a railroad surveyor and lawyer. He also figures in other towns along the Hannibal - St. Joseph Railroad.

Although Wheeling’s main function was to provide supplies and services to the surrounding agricultural communities, it had its own manufacturing such as: two brick plants, paper mill for a short time, cigar factory, stave factory, loop factory, sorghum mills; during the early forties there was a tomato canning factory and in the late forties and fifties, a truck body factory.

Wheeling has had several papers and publishers. The first was J. S. Graves who started publishing the “Wheeling Herald” August 28, 1888. Eight changes of Editors and names of the paper took place in the next 18 years. The last town newspaper the “Wheeling Star”, was started in 1921 but burned out almost immediately.

On July 30, 1896, Wheeling was first incorporated with a 34 page book of ordinances for enforcing punishment of law-breakers; a jail was built near the depot. The incorporation soon fell apart and the jail was taken by private citizens for use as a clubhouse on Grand River. Many of the ordinances might today be considered unreasonable and stifling. One of them restricted all vehicles, including trains, to speeds of not over six miles per hour except in case of fire or need of a doctor. No person was allowed to holler, shout, scream, sing, whoop, or quarrel, such as to disturb his neighbor, and so the list continues.

For entertainment there have been various enterprises such as Old Maid’s Convention, Ice Cream Suppers, Church Suppers, Chrysanthemum Shows in the fall, Band Concerts, movies both indoor and open air, Traveling Medicine Shows, Circuses, and “Homecoming” on Labor Day for a number of years. Baseball drew a large crowd in 1884 when the Wheeling baseball team defeated the St. Louis Browns in all 3 of a 3 game match.

On election years in the early days each party held pole raising rallies on the block west of the city park. Poles were often 90 ft. tall, raised by the use of steam engines; speeches were given followed by a picnic dinner. Some folks stayed for two days until the food ran out. Political issues carried strong feelings so that spontaneous explosions of fighting were often sparked.

The Saturday night visit to town was the traditional highlight of the week in small towns before 1929. The young people paraded up one side of the street and down the other, eyeing those of the other sex, and finally getting enough nerve to talk to them and maybe taking a short drive in the family auto. Each store had seats out in front of its business. Farmers came to town to relax from a week’s work and to discuss with neighbors their work, their neighbors’ work, news of the day, politics, religion, and maybe a bit of gossip. This was the main entertainment as there were no radios, nor televisions and the auto didn’t make trips farther than town unless it was absolutely necessary.

A memorable event for Wheeling occurred when Herbert Wiley, commander of the Los Angeles dirigible and the son of a Wheeling citizen, received permission to stop over Wheeling and communicated by blinking lights with his father. Everyone from miles around was in town that night of October 10, 1928.

The next year the German Dirigible Graf Zeppelin raced through our sky in the daytime frightening the horses of those in the field that day.

Wheeling had slight connection with early air traffic but was right in the mainstream as far as overland travel. The old “Pikes Peak Ocean to Ocean” Highway, also called “No. 8”, that cornered the northeast corner of Wheeling, was a main thoroughfare for many years. Highway 36 was built in 1928 as a gravel highway and was paved the next year. Number 8 then was partially abandoned upon the completion of 36. Grant Street was cut straight through south to the new paved highway for convenience.

Wheeling modernization has included the addition of electricity in 1914, natural gas in 1954, modern fire equipment in 1960, dial telephones in 1961, and commercial water in 1965.

The auto brought many changes; first sales were by Henry Smiley about 1909. Since no one had had any previous experience at driving, or even observing anyone else driving, Smiley hired Luther Wisehaupt to teach prospective customers to drive before they bought. Frightened horses along the road were a problem. Later, garages for the repair of those temperamental machines, came into being with gas pumps, to service both local autos and those coming in from the highway north of town.

One old gentlemen north of Wheeling bought a new car about 1914 but didn’t understand its temperaments; as he was going home one afternoon it labored and wouldn’t pull itself. He called a mechanic who raised the hood as the old gentleman tried to start it. Mechanic said “Why Mr. - Your motor is missing”. The old gentleman jumped around the car excited and exclaimed, “it was in there a few minutes ago.”

Tubeless tires became standard equipment on new cars about 1955. One man from near Wheeling drove an old car that was giving him some trouble. His sons dealt in used cars, but the old gentleman would not accept another car as a gift, so the boys made him a good deal he couldn’t resist. After a time of good driving he finally had a flat tire; to his amazement there was no tube in the tire. As he bought a tube, he remarked that he knew his boys were shrewd traders, but he was surprised that they would steal the tubes out of the car tires.

Wheeling always furnished its quota of young men to the wars of our nation, and each time there were those who did not return, as well as those who did return but suffered from their wounds the rest of their lives.

Due to the changing needs of the times and the death of the operators, many businesses started closing their doors following World War II. In 1969 and again in 1972 because of vacant deterioration, three of our main business brick buildings were torn down. Since so many services and businesses have closed more and more business transactions are done in Chillicothe.

The school in town was the successor of a log school built in the fall of 1859 and organized in January 1860. If one extended State Street south to cross Highway 36, this log school would have been south east of this intersection of State and U.S. 36 Highway. The school was taught by Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Bowers. They later operated the large hotel known as the “Bowers House”, one of four hotels in Wheeling. A frame school house (1867-1882) was built on the N. W. corner of State and South Second Street and taught by F. M. Brown. The next school built in 1882, was a two room building located N. W. of intersection of North 4th and Grant Street. From this school in 1898 the first graduating exercises were held by Superintendent Jeff Malloy. Before this time schooling was terminated by students’ satisfactorily completion of certain books or simply dropping out of school. Total operating expenses of this school in 1898 was $1,167.41

In 1920 a new brick school building was built south of south Second Street at the end of Lincoln Street and a four year high school was instituted. This building had a gym, stage, dressing room, office, kitchen and modern restrooms added to the east and it was dedicated in 1954. In the fall of 1972 an industrial arts building and a dining hall were added southwest of the gym. A kindergarten building was purchased July 11, 1973 and placed south of the original brick school building.

Wheeling School produced some outstanding basketball teams in the middle twenties. Due to much practice on the part of some students, Wheeling has again produced some outstanding basketball teams. Wheeling girls were Conference Regional Winners in 1972-73-74-75, third in the State in 73, second in 74, and State Champions in 1975. Wheeling boys were second in Regional in 1975.

Although Wheeling has many of the traditional frame structures, apartment buildings and trailers have become the homes of some citizens in recent years.

Wheeling had a large turnout for its Centennial year celebration in 1966. There were numerous activities both by civic groups, and public gatherings. The Centennial activities ended with the burying of a capsule in the City Park, put in place by the Centennial Queen, Dawn Walkup, with Minnie Howe the Queen Mother and Princess Cathy Bowyer, looking on. It contained records of the Centennial, to be dug up and opened in the year 2016. We hope to add to it and rebury it then. Our oldest citizens living in town at the time of the Centennial, Minnie Howe and Will Coleman, both lived beyond 100 years.

Wheeling will doubtless look quite different to its citizens of 2016 from the way it looks today, just as its present appearance and activities only faintly resemble those of 1866. 

-- Lucian Walkup

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