A search for identity: how to re-invent the post-industrial past to lead towards a vibrant future
The grand architecture of Wheeling, West Virginia has long been forgotten. Constructed in the late 19th century by wealthy factory owners, the Victorian and Gothic Revival buildings have remained abandoned ever since wealthy residents left for opportunities outside of West Virginia. Wheeling is a fraction of what it used to be. The city at its economic height in the late 19th century was known as one of the richest cities per capita in the United States. Wheeling is in desperate need for a new identity, but what should this identity be? Wheeling’s population in the 1920’s and 30’s reached a population of just over 60,000 people. That number has dwindled every year falling to 24,000 people in 2016. Can adapting the old grand architecture in Wheeling to focus on contemporary needs that will make the city more attractive for business be enough to bring the city back to life? The search of a new identity for Wheeling needs to start by looking to the past. There needs to be an emphasis on historic structures and adapting them to the 21st century because the infrastructure and space is there and offers a unique opportunity for investors. There also needs to be new construction on vacant lots where dilapidated buildings have been torn down. The new construction should emphasize the city’s new identity, while also referencing the industrial past. The existing and new buildings should be used for what the city needs the most, housing and business. Today, there is a lack of housing and business in the downtown area. With the creation of these functions in Wheeling, excitement and vibrancy will be brought to the downtown area. Community participation is an integral part for realizing this vision. City government, community members and local business owners should have common goals and ideals put into place so that they are all on the same page and working together. Through case studies and research, ideals and common goals will be set into place to give a new identity to Wheeling, West Virginia. This paper will explore Wheeling’s industrial past and try to establish a new vision that will make the city successful. Emphasis is placed on creating a sustainable city, focusing on social, economic, and political equity. With adaptive reuse of historical buildings and the creation of new businesses and jobs, the city will be brought back from the deep sleep it has been in and regain its individuality.