Wheeling set to celebrate historic Suspension Bridge’s 170th birthday

WHEELING, W.Va. — The “Original Gateway to the West” will be celebrated in the Friendly City on Saturday.

Wheeling’s Suspension Bridge, a National Historic Landmark over the Ohio River, celebrates its 170th anniversary in 2019 and the city will hold a celebration all day long at Heritage Port.

“Our most iconic symbol for the city of Wheeling is one of two National Historic Landmarks here, which is the highest designation you can receive as a historic structure or site,” Travis Henline with Wheeling Heritage said.

Henline called the suspension bridge “an engineering marvel for its time” as when it was completed in 1849 it was the longest suspension bridge in the world.

“It connected the eastern and western portions of National Road which began in Cumberland, Maryland and went all the way out to Illinois,” he said.

“People who are migrating out West, with goods in particular, can travel more easily. Before they had to be ferried across the river.”

From tower to tower, the bridge is measured at 1,010 feet and was designated as a National Historic Landmark on May 15, 1975. There are 16 National Historic Landmarks in West Virginia.

The bridge was forced to receive multiple facelifts due to structure issues through the years, including a collapse in 1854.

The Wheeling Suspension Bridge is often called the “Original Gateway to the West.”

Wheeling has a rich history as it celebrates its 250th anniversary as a city in 2019. The city was West Virginia’s first capital in 1863, as Independence Hall in the downtown joins the suspension bridge has the only two National Historic Landmarks in the city.

“From the Revolutionary War era when we were a frontier outpost and Fort Henry, to the coming of the National Road, the B&O railroad, making Wheeling one of the first gateways to the west,” Henline spoke about Wheeling’s past. “To the statehood period of the 1860s when Wheeling became the birthplace of our state. Let’s be frank, without Wheeling there would be no West Virginia.”

“Later becoming an industrial powerhouse and city of ethnic immigrants. We have a lot of rich history in Wheeling that is important to not only the state and region but to this nation.”

Hanline said Saturday will be the largest celebration of the year for both the city of Wheeling’s 250th and the suspension bridge’s 170th birthdays.

The events put on by Wheeling Heritage and sponsored in part by the Wheeling Arts and Cultural Commission will get underway at 9 a.m. with a Plein Air Painting Party. Over 25 professional artists are scheduled to participate in painting the bridge live throughout the day. Hanline welcomes anyone to come down and paint the bridge as that event includes art activities for the kids.

Beginning at Noon in the same place, Heritage Port, and running until 11:30 p.m. is the Ohio Valley Chicken and Rib Cook-Off. This will feature live music with food vendors and a beer garden for adults.

From 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. is storytelling about the bridge. Hanline said different aspects of the bridge will be talked about dating back to its completion 1849 that connects downtown Wheeling and Wheeling Island. Historical characters in costumes will be a part of the storytelling from different eras of the bridge.

A schedule river excursion on the Gateway Clipper Queen has been canceled due to high water levels on the Ohio River because of the flash flooding last week.

The fireworks are scheduled for 9:30 p.m. in which Hanline said would be larger than the city’s annual 4th of July fireworks.

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