Exploring North Wheeling’s Rich Steamboat History
18 September 2016
By Janell Hunter
WHEELING — One weekend every September, paddlewheel boats line
Wheeling’s waterfront for the annual Heritage Port Sternwheel
As this year’s festival came to an end Saturday, the Friends of
Wheeling group transported visitors back to a time when it was
like that all year-round.
The North Wheeling neighborhood held a sidewalk sale, and
residents displayed their wares — paintings, arts and crafts,
baked goods, clothing, antiques and more — outside of the historic
brick row homes that line Main Street, many of which are on the
National Register of Historic Places. And for the first time in
conjunction with the Wheeling Heritage Port Sternwheel Festival,
the Friends of Wheeling spoke to those attending the sale about
the rich history North Wheeling has regarding the steamboat
“We typically do this once a year. This year’s sale seems to be
successful so far. We invite people to come take a walking tour of
the history and architecture of North Wheeling,” said Victorian
Old Town Association president Morgan Wood.
Jeanne Finstein, president of Friends of Wheeling, along with
Friends of Wheeling members Joanne Sullivan, Ed Phillips and
author John Bowman, were dressed in Victorian costumes mingling
among the shoppers and telling them about the history of the area.
“There was a huge riverboat industry back in the day. Between 1815
and 1900 there were something like 250 riverboats built or at
least finished here in Wheeling,” Finstein said. “Many of the
workers lived in North Wheeling. There were carpenters who worked
on the hulls, there were engineers who worked on the boats, there
were riverboat captains, there were boilermakers. It was a big
deal so we are doing walking tours to show some of the houses that
still remain that were here at the time.”
Finstein stood outside 653 Main St., a home on the National
Register of Historic Places originally built in 1831 and now owned
by Chuck Wood.
“Arthur Phillips lived here at 653 Main St. He built machinery for
the riverboats, and his factory was on the river right behind the
house,” Finstein said.
John Bowman is one of the premier historians of the steamboat
industry in the country, according to Wood. He has written five
books on the subject, and built 51 models of historic boats.
“Wheeling’s first major industry was boat building,” Bowman said.
Finstein noted Phillips was considered to be a traitor because he
was one of the men who signed the ordinance of secession when
Virginia split from the Union in 1861. There was a list of 80 men
in Wheeling, mostly prominent people, who signed the ordinance of
secession and their names were posted publicly.
On Saturday, Wood kept his door open to passersby who were
interested in learning more about the history of the area.
“North Wheeling was a center of boat-building for a long time, and
Phillips was the first one who built the steamboat engines west of
the Appalachians, I believe,” said Wood.
He had a steamboat in a glass case on display inside the foyer of
“This is our first year doing this. We thought every year Wheeling
has the Sternwheel Festival, but there’s nothing that talks about
our history about the boats,” Wood said.