By Elaine Kish
While well known for its spectacular holiday light display, most visitors do not realize that Oglebay Park in Wheeling, West Virginia, has so much more to offer all year long. Intrigued by both the location and activities, I recently visited the 1,775-acre park with my granddaughters, Zoe and Emily.
By way of history, Oglebay Park has strong ties to northeastern Ohio. Earl W. Oglebay, a native of the Ohio Valley area, attended Bethany College in Wheeling. After graduating in 1884 he returned to Cleveland, Ohio, where he became a partner in the business known as Oglebay, Norton and Company, which was involved in iron and steel production, the development of mines, steamship companies, and manufacturing interests. Achieving both success and wealth, Earl Oglebay wanted to return to the Wheeling, West Virginia area he loved so much.
In 1901 he purchased a 25-acre property known then as “Waddington Farm” from his mother-in-law’s estate, remembering the beautiful hilltop property he passed on his way to Bethany College when he was a student. Although the Oglebays continued to maintain their official residence in Ohio and considered West Virginia their summer home, Earl Oglebay turned the property into a beautiful country estate as well as a model farm for research in soil cultivation and crop rotation.
When Oglebay purchased it, the property had a house, a guesthouse and some outbuildings. The Oglebays enlarged and improved the house. During his 25 years of ownership Oglebay purchased adjoining parcels of land which had been sold off from the original land grant until it increased in size to nearly the original 750 acres. Waddington Farm’s main business was dairy farming and they were known for producing quality milk with high butterfat content.
At the time of Earl Oglebay’s death in 1926 it was announced that Waddington Farm had been “willed” to the people of Wheeling for as long as they “shall operate it for public recreation.” It took almost two years for officials to find a way to finance the park and after they accepted ownership in 1928, the name was changed to Oglebay Park.
During its early years some of the park’s buildings were renovated from farm use for orchestra performances, shows and educational activities. Alonzo Beecher Brooks, a highly respected naturalist, began daily nature walks on the property. The front nine holes of the golf course was constructed and opened in 1930. The Park Commission began to publicize Oglebay as a recreation area and rooms were rented to overnight guests.
As additional government funding became available, in 1936 an intense building program resulted in the construction of nature trails and roads, picnic sites, tennis courts, an outdoor theater, a youth camp, a swimming pool, and the second nine holes of the golf course. Earl Oglebay’s original dairy barn was renamed Wilson Hall and housed the original social center and restaurant until it was destroyed by fire in 1945. Cottages were constructed on the property and eventually they were winterized for year-round use. In the 1950’s more cottages, picnic shelters, a horse show ring, a golf driving range, a tennis shelter, a 3-acre lake, and a nature center were added. They began using the golf course hills for sledding and skiing and there was ice skating on the lake for winter recreation. Snow-making equipment and a chair lift were added to the skiing area in 1963.
In 1957 Wilson Lodge was completed with 57 sleeping rooms. Numerous additions to the Lodge over the years have resulted in today’s total of 271 rooms, suites and chalets some with balconies and fireplaces. Wilson Lodge now houses a swimming pool, complete with jacuzzi and sauna, a fitness center, two restaurants, a spa, a gift shop, a library, a game room and numerous public and private social rooms of all sizes. Our premium queen room had two queen beds and a balcony with a spectacular view. During our stay at Wilson Lodge, we enjoyed the delicious breakfast buffet in the terraced Ihlenfeld Dining Room. Omelets, eggs and waffles made to order by the chef, and choices of potatoes, sausage, bacon, sausage gravy, breakfast pastries and fresh fruits were offered. Added to the tasty food was the panoramic view of Schenk Lake which almost made you forget to eat.
The Ihlenfeld Dining Room offers contemporary dinner choices as well as a buffet each evening. While we were there they served regional dishes of a Louisiana spicy cuisine one night and Italian dishes on another night. Again, special entrees and desserts were made to order by the chef for each diner. The Glassworks Grill in the Lodge features a more casual atmosphere with food selections for the entire family. Wilson Lodge also houses The West Spa providing relaxing and therapeutic services, including massages, manicures and pedicures.
For groups or larger families, Oglebay offers accommodations of cottages with two, four, six or eight bedrooms. Each cottage has a spacious living room with a fireplace and a fully-equipped kitchen. There are also Estate Houses which have six bedrooms all with private baths, a two-story Chalet with seven bedrooms all with private baths, and the Waddington Estate House which has five bedrooms as well as meeting and dining facilities for up to 12 persons.
During 1970 and 1971 the Robert Trent Jones, Sr. championship golf course was constructed on the property. Another course designed by golf pro Arnold Palmer was added in 2000. Oglebay’s golf courses are carved into the mountain sides and provide challenges together with spectacular scenery and views. Oglebay has four golf courses, a Par III course, a 30-tee driving range, a practice range, and a chipping green surrounded by two sand bunkers. The Hamm Clubhouse provides a grill room, locker facilities, an on-staff pro and a fully stocked pro shop.
In 1977 Oglebay opened the Good Zoo. With numerous interactive exhibits, the 30-acre facility is West Virginia’s only accredited zoo. After viewing the largest public O-Gauge model railroad display in West Virginia, we boarded the train for a one and a half mile ride which takes you right through the zebra enclosure. More than 50 species of animals reside in the zoo. An enclosed area at Lorikeet Landing allowed Zoe to let one of the colorful parrots perch on her arm for an unforgettable photo taken by our budding photographer, Emily. Visitors are able to enter the kangaroo pen for spectacular pictures and action movies of their antics. There is also a section for petting and feeding interaction with friendly llamas, goats and donkeys.
The 16-acre Bissonette Gardens is a restoration of the original gardens of Waddington Farm planted for Sallie Oglebay in the early 1900’s. This area encompasses brick paths winding through seasonal floral displays, hanging baskets, trees and fountains. The Brooks E. Wigginton Arboretum was subsequently added and contains a living museum of trees, shrubs and flowers year round.
Schenk Lake provides pedal boats, aquacycles and kayaks, and we took advantage of all three adventures. The lake is stocked annually and visitors can enjoy fishing. We also played a round of miniature golf on the adjacent course with its challenging holes set into the hillside. There is a large outdoor pool and several tennis courts, along with miles of paved and natural walking and jogging trails throughout the park. Deer are abundant on the grounds and, being a protected wildlife area, they have little fear of people unless you approach one of their babies and they become very protective. I personally will never forget an after-dinner walk when we saw about 20 deer of all sizes grazing on the hillside next to Wilson Lodge.
The Mansion Museum was originally an 8-room farmhouse that Earl Oglebay expanded and renovated. Today it houses history and decorative arts of the Ohio Valley area throughout the 13 period rooms and exhibits. The Glass Museum is located on the lower level of Carriage House Glass. It features numerous examples of historic glass and china made in Wheeling from 1920 to 1952. The Hilltop area and amphitheater feature concerts and other entertainment almost every night during the summer months. The Schrader Environmental Center features the EarthTrek Exhibit Hall, bird observation windows, a hands-on children’s area, outdoor trails and a butterfly garden.
Although visitors can drive their personal vehicle, Oglebay provides trolley service for easy access to all areas of the park. Trolleys begin their journey at Wilson Lodge and make periodic trips through the park, stopping at each area to deliver and pick up guests. Our trolley driver, Karen, offered unique information about each area as we passed or stopped, as well as answering questions about the park in general.
While on the grounds you can purchase souvenirs and gifts at specialty shops located throughout Oglebay Park. Choose from chocolates at the Farmhouse Sweets & Treats Shoppe, to Oglebay logo apparel at the Resort Shop in the Wilson Lodge lobby, to a remembrance of a favorite sighting at Nature Express at the Good Zoo.
During our visit I spoke with several families about their stay at Oglebay. One family related that they had come to Oglebay 10 years earlier for the wedding and reception of a relative. Since that time they have made Oglebay an annual outing for the entire family staying in cabins on the property. Another family indicated it was their first visit to Oglebay and they would most certainly return again.
Heading into the rest of the year, Oglebay will feature the Oglebayfest in October and the annual Festival of Lights in November and December. During the winter months the ski and snowboarding area will again become a winter playground for Wheeling and surrounding areas proving once again that Oglebay is truly a year-round destination.
Oglebay Wheeling West Virginia