Once a private park and later owned by Reymann Brewing Company, the popular Wheeling Park has been home to a wide variety of activities. The iconic White Castle was rebuilt after a fire in 1925 and is now home to an ice skating rink. The space became a public park and was given its current name on May 30, 1925. Today, the park features a number of statues, memorials, and recreational activities and still attracts many visitors as it has since it was privately owned in the 1860s.
Backstory and Context
Before Wheeling Park was deeded to the newly formed Wheeling Park Commission in 1925, the park existed as a private park. The grounds were owned by an English immigrant Thomas Horbrook who welcomed visitors who traveled to the park. Even after the property was auctioned to private investors in May 1883, locals continued to refer to it as Hornbrook’s Park for years.
At its peak, the park was owned by Reymann Brewing Company throughout the 1880s. The company designed the park to look like a German beer garden. In the early 1900s, the site became a private amusement park complete with arcades, rides, holiday celebrations, a swimming pool, and casino. Because of the threat of prohibition and World War I, the park closed in the late 1910s.
The first attempt by the city government and Chamber of Commerce to raise funds and purchase the park in 1923 failed. In December, 1924, two businessmen, Charles Sonneborn and Louis Haller, offered the public the option to raise $350,000 for park equipment or the businessmen would purchase the 130-acre lot and sub-divide it. W.E Stone, a prominent businessman-philanthropist, offered to give the first $100,000 if several conditions were met the most important being that the control of the park was to be under a non-partisan commission. Stone's offer encouraged other large donations by prominent citizens, including notable industrialist Earl W. Oglebay. By the evening of Christmas Eve their goal has been reached, so the newspaper headline on Christmas day read “Wheeling Park is a Christmas Gift to the Wheeling Public.”
Wheeling Park opened to the public on Memorial Day 1925 and more than 10,000 people attended the opening ceremonies. While Wheeling Park was much improved in 1925, a fire that burned down the Casino and the original White Palace, also known as the Otto Schenk Memorial Pavilion. The public rallied funds to rebuild the pavilion. Over the years many additions to the park were made including a new swimming pool in 1837 (replaced in 1968), the Memorial Ice Rink in 1959, and almost 300 contiguous acres starting in the 1960s. In 1972, Good Lake was renovated, a boathouse, dock, and miniature golf course was added. That same year, the tennis air dome was constructed to allow year-round tennis playing. In 1973, the Sonneborn group shelter was constructed and 1979 saw the construction of a water slide for the pool. In the late 1980s soccer fields were also added to the hilltop. The now 406-acre park is still one of the most popular outdoor spaces in the city.
Wheeling Park. Ohio County Public Library. Accessed February 16, 2019. http://www.ohiocountylibrary.org/wheeling-history/5450.