History of Oglebay

Photo of the Oglebay Mansion

A Brief History of Oglebay

The history of Oglebay can be traced to the late 1700s, when a frontiersman named Silas Zane was awarded a land grant of 400 rolling acres in northwestern Virginia. This land remained in the Zane family until 1812. The land changed hands several times. By 1888 the owner of record was A. Allen Howell, the father of Sallie Howell Oglebay. When Earl W. Oglebay purchased Waddington Farm from his mother-in-law’s estate in 1900, the property was just a 25-acre tract, but the astute Cleveland industrialist gradually increased it until the farm was almost twice as large as the original land grant.

For twenty-five years Mr. Oglebay spared no expense or effort in turning his property, located just outside Wheeling, West Virginia, into a beautiful country estate, as well as a model farm where research in soil culture and crop rotation was carried out. During these years the mansion house was rebuilt, buildings were added, and much landscaping and roadwork was accomplished.

Upon his death in 1926, Mr. Oglebay willed his property to the people of Wheeling and vicinity, for as long as they "shall operate it for public recreation." In July 1928, plans were finally worked out for transfer of the property and it was accepted as Oglebay Park on behalf of the people and placed under the governing hand of the Wheeling Park Commission.

During the 1930s numerous improvement projects were carried out through federal relief programs. A Civilian Conservation Corps Camp of about 200 young men was located in the beech woods where the former Caddy Camp building stands. Gift and loans were solicited to match the Works Progress Administration funds, making possible the building of nature trails and roads, picnic sites, cabins, tennis courts, the outdoor theater, Camp Russel, and the entire Crispin Center area.

Crispin Center - with its large swimming pool, golf shop and Pine Room area - has changed little on the outside. Built in 1937-38 of natural sandstone, much of it quarried locally, the facility stands as a tribute to the quality of work in Depression-era projects. Ongoing improvements to the Pine Room/outdoor pool area are designed to increase accessibility and improve service to the public.

Realizing that a stable means for capital improvements must be established, officials inaugurated the Parks System Trust Fund in 1945. Since then, most new facilities have been developed through contributions and bequests to the trust fund: in the 1940s, tennis courts, a riding academy, and the first winterized cabins; in the 1950s, picnic shelters, horse show ring, golf driving range, tennis shelter, three-acre lake, a nature center, and the long planned Wilson Lodge. The lodge opening in 1957 was a turning point, for overnight, Oglebay shook its provincial image to become a year-round resort.

The picturesque Par3/Driving Range Clubhouse on the north side of the park became a reality in 1962; a beautiful garden center was built in 1964; and a fireproof wing was added to the mansion in 1966, through the generosity of Courtney Burton, grandson of Earl W. Oglebay. Most of the Oglebay's memorabilia on display - portraits, genealogy, furniture, and photographs - was collected by Mr. Burton. Burton was honored for his involvement in more than 15 major building projects at Oglebay when the "hilltop area" was designated as the Burton Center in 1978 by the park commission.

In the late 1960s and 70s the park commission took advantage of state and federal programs, matching grants with trust fund monies. Construction began on the Robert Trent Jones, Sr., championship golf course, with the front nine opening in 1970 and the back nine in 1971. In 2000, another championship golf course, designed by Arnold Palmer, opened next to the Jones course. Together, the two courses form the Speidel Golf Club and are serviced by the Hamm Clubhouse.

The 1970s and 80s ushered in several large-scale events: the first Wheeling Classic (LPGA) was held in 1974 (the tournament lasted 11 years); the first Oglebayfest, to celebrate the resort's 50th anniversary, in 1978. In 1985, the Winter Festival of Lights debuted, with 125,000 lights displayed on trees, building and landscape over 125 acres. By 1990, the size of the show had more than doubled, with lights and displays now spreading over 300 acres. The show is constantly updated and improved and has earned a permanent spot on the Top International Events of the American Bus Association.

Continuing improvements at Oglebay are a reflection of the generosity of many individuals and foundations. Sections of the arboretum trail were completed in 1973 and 1979 (with a pergola added in 1977.) The 35-acre Good Zoo opened in 1977, the Benedum Planetarium in 1978, and an addition to Wilson Lodge was dedicated in 1980.

Fifty-four vacation cottages are now available at Oglebay, including two estate houses overlooking the Palmer Golf Course, and three 8-bedroom premium cottages that were completed in the Summer of 2008. Many of the group picnic shelters have been replaced or renovated, including the Driehorst Shelter, the Hess Shelter, the Levenson Shelter, and the renovated Haller Shelter. Carriage House Glass opened in 1992 and honors the West Virginia glass industry. The building is reminiscent of a pre-Civil War carriage house that once stood in the hilltop area. Carriage House Glass offers visitors a unique, first-class shopping experience, plus glass blowing and a noted early glass and china museum on the lower level.

Oglebay's 10-acre gardens have been restored to resemble the flowerbeds so loved by Sallie Oglebay (Earl Oglebay's wife) when she was in residence in the early 1900s. Visitors to the gardens are treated to a three-season kaleidoscope of color as they meander along the brick walkways past sweeping beds of vibrant blooms and hanging baskets. Improvements completed in 1994 made the gardens/arboretum/outdoor theater area handicap-accessible.

The Good Zoo has expanded its mission to breed endangered species by adding African wild dogs to the collection, aiding injured raptors (birds of prey); adding an ocelot and red panda exhibit, a Discovery Lab and a Wonders of Wetlands exhibit. Additions to the main zoo building, completed in 1996, include a classroom, multipurpose room, and a large handicap-accessible elevator. The Outback Exhibit was completed in the Spring of 2008.

The ski area located at the Par 3/Driving Range reopened in 2004 after a $1.2 million upgrade that included a new triple chair lift, new snowmaking and new rental skis and snowboards. The reopening of the ski area was made possible by an active fund-raising campaign by community members.

Expansions at Wilson Lodge include the dining room improvements in 1989 and 1999, and a conference center wing addition in 1997. In 2006, Wilson Lodge once again underwent major construction with the addition of a 53-room sleeping wing. The new wing opened in May 2006 and features premium king or double queen rooms and suites. This $15 million construction project also included the complete redesign and renovation of the existing rooms. The 5,000 sq. ft. West Spa and six new king guest rooms were completed in the Summer of 2008.

Oglebay - today - is a beautifully landscaped, 1,700-acre public resort, studied by planners worldwide as the only self-supporting public municipal in operation. It stands as a successful tribute to Earl W. Oglebay, a notable achievement of the Wheeling Park Commission, and a credit to the many benefactors and organizations involved in its growth. Although Oglebay is operated mainly through fees and charges, it still has more free activities than any other operation of its type in the country

To view a slideshow of historical photos, please view the historical photo album included on our Facebook page.