Businessman Earl Williams Oglebay (March 4, 1849-June 22, 1926) was born in Bridgeport, Ohio, to a Wheeling businessman’s family. He became one of West Virginia’s most successful industrialists and a generous benefactor. At the age of 28, he became president of his father’s bank, the National Bank of West Virginia, making him the youngest bank president in the nation. Business dealings led him to opportunities in iron ore speculation. In 1884, he started work as an associate in a Cleveland iron ore firm, and within six years, became a key partner. In 1890, John D. Rockefeller, Oglebay, and banker David Z. Norton formed a partnership, Oglebay Norton Co., a Great Lakes ore shipping line. In 1901, Oglebay sold his iron ore interests to U.S. Steel.
In 1901, Oglebay bought a mid-19th century mansion on a 25-acre ridgetop tract between Wheeling and Bethany which he began to restore as a summer home. Soon, Oglebay’s Waddington Farm had grown to about 1,000 acres. Oglebay, concerned that West Virginia’s farm economy was entering a decline, began a series of experiments to determine how best to raise alfalfa in the state’s humid climate. He also assembled a demonstration herd of purebred Guernsey dairy cattle, and brought in experts in a variety of agricultural fields, including a poultry scientist from Cornell University, a dairyman from Wisconsin, a soil scientist from the Midwest, and a horse expert from England. He hired 75 workers to implement the recommendations of these experts and keep track of the results.
Oglebay set up the state’s first agricultural education program at Waddington Farm. In recognition of his work, the College of Agriculture at West Virginia University named Oglebay Hall in his honor.
While Oglebay served on the state Board of Education for 15 years and was a generous contributor to his alma mater, Bethany College, his most enduring gift was the bequest of Waddington Farm to the city of Wheeling. Today known as Oglebay Park, it serves Wheeling and has become a vacation destination for millions of visitors from outside the region, with four golf courses, two pools, a lodge, and the Good Children’s Zoo. Waddington Gardens, with its showy seasonal plantings, offers a glimpse of the park’s earlier life as Waddington Farm, where Earl Oglebay oversaw the planting of 150,000 trees and shrubs. He died in Cleveland.
Oglebay’s mansion is now a museum of late 19th-century life.
This Article was written by Rick Steelhammer
Last Revised on December 08, 2015
Shawkey, Morris. West Virginia: In History, Life, Literature and Industry 5 vols. Chicago: Lewis Pub., 1928.
Cite This Article
Steelhammer, Rick "Earl Oglebay." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 08 December 2015. Web. 12 February 2016.