The Atheneum, Wheeling’s Civil War military prison, located at the southeast corner of 16th (then John) and Market streets, was a four-story structure built in 1853–54 as a warehouse for the Crescent Manufacturing Company, a maker of boiler, sheet, and railway iron. The first and second floors were used by the company while the third and fourth were outfitted as a theater, which opened in January 1855. In 1856 a troupe presented ‘‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin.’’ The prison took its name from the theater, the Atheneum.
In the fall of 1861, after the Civil War began, two large rooms on the second floor of the building were rented by the government for use as winter quarters for secessionist prisoners held at Camp Carlile on Wheeling Island. The theater portion of the building was effectively closed by this action.
From October 1863 to October 1865, the entire building was rented for use as a military prison, barracks, and hospital. Called by some the ‘‘Lincoln Bastille,’’ the Atheneum held Confederate prisoners captured in battle, civilians who refused to take the oath of allegiance, rebel spies, court-martialed soldiers, and those guilty of various other offenses such as bushwhacking. Eventually most of the prisoners were transferred to Camp Chase near Columbus, Ohio, so the number of people confined fluctuated from well over 100 to as few as 50 or 60.
After the war, the building contained a malt business and agriculture store. It burned down in October 1868. In modern times, the Pythian Building occupied the site but was demolished for a private park.
This Article was written by Margaret Brennan
Last Revised on December 10, 2010
Phillips, Edward. The Atheneum. Wheeling: 1999.