Print | Back to e-WV The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Wheeling Island

Wheeling Island is the second most heavily populated river island in the country, after New York’s Manhattan. The island, located in the Ohio River between mainland Wheeling and Bridgeport, Ohio, is home to an estimated 5,000 people. It is part of the city of Wheeling. The island is 10,500 feet long and 2,265 feet wide. Ebenezer Zane is said to have bought it from the Indians for a keg of whiskey.

Though it remained undeveloped for over half a century, Wheeling Island became a fashionable place for city leaders to build riverfront mansions following the construction of Wheeling’s famous suspension bridge in 1849. Development boomed following the provision of another bridge and streetcar service. The first West Virginia State Fair was held at the island fairgrounds in 1881, and later on, a racetrack, swimming pool, roller coaster, skating rink, and other recreational attractions drew big summer-long crowds well into the mid-1900s. Flooding took a toll on the island, however. On March 19, 1936, the Ohio River crested at record 55.20 feet, more than 15 feet above flood stage. Other major Ohio River floods occurred in 1884, 1898, 1907, 1913, 1937 and 1942.

Staunch islanders remained, and they continue to work toward restoring their neighborhood’s inherent beauty. The island is home to Wheeling Island Hotel, Casino & Racetrack.

Written by Louis E. Keefer


  1. Keefer, Louis E. The Island: Surrounded by Water in Wheeling. Goldenseal, (Spring 1995).