West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle has much to offer: racetracks and casinos, historic sites, parks, an old penitentiary, and a gold palace.
The four counties in the Panhandle are perched between Ohio and Pennsylvania, between the Ohio River on the West and hills on the East. At one point the panhandle is only four miles wide. State Route 2 and the river connect Chester at the northernmost tip of the state to Moundsville, the county seat of Marshall County near the southern end of the Panhandle. Most of the industry and population are on the western slope near the water.
There are two racetrack/casinos in the Northern Panhandle: Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort in Chester and Wheeling Island Hotel, Casino & Racetrack. Both offer live and simulcast racing, slots, casino games, live entertainment, restaurants, and on-site lodging. Wheeling Island is a dog track, while Mountaineer features thoroughbred horses.
Chester also is home to a West Virginia icon, the Homer Laughlin China Company, producer of Fiesta tableware. The company was founded in the 1870s and employs about 1,100 people on a 37-acre site. The factory is open for one-hour tours at 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. every weekday, but tours must be scheduled in advance by calling at 1-800-452-4462 and may be canceled due to weather. The factory also has an outlet store.
While in Chester, stop by the World’s Largest Teapot, a local oddity at the foot of the Jennings Randolph Bridge at the junction of State Route 2 and U.S. Route 30. The teapot originally was a huge wooden barrel for Hire’s Root Beer. A spout and handle were added and the structure was covered with tin to form the shape of a teapot.
The teapot is not far from Tomlinson Run State Park, at the tip top of the state. The park includes areas for picnics, swimming, boating, miniature golf, tennis, basketball, volleyball, and camping. There’s also a wilderness area.
The panhandle honors its veterans in many ways. Chester Memorial Park has a B-52 replica above a granite wall featuring etchings of World War II scenes. In Weirton, Veterans Memorial Bridge and Park pay homage to those who served. The steel-cabled bridge, which opened in May 1900, carries U.S. Route 22 across the Ohio River, connecting Weirton to Steubenville, Ohio. The Brooke County Public Library has 250,000 items in its American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Museum and Research Center.
The region is filled with small, unusual museums. In New Cumberland, the Hancock County Historical Museum is in the former Marshall House, built in 1887. Open by appointment only, it contains photos and artifacts of the steel industry and county history. (Call 304-564-4800 for more information.) The Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center has films of mid-1900s Weirton, photographs, and source material about the town and the steel industry. The museum is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and other hours by appointment. (Call 304-479-7266 or visit the website. Marshall County’s Historical Society Museum, at Thirteenth Street and Lockwood Avenue in Moundsville, is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursdays from April through October or at other times by calling 304-845-3692.
Brooke County’s Bethany College, the oldest degree-granting college in West Virginia, is home to the mansion that once belonged to Alexander Campbell, a founder of the Christian Church and the founder of the college. Bethany is also home to Old Main, considered one of the finest examples of 19th-century Gothic Revival architecture in the country. Begun in 1858, work on the building was interrupted by the Civil War and completed in the years immediately after. Both are National Historic Landmarks.
The Marx Toy Museum, 915 Second Street in Moundsville, is dedicated to Louis Marx and the toys he made from 1919 until he sold the company in 1972. Marx’s largest factory was in Glen Dale, just outside of Moundsville. In the 1950s, one-third of the toys sold in America were made by his company. The museum is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, April through December.
Although it’s not a museum, a small but notable historical site is on Kings Road near Weirton. The Peter Tarr Furnace, built in the early 1790s, was the first iron furnace west of the Allegheny Mountains. A plaque marks the site where the shell of the furnace is visible. Fueled by timber, the furnace produced household goods and cannonballs.
The area’s most historic site is the Grave Creek Mound in Moundsville. The National Historic Landmark is located across the street from the former West Virginia Penitentiary and one block east of State Route 2. The mound is one of the largest and most famous created by the Adena people beginning in about the third century B.C. The adjacent Delf Norona Museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.
The penitentiary is a gothic-style stone monolith that dominates Moundsville. The Civil War-era building occupies 10 acres. It is open for 90-minute tours 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, April through November. Prices vary. Visit the website or call 304-845-6200.
Antique glass collectors will want to visit Moundsville’s Fostoria Glass Museum, on the corner of Sixth Street and Tomlinson Avenue. It is open from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday from March through November. The museum is dedicated to the glass company that ceased operations in 1986 after 100 years.
The Northern Panhandle’s most unusual attraction may be the Palace of Gold at New Vrindaban, in a rural area near Moundsville. The Hare Krishna community welcomes visitors for tours year-round, every half hour from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. April to August and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. September to March. The palace has 31 stained glass windows, crystal chandeliers, mirrored ceilings, marble floors, polished marble inlaid walls, carved teakwood furniture, Renaissance-style murals, lots of gold, terraces, more than 100 fountains, and spectacular gardens where peacocks roam free. The palace also offers relatively inexpensive overnight lodging. Directions are complicated. Call 304-843-1600 or see the website.
Wheeling is the panhandle’s largest city, and it has a lot to offer. West Virginia’s birthplace, West Virginia Independence Hall, is located at 1528 Market Street. Independence Hall is now a museum dedicated to the history of statehood and the Civil War. An audio tour and interpretive film are available. It is open Monday through Saturday.
The Children’s Museum of the Ohio Valley, 1000 Main Street, focuses on hands-on activities. The Kruger Street Toy and Train Museum, 144 Kruger Street, has toys and operating trains. The Wheeling Suspension Bridge takes the National Road (now U.S. 40) across the Ohio River. Visitors may travel a 16-mile stretch of the National Road with the aid of a driving tour and other information from the Wheeling Convention and Visitor’s Bureau in downtown Wheeling. Some of Wheeling’s many Victorian homes are open for tours. For more information about Wheeling, visit http://www.wheelingcvb.
Oglebay Resort & Conference Center also is in Wheeling. The 1,700-acre park has a lodge, spa, cabins, zoo, restaurants and winter light festival, but its main attraction is golf.
There are several other golf courses in the panhandle, including Brooke Hills Park in Wellsburg (304-737-1236), Highland Springs Golf Course in Wellsburg (304-737-2201), Mountaineer Woodview Golf Course in New Cumberland (304-387-8260), Pleasant Hills Golf Course in New Manchester (304-387-0068), Pleasant Valley Country Club in Weirton (304-723-0070), and Williams Country Club in Weirton (304-748-8455).
For more information, visit these sites:
Written by Jennifer Bundy
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