Friends of Wheeling tackles first rehabilitation project in years | News, Sports, Jobs

Brad Anderson, an employee of Cattrell Co. of Wheeling, uses a torch to cut through steel braces used outside 722-724 Main St. Thursday. The steel braces are removed from the exterior and will be placed on the interior instead. This will allow the sidewalk in front of the building and the alley next to it to reopen.

WHEELING – The Friends of Wheeling, a local historic preservation organization, is embarking on their first rehabilitation project in years, hoping to breathe new life into two structures recently donated to them.

Jeanne Finstein, president of the group, said Thursday that the Friends had received 722-724 Main St. in the historic district of North Wheeling.

“It was given to us and the previous owner gutted the inside. There is no second floor; there are braces keeping it outside,” she said, adding that the previous owner wished to remain anonymous.

Finstein said the group had not undertaken a restoration project for several years, but decided to take ownership of the buildings because of their historical significance.

The Friends have already received $84,000 in donations for the project, as well as a $22,000 facade renovation grant from the City of Wheeling. Finstein said the group does not yet know how much a full renovation will cost. She noted that the group could carry out a partial renovation and then sell the building to a developer willing to complete it.

picture by: Photo by Shelley Hanson

Friends of Wheeling recently received 722-724 Main St. in the North Wheeling Historic District and plans to rehabilitate the structures. Brad Anderson, an employee of Cattrell Co. of Wheeling, can be seen using a torch to cut through steel bracing used outside 722-724 Main St. on Thursday. The steel braces are removed from the exterior and will be placed on the interior instead. This will allow the sidewalk in front of the building and the alley next to it to reopen.

“We haven’t rehabilitated a building for years and years. It’s kind of a newly overhauled business for us,” she said. “The aim is ideally to sell both halves, as two dwellings, although there is a party wall.”

She said the Friends board recently voted to spend up to $150,000 and then reassess the situation. The group is not in the business of flipping properties for profit, but of preserving the integrity of the city’s historic sites.

“We are here to save our heritage,” she said.

According to Finstein, the lot that contains 722 and 724 Main St. was purchased by Thomas Hughes Sr. in 1846 for $600.

“We think the houses were built shortly after. Thomas Hughes (1789-1849) was a gunsmith and was also involved in steam shipping and logging,” Finstein wrote in a letter to donors. “He was the first Treasurer of the City of Wheeling, served on City Council for 32 years, and was involved in several other businesses and organizations, including the Wheeling & Belmont Bridge Company, (which completed the Wheeling Suspension Bridge shortly after Hughes’ death).

picture by: Photo by Shelley Hanson

Seen here is the interior of one of the structures on Main Street donated to the Friends of Wheeling.

“His son, John Hughes (1818-1870), was also a longtime member of the Wheeling City Council. He and his family lived at 724 Main St.

“John Hughes was involved in a ‘planing’ business as early as 1851. In 1864 he had the business of John Hughes & Company which dealt in ‘timbers, mouldings, doors, frames, etc.’ located at Market and Washington Streets (now known as Market and 7th Streets).

John Hughes was later listed in city directories as a “collector” for his brother Thomas’ tailoring business, Feinstein wrote. He died of typhoid fever, aged 52, on March 22, 1870, just over two months after the death of his daughter, Bessie, aged 4½, who died of scarlet fever on January 6, 1870. John’s widow, Eliza Sterritt McLain, remained in the house until her death in 1914.

“It is unclear who originally lived at 722 Main,” Feinstein wrote. “However, when Thomas Hughes’ widow died in 1872, 722 Main was sold to ‘launderer’ Anton Baiker.”

Hughes’ sons, Alfred and Thomas Jr. and their sister Eliza Hughes, “were strong supporters of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Eliza was the first woman in what is now West Virginia to become a licensed physician,” Finstein wrote.

She noted that the City of Wheeling placed an order to have the structures razed or repaired due to their poor condition.

“However, the city, Wheeling Heritage, Friends of Wheeling and the Victorian Old Town Association saved both structures from demolition, replaced bricks lost between 722 and 724, installed a new roof and carried out other exterior repairs,” said she writes.

“The two buildings were then sold to a private developer. This developer removed so much of the interior structure that exterior bracing had to be installed to prevent collapse. He then scrapped the renovation plans and donated the two buildings to Friends of Wheeling in January 2022.

“These buildings are significant as contributing structures to the North Wheeling National Historic District and because of their history. Their loss would likely result in the loss of the building connected to the north (720 Main), leaving a huge hole in the east side of this important block. And their loss would mean the loss of an interesting piece of Wheeling history.

Finstein said Thursday that the steel bracing on the outside will be moved inside. The building needs to be stabilized before major rehabilitation work can be undertaken. The demolition of some structures added to the rear of the building is in progress.

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