A look back at Wheeling’s own Coney Island.
It might be difficult to believe, but the middle of the Ohio River was once home to camels, a roller coaster, Vaudeville shows, and even the opportunity to “fly” to the North Pole.
All of these entertainment wonders and more were located only three miles from Wheeling, on West Virginia’s own Coney Island. The Wheeling Amusement Company built the park for $100,000, about $2.7 million today. More than 6,000 people attended the grand opening in June 1905. A month later, nearly 10,000 visitors celebrated the Fourth of July on the island.
The park’s many attractions included thrill rides, a merry-go-round, a Turkish Theatre, a Ferris wheel, and a 2,500-seat stadium. At the center of it all was a 95-foot Great Electrical Tower, illuminated by 20,000 electric lights. “They wanted it to be like a miniature Coney Island in New York,” says Seán Duffy, former director of archives at the Ohio County Public Library.
And yet, a visit was relatively inexpensive: steamboat rides to the island cost 5 cents, and park admission was free. “It was like going to another world for these people,” Duffy says. “There weren’t a lot of entertainment options, except maybe going to a bar and drinking. Here was a family-oriented experience and I think that was important to people. We like amusement parks today, but we don’’t value them as much as much as those people did.”
The fun only lasted two summers. The park closed in 1907 after a severe flood. “The whole thing was submerged and a lot of the buildings washed away,” Duffy says. “They just didn’t have the funding to rebuild.”
The level of the Ohio River rose with construction of the Pike Island Dam in the early 1960s, submerging most of the island. A bit of the magic persists, however. Boaters have reportedly found skates and other artifacts at the island.
by Jennifer Gardner