FAMILY EXPLORER: Exploring Wheeling with Kids

Jeremy Morris, Family Explorer

Jeremy Morris is a West Virginia native who has spent his adult years working in the areas of historic preservation and tourism development.  He grew up in Southern West Virginia where he learned the importance of tourism from his mother, Renda, who served as director of the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine for over 20 years.  He lives in Wheeling with his wife Mihaela and their two precocious daughters Amelia, 5, and Olympia, 2.

I arrived in Wheeling in my late 20s, mostly a bachelor.  I was engaged in a not-so-long distance relationship with my future wife who was still in Morgantown. At the time I sought those self-indulgent experiences that many child-less 20-year olds seek, lots of late-nights and spur of the moment road trips.

Fifteen years later I see Wheeling, and the world, through the lens of fatherhood.  It has led me on a multifaceted journey, both in rediscovering myself and rediscovering my adopted hometown.  Mind you I still have late nights and road trips, just of a different variety.

French Fries and Ice Cream

My oldest daughter is a french-fry connoisseur. A common question at our house is, “Daddy can we go to the french-fry store today?”  One of her favorite spots for appreciating this childhood delicacy is Coleman’s Fish Market.  Located in the 1853 Centre Market House, the fish market is a Wheeling icon and home to America’s best fish sandwich according to Gourmet

Coleman’s offers three types of fries: regular, seasoned, and JoJo fries (seasoned potatoes wedges).  My daughter invariably opts for the plain fries and chocolate milk.  I go for that award-winning fish sandwich and a side of coleslaw (the slaw deserves an award too).  We eat and discuss all the pressing topics for a five-year-old girl: Which sister is cooler, Elsa or Anna? Daddy, when can I have a phone? How many colors are in a rainbow?

When we are done with lunch, we head across the street to Smart Centre Market for some help dissecting that last question.  My friends Robert and Libby Strong are science teachers and proprietors of one of the coolest science store in the state.  The store is full of gadgets and rocks and dinosaur bones.  It’s a curious kid’s dream.  The Strongs pride themselves in providing a high-quality, fun, educational experience for children and parents. If dinosaurs don’t do the trick, they have ice cream that is locally made by Kirk’s Ice Cream.

The Centre Market Historic District is a great place to explore with kids. It is the heart of our downtown, buzzing with people and activity.  It is hip with painted crosswalks, funky painted parking meters, and other artistic and historic curiosities tucked away waiting to be discovered.  Plenty of good eats, too.

Beating the Heat

Summer is a time for pools and playgrounds.  My girls are water bugs and we are blessed in Wheeling where we have an assortment of pools to choose from. Our favorite swimming spot is the Oglebay Park Pool at the Crispin Center.  Built during the 1930s as part of the Works Progress Administration, the Crispin Center is a beautifully crafted stone building that conveys a “resort-of-a-by-gone-era” feeling. It is easy to bask in the sun and imagine yourself in another time.

Despite its historic nature, the pool is complete with a modern splash pad for the younger children and a floating obstacle course for the older kids.  Or you can swim out to the concrete island in the center of the pool and take turns jumping into the cool water.  Jumping off the concrete island has been a Wheeling childhood rite-of-passage for nearly a century.

When not at the pool we can be found at one of the city’s playgrounds.  In recent years, the City government has invested nearly $750,000 into city park renovations.  Nearly every neighborhood has a renovated playground with modern equipment and enhanced safety.

Into the Wild

Wheeling isn’t exactly wild – it’s more the wonderful side of Wild and Wonderful West Virginia. Still, there are places to get out into nature and get dirty if you know where to look.  Going in the ‘back way’ to Oglebay Park you will come to Falls Drive.  We often take the girls to that location and wade in the creek. When they tire of skipping rocks and chasing minnows, we walk down to the waterfall.  It is a tiny waterfall and one can easily navigate underneath the fall for one of the more interesting photo-ops in Wheeling.

Just up the hill from the creek is the Schrader Environmental Education Center, a science and nature center. The Center offers a variety of programs and workshops throughout the year. Our girls love the trails at Schrader, chasing butterflies, scrounging for worms, and picking flowers.  There are a variety of trails and outdoor learning opportunities in the woods surrounding the center.  It is a well-used, yet quiet spot.  Good for stretching your legs, taking deep breaths, and trying to accurately answer those endless 5-year-old questions.

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This post was last updated on March 18, 2022