Wheeling Flood Wall
The Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation (WNHAC) led a preservation initiative that ultimately led to saving the “The Flood Wall” on Wheeling Island. This mural project started in November 2014, took a hiatus for winter and a very rainy spring, and was finally completed in July 2015. The wall was actually part of a building located at the corner of Virginia and South Penn Streets. Gene Long, of the Gene Long Family Center (the last business standing in said building), recorded every major flood to hit Wheeling Island by painting the date and high water marks on his exterior wall.
The flood marks were painted in 1979, so most of the text was chipped, faded, and mainly unreadable. I was hired to restore the text and add the names and dates of all the former businesses that resided in that structure from the 1890s to the 1990s. On one wall, I was simply restoring an original painting back to its former state (as well as adding additional text acknowledging all the key partners) while on the adjacent wall I had free reign to design logos of seven of the former businesses. It was next to impossible to locate actual images of the signs or logos, since they were family owned shops and/or very old, so I used the dates of each establishment to lead me in creating something fitting for each time frame. While the research and design of this project was inspiring and thought-provoking, the true experience laid in the hands-on painting of the Flood Wall murals.
“Thank you for doing that!”
“You’re doing a great job!”
“Honk! Honk!” - from a car with a thumbs up out the window
Those were just some of the affirmative and excited shouts and sounds of people driving by as I painted. Some residents would even park, get out of their cars and walk over to me just to regale me with memories they had of eating Kirk’s Ice Cream at the counter or delivering pharmaceuticals for McAllister’s Pharmacy. Others would recall times from the actual floods, or the floods that their dads or grandads endured. I felt truly honored. Here I stood, a transplant from Rhode Island, just completing a commissioned job- but that didn’t matter to them. The day-to-day people, for whom this project truly impacts, were sincerely appreciative that a piece of living history was saved (and enhanced) for them.
I am grateful to have been included in this project and wish to extend kudos to WNHAC for making this vision a reality. This wall will now be part of a larger project- a small park with edible plants and seating areas. This green space will be a welcomed oasis on an otherwise busy intersection in a residential area. From the above photo you can see that WNHAC has already installed a historical informational plaque so visitors- old and new- can delve deeper into the history of Wheeling Island. And of course, talk about its floods.