A story in the Sept. 7, 1853 edition of this newspaper carried the following passage: "The NEW Iron Market House in Centre Wheeling is fast assuming the appearance of a finished building, and when completed, will be one of the most beautiful buildings of the kind in the country. There is but one other Iron Market House in the United States, located in Cincinnati, and it has attracted considerable attention, but in beauty of finish and adeptness to the purpose designed, it does not compare very favorably with our own."
Things have changed since then. Wheeling is no longer part of Virginia and this newspaper, barely a year old at the time, no longer is called the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer. But the Centre Market House still exists, and today the grand old building will be officially reopened.
Gov. Gaston Caperton will kick off a three-day Centre Market celebration with the 3 p.m. rededication of the Upper Market House. A public reception will follow, topped off by Towngate Theater's presentation of "I'm Not Rappaport" at 8 p.m. Various other events are scheduled Friday and Saturday.
Hydie Hopkins of the city's development department, who has researched the Centre Market, said the idea for the Market House got off the ground in 1850 when residents of the city's 5th Ward petitioned City Council for a market house. Money to build the market house was raised through certificates sold by the city, and on Sept. 27, 1853 the Market House was opened for business on Market Street between what are now 22nd and 23rd streets.
The Market House was occupied by butchers and vendors of fruits and vegetables. The building was an open-air structure until the 1890s, when it was enclosed with wood clapboard, said Hopkins. She said the sides were constructed in a manner which allowed them to be pulled up and hung over the sidewalk, enabling vendors to back their wagons under the flaps and sell directly from their vehicles.
Also at this time, the Lower Market House was constructed. Hopkins said during their heydey, the market houses and entire Centre Market were a busy, bustling center of activity.
"Markets were as much a place of commerce as a place of commication and meeting, " she said. "The purpose of going to market wasn't only to buy things, but to exchange information and news. Before the time of automobiles and refrigeration, going to market was practically an everyday occurrence."
The market houses have been crowded in recent years while renovation of the two historic structures took place. While the Upper Market House was being renovated, businesses located there were temporarily moved to the Lower Market House. Hopkins said merchants will immediately begin relocating to the Upper Market House.
The renovation of the two market houses is expected to attract business to the Centre Market area and boost the economy. Hopkins said several vendors plan to move into one of the market houses soon.
She said designers decided to reopen the north and south ends of the Upper Market House, as well as replace seven bays on each side with glass "in order to try to restore the openness of the market."
Renovation of the Upper Market House, which was constructed in 1853 at a total cost of $9,000, cost almost $900,000. It took about $800,000 to renovate the Lower Market House, which was done between 1984-87. In addition, the city made about $400,000 worth of streetscaping improvements in the Centre Market. Almost all the nearly $2.1 million came from federal Community Development Block Grant funds.
Hopkins said two more things must be done to finish the Upper Market House - installation of an old Clay School bell that was donated by the Bachmann family, and erection of a display of the Centre Market Historic District.
Hopkins sees the attractive market houses as benefitting the city's growing tourist trade. "I really believe that in the future of Wheeling, with its emphasis on tourism and particularly the bus tours, the Centre Market is a natural to attract that kind of interest," she said.
Lin Companion, who chairs the Centre Market Commission, said market merchants are enthusiastic about having both market houses back in operation. She predicted Centre Market soon will become one of the most vital areas of the city. "We're going to have a festival atmosphere there for a while," said Companion.
She said that although space was tight during the renovations, the Market House vendors benefitted financially from being together in the same place. "I think everyone enjoyed it," Companion said. "Their business increased because they were more noticeable."
She expressed hope council will continue to support the Centre Market and said the next big step is to hire a market master, who would be responsible for overseeing things at the market houses as well as promoting the Centre Market. "If the Centre Market is going to really work," Companion said, "I think the market master is going to be key."
In light of today's rededication, it seems appropriate to add a passage from a newspaper account of the opening of the Upper Market House more than 135 years ago: "This market house is a decided improvement to Centre Wheeling and an accession to the city, and ... will be one of the largest and best market houses in the country."
Wheeling Intelligencer May 18, 1989
© Ogden Newspapers; reproduced with permission.
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