In 1936, at a meeting of Oglebay Institute, Wilbur E. Stone was hailed as "Wheeling's First Citizen."
It was an honor he was accorded "in appreciation of a long life of generous devotion to our industrial, social and civic work."
Born in Wheeling on December 29, 1863, he was educated both in the public schools and at Linsly Institute. His business career began when the became associated with the mercantile establishment that still bears the name of his father, Elijah Stone, and uncle, Jacob Thomas, and which eventually became West Virginia's largest department store chain.
Follwing the death of the founders in 1898, Wilbur Stone became head of Stone & Thomas, which had been opened in 1847 with floor space no larger than the standard-sized living room of today and with the combined capital of $1,500. He began a program of expansion that established policies and formulated merchandising systems which advanced the growth and prosperity of the organization.
Stone was deeply concerend with the welfare of his community and its citizenry. He was a moving force in the founding of the Wheeling Board of Trade and its reorganization into the Wheeling Chamber of Commerce, the erection of the Board of Trade Building and the Market Auditorium. He was a leader in the organization of the Wheeling Improvement Association, which sponsored undertakings vital to the city's progress following World War I.
Stone was also behind formation of the Ohio Valley Industrial Corp. for the development of new industries and extension of employment.
However, his best-remembered legacy to the city came in 1924 when he contributed $100,000 in a challenge grant toward the purchase of Wheeling Park, which had been a privately owned amusement-recreation park but which was being sought be investors for subdivision for residential purposes. The park could have been lost forever to the community if Stone, Otto Schenk and other had not stepped in to procure the property.
Stone's offer sparked a drive in which 170 pledges were made to secure the rest of the money -- about $175,000 -- to buy the park property. Moreover, he proposed the formation of an independent Wheeling Park Commission, which came into being in '25 and had been functioning in behalf of the community ever since.
In 1936, Stone donated $52,000 for a new swimming pool at Wheeling Park. He also paid for the beautification along U. S. Route 40 and the Chapline St. extension. He later set up a trust of $100,000, with the income to be used for public beautification.
Stone worked unflaggingly in behalf of the Wheeling Park Commission until his death on Jan. 28, 1938. He was also a patron of education and contributed $25,000 toward the Linsly Building at Thedah Place. He was a contributor to the maintenance of the West Virginia Home for Aged Women and gave his time and money to support the YMCA and for the erection of the association home.
He was president of Security National Bank and a life member of Thomson M. E. Church.
Return to Hall of Fame
Business History of Wheeling
Service provided by the staff of the Ohio County Public Library in partnership with and partially funded by Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation.