Entertainment in Wheeling during the Civil War Becomes More Intellectual (Dec. 1863).
Wheeling's heavy industry reorganized itself to fill orders for war supplies during the Civil War. This including iron and steel plate, as well as cannonballs, both for the North and South. Labor was at a premium, so wages were high. The population of Wheeling swelled, placing increased demands on available forms of entertainment. This point was raised by the Intelligencer in December, 1863. The entertainment available in Wheeling during the war years became more intellectual in nature as a result of the better tastes of the newcomers. The Intelligencer noted that before the war, the popular amusements included "negro spirituals, circuses, and 'lower forms of amusement.'" Now, typical entertainments included "Artemis Ward" and the "Sanford Operatic Troupe," both of which had also appeared in Washington, D.C.
Horseracing was always popular in Wheeling. The following was run in the Wheeling Repository on October 15, 1908:
WHEELING RACES will be run for on Tuesday the 25th of October, over a handsome course adjoining the town, a Purse of Sixty Dollars, three miles and repeat. Free for any horse, mare, or gelding. Entrance four dollars.
On Wednesday the 26, over the same course, a Purse of Forty Dollars, two miles and repeat. Entrance three dollars free as above, the winning horse on the preceding day excepted.
On Thursday the 27th, a handsome Sweepstake, two miles and repeat.
Entrance two dollars free as above.
The horses to carry catch riders. On the day of the race, the jockeys will be furnished with the rules. Each horse to be entered with either of the managers on the evening preceding the race, or double entrance at the poles.
--G. Miller, Jos. Kerr, F. Beymer, Managers
Mozart Park Opens October 25, 1893
Casino at Mozart Park
Amusement parks with gambling games were not just limited to Wheeling Park and the West Virginia State Fair. South Wheeling residents could quench their thirst and hunger, enjoy cool breezes, as well as do a little gambling in Mozart Park. With his beer not being sold at Wheeling Park, wealthy brewer Henry Schmulbach dreamed of opening a recreational facility of his own. He purchased a hilltop area overlooking South Wheeling from farmer John Frazier. Schmulbach officially opened Mozart Park for business on October 25, 1893. Mozart Park's attractions included a dancing pavilion with a capacity of 5,000 people, a casino, a bowling alley, a restaurant building, an outdoor stage, and a one-third mile long bicycle track. Plans for a zoo were scrapped after park patrons killed and ate a caged bear that was on display. Mozart Park was the site of summer outings by "labor organizations, German singing societies, fraternal, religious, and civic groups." Vaudeville shows, operas, concerts, July 4th fireworks, and balloon launchings provided ample entertainment. The crowds loved these spectacles as well as the Schmulbach Beer that was readily available. The Lutheran tradition of "German Sunday" ensured that "amusement and beer drinking" could even be enjoyed on the Sabbath. To make the journey from South Wheeling up the steep hill to Mozart Park easier than walking on foot, Schmulbach spent over $100,000 to build an incline railway, much like the ones found in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. The 610 foot incline, which was completed in 1894, had the capacity of carrying 1,200 people an hour. The fare was 10 cents a ride. The incline ran from 1893 to 1907. After 1907, the Mozart Street Car Line provided transportation to the park.
Mike Minder was born and raised in Wheeling, West Virginia. He is the author of Wheeling's Gambling History to 1976.