Senator Robert C. Byrd dedicated the Wheeling Heritage Port on August 15, 2001, a major project of the Wheeling National Heritage Area. In a statement delivered at the event, Senator Byrd declared the city of Wheeling to be “a cornerstone of history, a place where countless lives converged, in a busy, bustling collage of commerce. Thousands passed through this portal searching for their destiny.”
Wheeling is one of West Virginia’s major cities, located in the state’s northern panhandle at its border with Ohio. Strategically located at a crossing of the Ohio River, the city grew as an important trade post for settlers moving into the Northwest Territory in the late 18th century. During the Civil War, strong anti-slavery sentiment among the city’s citizens made it a center for the fight for West Virginia statehood. From 1861-63, Wheeling was the seat of the “Restored Government of Virginia” and with the recognition of West Virginia statehood by the U.S. Congress in 1863, it became the first capital of the new state.
On October 11, 2000, the “Wheeling National Heritage Area Act” was signed into law by President Bill Clinton as part of the FY 2001 Interior Appropriations Bill. The bill was sponsored by Senator Byrd and passed the Senate on October 5, 2000. This was followed with appropriations of $2 million to construct the Wheeling Heritage Port, place exhibits in the former U.S. Customs House, West Virginia’s “Independence Hall,” and to provide operational funds for the Heritage Area.
Today, the national heritage area continues to support programs for economic revitalization in Wheeling’s historic downtown and port areas. The project is recognized as a successful partnership of public and private forces to produce beneficial economic impact in a depressed area through historic preservation.