West Virginia: A world built on houses of glass

Wheeling
Oglebay Park has 1,700 acres offering dozens of activities. They include a variety of outdoor sports, a zoo and planetarium, floral gardens, a resort and two museums. The Mansion Museum houses antiques related   to pioneer life of the region and the Earl Oglebay family, who purchased it in 1900 for their summer home. (Upon Oglebay’s death in 1926 the entire estate became the property of the city of Wheeling.) Adjacent to the museum, the Oglebay Institute Glass Museum features more than 3,000 examples of Wheeling glass. It’s also home to the 225-pound Sweeney Punch Bowl, which is the largest piece of cut lead crystal ever made. Don’t miss the Northwood Gallery, which features crystal and carnival glass made by this Ohio company.

West Virginia Independence Hall Civil War Historic Site and Museum is called the “birthplace of West Virginia.” That’s because the Wheeling Convention, where 27 counties in Virginia voted to join the Union, was held here in 1861. Today, costumed guides show restored interiors and an exhibition on West Virginia’s statehood featuring modern displays of period artifacts. A “Thomas the Tank Engine” layout greets visitors in the foyer of the Kruger Street Toy and Train Museum. Housed in a Victorian-era schoolhouse, this museum appeals to the child in all of us. There’s a doll room, a combat room with action playsets from Robin Hood to Hot Wheels, and a train room where models made by Marx, Lionel, American Flyer and Ives are up and running. Check out the Western room to see Zorro, the Lone Ranger and the “American Beauties” that Louis Marx, the founder of Marx Toys, thought were so naughty he wouldn’t sell them over the counter.

New Vrindaban
This community was established near Wheeling in 1968 as part of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) founded by Srila Prabhupada. It is a spiritual center and pilgrimage site for Hare Krishnas and other Hindus. However, its Palace of Gold is one of West Virginia’s major tourist attractions. This palace was built from 1973 to 1979 by unskilled Krishna devotees, who volunteered their time and used “do-it-yourself” books to construct the palace’s marble-inlaid walls and ceilings, crystal chandeliers, teakwood furniture and stained-glass windows. Visitors are also welcome to tour the ornate Sri Sri Radha Vrindaban Chandra Mandir, the main temple hall, which is the site of religious services and festivals.

Charleston
Constructed in 1924, the 30-room executive mansion is a dignified Georgian colonial structure located in the Capitol Complex. On Thursday and Friday mornings, visitors can tour the ground floor and see staterooms featuring exquisite antiques and fine detailing. (The second floor serves as the governor’s private residence.) The State Museum, which is located inside the West Virginia Cultural Center, is currently closed for major renovations.

Huntington
In addition to 19th- and 20th-century American and European paintings, the Huntington Museum of Art has outstanding exhibits of glass, folk art, American furniture, firearms and Islamic prayer rugs. The Huntington Museum of Art Tower, designed by glass artist Dale Chihuly, was dedicated in November. This outdoor sculpture, which is about six feet wide and 10 feet tall, is composed of 352 individual pieces of glass. The Museum of Radio and Technology is the largest radio museum in the eastern United States. See hundreds of old radios from the 1920s to the 1950s, telegraph machines, early televisions and a complete replica of a 1920s radio shop.

Paden City
Paul Wissmach Glass Co. manufactures the largest variety of rolled sheet glass in the world. Founded in 1904 as the Ohio Valley Glass Co., the firm changed to its current name in 1910. After a 1927 fire, the company recovered with newer and larger buildings. They originally manufactured raised glass letters, wire glass and tubing, but during the late 1920s and 1930s they were noted for white opal letters used in electrical theater marquees. Today, the company inventory includes more than 3,000 colors, tints and patterns of rolled sheet glass. Visitors can tour the factory where about 13,000 square feet of rolled sheet glass in eight to ten colors is manufactured each workday.

Moundsville

Sponsored by the Fostoria Glass Society of America, the Fostoria Glass Museum is in a vintage two-story house. It’s filled with outstanding examples of Fostoria glassware made during its 99 years in operation. The company relocated to Moundsville in 1891 and closed its doors in 1986. The Official Marx Toy Museum is located a little over a mile from the original Marx factory. See thousands of Marx toys made during their five decades of production from the 1930s through 1980. Displays include metal toys, trains, dollhouses, playsets, Johnny West and Big Wheels. The 11-acre West Virginia State Penitentiary housed the state’s most dangerous inmates from 1866 until the 1990s. Today, tours of the ugly concrete and steel structures include narratives about the violent men who called this place home, and a chance to view a vintage electric chair. A surprisingly popular monthly event is a sleep-over “ghost hunt” where guests pay to sleep in empty unlit cells.

Philippi
The first land battle of the Civil War occurred here in 1861. Adaland, a stately brick home with neo-Greek architecture, was built by Irish settler Augustus Modisett in 1868. It has been carefully restored and furnished with great attention to authenticity for the period of the house with period wallpaper, antique furnishings, double porches, and an outside walnut stairway. The 1850 barn on the property now serves as a heritage center. During the Christmas season, Adaland is decorated with trees, twinkling lights and wreaths and it hosts several special events.

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