Finding New Purpose

WHEELING — When businesses and organizations move, close down or expand, they leave behind old buildings. Sometimes these structures are left to crumble and stand empty before being demolished by the community to make space for new growth. Other times these buildings can find new purposes as a new business or even apartments.

The former Mt. Carmel Monastery in Woodsdale is one of these structures that has found new purpose. The monastery was originally built by a Wheeling-area architect named Frederick Francis to house the sisters of the Order of the Discalced Carmelites. The first Carmelite sisters arrived in the Wheeling area in 1913, after being invited by Bishop Patrick Donahue of the Wheeling diocese. The Carmelites were an order of nuns who lived in extreme seclusion and piety, according to their faith. The monastery was completed in 1917, and the nuns moved into the new structure, where many would remain for the entirety of their lives. The monastery quickly became the source of much interest in the quiet Woodsdale area. Although essentially closed off from the world, the sisters would still interact with their neighbors in some ways, with stitching, homemade prayer and post cards, as well as publishing their own newspaper. As years went by, things changed for the Carmelite sisters. The Catholic faith itself was reevaluated and changed in the early 1960s, and the sisters of the monastery suddenly had the freedom to wander beyond the walls of the monastery. In the 1970s, the sisters moved out of the structure, joining other Carmelite communities.

The structure was purchased by a private owner in 1974. The building now holds 16 apartments, according to Emily Shortall, a property manager for Harvey Goodman, who rents the apartments. The apartments at Mt. Carmel range from dorm style to one-, two- or three-bedroom apartments. With a range like that, many different people rent the converted apartments, with Shortall noting that there are several local students who rent due to the price and proximity to classes. Shortall said it’s a different experience renting out such a unique structure.

“A lot of the original work is still there. It’s really interesting. The property itself is gorgeous with the courtyard and the wall. When people get the back story about the nuns who were buried there, it’s always an interesting conversation,” said Shortall, who was quick to point out that the nuns were long ago moved to other resting places.

In addition to the unique living arrangements at Mt. Carmel, several other old buildings in the local region have been converted to serve as homes. Just outside Barnesville on Sandy Ridge Road, a structure that once was a one-room school house now is a private home. A similar school on Chestnut Level near Belmont was also converted into a residence. The owners of these homes retained some of the original school features, such as old blackboards, and incorporated them into their decor.

Meanwhile on Wheeling Island, residents can purchase snacks, drinks and other coveniences at the Firehouse Drive-Thru. What some people may not know is that the structure actually used to be a functioning firehouse for the Wheeling Fire Department. The building used to house the firefighters of WFD Station 5, as well as their Engine 5. The station was constructed in the 1936 simultaneously with a fire station located on 24th and Eoff streets in Wheeling and was in continuous use by the Wheeling Fire Department until 2007. The station was often a hub of activity when the Ohio River crested its banks, as the station houses the department boat and water rescue equipment. The station even survived being struck by lightning, but eventually the aging structure began to have some issues.  The fire station was  finally decommissioned by the city of Wheeling due to structural issues involving Engine 5.

“The trucks are so much bigger now than back when the station was built, we couldn’t fit the truck into the garage,” said Cliff Sligar, a retired fire chief for the WFD. “The floor was deteriorating under the weight, too.”

Station 5 moved down the road to North Wabash Street, but the old firehouse was not empty for long. Lee Glessner owned the gas station next door and was already discussing the purchase of the building from the city when it closed. After Wheeling firefighters departed their house for the last time, Glessner submitted his bid for the station and won. He then proceeded to convert the former firehouse into a gas station and convenience store. The second floor, where the firefighters used to live, is now an office space.

“It was close by to the old gas station, Island Exxon. It was pretty much a matter of convenience,” said manager Amy Vannest on moving into the old fire station. She said there was “quite a bit of work to be done” before making the old station habitable for the convenience store.

“Just the electrical work alone was a ton of work,” Vannest said, adding that the pumps all had to be wired into the new building. But the results are undeniable; Vannest said sales have “increased significantly” since the move, adding that the business essentially doubling in size helped as well.


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