The prominent Second Presbyterian Church in Wheeling’s Center Market Square District has an interesting past and a promising future. Constructed in 1850, the church reflects a checkered past for antebellum Virginia and the complexity of Wheeling’s population. The church founders included secessionists from both the First Presbyterian Church and the United States. One of the church’s founders, Mr. John Goshorn, was a slave-owner. As the church congregation grew, a tide favoring Abolitionism was evident. The church sexton, Mr. John Gaunt, was a free black man, and the Second Presbyterian Church was the site of the Freedmen’s Association meeting in 1865.
The Near Earth Object Foundation is the current owner of the church, and this organization sees the value in preserving and celebrating the history of Wheeling and the church. It is involved in an adaptive re-use project for the church to create an urban observatory, educational facility, and performing arts center in Wheeling’s popular Market Square.
The Near Earth Object Foundation (NEO) has many long-term goals for the church, but currently, it is engaged in a most-needed restoration effort to fix the collapsed roof and the original 50-foot truss structure. Not only is the NEO interested in science, astronomy, and history, but it’s also into the preservation trades. The group will provide an educational opportunity regarding large timber construction as all of the timbers being used for the truss system will be created in a large beam sawmill at the Garvin’s Dairy buildings located outside of Wheeling. These buildings boast ample room to cut the large truss pieces and do hand hewing of components. The wood for the trusses will be cut from local timber found on the Garvin’s Dairy land. Much of timber will come from trees downed by last summer’s “Derecho storm.” The group will utilize the “windfall” to cut as much of the construction material as possible and has been busy measuring, peeling, and hewing, in addition to getting the large beam sawmill set up.
Ultimately the “historic vision” is to restore the church to its antebellum and Civil War era configuration. It will be used as a digital broadcast/webcast studio, flexible performance and presentation space, and “urban observatory”. The building and site are included in NASA West Virginia Space Grant project “SolarMax2012”, solar astronomy.
The Near Earth Object Foundation has Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s blessing to establish the “Arthur C. Clarke Near Earth Object Observatory” here in West Virginia.
For more information on the 2013 WV Endangered Properties, visit http://pawv.org/endangedlist2013.htm