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Wheeling City Government in 1886

- from The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, September 14, 1886.



A Glance at the Machinery of the City Government and its Operations - Low Debt and High Credit - Extensive System of Highway Improvement.

The municipal organization of Wheeling, while by no means perfect, as a practical working system in all but two or three particulars, commends itself to the public. Improvements have been made, not rapidly, it is true, but surely and steadily in that conservative manner for which Wheeling is noted, until to-day the manner in which her municipal affairs are handled is something that she has no occasion to be ashamed of. Her career has not been an extravagant or foolish one. Her debt is not large, and for almost every cent ofit there is something substantial to show. Her various departments are well equipped and ably managed. Her credit is good - more than first-class in fact, as demonstrated by the liberal premium paid for her last issue of bonds. By the adoption of a "restraining ordinance" so-called, a check is kept on every cent of money received and expended in all departments, and in no single year is she allowed to expand more than its revenue without the consent of the people. In other words, her debt cannot be increased except by the issuance and sale of bonds, and this can be done only with the consent of three-fifths of the voters - a plan at once safe and sensible.


The head of the city government is the Mayor, an official elected for a term of two years by people. At the same time twenty-eight citizens are elected to form the Second Branch of Council who serve two years; there are also elected at the same time eight citizens, one from each ward, who, with the eight holding over, form the First Branch of Council; these members serve four years. The City Clerk and the Chief of Police are also elected by the people for a term of two years. The Council in joint session elects all other officers of the city or else confirms their appointment made by the officers or Boards elected by the Council. All measures looking to an expenditure of money must originate in the Second Branch, and all matters of city legislation must be adopted by both branches before being in force. This brief outlining, with what is to follow, will give the reader a general idea of the municipal organization.


The debt summary of the city on January 1, 1886, showed a net debt of $629,236 - not five percent of her real estate valuation, which is the limit allowed by the State. Her total founded debt at that time was $628,500, and this has been reduced somewhat since. For the year 1885 the total revenues were $353,696,08, and the many improvements that were made that year and debts that had to be met consumed all of that and made necessary the issue and sale of bonds to the amount of $196,000, which sum is included in the total bonded debt.

The revenues were from the following sources and in the amounts named: Board of Public Works, $570.26; City vs. G.Q. Black. $18,111.80; Cemeteries, $1,264.43; city property, $213.25; City Water Board, $57,604.23; Gas Works, $107,302.50; fines and fees, $7,224.95; Fire Department, $86.28; licenses, $42,609.50; markets, $11,616.16; premium and interest, $1,266.82; State appropriation, $1,000; scales, $3,83.94; taxes, 1885 and part of 1884, $99,918.45; wharves, $1,793.46.


The expenditures during 1885 were as follows: Board of Public Works, $63,946.18; Cemeteries, $595.41; City Prison, $4,642.23; Gas Works, $120,701.29; Water Works, $41,621.12; Contingencies, $10,462.28; Fire Department, $20,858.60; Health, $3,647.19; Lights, $15,051.69; Loans, $41,286.92; Markets, $2,043.92; Police, $18,801.65; Public Building, $11,262.40; Real Estate, $1,176.31; Salaries, $7,408 90; Scales and Weighing, $1,109.10.

It having been shown what the various city departments earned last year and also what they cost -- and it is to be said in this connection that last year was an unusually expensive one -- it now remains to be told what condition they are in, and in so doing show the snug, compact order of things that prevails in the city government of Wheeling. Before doing this, however, it should be stated that of late years nearly all the departments have been put under the control of Boards, and in that way has the government changed from a cumbersome, heavy machine to one light and easy to handle.


The Board of Public Works consists of three members elected by Council and has charge of the streets, alleys, sewers and wharves. Ever since its foundation it has been busily engaged in putting the streets of Wheeling into a respectable condition, and the fruits of its labors are to be seen all over the city. Wheeling's brick paved streets are not only her joy and pride, but their fame has gone abroad, and committees from other cities have been sent here to view them, and seeing have been charmed, and going home have sung the praises of Wheeling's brick streets so loudly, that their people have adopted the pavement and in turn point to their own smooth, level streets with pride. The brick block is a wedge-shaped one, harder than fire-brick, laid in sand with broad and narrow edges up in alternate rows. Hot tar and pitch is then poured over them and sand thrown on top of all. The result is a firm, clean, smooth roadway. Mr. P.H. Moore, in a letter to the St. Louis AGE OF STEEL, about Wheeling says of these brick streets: "It is not only an economic departure from fossilized customs but a progressive and an eminently sagacious one as well; in fact, after one has been harassed into profanity by the noisy, even deafening clatter and rattling of vehicles over stone pavements, it verges on the luxurious. This pavement has been tested on the most frequently used streets for three years, and for durability, cost, smoothness, resistance to climatic changes, cleanliness and noiselessness it not only gives satisfaction, but is esteemed superior to any other. It is surprising, after three years' use, how free from irregularities, depressions, or even material abrasion this pavement appears, and how merciful it is to one's tympanum."

These blocks are manufactured by John Porter, one of the patentees, at his extensive works at New Cumberland, Hancock county. They are burned to the almost granite-like hardness they possess with natural gas. Wheeling's brick streets are a monument to the wisdom displayed in putting the management of the streets under a Board. The end of the present season will see nearly five miles of these streets in use.

Wheeling has about forty-five miles of streets and alleys. Most of these are either paved or macadamized and are to-day in a better condition than ever before in the city's history. The cleaning of them and the keeping in repair, is attended to by the Board.

The system of sewerage is one that is being constantly improved and extended, thus aiding the natural drainage that is found in a good portion of the city and preserving the health of the city. The Board has changed, since it was formed, a large number of sewer openings, substituting, traps thereby shutting off all offensive odors that formerly used to permeate the city at times. The sewers empty into the great sewer of this valley, the Ohio river, and thus carry away all the refuse not disposed of in other ways.


Recently, the Fire and Police Departments were consolidated and put under the care and supervision of a Board of Commissioners, four in number, two Republicans and two Democrats. Formerly each was under the direction of a cumberson committee of Council. The idea in making the change was to secure better service, better management and the cessation of the use of the two Departments for political purposes. While the Board's administration is yet new, good results are already apparent.

The police force consists of twenty men and the Chief. They are divided into day and night forces, and the lives and property of citizens are never without police protection. A municipal judge, elected by the people, presides over a civil court for the transaction of certain chancery business and also over the police court where the petty criminals arrested by the police are disposed of. Prisoners guilty of more serious offenses against the law and order of the city and State are taken before Justices of the Peace and bound over to answer before the courts.

The Fire Department is splendidly organised, and has time and time again rendered most efficient service, not only in the city but to the Ohio neighbors across the river. The Department property, which includes everything, is estimated to be worth $64,595 15. There are three engines in active service and one in reserve; six hose carts in active service and one in reserve, and one hook and ladder truck. All of this apparatus is in good condition, and provided with all the accessories in the way of lights, ropes, etc. The Department keeps constantly on hand a large supply of the best double-jacket hose. To house this apparatus there are seven comfortable houses, nicely lighted heated and furnished. To man the apparatus there are sixteen full paid men who are constantly on duty, and twenty-seven extramen who are ready to respond when an alarm sounds. The full paid men sleep in the houses, which are conveniently arranged for that purpose. There are eighteen large, strong horses, trained to jump to their places the moment the gong strikes to pull the machines at a rattling gait to the scene of action.

The Gamewell Fire Alarm Telegraph system is used and the signal boxes, forty-six in number, are judiciously scattered over the city, leaving no portion unprotected. Recently the system has been thoroughly overhauled and put in first class condition. In connection with the electric alarm, arrangements have been made in the houses, whereby, as soon as a box is pulled, with the first tap of the gongs, the gas is turned up, the stall doors are thrown open and the time recorded. The houses are fitted with sliding poles from the sleeping rooms to the engine rooms, down which the men can come with a rush and the doors of the building fly open as the driver pulls a cord. With all these time-saving appliances a company has been known to be out of the house on an alarm late at night inside of forty-seven seconds after the first tap of the gong. Considering the size of the Department, the time it makes and the efficient work it does is wonderful, and entitles it to rank with some of the model Departments of other cities.


The Water Works system is under a Board of Commissioners, three in number, which has charge of collections and disbursements. It has a Superintendent who is really the head of this necessary and important department. The mains are of good size and are all the time being extended. At the works there are five pumps with a daily capacity sufficient for a city twice this size. Only two of them are old ones, and they are kept more as reserve pumps than anything else, to be used in case the others should break down. But to look at the powerful pumps that are used, one would think they could never grow weary or need rest and repair.

The reservoir is at the head of Eighth street on Wheelinghill, and is sufficiently high to afford pressure sufficient to put water into almost every house, the few far up on the hills being the exceptions, and to put the water over almost every business house without the aid of a fire engine. The water supply is fairly good as to quality and is to be made better. The rates are low and the works are not only self-supporting, but are accumulating a goodly sum that will be used to procure a purer supply than now, and one even better in quantity by the replacing of small mains with larger ones.


The gas works are under the control of a Board of Trustees, three in number, who, like all the other boards, are elected by Council. During the past year the works have been greatly improved. A new holder has been built which, with the two others in use, gives a holding capacity of over 1,000,000 cubic feet. Wheeling, with one exception, furnishes her people with artificial gas at a cheaper rate than any other place in the country. It is only $1 per thousand feet or 90 cents net, 10 percent discount being allowed, if the bills are paid before the 10th of each month. The works contain all the latest and most modern improvements, and appliances and the gas made is of a quality as pure and clean as that used in any city. The mains extend in all directions and wherever the citizens build there the mains are soon after extended.

Notwithstanding the low rate paid for the use of the gas, the revenue is sufficient to pay all running expenses and make the numerous costly repairs and additions that have been made during the past year and a half. Hereafter the works being in a perfect condition, a still further reduction in the price of gas can be made or else a handsome revenue can be turned into the city treasury for the general purposes of the further reduction of the debt. As it is now the Gas Works and Water Works both set aside a certain sum each year for the reduction of a loan made several years ago, largely for the purpose of making repairs to these two important departments. The Gas Trustees, in addition, attend to the lighting, supplies and keeping in repair of all the oil lamps in the city. The works supply gas to all the public building, fire houses, etc., and to all street lamps, which are numerous.


Enough has been detailed to demonstrate clearly that Wheeling has as good police and fire protection, light and water as any city double her size. These are important advantages and should not be lost sight of by those searching for industrial sites. Taken in connection with the low rate of taxation here, it makes the entire burden very light indeed. The fire and police protection would have been of untold value to establishments across the river on numerous occassions. Her good streets should not be lost sight of by the reader who peruses these columns either, for by means of them the manufacturer or the business man is enabled to have his shipments drawn at little expense to those busy, bustling places, the freight depots and levee.

But the catalogue of Wheeling's municipal advantages is not yet ended. A Council Committee on Health and a City Health Officer comprise the Health Department. Its duty is to provide for the disposal of the garbage and night soil not carried off by the sewers. For a long time this has been dumped into the river and swept downward to contaminate the water supply of Bellaire. This is all to be stopped. A crematory is now in course of erection under the direction of the Health Department, in which will be reduced to a white, colorless, harmless ash, all refuse, garbage and night soil gathered up about the city. Nor is this an expensive move. On the contrary, it does away with an expense to both private individuals and the city in the way of charges for the long haul necessary and the expensive contracts for the removal of the stuff.

There are two well arranged market houses where the buyer can at convenient stated times find a varied selection of the substantials and delicacies of life at low prices. Everything offered for sale at these markets is of the freshest and best and at prices that everyone can afford to buy.

The Peninsula Cemetery is a city cemetery, under control of a committee of Council. It iseligibly located out on the peninsula back of Wheeling hill on an easy sloping grade that makes the site a grand and picturesque one.


Wheeling's city prison is located on the hill at the north end of town. Those unable to pay fines imposed in police court are relegated there for a term of days and kept hard at work breaking stone to be used in macadamizing streets. It is controlled by a Superintendent who reports to a committee of Council. These briefly noted are Wheeling's municipal advantages. There are many more of a less important nature, but lack of space precludes their being enumerated here.

The city officers are all located in the south end of the Public Building, a handsome convenient structure formerly used as a State House. These offices are elegantly fitted up and are one of the most creditable features of the Nail City.


A Hundred Dollars Pays But $1.95 for All Tax Purposes, State, County and City

In addition to the many advantages Wheeling posesses and holds out to those seeking manufacturing sites, in the way of water supply, light, heat and cheap fuel, fire and police protection, lively competition in the various lines of transportation, both by land and water, easy and quick access to the great markets of the East and West and the numerous other conveniences and conditions that got make Wheeling the advantageous locality for industries of all kinds that she is, there is one other thing, which is among the most important of all, if not the most important, and it is with that that this chapter has to deal.

Reference is made to valuations and taxations as made by the city, county and State - all being low. It is, or has been in the past, believed by the majority that taxation here is heavy. But as before stated, a comparison with the rates of taxation in vogue in other cities demonstrates clearly that Wheeling is greatly favored in this particular. The tax rate that prevails in a locality is something the investor always makes it a point to inquire about first. Wheeling can readily show him her books without the least hesitation and with what might be termed a pardonable pride. In the city of Wheeling the following rate now prevails:


State School fund on each $100 valuation $0.10
State for general purposes, on each $100 $0.20
State Building fund, on each $100 $0.03
County for general purposes $0.60
School fund for this School District, for general purposes, on each $100 $0.30
Building fund for this School District one each $100 $0.07
Public Library Fund, on each $100 $0.03
City for general purposes, on each $100 .50
Levy for paving and sewerage on streets never before improved, on each $100
Grand total of State, county and city tax $1.95

The figures given in the above table are for this present year. Next year they are bound to be smaller. This year the county has been put to an unusual expense owing to the remodeling and furnishing of the north end of the Public Building - practically, the building of a Court House. But the money thus expended will result in giving the county, quarters for her courts and officers that she and the city of Wheeling may well feel proud of, and which but add to the desirability of this locality as a live business center for capitalists and industrial enterprises. Next year the county levy, it is safe to say, will not be over 50 cents for general purposes and the school levy for this independent school district is also sure to be reduced. This year the Board of Education found it necessary to build three new buildings and to make several repairs that necessitated a higher levy than has prevailed in the past.

The end of the year, however, will see both county and Board of Education so snugly fixed that extensive expenditures will not be necessary for some time to come. The Library fund will probably not be reduced, as it has been so heavily drawn on to fix up quarters that it will be necessary to devote nearly all of next year's levy to the purchase of books, in order to meet the demand for them.

A Striking Comparison

It has been stated that a comparison of the taxation here with that prevailing in other cities would show a low rate here. Such a comparison at this time, increased as the rate here is this year will be in order, In the city of New York the total tax amounts to $2.40 on the $100 valuation; in Philadelphia it is $2.25; in Cincinnati, $2.67; in St Louis, $2.50; in Chicago, $3.79; in Pittsburgh it is $3.32. And so one might go on and make like comparisons with a majority of the cities throughout the Union noted for their manufacturing industries. In nearly all these places it is an impossibility to secure an eligible site for a manufacturing industry within five miles of the court house or city building - usually the center of a city's business life. Crowded as Wheeling is with industrial establishments of all kind, a study of the two large maps to be found in this issue will readily show the reader any number of excellent sites all within five miles radius of the Public Building, as indicated by the first circle on the radial map. These sites are convenient to water, gas, light, coal and transportation. They await the coming of men of enterprise and capital, who will find here a hospitable people willing to aid any enterprise.

Suburban Manufacturing Sites

Locations outside the city limits escape, of course, the tax of $1 on each $100 valuation levied on property in the city for city and independent school district purposes, but have to pay, as at present levied, a road tax of 25 cents on the $100 valuation, which makes the total taxation outside the city $1.20 on the $100 valuation. The State tithable tax is $1 and the city tithable 50 cents.

Low Valuations

The valuations in all the places named in the comparison given above are high. Such is not the case here however. In making this statement, it must of course be understood that the valuations are low compared with those in other cities, the same as taxation is light here as compared with that levied elsewhere.

According to the last county valuation the lands, buildings and real estate of all kinds in the city of Wheeling, the largest city in the State, are worth $10,798,570. The personal property in the city, as assessed for county purposes, is worth $4,938,560. This makes a total of $15,737,130 as the valuation of property in the city as returned by the county assessors.

The property in the county, outside the city, is assessed as follows by the county assessors: Real estate,$2,695,770; personal property. $89,690; total,$3,587,460.A total valuation in the county, both city and country, of $19,324,590.

Those who are at all familiar with the facts know that this is a very low valuation. Think of the numerous large factories, mills, machine shops, forges, industrial establishments and business houses of all kinds, fine lands, residences and othe property to be found in the great busy, industrious county of Ohio and all this vast aggregation of wealth to be only assessed at less than twenty millions!

For the year 1885 the city valuation, as made by the Assessor for city purposes, was as follows: Real estate, $11,668,370; personal property, $5,650,361; total $17,318,731. It will be observed that these figures are somewhat of an increase over those made by the county of the same property, and yet it cannot be said to be high.

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