George Eckhart House, Wheeling West Virginia
The G.W. Eckhart House at 810 Main Street was built in 1891, the same year that another prominent banker and neighbor, Henry K. List, built two homes, one each for his son and daughter at 821 and 823 Main Street. That year the construction of the G.W. Eckhart House was part of a "magnificent record of building operations in the present seasons in Wheeling" during which "over a million dollars" was spent. Wheeling's commercial and residential building operations were considered to be unprecedented in scope, demonstrating that "progress is the watchword of the community."
Wheeling's building boom in the early 1890s was not an isolated phenomenon. It was part of a process of modernization and urbanization occurring in many cities throughout the United States during the nineteenth century. According to architectural historian Gwendolyn Wright, building was central to the American economy. She states that "in every city, private expenditures for construction, both residential and commercial, and developers' or communities' outlays for public services, including roads, sewer systems, water works and fire departments, constituted the single most important contribution to the nation's economy."
The Eckhart House was considered to be one of the "representative buildings" of Wheeling's progress. It was estimated to have cost $6,000.00, a figure that was considered to be low by local contractors at that time. The Wheeling Inteliifiencer of October 29, 1891 wrote that one of the best contractors in the city said that ". . . you can safely add twenty-five per cent to the total of your figures and still have a conservative estimate." Three other contractors and architects concurred with this opinion and one of them commented that "the estimate ought to have thirty-three percent added."
The architectural achievements of the 1890s were noted for their beauty and their reflection of Wheeling's increased social and economic stature. The Wheeling Register's Souvenir Edition of 1896 commented that "during a large part of its history Wheeling could offer little in the way of architectural beauty, but of late years, and particularly within the past six, many modern business houses have been erected, comparing favorably with those found elsewhere in this country; while scores of private residences attest at once the good taste and the private means of our people."
Along with Chapline Street and Wheeling Island, North Main Street was considered to be of the wealthier areas of Wheeling in the early 1890s. Commonly referred to as "Old Town," the North Main Street neighborhood between 7th Street and 9th Street was one of earliest settled areas of the town. The Zanes settled in Wheeling in 1769 and laid out the first lots in 1793. Ebenezer Zane, one of the founders of Wheeling, built his home c.1800 at Main and 11th Street. In 1805-06, the second brick house in Wheeling was built on the corner of Main and 8th Street. The arrival of the National Road in 1818, down 7th Street and then south on Main, fostered further settlement. More importantly, it brought Wheeling into a national network of commerce and manufacturing.
Over the course of the nineteenth century, with developments in transportation, technology and industry, Wheeling continued to expand in population and in importance. In 1831, Congress designated the town a U.S. Port of entry. Eighteen years later, in 1849, the Suspension Bridge crossed the Ohio River and remained for many years the longest clear-span bridge in the world. In 1853, the Baltimore and Ohio railroad brought the first passenger train to Wheeling. By the 1870's Wheeling was known as the "Nail City," producing more kegs of iron, cut nails than any other city in the United States. In 1882, it became the fourth city in the United States to have electric lights and five years later, in 1887, Wheeling replaced their horse-drawn trolleys (which went along Main Street) with the Van De Poele system, becoming the third city in the country to have an electric railway system. In 1888, the Wheeling City Directory stated that "the indications are very favorable that Wheeling is not only increasing very considerably in population, but is on the eve of a very substantial boom." By the early 1890's this prophecy had come true. Wheeling had become an industrial center, known particularly for its specialized steel products, with a population of over 34,500.
The Eckhart House no doubt was a reflection of these developments. It was an architectural expression of Wheeling's economic prosperity during the late-nineteenth century. Additionally, the Eckhart House contributed to North Main Street's distinction (particularly between 8th and 9th Street), as an elite neighborhood populated by businessmen, professionals and their families. Among the more prevalent, common Italianate row houses, 18 could now be found elaborate Queen Anne town houses.
Like his neighbors in 1891, Henry K. List, president of the City Bank of Wheeling, res. 827 Main St.; Edward Hazlett, broker in the firm of Lewis & Hazlett, res. 823 Main St.; George E. Stifel of the retail dry goods business, George E. Stifel & Co. 807 Main St.; Christian Hess, wealthy merchant tailor, res. 811 Main St.; William Goering, treasurer of the Central Glass Company, res. 701 Main St.; and William Stifel, calico manufacturer, res. 845 Main St., George W. Eckhart Jr. could rank himself among the wealthy, business class of Wheeling.
Born in Wheeling in 1844 of German immigrant parents, G.W. Eckhart married Caroline L. Mabis in 1869 and had two children, Estella and Henry L. His first employment was as a clerk and assistant bookkeeper at Stone & Thomas, a local dry goods store. After five years, he assumed the position of secretary & treasurer for the North Wheeling Glass Company. By 1874 he became the receiving and paying teller for the National Bank of West Virginia and in 1879 he assumed the post of bookeeper and teller of the Peoples Bank of Wheeling, WV, located at Twelfth and Main streets. In 1880 he was promoted to cashiership. After the company merged with Citizen's Mutual, Eckhart became vice president and remained with the company until "he left public life," retiring in 1927 at age 85. He was a stockholder in Wheeling Steel and Iron Company, the Neuralgyline Company, Hicks and Hoge Dry Goods Company among others. He was also a member of the American Bankers' Association, the State Bank Association, the Business Men's Association, the Board of Trade and the First Presbyterian Church. Upon his death in 1932, he was eulogized in a local newspaper as "a well-known figure in local financial circles for over a half century."
Until his death in 1932, following his wife's in 1917, George W. Eckhart remained a resident of Wheeling living in the Woodsdale area that is commonly referred to as the country or "out-the-pike," a colloquial phrase that connotes respectability.
According to the deed records, the Eckhart family sold the house in 1905 to Sally Rau, wife of R.M. Rau, a local physician and surgeon. The 1905-06 city directory, however, has no listing for Mr. R.M. Rau or his wife. One year later, in 1906, the property changed ownership again to Carrie Gutman Klee and her husband, Leon. The city directory for 1907-08 shows that they did, in fact, take up residency at 810 Main Street. Over subsequent years, the property changed ownership five times, often between family members. In spite of the turnover in occupancy, the house has remained in remarkable condition with original mantles, hardwood floors and stained glass windows.