Anti-Destinations: Weirton, WV

 

My little hometown is an old steel town turned decaying industrial wasteland nestled in the northern sliver of West Virginia and tucked in between Ohio and Pennsylvania. In 1984, Weirton Steel was the largest employee owned company in the nation, but that ended with public stock sales in 1989 and 1994. The company entered into bankruptcy in 2003. Portions of the old mill are still functional as a tin manufacturing plant under new ownership and other portions are being torn down for development, which is something. Hopefully it’s something positive, but it’s a little tough to know at this point. One thing that isn’t tough to know is that the area is not what you would call a vacation destination. I visit about once a year for the holidays, so I figured this year I would take the time to assess the areas travel-related “virtues”.

Looking down upon the old mill from Weir Avenue
Looking down upon the old mill from Weir Avenue

The Weirton Chamber of Commerce has a “Recreation and Visitor Attractions” section to it’s website that largely consists of youth sports facilities and the local community center. The continued existence of the town swimming pool is noted as is a vague mention of there being “several parks located in various neighborhoods.” I’m not entirely sure I know what they are talking about there.

A picture of a desolate park with a Christmas tree and a child
This is the park near my dad’s house, complete with my little sister. Not pictured: park benches. That’s it. The holiday decor is decidedly temporary.

The other places that are mentioned, Oglebay Park and Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack, & Resort, are not in town. I recall Oglebay being nice enough. It’s the home of the only zoo in West Virginia, a place I interned at years ago. They also have a pretty extensive christmas light display during the holidays. I largely recall that event as being a traffic jam through the park but, hey – people seem to like it.

An intern and a red panda at the Oglebay Park Good Zoo.
Me as an intern hanging out with one of the red pandas.

I’m also somewhat familiar with the track as I spent a summer there walking hots back in the late 90’s. I can’t speak for the current state of affairs, but at the time, the horses running there weren’t exactly known for their speed. It was the sort of track where horses that couldn’t win other places ran. I strongly suspect the establishment’s primary income comes from the casino. The website does list several musicians that are unknown to me as entertainment, so that’s a thing visitors ostensibly could do.

One fun memory from then is when we would, as a form of low impact exercise, take the horses to swim in the scummy pond next to the strip club that was across the street. It was called Filly’s. I do not have a current report on that establishment and my attempts to learn anything have defiled my search history.

So, that’s all the Weirton chamber lists and it’s pretty weak. I decided to see if anyone else had anything to say and found this site “dedicated to promoting tourism at the top of West Virginia.” Huzzah! What mysteries await us? I clicked on “download brochure” and was met with three categories:

  1. Rural Retreats
  2. Gaming Excitement
  3. Proximity to Pittsburgh

Ok, so the casino and getting out of dodge. Gotcha.

“Rural Retreats” was more of a mystery, so I persisted and found that the brochure wasn’t terribly clear on the concept. There’s a section for “fairs, festivals, and events” that lacks specific dates, a list of hotels, a bit on the aforementioned casino, and then an attractions section. Bingo.

A black and white photo of a crumbling structure with snow falling through the broken roof
This bit of blight and decay is not an attraction.

I recognize a few of these places as field trip locations from my youth. We definitely went to the Peter Tarr furnace and the Homer Laughlin China Company. The gem that is the World’s Largest Teapot is a thing we occasionally drove by to get to and from youth sporting events. The furnace is an old ruin adjacent to a Weirton neighborhood and the China Company is a pottery factory. We also took field trips to Domino’s Pizza and the local newspaper, so these places were all par for the course.

The other places listed are the Weirton Steel Memorial, the VFW Memorial Park, the John F. Kennedy Memorial, and the Weirton Steel Veterans Memorial. I am sure there are certain history buffs that are interested in these places, but I cannot say I’ve every seen anyone hanging out at them. Also, I think the JFK memorial is gone. At least, it was as of December 2017. Maybe they were remodeling? I don’t know.

Some campgrounds, golf courses, and three trails I’ve never heard of are also listed, as are restaurants and two museums that are not in Weirton and one that is.

There is also a list of Brooke County attractions, but Weirton is in Hancock county, so I’m not including them. Drive south if they interest you. They largely consist of some architecture, a scenic drive, and more veteran’s memorials.

So, that’s it for the brochure.

At this point, I’m pretty sure “rural retreats” is just a euphemism for the area in general.

A decaying elementary school playground set for demolition
Here’s a shot of the playground at my elementary school before it was demolished. It looks like Silent Hill.

Personally, when I visit Weirton, I like to drink and play video games with my family, grab some tasty Mexican food from Chico Fiesta, go bowling, and leave Weirton. Robinson Township has a nice Cinemark movie theater and Pittsburgh has a lot to do – there’s the art & natural history museums, the incline, science center, children’s museum, Kennywoodconservatory, aviary, zoo, several theaters, and Carson Street, among other things. This is really where you should go.

Bowling is fun
Bowling is just as fun in Weirton as it is everywhere and more affordable than it often can be in larger cities.

One of the things that amuses me is that, in Weirton, a cafe is not a cafe. Video Lottery gambling is legal, but it isn’t legal for the signage to specifically say that’s what’s inside, so everything is a “Cafe & More.” This means gambling, so tons of places have “more” inside in the form of video lottery machines. Want a coffee shop? We’ve got one, but there’s also “more.” How about a pub? Sure, they exist, but they also have “more.” There’s a lot of variety in the cafes, some of them let you hang out in them and have a beer or a coffee without gambling, but some won’t. I used to love to go into the inappropriately named Fun Cafe for the cheapest meal in town, but Hollywood Hollywood wouldn’t let my brother and I stay for a beer. It really varies.

A restaurant counter and wall with many hand written signs.
The now sadly defunct Fun Cafe sold the cheapest food in town. I miss it.

One Christmas my husband, one of my brothers and I all did a cafe tour where we went to to a bunch of them and tried to order a beer and hangout. The results were mixed, but it was fun, given the available options.

I really should credit this little town for my persistent ventures into the escapist fantasies of literature, film, and video games, because everything there was more interesting than everything at home. Maybe that’s for the best and maybe it’s not, but I’m sure it’s not uncommon among people who grow up in places with limited resources.

Hollywood of Weirton
Hollywood of Weirton, complete with little sister

So, that’s what Weirton has to offer. Take it or leave it. Maybe check out a “cafe” or the still functional and present swimming pool or bowl somewhere you haven’t before.  However, if you decide to go to Pittsburgh instead, I can’t say I blame you.

Author: ambergris

HumanWoman

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