Earl W. Oglebay died in 1926 and willed his beloved Waddington Farm to the people of Wheeling and its vicinity for as long as they “shall operate it for public recreation.” Under terms of the will, the city was asked to accept or reject the bequest within three years.
For almost two years the decision was delayed, although a small staff of “borrowed” Extension Service workers from West Virginia University (WVU) moved in and initiated a grass roots, seasonal recreation program utilizing dozens of local volunteers. The Wheeling Park Commission and city fathers met often to try to figure out a way to finance Oglebay. The Park Commission had been formed in 1925 to manage Wheeling Park, and any other parks acquired by the city of Wheeling, either by gift or purchase. Finally, in July, 1928, Waddington Farm was accepted as Oglebay Park as the final hurdle was resolved when Oglebay’s daughter, Sarita Burton Russel, offered funds to maintainthe property during its first year of public operation.
With only modest funds for capital improvements, the park commission set out to develop Oglebay into an outstanding recreation area that would attract visitors from near and far. Many of the farm buildings were put to immediate use for social and educational activities. Rooms were rented to overnight guests, setting a precedent that Oglebay was more than a day trip.
Just one new facility — the front nine of the Crispin Golf Course — was constructed before the effects of the stock market crash of 1929 tightened its grip on the valley. The course was dedicated July 4, 1930.
Through the darkest days of the Depression, volunteer committees planned musical programs, nature study, dramatics, vespers, picnics, dances, gardening activities, day camps, and museum programs. Extension staff members were assigned to work with each of these interest groups. The Wheeling Symphony Orchestra actually started as an outgrowth of the music committee, delighting the public with concerts at the park as early as 1929.
Much of the credit for the growth of the nature program in the early years at Oglebay goes to the highly respected naturalist Alonzo Beecher Brooks. A.B. Brooks, 1912 graduate of WVU, and chief game protector for the state, was one of the “pioneers” who started the activities program at Waddington in 1927. His daily nature walks enriched the lives of thousands of men, women, and children who grew to love the outdoors because of their association with Brooks.
When federal relief funds became available in 1936, a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp of about two hundred local craftsmen was established in the beech woods in the heart of the park. For three years, an intense building program was carried out with Works Progress Administration funds and CCC labor. These skilled workers constructed cottages, nature trails and roads, picnic sites, tennis courts, the outdoor theater, a youth camp (Camp Russel), and the entire Crispin Center area, including the swimming pool, Pine Room, and the second nine of the golf course.
Oglebay’s first family cottages were constructed out of old wooden poles no longer used by a local utility company. Since the poles were of different lengths, there were no blueprints for these cottages. Because of the demand, the first winterized cottage was built in 1949, followed by a dozen others during the 1950s. Sledding and skiing on the golf course hills, and ice skating on the lake, provided winter recreation for cottage guests.