WALKER DICK. OHIO VALLEY YACHT CLUB. WHEELING, WV by John Bowman

WALKER DICK. OHIO VALLEY YACHT CLUB. WHEELING, WV by John Bowman July 9, 2021

WW II had just ended and in 1945 a young man in his early 20s made his return to Wheeling.  This was Walker Dick.  Walker had been in New York City performing and working as an acrobat when his family gave him the call to return to Wheeling and work with the family business.  Dick often remarked: “I had ran-away with the Circus then the family ran me back home”.  The family’s business was boating.  Here is a photo of their business:

Photo: Image 26, Wheeling Island Boat Club (May 1931) OCPL Special Collections.  Courtesy Ohio County Public Library.    This was the old “Jackie Heller Showboat” “Little Jackie Heller” was a famous Pittsburgh entertainer.  The old showboat would be docked on the Island for more than 50 years.

This article “Walker Dick. Ohio Valley Yacht Club” situates its main area of history on the Wheeling Island just south of the Wheeling Suspension Bridge, and here is where and when our story begins.

The Wheeling Intelligencer Jun 25, 1945 SEAPLANE BASE TO BE OPERATING IN JULY “The Wheeling Seaplane Base will be opening shortly after July 1st.  It is to be located on the Island north of the Suspension Bridge.  Plans have been made to have a Piper Cub seaplane and a house boat moved there between July 1st and the 15th.  Operation will start immediately.”

Piper Cub seaplane at Wheeling Photo from the Herb Bierkortte Collection

And here is where it was all to happen.  In this 1885 Brown Photo we get a good look at the area just south of the Wheeling Suspension Bridge.  The exact site where the new Wheeling Seaplane Base building was to be constructed.  It is quite evident that some boat activity was taking place then.  A boat club boathouse possibly the 1880 Woodruffe Boat Club sits there.  See article on this website:  WHEELING’S SCULL and SHELL BOAT RACING and WHEELING BOAT CLUBS 1865 – 1900 by John Bowman.

W.C. BROWN photo 45 The Wheeling Suspension Bridge 1885

The Wheeling Intelligencer Oct 12, 1946 SEAPLANE BASE ASKS FOR TRAM PERMIT “The Wheeling Seaplane Base, Inc. has made application to Col. W.E. Lorence district engineer at Pittsburgh for permission to erect a tramway from the river to the proposed new hangar on the Island between the bridges.  The seaplane base when constructed will be a worthy addition to Wheeling’s transportation services as well as an accredited school for the instruction of flying.  Permission has been granted to conduct a GI flying school under the Veterans Administration.  Besides the hangar and shop there will be a second floor consisting of classrooms, lavatory facilities, offices, a lounge and three efficiency apartments with baths for the flying instructors (veterans).”  The project’s general contractor was Penn Taylor.  He constructed the building in 1947.  The building was just south of (almost against) the Wheeling Suspension Bridge on Wheeling Island.  Jesse Speidel was the general manager of the Seaplane Base, Inc.  The Seaplane Base was out of business in 1950.

Circa 1950, Walker A. Dick purchased the Seaplane Base building, it’s address being 4 South Front Street.  In 1953, Dick rented offices in the building and the tramway to Jack Yates and Arthur Pluckebaum of: Yates Marine Construction Co.

John Bowman’s photo of The Wheeling Intelligencer December 11, 1956 ‘Sparking Old Industry’ we see John Sanford welding together the Diesel towboat BOAZ

The Wheeling Intelligencer Tuesday Dec 11, 1956 “Local Men Give New Life to Old Industry Pair Foresee Active Future for Boat-Building on Island Headquarters” by Ralph Conley.  “The boat building industry which thrived in Wheeling from about 1815 to the end of the last century is being revived again.”  

See article on this website: “WHEELING THE BIRTHPLACE OF THE AMERICAN STEAMBOAT” by John Bowman July 2015.  The steamboat Washington had its keel laid Sep 10, 1815 in Wheeling, Virginia (West Virginia).  The Washington would be the First successful Western Rivers Steamboat.  Wheeling’s boat yards would go-on to build 225 steamboats.  See articles on this website: WHEELING HISTORICAL HIGHWAY MARKER by John Bowman Jul 8, 2015 and “A HISTORY OF THE STEAMBOAT WASHINGTONBook by John Bowman Jul 15, 2015.

Ralph Conley continues “Yates Marine Construction Co. has reestablished the boat building business at the old Seaplane Base on the Island.”  The site included a 40-ton crane that had been used to lift the seaplanes in and out the water.  A portion of the crane can be seen in the Wheeling Intelligencer photo.  The crane would be well utilized by the Yates company. 

Yates and Pluckebaum had worked in the Louisville, Kentucky, Jeffersonville, Indiana boat yards and in 1953, they decided to go out on their own. That year, they came to Wheeling where they established their boat yard on Wheeling Island, and began building diesel towboats, ferry flats and barges.  1n 1960, Yates built for Walker Dick, a steel barge powered by a 110 hp outboard motor, equipped with a winch and crane that Dick used to move boats and floats around the marina.  See article on this website: YATES MARINE CONSTRUCTION CO. WHEELING WEST VIRGINIA 1953 – 1967 by John Bowman July 17, 2017

Leasing only the offices on the second floor of the building to Yates, Dick was running his Ohio Valley Yacht Club in the first floor of the building and renting out apartments on the second floor.  The Yacht Club then consisted of a bar, a gymnasium and a professional type boxing ring.

The Wheeling Intelligencer Apr 23, 1957, “Walker dick a sports-minded individual who is interested in boating, swimming, water sport shows and at onetime sponsored a trampoline and acrobatic act, has made his Ohio Valley Yacht Club available to all would-be boxers.  Bill Millhorn and Dan Snyder, a pair of former amateur fighters are doubling as trainers and matchmakers for the bi-weekly boxing shows at Dick’s Ohio Valley Yacht Club, and would like to see professional boxing bouts return to Wheeling.  Dick announced that bi-weekly shows will continue-on a year-round basis at the Ohio Valley Yacht Club.  According to Dick the shows are steadily picking up attendance, and that he would like to see the Golden Gloves tournament come back.”

All American Boys (Walker Dick stands at the left). Photo: courtesy of “Yesterday’s Towns” by Bill Strong

Walker A. Dick was founder of Wheeling’s chapter of “All American Boys”.  In the 1950’s and 1960s, this athletic group of young men spent their summers in Wheeling performing gymnastics, mainly trampoline performances and later they appeared in circus shows. 

The Wheeling Intelligencer July 23, 1957 “RETURN OF PRO BOXING SLATED FOR WHEELING” “Walker Dick, owner of the Ohio Valley Yacht Club and ‘Promoter Extraordinaire’ announced that a professional boxing show will be staged Thursday night August 16th at the Ohio Valley Yacht Club featuring Wayman Dawson who once fought Joe Louis for the heavyweight championship will headline the first professional boxing show.  If the fans like the first initial show the Yacht Club will hold additional professional bouts.”  Beginning in 1955 and into 1956, the Ohio Valley Yacht Club had promoted by-weekly amateur boxing at the club.

 

The Wheeling Intelligencer Dec 16, 1957, “INTOXICANTS SEIZED AT THE YACHT CLUB” Police served a search and seizure warrant and seized 26 bottles of booze at the Yacht Club, Inc.  Walker A. Dick, licensee of the club was charged with possession of whisky and posted a $106 bond.  In those years, a bar could legally sell only 3.2 beer.  We see Dick was arrested July 15th 1961 for displaying a punch board in the bar.  His bond was $106 which he forfeited.

 The Wheeling Intelligencer Sat May 30, 1959 “Walker Dick, owner of the Ohio Valley Yacht Club on the Island, said during the past four years interest in water sports on the river has increased the number of boats at his club from 12 to 260.  The Yacht Club offers a launching ramp equipped with a 40-ton crane (winch) used in easing the heaver boats into the river.  A boat owner who uses the ramp and launches the boat himself pays a charge of $1.  In launching of larger boats which requires the use of the winch, a charge of $1 per boat foot is charged.”  Dick said “580 boat manufacturers through the country have hundreds of different models for sale at prices from $1,500 to $65,000.”  Almost every town on the Ohio River had Marinas.  Walker Dick, owner of the Ohio Valley Yacht Club offered docks for mooring as many as 250 boats at one time, adding that “the club house serves refreshments to members and guests while boats and accessories can be purchased at the club.”  Dock rent into the mid-1960s was $1.25 per boat foot.

From December 1961, the Ohio Valley Yacht Club was advertising “Dancing” Monday and Saturday nights.  In the fall of 1964, the Ohio Valley Yacht Club was advertising “Professional Wrestling” every Wednesday at 8:30 p.m.  In the mid-1960s Dick was also owner of the Wheeling’s Fair Grounds Exhibition Hall which included the Downs Roller Rink.  In 1966, Walker Dick was promoting Wrestling shows at the Exhibition Hall on Friday nights.

Exhibition Hall Wheeling Island: Photo courtesy OCPL Special Collections

In 1961, Dick took possession of the entirety of the building and grounds from Yates.  Yates had just finished building the towboat Franklin B. and was in the process of moving his boat building operation to Charleston, West Virginia.

Photo of the Wheeling Seaplane Base building now the “Ohio Valley Yacht Club, Inc.” with the Wheeling Suspension Bridge in the foreground. Photo from the Herb Bierkortte Collection

Walker Dick spent roughly $150,000 remodeling this building turning it into a bar, a nightclub, a marine showroom, and a gymnasium with a professional boxing ring, and he added a swimming pool.  He terraced the river bank in front of the building for picnic tables.   Walker turned the second floor of the Seaplane Base building into (6) apartments.  The apartment address was listed as 110 South Front Street.  This site and building became the Ohio Valley Yacht Club, Inc. and Marina.  Adding to all this:

The Wheeling Intelligencer Sat Apr 11, 1964 “1,500 JUGLERS WILL MEET IN WHEELING” Walker Dick, owner of the Exposition Hall on the Island announced that the hall would serve as the international headquarters for the International Jugglers Association.  The association would hold its convention June 21st to the 24th.  The convention will attract the best of the juggling profession including some from foreign countries.  A show will be staged by the association, open to the public and will feature a variety of juggling acts including those involving wire walking and bicycle riding.  Dick, having been a well-known circus acrobat in New York City, still had close contacts with many circus performers.”

The Wheeling Intelligencer Monday Jan 21st 1980, Wheeling Intelligencer staff writer Hugh McGough ran an interview he had with Wheeling Yacht Club owner, Walker Dick titled “YACHT CLUB RETIREE STRICKLY LANDLUBBER IN GOLDEN YEARS” “Walker Dick who managed the Yacht Club for 35 years retired last year (1979) and put the place up for lease.  This date, Dick was passing through town resting only a few days at his apartment.  There, under the canopy in the center of the Yacht Club’s terrace above the river, sits his cozy van that he and his two dogs Teddy and Sheba call home.  It is an apartment on wheels, commonly called a recreational vehicle.  A sign in the window says ‘Beware of Dog’ A note on the door reads ‘Topside Apt. 3’

The towboat Bilbo Williamson on her 1st trip south in 1979 passes Walker Dick’s Ohio Valley Yacht Club on the Wheeling Island, Wheeling, at Ohio River mile 90.3. In the photo is the west-end of the Wheeling-Suspension-Bridge, and under the terrace canopy sits Walker’s recreational vehicle, his future retirement home.

Hugh McGough adds: “Dick is a stocky, athletic man.  He is clean shaven and wears a crew cut.  He looks like he could turn a somersault.  Dick seems to enjoy looking out on the river with a lingering Pilot’s eye. “Any changes over the years,” I asked.  “You bet! the water has changed from toilet water to drinking water.  You used to have to skim off a section just to push a boat in.  The water is in real good shape, the fish are coming back.  I don’t know what that means, I am leaving and the fish are coming back.”  I do my fishing at the fish market (Colemans).

The era of Walker Dick’s Ohio Valley Yacht Club Wheeling, WV was over.  Boating on the Ohio River would remain popular, but Dick’s old Yacht Club was now closed.  In the following photos, we find a boat club north of the bridges, the Marine Club.  The boat house was a retired towboat minus its sternwheel and machinery.  This boat house had been a Wheeling Steel Corp. towboat. The coal-fired steam-powered towboat Carbon was built in 1902 for the R.C. (River Combine) and purchased in 1920 by WHEELING STEEL CORP.’S, LaBelle Steubenville Works.  She pooled coal out of the Allegheny River to the Follansbee Coke Works and the Steubenville Works into 1944.  Some Wheelingites would remember this old retired boat sitting at the Wheeling Island Marina used as a harbor boat from the 1950’s into the early 1960s. See article on this website: WHEELING STEEL CORP. TOWBOAT FLEET by John Bowman May, 1919.

Photo of the 1902 Wheeling Steel Corp. towboat Carbon from the John Bowman Collection

Photo of the Wheeling Island Marine Club from the Herb Bierkortte Collection

And, here is the site today.  Not even a trace of that era.

Wheeling Suspension Bridge West End September 2010 John Bowman photo

Photo Credits

  1. Photo: Image 26, Wheeling Island Boat Club (May 1931) OCPL Special Collections.  Courtesy OCPL
  2. Piper Cub seaplane at Wheeling.  Photo from the Herb Bierkortte Collection
  3. W.C. Brown Photo 45 The Wheeling Suspension Bridge 1885
  4. The Wheeling Intelligencer Dec 11, 1956 Photo from the John Bowman Collection
  5. All American Boys (Walker Dick stands at the left).  Photo: courtesy of “Yesterday’s Towns” by Bill Strong
  6. Exhibition Hall Wheeling Island: Photo courtesy OCPL Special Collections
  7. Photo of the Wheeling Seaplane Base building now the “Ohio Valley Yacht Club, Inc.” with the Wheeling Suspension Bridge in the foreground.  Photo from the Herb Bierkortte Collection
  8. The towboat Bilbo-Williamson on her 1st trip south in 1979 passes Walker Dick’s Ohio Valley Yacht Club on the Wheeling Island, Wheeling, at Ohio River mile 90.3. In the photo is the Wheeling-Suspension-Bridge, and under the terrace canopy sits Walker’s recreational vehicle, his future retirement home.
  9. Photo of the towboat Carbon from the John Bowman Collection
  10. Photo of the Wheeling Island Marine Club from the Herb Bierkortte Collection
  11. Wheeling Suspension Bridge West End September 2010 John Bowman Photo

Bibliography

  1. Bowman, John, Wheeling The Birthplace of the American Steamboat Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation, Wheeling, WV, 2008.
  2. Bowman, John, Bowman, John, A Pictorial History of Wheeling and Ohio River Steamboats, Wheeling, WV, 2009
  3. Way, Frederick, Jr., with Joseph W. Rutter “Way’s Steam Towboat Directory”, Sons and Daughters of Pioneer Rivermen, Ohio University, Athens, Ohio, 1990
  4. The Wheeling Intelligencer Jun 25, 1945, Oct 12, 1946, Dec 11, 1956, Apr 23, 1957, July 23, 1957, Dec 16, 1957, May 30, 1959, Apr 11, 1964, Jan 21st 1980

Thank You John Bowman

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