Colonel Ebenezer Zane founded Wheeling in 1769. The town grew up around Fort Henry, which was built by Captain Crawford and a company of men from Fort Dunmore, Virginia, in 1774. By the early 1880s, trade along the Ohio River made Wheeling, Virginia, a popular frontier town. National Road, the nation’s first roadway, was created by an act of Congress and reached Wheeling in 1818 from Cumberland, Maryland. National Road was the most important avenue of commerce and, as such, Wheeling became known as the "gateway to the west."
Wheeling was established as a town in 1795 and incorporated in 1836 through a Charter granted by the Virginia Assembly. Wheeling was loyal to the Federal Government during the Civil War and the State of West Virginia was born here. The first convention of the delegates from the loyal counties of northwestern Virginia met in Wheeling on May 13, 1861, and inaugurated the movement which finally resulted in the admission of West Virginia into the Union as a state on June 20, 1863.
Wheeling, West Virginia, was the capital of the newly formed state from 1863 to 1870 when it was moved to Charleston. In 1875, the seat of the government was brought back to Wheeling and remained until 1885, again being transferred to Charleston where it has since remained.
In the last decades of the 19th century, iron and steel mills developed on the banks of the Ohio River. Other industries thrived, too, including glass works and cigar factories. In particular, the manufacture of cut iron nails became a major element of Wheeling’s economy and Wheeling became known as the "nail capital of the world."
Through an active industrial economy and large working population, Wheeling became the richest city per capita in America at the end of the 19th century. This is evident in the City’s grand architecture of the beautiful mansions which stand today as a testimony to the earlier time of wealth.