Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, Wheeling, WV

Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, Wheeling, WV

Building History

In 1849, the first suspension bridge spanning the Ohio River was constructed at Wheeling, providing a new route to the West along the National Road. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad mainline reached Wheeling in 1853, prompting a dramatic increase in population, commerce, and industry. As a result of its proximity to important transportation routes, Wheeling prospered. It served as the capital of West Virginia from 1863 to 1870 and 1875 to 1885. Consequently, Wheeling outgrew the 1859 U.S. Custom House (now West Virginia Independence Hall) designed by Ammi B. Young. In 1902, federal officials obtained a site for the proposed structure. The public initially criticized the site selection because it was located away from the center of the city. However, following the 1907 completion of the building, which included a post office, courthouse, and custom house, development soon shifted to the north.

The Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse was constructed under the Tarsney Act of 1893, which allowed the Treasury Department to hold competitions for the design of select federal buildings with the intention of improving governmental architecture's quality. The Wheeling federal building, designed in the Beaux Arts Classicism style, set a high standard for architectural excellence. Marsh & Peter, a prominent firm with several Washington, D.C., commissions, designed the building. Wheeling architect Frank Faris served as the local project superintendent.

The building has been expanded and altered several times. In 1937, as Wheeling required increased services, architect George W. Petticord designed an addition that complemented the original building's Beaux Arts character. Completed in 1938, this expansion accommodated a new post office and district courtroom. Petticord, a Wheeling native, also completed plans for a dramatic interior renovation that replaced many original finishes. In 1999, a small wing was added to the rear of the building to create more secure holding and circulation areas for detainees. Most recently, HLM Design with Goody, Clancy & Associates, designed a dramatic glass annex. Completed in 2004, it contains federal agency offices and court-related spaces.

The building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 as a contributing building to the Wheeling Historic District.


The Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse is a stately example of Beaux Arts Classicism architecture, providing downtown Wheeling with an elegant building that conveys the federal government's dignity. The granite building displays many character-defining features of the Beaux Arts Classicism style, including a symmetrical, monumental facade and paired columns. The first-story stonework is rusticated with incised horizontal bands, contrasting with the smooth blocks of the upper stories. The recessed main entrance is framed by a wide surround, which is in turn encircled by a carved garland. An ornate oval medallion with a garland, acanthus leaves, and a shell motif tops the doorway. Rectangular, first-story windows have flat arches with projecting keystones. A colonnade that features paired Ionic columns with stylized foliated motifs and unusual tassel ornamentation dominates the three central bays of the second and third stories. Small balustrades with urn-shaped members extend between the columns. Large tripartite, multi-pane, double-hung windows are located on the second story between the columns. Spandrels separate the large windows from smaller tripartite windows on the third story. A key motif and centrally placed projecting keystones top the windows. Also on the second story and flanking the colonnade are windows with elaborate semi-circular hoods featuring scrolled brackets supporting oval medallions. Decorative balustrades are located below each window.

The columns support a classical entablature that consists of a molded architrave, an incised frieze with an egg-and-dart molding, and a cornice that features a dentil course. A balustrade tops the building.

The interior of the original portion contains the postal lobby. Although modified during the 1930s, the lobby remains a significant interior space. The terrazzo flooring forms a checkerboard pattern. Marble pilasters, baseboards, and wainscot and aluminum doors, grilles, and postal service windows are present. The two-story district courtroom has a low-relief plaster ceiling with a simple border. Walnut is used for the wainscoting, judge's bench, jury box, public benches, and door surrounds.

The 1938 addition, built to accommodate a district courtroom, altered the symmetry of the building. The addition uses materials and architectural details that are compatible with the original building. The first-story granite walls are also rusticated, but the second-story window hoods are less detailed than those of the original building. In 1999, a small addition on the rear of the building was constructed to accommodate holding cells and secure circulation.

Construction of an 86,900 square foot annex to house new courtrooms began in 2002 and was completed in 2004 under GSA's Design Excellence Program. The impressive entrance incorporates a striking glass-curtain wall with twenty-five images of the Great Seal of the United States screened on five-by-five foot glass panels. The remaining exterior walls are constructed of limestone and brick and rest on a granite base.

A four-story atrium links the annex with historic portions of the building. The granite wall of the 1938 addition is preserved inside the sun-lit lobby. The limestone flooring is embedded with fossils. Integrated into this space is a sculpture called River of Light by Mikyoung Kim. The artwork features layers of glass implanted with fiber optic rods that slowly change color. The sculpture evokes both the movement of the Ohio River and Wheeling's industrial heritage as a glass-making center. Kim's work received a 2004 Design Excellence Citation for Art in Architecture from the U.S. General Services Administration. View from Suspension Bridge, a painting by West Virginia artist Susan Poffenbarger located adjacent to the second-floor elevators, depicts the Ohio River as seen from the suspension bridge.

The new second-floor district courtroom overlooks the atrium lobby and contains dark cherry paneling and metal light fixtures. Other spaces include a bankruptcy courtroom, magistrate courtroom, jury assembly room, and offices. The project won Buildings magazine's new construction award in 2004.

Significant Events

1859 Original U.S. Custom House constructed

1905-1907 Building constructed

1938 First addition completed

1999 Rear extension added

2004 Award-winning annex completed

Building Facts

Location: 1125 Chapline Street

Marsh & Peter with Frank Faris
George W. Petticord
HLM Design with Goody, Clancy & Associates

Construction Dates:

Architectural Style: Beaux Arts Classicism

Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, Wheeling, WV

The east elevation, facing Chapline Street, is the primary façade of the building. This elevation reads as a three-story rectangular structure; the fourth floor sets back from the balustraded third floor parapet and projecting cornice. The original 1907 building was symmetrical with a three-bay center pavilion flanked by one bay on each end. The original entrance, still accessing the Post Office, was centered in the Chapline Street façade. The 1937 north wing, also facing Chapline Street, added three additional bays which are set back slightly from the original facade. In 2004 the Annex addition was added adjacent to the 1937 façade, north of the building. Both the original and the Annex entrances lead to the Annex Atrium, the primary circulation space of the building.

The original building and the primary elevations of the addition are clad in grey granite. The foundation stones are large blocks with a coarse texture and are a slightly darker color than the smoother, lighter grey stones of the upper stories. Most of the building's trim and relief details are carved from granite. Portions of the less public elevations, such as the recessed portion of the west (rear) elevation and additions at the north end of the west elevation, are yellow brick with granite window surrounds and string courses.

The building is visually divided into thirds horizontally. The coarse stones of the foundation are capped by a projecting moulded water table which supports the ground story whose deep horizontal channels between stone courses cast dark shadows. The base of the building has a banded rustication, creating a heavy quality that securely weighs it to the ground. The center third of the building (shaft) is lightened and elongated by the vertically extended second floor window openings and the shortened third floor openings which reside in the same smooth stone plane. The top third of the building (cap) is composed of a well-detailed entablature featuring a large projecting stone cornice with modillions and surmounted with a balustrade.

The south elevation, facing 12th Street, has been altered the least since the original construction. It has five bays with an entry stair on the extreme eastern end. Grade drops sharply as one travels westward along the south elevation towards the alley and the parking area exit gate. Basement level windows are fully exposed above grade on this side.

The west elevation clearly shows the building's evolution and is the least organized facade. As with the south elevation, all of the basement level windows are above grade; however, the asphalt parking area and ramp create a welled condition for most of the basement windows. The extreme southern bay of the west elevation along with the basement and first floor levels of the center bays continues the granite detailing of the two street elevations. The second, third and fourth floors of the center bay are recessed, clad in yellow brick with granite window surrounds and string courses. Moving northward along the west elevation, the materials change from granite to brick and the stone detailing of the openings diminishes.

The north elevation, which is part of the 1937 addition and is now enclosed within the 2004 Atrium, is clad in the granite of the original building's north end. Only the extreme eastern bay retains the relief detail of the east (primary) facade. Three two-story window openings at the second floor are to the Courtroom. The first floor is clad in new granite, masking the location of the former loading dock, which has been removed.

On the interior of the building, the primary public spaces are the main Post Office lobby on the first floor, the U.S. District Courtroom and its waiting corridor on the second floor. Both areas date to the 1937 renovation. They were formerly linked by the stair and elevator lobbies on the north end of the Postal Lobby, which were removed by the construction of the Annex. These primary public spaces are now linked by the Atrium.

Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, Wheeling, WV

The Wheeling Federal Office Building is one of the most architecturally distinctive buildings in Wheeling. Designed in the Beaux Arts style by Washington, D.C. architects Marsh & Peter, it typifies the high standard of design and pride of public buildings of the period. The original structure, completed in 1907, included a Post Office, Courthouse and Custom House. The complete interior renovation and addition of 1937 provided a consistent interior quality. Although not as ornate as the original exterior the interior retains fine examples of classical motifs and reinforces the Beaux Arts design principles of dignity and benevolence to the public by the government. The current primary access to the building is through the 2004 Annex adjacent to the north, although access to the Post Office remains at the original entrance.

The high quality of the federal building was made possible in part by the Tarsney Act of 1893 which awarded the design of federal buildings to private architects through competitions. By 1903, Marsh & Peter was a well established architectural firm with several notable commissions to their credit in Washington, D.C. Wheeling architect Frank Faris served as the local superintendent for the original construction. Faris was responsible for the design of a number of large early 20th century buildings in Wheeling.

Selection of the site in 1902 was initially criticized for its lack of visual prominence and its distance from the center of the city. Shortly after construction of the federal building, commercial development shifted northwards toward the new building with several other large buildings erected on the same block. The construction of the federal building was an important local event for the prosperous industrial city of Wheeling, setting a high standard for architectural excellence.

The interior renovation and addition of 1937 were designed by George W. Petticord, Jr. He was a Wheeling native working in the Public Buildings Branch of the Treasury Department under the direct supervision of Alan B. Mills. While the exterior reinforces the themes and materials of the original Beaux Art building the interiors are a leaner, modernistic neo classical style which is not common to Wheeling. This expansion accommodated a new Post Office and District Courtroom.

In 1999 a small wing was added to the rear of the building. In 2004 the new Annex was completed adjacent to the building, by HLM Design with Goody, Clancy & Associates, to contain Federal agency offices and court related spaces. As part of the Annex, a large atrium of metal and glass is located adjacent to the original 1937 structure. The metal and glass atrium separates the original building from the main stone mass of the Annex. The atrium is now the primary entrance and circulation core; the original historic north exterior elevation facing the atrium is now an interior elevation.

Although many other Wheeling buildings survive from the early 20th century, few have experienced this building's exceptional level of care and preservation and none can boast of the same civic monumentality. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Wheeling Historic District. The Federal building represents a continuum of public pride in the downtown historic district.

Description Architect
1905 1914 Substantial completion of original construction. Marsh & Peter
1937 1938 Added north wing; gutted original interior. A. Farnell Blair
1970 Original fourth storey windows replaced.
1988 Fourth floor wall and roof repairs. Silling Associates, Inc.
Last Reviewed: 2017-08-13