By: Jeremy Morris
A Victorian Love Affair, Forged Out of Spite
According to Joe Figaretti, the opulence of the 1892 Eckart House was built sheerly out of spite. He says Wheeling banker George Eckhart built his grand Victorian with the finest materials and decoration to spite Henry K. List. Henry List was another wealthy banker in the community who lived across the street. The two men didn’t get along, perhaps rivals in the Wheeling banking community. Henry List may or may not have told Eckhart he would ‘never see the Ohio River view living on the 50-cent side of the street.’ Eckart went on to adorn his Queen Anne home with lavish detailing, exotic woods, and a fabulous façade to which his across-the-street neighbor Henry List could not turn a blind eye.
Regardless of history or folklore, George Eckhart’s house inspires love and adoration. In July, the current owners of Victorian Wheeling’s crown jewel say goodbye. Still, the home will get a new owner who has a deep appreciation and understanding for its intrinsic value.
A ‘Showhome’ is Where the Heart is
In the 1980s, Oglebay Institute would have ShowHouse Tours. In this program, local interior designers and contractors would completely remake rooms in homes that were vacant or on the market. The homes would then be part of a tour that would raise money for the organization.
Gretchen Figaretti, an interior designer, became aware of the Eckhart House during her work on one of those tours in 1990. “That particular Oglebay ShowHouse Tour was magical,” says her husband Joe, “thousands of people toured the houses in North Wheeling during the month-long showcase.”
It was magical enough for her and Joe to buy the Eckhart House for her expanding business. They fell in love with the place and eventually moved their family into the lofty Queen Anne home.
At the time, the Wheeling Jamboree was in full swing, and the Victorian Wheeling Landmarks Foundation offered historic home tours in North Wheeling on weekends. The Eckhart House was a central part of those tours. Gretchen often sold items from her interior design collection to tourists. The captive audience led to the idea of a gift shop to offer smaller items that tourists could easily carry away with them. The Figaretti’s have offered various gifts and home décor on the shop’s first floor while maintaining residence upstairs since then.
Years later they added Victorian Teas to the menu of activities at the Eckhart House. The Teatime at the Eckhart House became popular, overtaking sales in the gift shop as the primary revenue for their operations. They have hosted a Tea for people from all over the country and several different nations throughout the years.
As in all things in life, change is inevitable. The time has come for the Figaretti’s to pass the house on to a new caretaker, someone who will adore the same way they have for the last 31 years. The gift shop remains open through Mid-July, Tuesday-Saturday 11am-4pm and is located at 810 Main Street. A variety of their wares are available on Etsy at www.etsy.com/shop/EckhartHouse. Visit their website at www.eckharthouse.com. Locals can save shipping on Etsy by stopping by the shop if they wish.
Our Trucks Never Left Wheeling
Recently, the Eckhart House was purchased by Steve Coon, owner of the Coon Restoration and Sealants, a historic property restoration company.
Steve Coon is based out of Louisville, Ohio, but found his way to Wheeling a decade ago. His company won the contract to restore the terra cotta façade on Wheeling’s famed Capitol Theatre.
“Our trucks never left Wheeling,” says Coon, “We have guys that live there in Wheeling and work for us now. We have done work in nearby St. Clairsville, Ohio too. Coon Restoration plans on being in the Wheeling area for a while.”
He has pinpointed about eight cities where he plans to invest his company’s time and make personal investments of his own. Wheeling is one of those communities. He credits Wheeling’s progressive city government and the state’s increased historic preservation tax credit for keeping him in Wheeling.
“I really credit your mayor, Glenn (Elliott) for asking what the city can do to make my ventures successful in Wheeling. The Building Department is best I have worked with anywhere and the Fire Department is great,” he says. “I am not sure why there aren’t more developers working in Wheeling.”
In 2018, West Virginia raised its historic tax credit to 25% for the cost of a project. For developers like Coon, this a critical enticement that makes their investment in a community worthwhile. Since landing in Wheeling, Steve Coon has snatched up various residential and commercial buildings. One of them is the Wheeling Steel-Pittsburgh Building, a downtown landmark that was the tallest building in the state for many years. The Wheeling Steel Building will become a 128-unit apartment building in the downtown center.
Wheeling took the lead in making that tax credit change happen at the State Capitol. Mayor Glenn Elliott and Wheeling Heritage were at the forefront of that effort, “we knew in order to procure the investment in our historic downtown and surrounding neighborhoods we needed the credit increased and we put a great effort in working with our state legislators to make that happen.” Elliott continues, “The best thing we did was take Steve Coon to the State Capitol and let him talk directly with our legislators.”
As for the Eckhart House, it will become his home base when working in Wheeling. “I plan to be here for the next 15-20 years, and my family and I will use the home for a residential space when we are in Wheeling,” Coon says.
Whether it was spite or simply Victorian wealth that drove George Eckhart to create such an opulent home, he unknowingly inspired generations of ‘old-building lovers’ to also love his gorgeous house.
Wheeling historic preservationists thank Mr. Eckhart, the Figaretti’s, and now Steve Coon for their foresight in keeping this crown jewel tightly in place for the rest of us to appreciate.