The West Virginia Exposition and State Fair, once located on Wheeling Island in Wheeling, West Virginia, closed in 1937. The complex was reused for as a skating rink and for Wheeling Downs, a harness and flat horse racing track.
Wheeling Island boomed with residential development in the mid-1800’s when the Wheeling Suspension Bridge connected Wheeling’s central business district to ample flat land on an island in the Ohio River. 2 The 374-acre island became one of the most densely populated and wealthy islands in the nation. It featured numerous parks, including one on the southern tip of the island — Bridge Park. 3 In 1881, the West Virginia Exposition and State Fair elected to acquire 25 acres for its new facility at Bridge Park. Its location was advantageous as Wheeling was the state capital of West Virginia.
The grounds included a dirt racetrack, stables, exposition hall and various other buildings. A new exposition hall, built of reinforced concrete and elevated to protect itself from floods along the Ohio River, was completed in 1924. 3
The Exposition and State Fair operated on Wheeling Island until 1937. 3 Frequent flooding of the site made the grounds unattractive and unusable. It moved to Greenbrier County when the Greenbrier Valley Fair was designated the State Fair of West Virginia in 1941. 1
After the move, the exposition hall was repurposed into Milan Roller Rink, a rollerskating arena. 3 The racetrack was reused for Wheeling Downs, a harness and flat horse racing track. 4 It garnered the nickname “miniature Churchill Downs” due to its extensive landscaping. A fire ravaged through Wheeling Downs in 1962, necessitating its closure until its reopening in 1967.
After legislative decisions caused attendance and purse sizes to dwindle, Wheeling Downs transitioned form horse racing to greyhound racing in 1976. 4