Carriage House Glass at Oglebay Resort in Wheeling has something shiny for everyone.
Light, color, and a sudden urge to “ooh” and “aah” greet most visitors when they step through the doors of Carriage House Glass on the grounds of Oglebay Resort & Conference Center in Wheeling. The more than 5,000-square-foot retail space is filled with everything from inexpensive marbles made in West Virginia to Tiffany-style lamps to luxurious Cameo glass. It’s also a beautiful shrine to the Wheeling of old.
“The shop itself is special because it does play off the history—not only of Oglebay, but the history of Wheeling, where we produced quite a bit of glass. At one time we produced half of the country’s glass needs in this area,” says Caren Knoyer, director of marketing at Oglebay. She says nearly 100 glass factories operated in the Ohio Valley between 1840 and 1900. The building that houses the gift shop is also a replica of the carriage house that stood in the early 1900s when the resort was wealthy businessman Earl W. Oglebay’s private estate.
Below the expansive gift shop, a glass museum invites shoppers to continue their exploration as the Oglebay Institute, which runs the museum, has the largest collection of that nationally famous Wheeling glass in the world. The downstairs space is also one of few places in the region where glassmaking can be observed and taught firsthand. It’s also home to the popular Sweeney Punch Bowl—one of the largest pieces of cut glass in the world. Michael Sweeney was a leading Wheeling citizen in the mid-1800s. In 1831 he and his brother set up a factory that shipped glassware across the U.S.
Today the Carriage House Glass gift shop features the area’s largest selection of art glass as well as beautiful USA-made artisan glass and home décor. Nancy Smith has been buying for the store for 13 years, and she devotes a lot of time to finding the best pieces, beginning with those made in West Virginia. “Glass was such a major part of history in our area at the turn of the century,” Nancy says. “I personally don’t ever want to lose the integrity of that.”
When the shop opened in 1993, Nancy says the space was filled almost entirely with West Virginia glass. Over the years many glass companies closed and glassmakers faded away, and few remain. Now approximately 30 percent of the store is West Virginia glass, she says. That includes in-house artisan Bob Allen’s pieces, created on-site. “That’s a real attention getter,” she says of Bob’s remarkable local work.
Small glass pieces—from ring holders to paperweights—seem to fly off the shelves. And something as little as a marble, which comes from Marble King in Paden City—one of the last known marble makers—also finds its place at Carriage House Glass. The store sells everything from colorful lamps and tall vases to bold bowls and stained glass, among other beautiful items. Nancy says the shop goes through a lot of candles made with USA-made glass, and the store carries popular glass producers, like Blenko Glass based in Milton, in large supply. Then she finds small producers, like the East Coast couple whose home and work were nearly destroyed during Hurricane Sandy. “I still order from her,” she says. “These aren’t all big vendors.”
But Nancy also stocks beautiful European glass in the store—more expensive pieces from Turkey to Poland to Germany. No matter what they’re in the market for, shoppers know they’re getting quality products when they purchase from Carriage House Glass. The items on the shelves are ones that have been held, most likely, in Nancy’s own hands. “I really like to see the product before I buy it. I don’t want to take that chance,” she says.
written by LAURA WILCOX ROTE
photographed by NIKKI BOWMAN