From its start in 1985 with five displays and some landscaping lighting, the festival now encompasses over 300 acres and more than a million lights on a six-mile drive. It runs through Jan. 6, 2013, and AOL Travel has named it among the nation’s 10 Best Christmas Light Displays. The eco-friendly LED displays attract over 1 million visitors annually and feature animated creations, the Light and Music Extravaganza, and the Gardens of Light — an area where guests may walk on paths while enjoying holiday music and hanging baskets, flowers and trees made of lights.
In 1901, Ohio Valley industrialist Earl Oglebay purchased a summer estate and working farm in Wheeling, encouraging progressive farming and research. Before he died in 1926, he bequeathed the land to the people of Wheeling for recreation, and volunteers began maintaining the grounds and organizing activities, despite the Great Depression.
As the nation rebounded, WPA funds and CCC workers helped build cottages, nature trails, a swimming pool, tennis courts and a youth camp. Since 1935, Oglebay has been run by the Wheeling Park Commission and today is the only self-sustaining public park system in the United States. It now sprawls over 1,700 acres, and if you have never been to Oglebay Resort and Conference Center, or if it’s been awhile, you will be amazed at the seemingly endless list of attractions and activities.
Wilson Lodge is the hub, with 271 guest rooms, including 59 newer premium rooms with wet bars, fireplaces and balconies. The facility includes a spa, indoor pool, two restaurants, a fitness center, plus banquet and meeting facilities. There are 54 private guest cottages and estate houses featuring fully equipped kitchens, fireplaces and two to eight bedrooms. From traditional cottages to premium accommodations that hold up to 30 people, Oglebay is great for family vacations, reunions or corporate retreats. Golf options range from Arnold Palmer and Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed courses to the original Crispin Course, a par-3 course, a driving range (which is converted to a ski and snowboard area in the winter) and mini golf.
Other offerings include a stocked fishing lake; miles of paved trails; an amphitheater; seven specialty gift shops; a greenhouse; tennis court; the 16-acre Bissonnette Gardens, which have been restored to their early 1900s splendor; a 30-acre zoo with a train, a model railroad and the Benedum Theater; an environmental center; Segway tours, pedal boats and much more.
There are two museums on the property. The Mansion Museum was the Oglebays’ home and has 13 rooms depicting various periods in area history through special exhibits and decorative arts. The Glass Museum displays glass and china made in Wheeling from 1820 – 1952, and includes the five-foot tall Sweeney Punch Bowl, the largest piece of lead crystal ever made. (Interestingly, 50 percent of the pressed glass tableware made in America and popular at the turn of the century was made in the Wheeling-Pittsburgh corridor.) Bob Allen, the resident glass artist, demonstrates glass blowing and offers daily workshops.
In addition to the Festival of Lights, the resort hosts Oglebayfest in the fall, a spring antiques show and a variety of holiday celebrations. With its rich history, activities and events, Oglebay is a four-season resort that is worth the drive!
Visit www.oglebay-resort.com. Events and activities may have limited dates and availability.