For the first part of Tour 8 section B, click here.
When the steel industry collapsed, it took Steubenville’s accompanying retail business with it. No longer were the streets “thronged with people from surrounding communities seeking business and social contacts.” As Leonardo and I walked throughout the heart of the commercial district, we were met with more “out of business” and “call for an appointment” signs than open doors (though the Chinese restaurant and a gyro shop that are the entirety of the dining choices in downtown Steubenville are both surprisingly good). Today, Steubenville residents earn $4,000 less than the national per capita average and over 20% of its 18,000 residents are unemployed.
Despite this depression, there is an ineffable beauty to Steubenville. As TOG acknowledged seventy-five years ago following a different economic collapse, “there are in town strange glimpses of beauty that are foreign to Steeltown: an unexpected view from the steep green slopes above the mills; of the sun creeping up over the West Virginia hills; or of a steamer, bound down the river at sunset, churning a long golden wake past the stark walls that line the banks.”
Beyond the picturesque, the urban infrastructure of Steubenville has an unmistakable charm that can be found under the veneer of disrepair. Because Steubenville simply does not have the money to either renovate or raze unused structures, many of the streets are lined with wonderful old buildings. A few of which, most notably the Grand Theatre, have attracted local preservationists, but most lie empty, waiting for better times to come along.
The corner of Sixth and Market Streets has seen some drastic changes however, much to its detriment, including the destruction of the Imperial Hotel (Notice on the far left side of the newer image, a mural of a street scene reminiscent of the the original photograph).
That the only civic construction project we ran across as we walked through the city was one lonely hammer pounding away inside the Grand Theatre highlights one of the ironies of Steubenville. As the collapse of the steel industry became a reality in the late 1970s and early 80s, a small group of artists began to decorate the walls of crumbling downtown building with murals celebrating the city’s history. Steubenville was soon re-christened the City of Murals as tourists brought much-needed dollars to the depressed town. Over the past ten years, various organizations have donated money to help restore and maintain the murals.
Yet it is difficult to ignore the fact that Steubenville’s economy has not moved much beyond the period these murals represent. It is as if the town is nostalgic for a period it can’t quite escape. As I walked by a hand-painted sign for Coca-Cola, I wasn’t sure if it was a new mural or simply an old ad that had not yet given in to the ravages of time.
These murals are not in TOG of course, but the one above represents a building that is in the manuscript guide. The following passage gives us a small but intriguing glimpse into race relations in Steubenville in 1940: “On the southwest fringe of the business section is one of the negro districts of the city. Two other negro centers are on North Eighth Street and Wells Street. …[D]uring the World War and the consequent labor shortages, there was a marked increase in negro population. The City Board of Recreation maintains the Central Recreation Center at Tenth and Adams streets exclusively for the Negro population. It consists of a large recreation hall, swimming pool, game and picnic sites.” Nothing is left of the recreation center itself which sat at the corner of Adams and Tenth Streets.
In addition to its commercial history, Steubenville has also tried to highlight aspects of its residential heyday. In contrast to East Liverpool in which wealthy business owners lived above the dust of the clay mills in the hills south of town, Steubenville’s elite lived in what were once lovely victorians in the heart of the city. Like the murals, however, the celebration of the “Historic North Fourth Street” district walks a fine line between acknowledging the city’s history and highlighting its inability to escape it.
One downtown building that is in good shape is the main branch of the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County. TOG refers to it as the Carnegie Public Library after its primary benefactor, but regardless of the name, it remains a handsome building “built of trick and terra cotta in mission style with a dash of Tudor in the trimmings.
Steubenville High School did not make the final cut of TOG, but the manuscript guide points out that it was the largest single unit of the Public Works Administration in the state of Ohio in 1939. Built at a cost of $1,000,000 with beautiful art deco details, the school was expanded to include the adjacent War Memorial Building sometime since the manuscript guide was written.
1937 Ohio River Flood in Steubenville
Between January 13 and January 25, 1937, 12 inches of rain fell on the watershed of the Ohio River. The river, nearly 30 feet above flood stage in some areas, wreaked havoc on towns stretching from Pittsburgh to Cairo, Illinois, killing 385 people, and causing $500 (1937 dollars) worth of damage. The Ohio Guide Photograph Collection has a wonderful assortment of images documenting the disaster, including those below of Steubenville which I have rephotographed.
As I post the above picture of the Pennsylvania Railroad Bridge, I realize that I was not in the same location as the 1937 photographer. I should have been standing another twenty feet behind where I was, which would have given me 15 feet more elevation. The earlier shot must have been taken from the old Route 7 which may have sat a few feet lower than it does now, but certainly higher than the spot on Water Street from where I took my picture. In fact, despite being a good 12 feet above the river when I took the shot, I would have been quite wet in 1937. The guard rails of Water Street are clearly visible in the old picture, as is the telephone pole that would have been on the river side of Water Street, essentially marking the spot where I would take my picture nearly 75 years later.
Perhaps the most dramatic picture of the Steubenville flood in the collection is not of the Ohio River at all, but of Willis Creek, a tributary of the Ohio on which the Steubenville Pumping Station sat. The photograph is not that dramatic until one visits the site. The pumping station sits a few hundred feet above the Ohio River, so all of the water visible in the photograph was from a creek that is so inconspicuous that I was never able to find it, despite knowing its location (though the sheer bulk of the new Route 7 was also to blame).
The pumping station itself is also easy to miss as it is largely hidden by the new road. In fact, the only shot I could manage that was reasonably close to the Ohio Guide photograph was taken from Google street view.
The scene seemed so impossible that it took may comparisons to verify that they were indeed taken at the same location. Despite the missing roof and entire second story of the building however, one can still make out where the second set of windows were, as well as the words “Steubenville Water Works” above the door. The location of the building and the landscape itself also reaffirms the conclusion that this was the pumping station, “2 miles north of Steubenville” as the back of the original photograph informs us.
Jefferson County Courthouse
The pumping station is not the only building that has lost some of its height. In fact, buildings losing their upper portions seems almost epidemic in Steubenville. The Jefferson County Courthouse, TOG informs us, was a “soot blackened Romanesque building of sandstone, 150 feet long as it is high.” The building is now neither soot blackened nor properly proportioned. Completed in 1874, the six story structure included a massive clock and bell tower which visitors could enter via a beautiful spiral staircase. After the tower collapsed during a snow storm in 1950, county officials decided to cut their losses and replaced it with a flat roof. The bell now sits in a park across the street and it is the statue of Justice which still sits atop the peak of the pediment that is the focal point of the building.
The building was the third to sit on this site, according to the manuscript guide. “The first was a structure of logs and the second was a fine brick building.” The building of the new sandstone courthouse, “foretold the coming of a new and different age, the passing of an agrarian and handmade goods economy, and the coming of a mass production in which steel would be the leading factor.” If the construction of a new Jefferson County Courthouse foretold the coming of “new and different age” based in steel, the collapse of its’ bell tower illustrated the tenuousness of that industry.
It was not just the courthouse and the pumping station that lost towers and roofs. After the losing its four-sided peak, the naked tower of what was originally the Hamline Episcopal Church now resembles the crenelated walls of a Medieval Times restaurant. The church was built in 1847 as a home for breakaway parishioners of the South Street Methodist Church which was itself first established after an 1803 visit of Bishop Frances Asbury. It now holds the Sycamore Tree Church, one of thirty-seven Methodist churches in the Steubenville metro area according to usachurches.com.
TOG does not usually include churches in its points of interest and Steubenville is no exception. Perhaps because of the sheer number of them however, (usachruch.com list 48 within the city limits) the OHS Guide Photograph Collection contains what seem to be an inordinate number of pictures of Steubenville houses of worship. There is a photograph, for example, of the “First M.E. Church of the Seven Gables, built in 1814,” according to the note scribbled on its back. Cavalry Methodists worshipped there at the beginning of the twentieth century before it became the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in 1946, making it first Greek church in town (sometime after which it too lost the top to its tower). The Second United Presbyterian church similarly changed its name to Covenant Presbyterian Church though did not lose its tower, mostly because it never had one to lose.
Despite the number of churches, at least one person thinks that the residents of Steubenville could use further affirmation of their faith. There seemed to be no direct correlation between the quickly descending numbers on the sign across the street and the poster taped to the call box, but Leonardo and I crossed the street before it struck zero just to be safe.
Angel’s Trail and Ohio Valley Lookout
While its name was Angel’s Trail, TOG tells us that the path whose entrance was “opposite 274 Belleview Blvd” was used for more earthly concerns. It was “an old lover’s lane given modernity by concrete steps.” Leonardo and I searched in vain for the entrance as Belleview Blvd is a maze of turns, starting and stopping for no apparent reason at various points on the hills above Steubenville. Google maps was no help as there is no 200 block of Belleview listed. I ultimately found the steps on my second trip to Steubenville by climbing up from the bottom of the hill, past an abandoned Catholic church at the end of North 9th street. After I understood what I was looking for, I would notice other paths criss-crossing the hills above the city.
These paths were once well used, both by people walking to and from town and by visitors who want to take in “the panorama of Steubenville.” According to the manuscript guide, the panorama from the top of Angel’s Trail included “a medley of church spires and towers, smokestacks, and the barren bluffs of West Virginia rising abruptly from the waters edge.” At some point in the last twenty years, however, the city simply couldn’t afford to maintain the trails. Signs now clearly spell out the fate of Angel’s Trail, though their placement and irregularity indicate only a half-hearted attempt to deter people from entering, .
Climbing the first hundred feet of the trail, the steps are cracked and uneven but they are relatively useable. After that, however, the trail becomes an obstacle course of downed trees, broken slaps of concrete, and mud. When I reached what appeared to be the top, there was no longer an “entrance surrounded by hemlock and second-growth trees,” but a pile of concrete that fizzled out into the property of a private residence. Where one once viewed the “panorama of Steubenville,” I saw a few feet of the path I had climbed.
This was not always the case. The Ohio Guide Collection contains a postcard with a vantage point nearly identical to the above photograph. Similarly, the manuscript guide informs us that the “Ohio Valley Lookout,” half a mile south of Angel’s Trail, affords an even grander view; “To the north can be seen the winding Ohio River, spanned by the railroad bridge, Market Street Bridge, and backed by the hills of West Virginia and further south, the private bridge of the Wheeling Steel Corporation.” While I was able to glean a partial view by climbing down an embankment behind Trinity Hospital, it was not easily accessible and certainly not something TOG would have recommended. The larger implications of these stunted views would not be clear to me until the we reached Marietta the next day.
Though its creation in 1930 was one of the events that were “dwarfed and incidental” to Steubenville’s steel industry in the estimation of TOG’s editors, they still included Beatty Park as one of the city’s twelve points-of-interest. Along with its “100 acres of picnic sites and camps for auto-trailers,” the park provided “a full-time worker” to take charge of the city’s recreation programs which included “baseball, swimming, golf, and other sports.”
For most of the last twenty-five years, Beatty Park faired as poorly as other public spaces such as Angel’s Trail and the Ohio Valley Lookout: the pool was filled in; the picnic spaces and camping spots were over-taken by weeds; and the shelter built by the Civilian Conservation Corps was reclaimed by the hill it sat on. However, thanks to the work of a few dedicated individuals and the Steubenville Parks and Recreation Department, Beatty Park opened to the public once again in 2007. Though its formal activities are much more limited than they were, the addition of a highly-acclaimed disc golf course has brought some life back into this once-popular recreation area.
The most scenic of Steubenville’s public spaces is Union Cemetery. It is now at least 25 acres larger than the 121 acres listed in TOG, but is still “covered with virgin timber.” The cemetery is made up of dozens of unique sections, some of which are tucked into hollows while others command views of the river. “Among those buried here are three of the ‘Fighting McCooks’ of Civil War fame,” TOG explains, though I had to go to Wikipedia to find out that the McCooks were a family of fifteen who gained fame for their deeds (and deaths) for the Union army.
As you may expect for a cemetery, the entry gates have not changed much in the past 75 years. Very soon after the below picture was taken, however, a row of “oriental plane trees” was planted and a “rough sandstone bearing a metal plaque inscribed with the names of those for whom the oriental plane trees were donated,” was placed a few feet west of the entrance. I do find it difficult to believe that this rock tucked under the trees just out of the frame to the right is a “3,000 pound boulder,” as the manuscript guide claims.
After Angel’s Trail and Union Cemetery, the next two points-of-interest in TOG are the Fort Steuben Suspension Bridge and the Pennsylvania Railroad Bridge. Bridges have become so ubiquitous that we don’t give them much thought, but their frequent inclusion in TOG reminded me just how massive these projects were. When the the Pennsylvania Railroad Bridge was put in a single unit in 1936, its 1,000 foot span had to be fabricated and welded on the spot. It was then lifted into place by 10 hydraulic jacks and placed on new piers. The massive metal riveted cantilever through truss bridge looks very similar to what it did when it was installed.
The Fort Steuben Suspension Bridge did not fair so well. Almost twice as long as the PRR Bridge, the fate of the Fort Steuben Bridge was perhaps foreshadowed by the fact that it was build in 1928 at a cost of $2,500,000 but was sold to the state of Ohio for $1,000,000 just ten years later. It served as the main thorough fare over the Ohio in the region and by the nineteen eighties had begun to show structural damage. In 1990, the six-lane Veterans Memorial Bridge was built just to its north and in 2006 a weight-limit was put on the two-lane bridge. There were some attempts to turn it into a pedestrian walkway once it was clear that the Fort Steuben Bridge was no longer viable for motor vehicles, but these plans never materialized. When we drove into town, signs indicating its 2009 closure still remained, though it had been demolished three-weeks earlier. One of the piers was apparently left standing for posterity.
Many of the bridges connecting Ohio and West Virginia face a similarly tenuous fate. With fewer economies based on either side of the river, and highways in both Ohio and West Virginia making travel north and south much less taxing, there is no need to maintain so many crossings. While some have been demolished, others like the Bellaire Bridge remain in legal limbo and have become literal bridges to nowhere.
Ohio River Dam #9 and #10
Like its bridges, the locks and dams of the Ohio River have also changed since TOG was published. In 1910, congress enacted the Rivers and Harbors Act which allowed for the canalization of the Ohio River to a constant depth of nine feet. Completed in 1929 at a cost of over $100 million dollars, the project necessitated the production of 51 wooden wicket dams and 600 foot by 110 foot lock chambers along the length of the river. These structures included a brick powerhouse and two lock keeper houses. According to the manuscript guide, these were the the largest such locks in the United States with a total tonnage of over 15 million in 1925.
During the 1940s, a shift from steam propelled to diesel powered towboats allowed for tows longer than the 600 foot locks could contain. The barges now needed to be locked in two phases, which quickly proved untenable. In 1950, Corps of Engineers initiated the Ohio River Navigation Modernization Program which replaced the outdated wicket dams with structures of concrete and steel. Attached to each non-navigable dam were two adjoining locks, the larger of which being a 1200 foot by 110 foot chamber to accommodate fifteen barges that can lock through in one maneuver.
The new Pike Island Dam made the both Government Lock and Dam #9 (just a few miles south of the Ohio Edison site in Toronto) and Dam #10 (Steubenville) obsolete when it was completed in 1965. The older dams were demolished in 1975. Nothing remains of site #9 but the remains of site #10 in Steubenville include two sets of steps, a large ramp, and the lock esplanade. Pike Island Dam, meanwhile, has become a favorite spot for local fisherman.
Click here for Tour 8, section B (part 3).