PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.
This has been a beautiful spring for flowering trees.
We look out the front of the Main Library across 4th St. at the stunning display of blossoms on the ornamental pear trees that the library planted a decade ago.
They have bloomed before, but never with the bold blossoms that 2009 has presented for all to enjoy.
In 1998, the library system purchased the six houses across the street from the Main Library.
Planning and research began on the demolition of the houses and landscaping of the area to improve parking and access to the Main Library.
Those six houses were the second generation of buildings to occupy the site.
When the Main Library building was constructed in 1902, it faced three smaller houses that had been constructed in the 1830s close to the Slack Street corner.
The Library looked down on Bezaleel Wells’ home from 1798, called “The Grove.”
That mansion was positioned where the building of the Weirton Steel Steubenville Works currently sits.
That mansion was demolished in 1905 to make way for the Pope Tin Mill.
The newspaper account of the house razing tells of books and papers pouring from the attic as the “steam shovel” chewed into the old mansion.
The worked raked up the papers into a bonfire to warm their lunches.
(Can you tell that the librarian is turning pale every time I read that story?)
The library itself replaced a brick house dating from 1840.
From 1905-1920, the earlier houses were replaced by single family homes and duplexes, stacked tightly only a few feet apart as downtown Steubenville was in need of building space.
As the plan was developed for the site in 1998, we noticed that the front basement walls of most of the six houses seemed to be part of one long cut stone wall that paralleled 4th St.
Further research found that S. 4th Street was constructed about 1870 south of Slack Street and two ravines were filled for the street.
A stone retaining wall was erected to support the street as it followed along the edge of the hillside.
When those houses were constructed in the early 1900s, that wall was simply recycled as the front basement wall of the houses.
Two of the houses even had sub-basements, a second basement below the basement level accessed by a trap door.
Those houses had been constructed where the ravines were that caused S. 4th St. to be filled.
During demolition and landscaping, we watched for items of interest that might emerge from the work, but it was mostly a century of household debris.
A few interesting bottles were found, and still occupy a place in my storage cabinet, and a large cache of defective pottery that had been dumped in the fill.
So, as you go down S. 4th St. past the library, remember that the 1870 stone retaining wall is still doing its job supporting the street, albeit out-of-sight now.
And the library has reclaimed its splendid view up and down the Ohio River, just as the early pioneers saw it.