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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

William Smurthwaite and Steubenville

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, December 4, 2011

William Smurthwaite was born in England in 1829.  He came to America in 1858, originally intending to go to Australia and work in their mining industry, but his brother’s success in the Steubenville area changed his mind.


Beginning in 1861, and extending for 40 years, he was the Superintendant of the Steubenville Coal & Mining Company, and was given credit for the success of the mining operation.


An 1895 “character sketch” that appeared in the newspaper stated that he “handled a pen very masterfully, and has written very bale articles on mine engineering for some of the leading papers of the country.”


Indeed, his work is shown in some of the Ohio Mining Commission reports of the 19th century, as well as a small book that seems to have been published in stages from 1881-1904.


“Reminiscences, coal mining in Steubenville and vicinity and other subjects of a local character” was privately published and distributed to his personal friends, perhaps in bits & pieces.


The library did not obtain a copy of the work until the 1951 when, in their senior years, his 9 children donated a copy.  More copies made their way to the library, and we finally have a copy with the full set of intended pages.


The preface of the final edition states that Mr. Smurthwaite assembled a selection of the writer’s publications, as well as yellowed clippings from newspapers that might be of interest.


Much of the work discusses the establishment of the coal mine that was located at 8th and Liberty Streets in Steubenville, and became better known as the “High Shaft” after the workings were combined in 1862.


As of his 1904 writings, Mr. Robert Sherrard was the President, and George W. McCook served as treasurer and secretary.  The mine continued to operate until the 1960s.


The book continues, expanding to the coal producing areas in the county, as well as the area industries of the 19th century that used the coal as a raw material.


Smurthwaite moves away from the coal industry and covers the debate regarding the construction of a new City Hall in Steubenville in the 1880s, as well as a major upgrade of the water system.


He concludes with religious discussions and information about his church, the Fifth Street Methodist Protestant Church.


It is interesting that his coal mining information is clearly used in the 1880 publication of the “History of Belmont and Jefferson Counties” by J.A. Caldwell, as well as the publication of Doyle’s “20th Century History of Steubenville and Jefferson County.”


Actually, he died in 1910, the same year as Doyle’s history was produced, as his biography did not have his death mentioned.


Of particular interest in his book, is a section titled, “Why manufacturers should locate in the Ohio Valley,” written in 1882.


Smurthwaite sounded like a present-day promoter of the area, citing river transportation and water, railroads, highways, and the natural resources found in the area to support manufacturing.


He lists available area sites for industry, including the Stokley’s Grove (Weirton Steel-Steubenville Works), the Thomas Mears’ Property, and “an area near the dump.”


It is said that be never lost his British accent, and even family members seemed to carry that forward into the next generation.


But he was here to stay, based on a story told in his 1895 sketch.  On the sea crossing from England in 1858, he became violently ill from “sea sickness.”  When offered his job back that he had left in England, he responded, “I would rather tackle hard luck in this country than another case of that sickness on the water.”