PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.
Over a decade ago, the library purchased the properties across the street from the Main Library building in downtown Steubenville to create more street parking.
With the removal of those houses, the view out of the library changed greatly, and the hills of West Virginia and the North Plant of the Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corporation came into view across the grass strip.
Many people marveled at the new view, which was reversed from SR 7 where the century-old library façade was now visible up the slope.
The lawn strip became a favorite spot for television reporters to do steel industry news and reports with the mill buildings as a backdrop.
Unfortunately, during that time period, the industry that had been part of the Ohio Valley for more than a century saw its end; and the plant that had operated under various names closed.
A plaque from the administration building made its way to the library, to be preserved on the site overlooking the complex.
The library’s Local History and Genealogy Department gathered some bits and pieces of information about the steel industry as it impacted our area, as we knew that it would be going away as we knew it, and future generations would be interested in information about the industry.
Ben Halpern appeared in my office one day, and shared with me his interest in documenting the history of the steel industry, its impact on the community, and the transition of the industry into something new for our area.
He explained that he is an industrial architectural photographer whose occupation was documenting industries as they change, so that the history is retained for future generations.
Ben also has a vast knowledge of the American industrial complex, and the steel industry as it has impacted growth and development.
Then, several things came together to form the Steel Documentary Project.
The North Plant was purchased by Strauss Industries, with a plan to convert the complex into a new industrial site with alternative functions; as well as their interest to cooperate with the library system to document the site before it changes and disappears.
Strauss Industries has been a wonderful partner in allowing the Steel Documentary Project to develop for the benefit of our community.
Funding for the photography was provided by the Charles M. and Thelma M. Pugliese Charitable Foundation allowing the North Plant to be professionally photographed by Ben Halpern before it disappeared with the cooperation of Strauss Industries.
So many people have contributed information about the historical site from up and down the Ohio River Valley.
Now the next step is approaching with a $ 15,000 grant from the Esther Simmons Charitable Trust through the support of the PNC Charitable Trust, which will allow the development of a photo exhibit this fall highlighting the steel industry.
The exhibit will begin as one large showing of the photos, following by smaller versions that will move around the area to smaller venues, supplemented with community programming about the local steel industry.
The library will also be gathering donated photos from area citizens that will document the industry and serve as a basis of information for the future to remember the past.
As funding is obtained, more will be added to the project such as community histories as they relate to the steel industry development and documentation as the former steel sites change and become the new industrial site.
Many people are excited about the project, look forward to the programming and exhibits coming this Fall.