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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.

Portraits in the Main Library Building

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, August 16, 2015

A couple weeks ago, I passed through the Reading Rooms of the Main Library building checking for a book title, and had an uneasy feeling that I was being watched.  Gracing the walls of these high-ceilinged rooms are a dozen portraits and paintings, many of which were donated to the library in 1916.


Like an old movie, some of them have eyes that penetrate today’s library user and almost seem to follow you as you move around the Reading Rooms.  All are the work of Steubenville painters, Davison Filson, Charles P. Filson, and Eliphalet Andrews.


In my opinion, the portrait of Eunice Ingersoll (Mrs. James Collier), the only female in the group, has the most observant eyes in the group as she seems to watch the comings and goings some 150 years after her lifespan.


But my thoughts were with the stately gentleman in the huge portrait on the North Reading Room, a painting that has only been on the walls of the library since 2011.


It is a portrait of Dohrman James Sinclair (1860-1915) which, according to the information in the lower corner, was produced in 1915 by “C.P. Filson.”  This month marks the 100th anniversary of the tragic death of this Steubenville businessman, which took place August 6, 1915 in the LaBelle Iron Works railroad yard.


The huge portrait was likely produced based on a photo of Sinclair following his death, and was in the family home as well as the former Union Deposit Bank, later called the Union Savings Bank and Trust Company.  In the 1950s, it hung in the library for a few years, before returning to the family home, then the bank before arriving at the library again in 2011.


Mr. Sinclair is wearing a three-piece suit and red tie in the portrait, sitting in a background of brown and gold in a frame of leaves and berries.


His life and death are told in two books, “Father and His Town,” by his daughter Wilma Sinclair LeVan Baker (1887-1963) and “A 20th Century Lady” by Mary Minor Evans, which is the story of her mother Katherine Sinclair Minor (1908-1998), a younger sister of the first author.


Both books were gifts to me, and besides the story of the Sinclair Family, are fascinating reading about the life and development of our area from the 19th Century into the 20th Century.


On Friday, August 6, 1915, the new 10 story building at 4th and Market Streets that would house the “Union Bank” was set to open as the tallest building between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati along the Ohio River.  As President and Director of the bank, Dohrman Sinclair, had been asked by the President of the LaBelle Iron Works if he knew the location of some water springs that had been located on the iron works property at the “foot of Third St.” 


The concern was some new Coke Ovens planned for the site, and the springs would negatively impact the ovens operations unless found.


Sinclair was standing in the rail yards of the plant around 7:00 pm in the evening with blueprints in hand to see if he could locate the former site of the springs when Train 399 came into the yards.  The engineer blew the whistle, but Sinclair stepped onto the wrong tracks and was struck dead by the train.


The City closed for Sinclair’s funeral on August 9, with thousands lining the streets for the event.  The Union Bank building postponed opening day as the procession passed by on the way to Union Cemetery.


Many Midwestern cities of the era had champions who aided in the civic development and economic development of the areas, but Dohrman Sinclair had the leadership ability and financial abilities to make it happen.


Sinclair’s involvement in the Steubenville area ranged from commercial and industrial plants to real estate to civic ventures of transportation and public utilities.


A Life Magazine article written in 1958 (40 years after his death) regarding trade issues with pottery and steel says that Steubenville needed another “Dohrman Sinclair” for the new economic era.


So, when you walk into the Main Library Building and pass under the portrait of Andrew Carnegie, and have Baron von Steuben looking at you from one fireplace and Gen. George Rogers Clark from the other, take a right turn and look over your shoulder at Dohrman Sinclair.