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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.

Digital Shoebox Expansion

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, November 06, 2005

Our Digital Shoebox Project was recently enlarged to include more digitized information of local history.
The "Shoebox" is a computer site that contains digitized images of photos and text relating to local history.

The site now includes over 36,000 pages of local history documents, all framed with software that allows searching of the actual text of the materials.
The most recent addition includes all of the "vertical files" of local and state history items. That is a term used by my generation of librarians. A vertical file is simple a filing cabinet of items, generally smaller items that could not be found into a book format.

Librarians are known to assemble and clip newspaper articles, brochures, and tid bits of odds and ends that might someday be useful in finding information.
In today's world, those items can be digitized and placed online for ease of use, and physical storage.

One item that caught my eye is a photocopy of Chapter 3 of the book, "Bezaleel Wells, founder of Canton and Steubenville, Ohio." The 241-page book was published in 1948, authored by Edward Thornton Heald (1885-1967) as a Master's Thesis for Western Reserve University.
Chapter 3 is titled, "The Founding of Steubenville, 1796-1802" and is useful in local history without the remaining chapters of the larger book. This chapter states that on October 24, 1796, Bezaleel Wells and James Ross purchased 3,538 acres of land at the Pittsburgh Federal Land Office.

Further land purchases brought the total to over 15,000 acres by 1799. The two began work surveying the land to establish a town, which was announced in the "Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette" on August 5, 1797 noting that the new county of Jefferson was also being created. On August 25, some 91 lots were sold in the new town which included everything from North Street to South Street, and from the Ohio River to Fourth Street where outlots continued to the hillsides.

Steubenville began as one of the planned communities of the Old Northwest Territory, joining Cincinnati, Chillicothe, Cleveland, and Marietta.

The chapter contains detailed information about those early years, well researched by the author, and documented with footnotes. Books are cited, maps at the Library of Congress are noted, and items given by Wells' great granddaughter to the Western Reserve Historical Society are used to document the history.

By 1800, Steubenville was Ohio's fourth largest city. It was located closer to the eastern markets than the other Ohio cities, but had the physical disadvantage of a smaller site from which to plan a city. Other planned Ohio cities had wider streets and larger lots, more space for development.

The original Steubenville plan lacked public squares, and lots designated for churches, schools, and parks. Wells and his wife donated a lot for the courthouse and city building in 1798. Wells and the founding of these early Ohio towns marked the end of settlement by land speculators as Land Offices sold already-surveyed property in a democratic manner.

The gathering of this information is important, because no one else is responsible for an area's local history. In the case of this book, all of the items cited as being in the Western Reserve Historical Society prior to the 1948 publication of this book, are gone today. They appear to have been retrieved from the Society, returned to the area, and disappeared.

We are fortunate that Heald wrote his book, and saved the information for use today.