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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.

James Ross and his portrait

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, August 6, 2006



Our Main Library is remembered for the large paintings that adorn the high walls of the two Reading Rooms.


When the building opened in 1902, the walls were bare and the paintings came over the next 30 years.


The first two paintings given to the library were the portraits of Steubenville's co-founders, Bezaleel Wells and James Ross.


Those portraits are nearing their centennial anniversary, having been donated on December 14, 1906.


A large crowd gathered at the library on that Thursday evening to hear a 2-hour dedication program.


Mr. William H. Hunter who had died before the paintings were completed commissioned the portraits.


Presenting the portraits that evening was Mr. E.C. Browne of New Philadelphia, brother-in-law of the donor.


Both portraits are copies done by noted Steubenville artist, Mr. C.P. Filson, who used older paintings by other artists done around 1800.


Library Board President George W. McCook, who introduced Mrs. William Forrstrom, a soprano soloist who sang "Still Wie Die Nacht" with accompanist Mrs. J.H. Andrews, opened the evening's festivities.


The main speaker for the evening was the renowned Rev. Dr. A.M. Reid, the head of the then-closed Steubenville Female Seminary.


Dr. Reid is also known as the person who contacted Andrew Carnegie regarding his funding of the library for Steubenville, and also served on the Library Board.


He stated that the donor, Mr. Hunter, had been associated with Mr. McFadden at the "Steubenville Gazette" newspaper before moving to Chillicothe.


Turning to the subject of one of the portraits, James Ross was born in 1762 in Pennsylvania, and resided and practiced law in Pittsburgh beginning in 1789.


He and Bezaleel Wells purchased the site for Steubenville in 1796, and Ross developed the streets and lots in the north end of the city.


Ross was involved in politics from 1799-1805, being nominated for Governor of Pennsylvania.


Although never elected, he was appointed the U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania.


In 1794, James Ross helped stop the Whiskey Rebellion in Western Pennsylvania, and bring peace to the countryside.


He ended his law practice in 1814, and continued as a successful businessman serving on Pittsburgh City Council from 1816-1833.


James Ross died at the age of 85 in 1847 and is buried in the Allegheny Cemetery.


The portraits of Ross and Wells were hung over the huge mantels of the Reading Rooms, but were moved in 1913 when the portraits of Baron von Steuben and George Rogers Clark were donated.


The Ross and Wells portraits have been appraised twice, and were found to be of no monetary value except for "historical value of local interest."


The paintings were copied from earlier paintings.  Ross was painted based on an original portrait hanging in the Pittsburgh Law Library.


One hundred years of library users have looked at James Ross, wouldn't it be exciting if he could tell us what he has seen in that same time!