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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.

Bezaleel Wells and his Portrait

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, August 20, 2006

Continuing last week's article about the dedication at the library of the portraits of Steubenville's founders, this week I am discussing the portrait of Bezaleel Wells.

 

With James Ross, in 1797 he purchased the site for Steubenville and laid out the early street grid for the city.

 

In December 1906, his portrait was painted and donated to the library.

 

Library Board member Dr. A.M. Reid was the main speaker for the event, and he asked Miss Agnes Wells, granddaughter of the subject, to unveil the portrait.

 

Steubenville artist C.P. Filson painted the Wells Portrait from an original by Steen done in 1837.

 

The reproduction was described as "exact in every way" in capturing the likeness of the Steen work.

 

Bezaleel Wells was born in 1769 in Baltimore, and resided with his uncle.  At the age of 13, he moved to Washington County, Pa. to be with his parents.

 

He attended William and Mary College, and was known as one of the best surveyors in the country.

 

This skill made him ideal for settling the Ohio Country, and laying out a new town such as Steubenville.

 

James Ross never lived in Steubenville, but Wells constructed "The Grove," his home for over 30 years.

 

Reid provided an exhaustive history of Bezaleel Wells during the dedication.  He noted that Wells had 13 children and "The Grove" was the center of social life in the area with Henry Clay and William Henry Harrison both visiting the Mansion.

 

With the 1906 dedication of the portraits, only a year had passed since the demolition of this famous home as the site for Steubenville's riverfront industrial plants.

 

After establishing the city, Wells constructed flour and sawmill on Wells Run near the arch for the railroad.  In 1804, he laid out the City of Canton, Ohio.

 

Bezaleel Wells and his partners James Ross, and Patterson and Baldwin joined to form the woolen industry that thrived in the area in the early 1800s.

 

These fine Merino sheep numbered more than 4,000 and were summered around Canton, and wintered in the Steubenville area.  The business expanded into surrounding counties, but was headquartered at the site of the "Holy Name Church" according to Reid.

 

Despite his business success, Bezaleel Wells was served with a judgment for $ 120,000 in 1830 obtained by the firm of Wells & Dickinson.

 

His home, his business, and all of the sheep were sold to satisfy the debt, and Wells went to live with his daughter in her home on High Street.

 

In 1832, his son Alexander provided a place for his father to live, on the farm where Trinity East is now located.  He died in 1846, the same year as his partner, James Ross.

 

Nearly all that was named for Wells has disappeared with time.  The high school, the historical society, and the stream no longer bear his name.

 

Only a small piece of Wells Street remains.  If you descend the Slack Street hill near the Main Library, and turn right to State Route 7; that little piece of a street is all that remains of Wells Street.

 

In reading the information about the night of the dedication of the portraits at the library, it seems to me a century later that the program must have lasted more than 2 hours.

 

Today, how many would remain past 10 minutes while the history of two men were read and recounted by various speakers?

 

Today, those portraits hang quietly in the South Reading Room as a tribute to the men who founded Steubenville.