Steubenville OH – Situated along the Ohio River, the County Seat of Jefferson County was a center for steel production for over 120 years. Flanked by mills and associated support industries up and down the Ohio River, Steubenville was the home to nearly 40,000 people at its peak in 1940. The history of steel production here began when the LaBelle Iron Works, a leading nail mill in Wheeling, WV purchased an independent mill here and immediately began construction of two blast furnaces by 1899. Known as the North Plant these furnaces produced the raw steel to feed several other specialty plants in the area to produce tin, galvanized and structural steel. LaBelle stayed independent until 1920 when Wheeling Steel was founded absorbing several companies in the process. These furnaces operated constantly through the 1960’s merger with Pittsburgh Steel, operating under the name Wheeling-Pitt Steel. The Number One Furnace operated continuously until the mill was shut down in 2005.
A prominent landmark in Steubenville is the Market Street Bridge the sole project undertaken by the Steubenville Bridge Company in 1905. The suspension bridge was constructed by the Ohio Erecting Company with the steel coming from Jones & Laughlin and Bethlehem Steel and the frame fabrication performed by Penn Bridge Company. The bridge’s sole purpose was to connect Ohio to West Virginia providing an easy means of access to the Follansbee Brother’s steel mill that later become the Wheeling-Pittsburgh Coke Works in appropriately named Follansbee, WV. Designed by noted engineer E. K. Morse who was involved in the design of Roebling’s Brooklyn Bridge, the structure has a checkered past. From its original design the bridge was multi-modal, carrying pedestrians, trolleys and automobiles. In 1917 it was sold to the West Penn Traction Company and was operated by the streetcar line until the constant stress of heavy freight rail traffic caused a major cable failure on the bridge. Dr. David B. Steinman, a noted bridge engineer in the same year, addressed design flaws and oversaw repairs; Steinman would also be involved in a major upgrade in the 1940’s.
Traffic on the Market St. Bridge decreased with the opening of the Fort Steuben Bridge in 1928, providing better access to the area industry via highways outside the city center. Ironically the Fort Steuben Bridge was replaced in 1990 with the opening of the Veterans Memorial Bridge and sadly the historic structure was found structurally deficient and ultimately demolished in 2012. Fortunately the Main Street Bridge did not suffer the same fate, though it was also found to have structural issues. With funding from the WV Department of Transportation the bridge received major repairs in 2009 providing the necessary steel reinforcements as well as period lighting and fresh paint. The bridge, now eligible to be on the National Historic Register, was dedicated on December 7th of 2011 opening again for local traffic.
Though the Market Street Bridge was the first of its kind for the general public it was not the first crossing of the Ohio in Steubenville. The Pennsylvania Railroad constructed the first bridge in the area around 1868 with two subsequent replacements in 1888 and 1927, the later survives today carrying what remains of the former PRR Panhandle Division which once extended to St. Louis via Cincinnati and was the supply line to the heavy industry of the Ohio Valley. Like the railroad Steubenville and the steel industry have faced hardships, seeing a decline in population directly connected to slumping steel production and subsequent closure of the mills. What remains today is quickly disappearing as the shuttered mills are torn down for scrap. The surviving towns face the challenge of adapting to a new life or fading away in existence an unfortunate reality to many towns through out the former steel belt.