Beech Bottom marks 60th anniversary

BEECH BOTTOM – Though he didn’t attend Beech Bottom’s celebration of its 60th anniversary Saturday, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., summed up the event pretty well in a letter read by his representative, Mary Jo Guidi.

Manchin said such occasions help the participants to know themselves better and serve as a bridge to communication between generations. He also thanked all Beech Bottom citizens who have served their community in various ways.

And the event spearheaded by Beech Bottom Councilwoman Becky Uhlly and the village’s Neighborhood Watch program involved all of those elements.

The celebration began Saturday morning at the Beech Bottom Fire Department with a display of old photos and newspaper articles depicting various aspects of the village’s past. Those attending heard about the village’s past, present and future from Uhlly, Ruby Greathouse of the Brooke County Museum and Cultural Center, Mayor George Lewis and Pat Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle.

Uhlly noted the village’s roots can be traced to Robert Miller, an Irish alemaker who established a farm on 900 acres now occupied by much of the village. Following his death, the land was purchased by Whitaker-Glessner Co. to build a steel mill.

The company later merged with two other companies to form Wheeling Steel, which built homes and a general store there for its many employees. Greathouse said unlike employer-built houses in many other places, the homes weren’t identical and included structures of various sizes and multi-family complexes.

Asked how the village received its name, Greathouse said it dates beyond the village’s incorporation, to the 1700s, and has been attributed to George Washington, who passed the area while traveling down the Ohio River and noted the beech trees along its banks.

Greathouse said other modes of transportation from Beech Bottom’s earliest days included passenger trains that ran on tracks from Pittsburgh to Kentucky, including part of the area now occupied by the Brooke County Pioneer Trail and streetcars that traveled from Wheeling to Steubenville.

Wheeling Steel also paid crews, often local teachers working summers, to make repairs to the homes. But by the mid 1950s, the steel firm began selling the homes to residents and focused its efforts on the mill’s operations.

Lewis said he was only 2 when his father, Don, became the village’s first mayor in 1953 but he has since learned Wheeling Steel provided about $2,700 to the new village government for expenses.

Services provided by the government were modest, as it had a yearly budget of just $1,200 for many years, Lewis said, but it did offer law enforcement in the form of Marshal John Niven, father of former councilman John “Butch” Niven, and an occasional deputy.

Lewis commented on efforts by village officials in recent years, including the $1.3 million replacement and extension of water lines throughout Beech Bottom, including property annexed in 1999, with financial support from Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel and the Wheeling Island Hotel, Casino and Racetrack, which is served by dog kennels there; and new playground equipment and shelters at the village’s Third Street and Hill Street playgrounds.

The mayor also announced this year’s Citizen of the Year, Raymond Smith, who was nominated for his efforts at beautifying the community by removing weeds and litter from its sidewalks.

A Beech Bottom resident for about 12 years, Smith said he had been somewhat reclusive following the death of his son to cancer. But following the replacement of both his knees, his doctor encouraged him to get more exercise.

Soon he realized he could help the village’s many senior residents and younger ones whose work schedules leave them less time for yard work.

“I don’t consider that I’m doing anything more than prettying up the place,” Smith said, adding, “This is a village with a lot of good people, kind, courteous people who care.”

Ford commented on the more recent development of the former Wheeling Corrugating Plant. The plant was purchased at auction following bankruptcy proceedings by RG Steel, its owner then, for $4.3 million by Hackman Capital of Los Angeles, then sold for $400,000 to the BDC, which worked with Hackman and others to fill the facility with new businesses.

They include Sheehan Pipe Line Construction, Integrity Kokosing, Profoam and Jupiter Aluminum, which collectively employ about 700 people, about half hired through local unions, he said.

Those attending also heard from Brandon Lancaster, the winner of an essay contest in which fourth-graders at Beech Bottom Primary School were challenged to write about what they would do if they were mayor.

Lancaster, who received a $50 gift card, explained the duties and powers of the mayor before revealing his goals would include building a new school with a swimming pool and new parks and athletic facilities “so people have more room to play and learn” as well as ensuring the laws were enforced and residents have safe drinking water.

Displayed with the old photos and news clippings were pictures drawn by children throughout the school for another contest and depicting their own dreams for its future. They included the addition of various restaurants, a soccer field, skateboarding park and hospital for animals.

Named for each grade, the winners were: Wyatt Fink, Olivia Comer, Willow Moore, Cole Lynch and Haylee Swiger. Each received a $10 gift card.

The program at the fire station was followed by a free dinner at Beech Bottom Community Christian Church, with music supplied by the band 40 Plus and many door prizes provided by area businesses.

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