Feeling a little nostalgic

It was tough not to feel just a little bit nostalgic Aug. 8 when the Nos. 1 and 2 blast furnaces at the Steubenville works of what was last known as RG Steel were toppled.

Their demise was sad on many different levels. The first was quite obvious when those explosives went off shortly after 3:28 p.m. that afternoon, it offered concrete, indisputable proof that our area’s role in the world’s steel production had, indeed, come to an end.

The No. 2 furnace went first, with No. 1 stubbornly trying to hang onto its past glory until workers from the Joseph B. Fay Co. of Pittsburgh attached more explosives to its base and successfully took it down about 5:15 p.m. that day

It’s even sadder that the furnaces – which for more than 100 years produced the iron that would become the steel that would help build the great cities of our country; become the rails that would connect those cities; win two world wars; be vital to the development of the auto industry in the United States; make our Interstate highway system, with its many bridges and mile after mile of reinforced concrete the envy of the world – were taken down in near anonymity.

Because of safety concerns, the demolition of the furnaces was not announced to the public in advance. There were no spectators onsite that afternoon. A few city officials, a couple of employees of Fay and a couple of reporters, staff writers Dave Gossett and Paul Giannamore, viewed the demolition from high above the Ohio River, standing at the midway point of the walkway on the Market Street Bridge.

They had the best view of the last few seconds in the lives of the 120-foot-tall furnaces.

There were no doubt hundreds of other residents of the Tri-State Area, those people who had actually worked in that mill and at those furnaces, who would have wanted to have witnessed those blasts.

The memories of working in that mill and the sadness some of those workers felt when they learned the furnaces were coming down was captured quite well in the story “Thundering blasts take down Steubenville furnaces” that Gossett wrote for the Aug. 9 edition.

It was certainly a symbolic end for the industry, which was the backbone of our area’s economy for so many years. Money earned by the men and women who worked in the mills in Steubenville, Mingo Junction and Weirton helped create the subdivisions in our region, spurred the development of commercial shopping areas, helped attract professionals to the area and paid for the college educations of thousands upon thousands of area young people.

Those jobs began to dwindle as the domestic steel industry all but disappeared. There’s no sense arguing about the reasons for that here. While they were numerous, no amount of discussion will change today’s realities. And, in fact, the era did not end Aug. 8 – it ended a few years ago when the last steel was produced in the local mills.

Still, there’s reason for sadness in the loss of the two blast furnaces.

But there’s also reason for hope, an opportunity to look ahead. Strauss Industries, which owns the property, has said that there are companies that are interested in locating there. It’s attractive – it has access to the Ohio River, the railroad and highways and is only a 35-minute drive from Pittsburgh International Airport.

The possibilities are intriguing – and have the potential to open an exciting new era in our region.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)