Preserving our manufacturing heritage

On the front page of today’s edition, you’ll read about an art competition, hosted by the Hancock County Arts Council, with the goal of helping to preserve the imagery of the remaining portions of the Weirton steel manufacturing facilities.

Once known as Weirton Steel, and for the last several years, owned by ArcelorMittal, much of the property, including various parts of the mill, have been sold to the Frontier Group of Companies with plans to demolish the structures.

The hope is the property can someday be used to bring other businesses and industry to the region.

The local mills became something we all took for granted after a while. We just assumed they always would be around, manufacturing their products and providing valuable jobs for our residents.

Things began to go downhill, though, and the tens-of-thousands of jobs disappeared, with the mill sold twice within the last 15 years.

While it is true there has been more to Weirton, and the surrounding area, than the mill, it is still a part of our history and heritage. It will be important for future generations to have an idea of what has been here, especially once these buildings and facilities are no longer here.

I’m glad to see the Arts Council putting together such a project, with support from the Frontier Group, to have artists put together pieces to help preserve some of these manufacturing sites.

We have so many people throughout the Tri-State Area with artistic ability, and I’m sure many will find some way to produce a piece or two to depict these massive structures which have surrounded the city for much of Weirton’s history.

In the article announcing the contest, registration for which begins today, those interested will learn more about the type of media to be accepted, as well as how to register.

A reception, at which time winners will be announced, will be held in January, and soon after that, these buildings will be no more.

The folks at the Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center have already done a fine job with their work of preserving the history of Weirton’s mill, with copies of the employee bulletin, uncounted photographs and video, examples of work performed there, badges worn by the employees, and much more in their collection.

Others have written books, or articles, or simply taken photographs and video of their own over the years.

No matter who we are in this area, chances are we have some connection to the local steel industry.

Fathers, mothers, siblings, grandparents, neighbors, and more have all worked there at one point or another.

The steel industry provided a lifestyle for much of the community, and helped Weirton to thrive.

It is important for us all to remember the mill’s contributions over the years, and it is important to hand down the lessons and ideals to our children and grandchildren, so they understand what made the mill so special.

Whether you have any artistic ability and want to enter the competition, or just want to walk around town and take a few photographs for yourself, I would encourage you to do so as soon as you can.

Parts of the structures already have been demolished, and it won’t be long before only those areas still in operation are all that remain.

If you have family who has worked there, encourage them to write down some of their memories.

Pay a visit to the museum and look through the copies of the bulletin, learn about the products made here in Weirton.

It’s like any other task of preserving our history. Find a way to document it and save it.

Remember all of it and keep the heritage alive for generations to come.

(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)

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