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Our history needs to be remembered

There are some buildings that seem to take on a life of their own.

They are more than structures of mortar and brick, of steel and glass, of wires and pipes. They represent family and work, and they stand for a way of life. They help keep history and memories alive.

The former United Steelworkers Local 1190 hall is one of those places.

Once a vibrant center for the community, the building that has sat on Third Street in Steubenville since 1951 has been sold, leaving thousands of retired and former Steelworkers and their families with many memories and finally closing the book on the history of steelmaking in the city.

Built at a cost of $75,000, the two-story building was the center of activity for the men and women who worked for Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp. and its former and later owners. It was more than a place to conduct union business — it had meeting rooms that buzzed with activity and a large hall which was such a popular spot in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s that it was sometimes called on to host two wedding receptions in one day. It was the site of dances and other events, former union leaders recalled during a recent walk-around interview.

It also was the site of Christmas parties for the children of Steelworkers, fondly remembered as the starting and ending point of a day that included a walk around the block to the long-gone Capitol Theater and a bag of fruit and candy as a holiday present.

All of the memories were not good, Carmen DeStefano, Ken Aspenleiter and John Slivka, longtime union members, pointed out. There were very sad times, including when members learned that a fellow Steelworker had been killed on the job, and anxious times, including strikes in the 1950s, 1960, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. The 98-day strike in 1985 and 316-day walk-out in 1996 are remembered as the biggest.

It was during those times when the hall represented the Steelworkers who were willing to stand up for what they believed in and stuck together, serving as a place to gather and a sign of resolve.

What many in the community still refer to as the Wheeling-Pitt plant in Steubenville has been closed for many years, and most of what was left of the facility is now gone. The union hall that has been vacant for eight years was among the last remaining structures in the city that were tied to that heritage.

And while the fate of the building will rest with its new owner, memorabilia that it held will be saved, including a plaque that lists the names of the Local 1190 members who were killed on the job. No one knows where those items will end up, but the hope is that they will be in a place that is accessible to future generations, where the stories of the lives and work of the men and women who helped make the steel that built and protected our nation can be recognized.

The building that served as the home of Local 1190 soon will have a different use or, sadly, could shortly be gone, but the memories of the work that was done there and the experiences that were enjoyed and shared there are important parts of our area’s history and should never be forgotten.

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