History in the Hills: Our place in history

The place we live in is so important. It has the power to shape who we are and what we do with our future. The place I love and the place that has shaped me is the Ohio Valley. I grew up here, not during the boom years of the mills and factories, but during the so-called de-industrialization of the main industry that sustained us for so many years.

I lived on the stories of what “once was,” “is gone,” “was there,” and I was fascinated. What was here, why do we do that, for what reason is this, this way? Learning the stories of our community’s past, I have always felt, has been the key to understanding who we are as a community and where we go in the future. This place and its stories have shaped my profound love for history and this place we all call home.

Let me introduce myself. My name is Paul Zuros, and I am the new director of operations at Historic Fort Steuben. I am coming on as the second director of the fort and Visitor Center, taking over the outstanding work Judy Bratten has done for the past 15 years. I can’t imagine a better fit for someone who loves history, especially the history of our area, to work. I am humbled and excited to jump into this new role.

Before this position, I had been fortunate to work for a historic house museum in Charleston, the West Virginia Humanities Council; and the Carnegie Museums in Pittsburgh, among other places. Growing up here, I am still connected with the Hancock County Historical Museum and the Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center — the places that jump-started my career as a public historian.

I have returned to this place to be an ambassador to our history– basically to tell our stories. Stories of our community and our region, and in some cases, how these stories fit into our national history. It’s these places and these stories that set the Ohio Valley apart — it’s what makes us unique. With that in mind, I want to introduce this column as a collection of stories of our local history, what we remember about our collective past and why it’s so important. I will seek to discover, and sometimes, re-discover those stories, landmarks, events and disasters in our local history that may have been lost or forgotten. I have called it “History in the Hills” because the hills are just about the oldest things around here so quite literally, our history begins in these hills.

Being a public historian, I have the opportunity to connect visitors to Steubenville and the fort to the history of our area. With the fort as the landmark and anchor in the downtown, I can use it to set the stage for our community’s past by starting with the first notable landmark in Steubenville. Although Fort Steuben supposedly disappeared from the landscape somewhere around 1790, we can still talk about this block, between Market and Adams streets through time and space, coming full circle to 1989 when ground was broken on the Fort Steuben Reconstruction.

There is so much local history wrapped up in this particular block, as I plan to elaborate on in a future column. There were homes here, businesses, an ice cream factory, a railroad freight station, not to mention a wharf at the end of Market Street followed by the Market Street bridge which opened to traffic July 4, 1905, the dawn of a new century. And in this block, there were parking lots, that often took the place of so many landmarks that aren’t there anymore.

The fort is a success story about turning what was once a parking lot back into a landmark, and there are others that also are overcoming obstacles to bring back important landmarks in our community. Just one step in revitalizing our place in this community.

History is all around us. Join me to rediscover our place in history in the Ohio Valley and see what we discover or rediscover along the way.

(Zuros is the director of operations at Historic Fort Steuben.)