History in the Hills: Connections to discover

Recently, I had the great opportunity to visit Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, and while I was there, I heard their new catch phrase to encourage repeat visitors. “Colonial Williamsburg, Where History Never Gets Old.”

I love this way of describing what they do at CW, although it is a clever phrase to get me to come back. In a broader sense, it is what excites me about history, and it is true about the humanities in general. It is a normal and common thought to think that history is written and over, but more always can be learned about the past. So, therefore, history never gets old.

There is always more to the story, more connections to discover. I thought I would take this time to share a story of connections in our valley.

One interesting piece of history I learned recently is that Third Street between Market and Adams streets in Steubenville was reportedly the first brick-paved street in Ohio. It was paved in 1884 with bricks made by Capt. John Porter in Newell. Evidently, these bricks were a very high quality. So much so that in 1910 it was reported that the city of Steubenville did not spend more than $1 on the maintenance of the street since it was laid out 26 years earlier. Talk about quality and durability. I wonder if the original brick street is under the modern asphalt that Third Street is paved with today?

Also, in the 1880s in Steubenville, the first telephone exchange opened in 1881, the trolley arrived in 1887 and in 1886 the electric light made its debut in the city.

According to the 1947 book, “Steubenville Sesquicentennial Veterans Homecoming,” the Steubenville Light and Power Co. plant was located at the foot of North Street.

During the day the plant’s steam engine was devoted to a sawmill. When night came, the belt from the engine moved from the sawmill to the electric generator and, voila, the lights in Steubenville turned on.

As the years went on and the electric demand increased, a generator was needed for the whole day, not just for the evening.

In Steubenville in 1887, James Turnbull passed away at the age of 91 and was buried in Union Cemetery. Turnbull, a veteran of the War of 1812, established what was possibly the first book bindery in the state of Ohio in Steubenville in 1816. From a bindery grew a book publisher, bookstore and stationery shop. He also was a proprietor of a local paper mill. According to his biography, Turnbull served as county treasurer in 1831, served twice on City Council, was a member of the school board and was on the board of directors of many early banks in the region. He voted for President James Monroe in 1816 and was an admirer of Henry Clay. It is written that Turnbull, even in his 90s, could recall the first steamboat on the Ohio River. In his book shop Edwin Stanton got his start as a clerk. Also holding that same position was the artist James Wilson Alexander MacDonald.

MacDonald was born in Steubenville in 1824 but soon relocated to St. Louis and finally to Yonkers in New York City. Primarily a sculpture artist, MacDonald sculpted George Washington based off of the famous bust done by Houdon, George Armstrong Custer (coincidentally a native of New Rumley in Harrison County), Abraham Lincoln and Missouri Sen. James T. Benton, which is reported to be the first marble portrait bust made west of the Mississippi. His bust of Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a replica was installed in Hancock Park in Manhattan. His sculpture of Fitz-Greene Halleck is in Central Park and his monument featuring the bust of Washington Irving is in Prospect Park in Brooklyn. When MacDonald died in 1908, his obituary described him as America’s oldest sculptor.

Steubenville, where history never gets old. History and stories are built from connections. Starting with the paving of Third Street in 1884, we are able construct a story. The trolley passed by late in the decade, and when night fell in 1886, the illuminated glow from incandescent lightbulbs cast their shadows on the bricks.

Undoubtedly in 1887, the recently widowed Margaret Turnbull surely rode in her carriage on that brick street on the way to her homestead on North Third. Perhaps she knew all this history and the connections one story can make.

(Zuros is the director of operations at Historic Fort Steuben and the Steubenville Visitors Center.)