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History in the Hills: Venturing in to the city

It’s hard to imagine our area today without industry. The mills and factories that dot our landscape are as familiar to us as our own homes. I know right before I returned to Weirton after being gone for so long it was strange to drive on Main Street and no longer see the green aging B.O.P. looming over the skyline. It had always been there in my lifetime, and without it, it left quite literally a hole in the landscape. Now when I drive by the area in which it stood since 1967, I am reminded that there was a different landscape here for far longer than the mill existed. Booms have come and gone from our area. Steel naturally is the one that made our area what it is, but there was a thriving community here long before E.T. Weir came to Crawford’s crossing.

In my research of our area, I have come across a few local historians who have really grabbed me and have described what our region was like pre-mill. The first one is Mary Shakley Ferguson who lived to be near 100 years old, and who eventually died in 1997. Ferguson was described in a Goldenseal article from 1976 as Weirton’s “Historian Laureate.”

She had a way with words, and her book “The History of Hollidays Cove” is certainly worth a read. You can request it at the Mary H. Weir Public Library. She also was an accomplished artist and painted from memory the sites she remembered from our early days. Ferguson came to age in this area when the farms were being sold in lots for subdivisions and the settlements of Weirton and Hollidays Cove were getting ready to boom. She could still recall the country dotted with grist mills, barns and old farmhouses.

What I particularly enjoy most about her article entitled “Christmas Memories” in the 1976 Goldenseal is her experience moving to the “City,” which occurred possibly about 1908. Ferguson is clear about what she thought about the “city,” and by that she meant Hollidays Cove. They moved into a home one door from the Presbyterian church located at the intersection of Main Street and Cove Road.

She writes, “When I awakened that first morning in the city and sat up in bed and saw all those houses strung up along Cove Road, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. That first verse from St. John 14, ‘In my father’s house are many mansions,’ was really being manifest.” What an experience for Ferguson to see the city, and in her eyes it was wonderful.

Another historian who I enjoy is Louis Truax, who was born in 1902 and grew up in the Truax house, the oldest in the county on Seneca Street. Since Truax was a member of a large family and his parents owned a large farm on Weirton Heights, he was well acquainted with the farms, farmers and the developments going on there. He wrote an autobiography in 1971 entitled “My Life Story as I Have Seen Weirton Grow.”

For anyone looking to get an idea of the farms, fields and development in Weirton, this book is available at the library as well. Truax described in 1909 his first trip away from home when he was 7 years old.

“Some time in August my mother and I rode to Steubenville with George (Louis’s brother) on the wagon seat to buy school clothes for me. I remember the trip like it was yesterday, a very great trip for a 7-year-old boy, a great thrill … Seeing the trains was something, great in my young life, how large the engines were … crossing the river at (Ferry Road) (now Freedom Way) 25 cents for two horses and a wagon, over the river on into Steubenville. My mother took me to the photo studio and had my picture taken and then we went to La Belle Clothing Store and bought clothes for school… On the way home my brother and mother showed me the street that led up to where the new mill was being built Main Sreet, now at Cove road…. That evening I had a great deal to tell my bother Walter who was nearest my age.”

My son is almost 7 now and thinking about his reaction to taking a horse-drawn wagon anywhere, especially if he hadn’t left our homestead, would certainly be something worth remembering.

A common connection between these writers is the fact that life was centered around the family. Evenings spent around the kitchen table talking, cracking nuts and maybe listening to the Edison Cylinder Phonograph was what these two remember most fondly. I find myself waxing nostalgic sometimes for a simpler life, but I must remember that “the past was a different country,” as my wife says. The thing that matters most, spending time with family, is timeless.

I would like to think that maybe Mary Ferguson looked out her window on that August day in 1909 when Louis Truax went down Cove Road to Steubenville and perhaps, they both wondered about life in the city and all the developments yet to come.

(Zuros is director of Historic Fort Steuben and the Steubenville Visitor Center.)

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