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History in the Hills: A look at Weirton Heights

There are clues to the past everywhere. Old buildings, roads, neighborhoods and areas or locations that have unique names, but we can’t remember why, are fascinating to me.

Weirton is a relatively young city compared to our neighbors in Steubenville and Wellsburg, who have 18th century roots. If you count Holliday’s Cove, our area does date back that far, but remnants of the original 18th century community are few and far between. In North Weirton, the unincorporated “company” town of Weirton sprang up in 1909 due to the mill opening in that area. The history of the communities on the hilltops are fascinating as well.

I grew up on Weirton Heights and was always interested in how the community came to be. Surely there was something there before the building booms of the early 1950s. Fortunately, I was a child right before home computers and video games were widely available, so for me spending the day outside, meeting neighbors, helping with outside chores and exploring the neighborhood was the order of the day. Playing the detective in my local woods I soon discovered a row of neatly planted, fairly large, black cherry trees and a few remaining evenly spaced hickory log fence posts along the edge of a hillside, where at some point in the last 70 years had been the edge of a farmers field. It’s true that where I grew up amid the neatly planted houses, not long ago there had been a farm.

According to historian Louis Truax, who grew up when Weirton Heights was still a farming community, in the 19th century at the top of Culler Road the William Ralston family had a farm. Some time around 1917 the area was sold to the Culler family. A good farmer, Hersel Culler, kept livestock, (which explained why I was able to find cow bones behind my parents’ home) and had fruit trees. The area where Highview circle is today was a lush apple orchard. Sometime in the late 1940s it was subdivided and sold off into lots.

Driving on up toward Pennsylvania Avenue, one will run into a promontory knoll with several houses on a short street called Crest Street, now near Auto Zone and the old osteopathic hospital. This small area was once known as Chestnut Woods.

Before 1923 the American Chestnut tree was a common variety in our local woods, but a blight swept the nation in the 1920s and all but killed the species. The trees in Chestnut Woods were huge, being almost 3 feet around, according to Truax. Across the street from Chestnut Woods was the White farm, which encompassed the area where the Weirton Shopping Plaza is now, and the area where St. Joseph the Worker Church is. Near the top of the hill near Park Avenue was a little roadside park with a pavilion and picnic tables. It was a well-used community site.

From the Weirton Shopping Plaza to Starvaggi Drive was the Ed Blou farm. Past that, encompassing all the area in Bel-Air addition, was the Joseph Miller farm. On Colliers Way the Gardner family had farms. Where Walgreens and Memorial Baptist Church are today was the Shipley farm. And the Hindman farm is where the area around Three Springs Drive is today. That area around where Three Springs Cemetery is located was once a high hill, but due to mining, the ground surrounding the cemetery was drastically lowered and leveled out, thus being the reason the cemetery is higher than the surrounding area. This proved a welcome flat space for Weirton’s own airport which operated in the flat land surrounding the cemetery.

Pennsylvania Avenue was paved with one lane brick and one lane slag in about 1913, starting with the intersection of County Road and Main Street downtown to the state line. Before this, folks had to use South 11th Street, sometimes called Power House Road, or Lee Avenue Hill to go downtown. You also could use Cove Road or travel on Greenbrier Road. At the top of Greenbrier Road was the Campbell farm. Near that area, known as Bear Den Hollow, according to Truax, in 1885 the last bear was killed on Weirton Heights.

Most of the earliest housing developments on Weirton Heights began near the top of the hill near the Hancock County Sheltered Workshop in about 1913. As farmers left the fields and joined the men in the mills, the once sweeping areas of open farm were subdivided and sold off.

Other enterprises were being built in Weirton Heights at that time. In 1916 a coal mine was built below the area behind what is today Patty’s Family Restaurant. The coal tipple was located along the road. Truax recalled that mules carried the coal from the mine, and a large winch pulled it all up to Pennsylvania Avenue. At one time near where Victorian Hall is today, there was a large barn remodeled in the latter half of the teens and was used for country dances on Saturday nights.

Weirton Heights continued to grow, and by the late 1930s was incorporated as its own city, with James Stephenson elected as its first mayor. The city building was built near the corner of 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue on May 7, 1939. The flagpole is still standing on the lot today.

The city of Weirton Heights was short lived, as in 1947 the separate towns of Weirton Heights, Marland Heights and Holiday’s Cove in addition to the unincorporated area of North Weirton, came together to form the current city of Weirton with Tom Millsop, then president of Weirton Steel, as the first mayor.

Time marches on, and with every passing year, the stories of our neighborhoods change, too. To our predecessors, Weirton Heights was nothing more than a small farming community above the 18th century village of Holliday’s Cove, but to me, it’s my home and one that has a fascinating history.

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

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

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