History in the Hills: Relevant to rolling past
A recent donation to Historic Fort Steuben came rolling through the doors of the Visitor Center last month in the form of a four-passenger surrey. This great vehicle, fully restored, dates to 1909 and features plush seats and a top with fringe going all the way around. This holiday season it was fun to see children and parents alike climb up and pretend they were rolling through town in grand style. Why not allow folks to experience this piece of the past? After I got the song from the musical “Oklahoma!” out of my head, I began to ponder about the things of the past. Specifically, things and industries connected with carriages that were commonplace to our city predecessors but are little known to us today.
One of the most interesting and complete glimpses into the past we can experience, in a research sort of way, is to take advantage of a city directory. The city directory lists industry, businesses, address and names of people, and sometimes their occupation, who inhabit cities or towns. Today we can ask our phone or Google to find a name or address of a business, and before that, a phone book was our go-to for information. In the past, the city directory was the way go to.
One I use often in my research of this area is the Steubenville City Directory for 1875-1876. I would encourage those researching our area to check it out, and the ones from other years, too, on the website digitalshoebox.org. The website is a collaboration of resources from libraries in Southeastern Ohio. The Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County has a wonderful collection of information available there that is an asset to any local historian.
If one were to desire a carriage in our area in 1875 they would have the choice to visit one of four carriage makers in the city, two of which were located in the block directly across South Third Street from Historic Fort Steuben. Also important to the carriage would obviously be a horse. There were several livery stables in the city in those days where one could board, or hire out, a horse, carriage and driver. In 1875 one could choose from five in the city, all located downtown near Market and Fourth streets.
The 1897 Steubenville Centennial book describes a fairly new livery stable located on South Fifth Street. The publication described the operation: “They own about 20 head of fine horses, among which are a number of handsome match teams. Their coaches, carriages and buggies are all handsome modern vehicles and their business, already large, is increasing rapidly.”
Or one could visit Workman’s Carriage Factory or Clark & Curfman’s Wagon Factory.
Along with the horse and carriage, one would also need to seek out a saddler. In 1875, one could pick from four in this city. Leather for the saddles and accoutrement had to be purchased from one of three leather dealers in town. A big part of the care for your horse was providing it with proper shoeing. There were up to nine blacksmiths in Steubenville in 1875 who could possibly render the service.
No doubt the most well known of the stables here was the Mettenberger’s Livery & Undertaking Establishment. It seems strange to connect these two enterprises but evidently the partnership was successful. According to the 1897 Centennial book, the stable was purchased by Mettenberger in 1892 and now has “30 head of fine horses, and five of these kept for carriage are blooded stock with a good records on the track. He has a number of handsome and elegant coaches and carriages of the most modern make, equipped with rubber tires and electric lights.”
The book continues to say that Mettenberger was currently arranging to bring the first horseless vehicle to Steubenville. How could other businesses compete? With all this in mind, there should be, in our city’s older neighborhoods, a fair number of stables and carriage houses left in existence. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be much information on these outbuildings. Perhaps the carriage house was repurposed as the garage for the automobile, and their original purpose was lost. Maybe a study of Steubenville’s carriage houses is in order.
Although some of Mr. Mettenberger’s newer carriages were equipped with electric lights by the end of the century, the streets of downtown Steubenville were far from dark. As early as 1850 the Steubenville Gas Light and Coke Co. had incorporated and began laying the first coal gas pipelines. Coal gas, not to be confused with natural gas, is a gas that is created by burning coal to create coke. Steubenville coal was used in the manufacture of the gas. and the coke was sold later as a byproduct. The first lines were laid up High Street (now state Route 7) to Market Street, up Market to Fifth Street and up Third Street to Washington Street, eventually adding up to 14 miles of gas pipe for illumination. By the 1880s, though, electricity was gaining popularity, and eventually the coal gas lights were replaced.
According to historian Joseph Doyle in his book, “The History of Steubenville and Jefferson County,” by 1910 there are “now 281 public arc lights in the city, besides numerous private ones at entrances of business blocks, while thousands of incandescents make the streets as light as day.”
I am not sure when the last carriage maker, saddler or livery stable closed in the city, but they couldn’t have lasted more than a few decades into the 20th century. Today during festivals and fairs, it is always neat to see an old-fashioned carriage rambling through the streets of Steubenville. Through your mind’s eye, you might see a lamplighter gliding among the street lighting the lamps for the evening commute.
So on your next visit to the Visitor Center at Fort Steuben, make sure you get on the “shiny little surrey with the fringe on the top” and take a trip to the past.
(Zuros is director of operations at Historic Fort Steuben and the Steubenville Visitors Center.)