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History in the Hills: Things that are gone now

Anyone who is from the Tri-State Area who is interested in local history has seen, or at least is aware of, Rick Sebak’s work on WQED-TV.

His down-to-earth demeanor and documentary style of television program is addictive and draws the audience into whatever story he is telling. Typically, Sebak focuses on the Pittsburgh area in his programs, but he is such a dynamic storyteller, it is hard not to connect with the history.

I feel that our area is so close to the Golden Triangle that their history also is relevant to ours, too. Take for instance my 7-year-old son, who, despite never being there, is absolutely enamored by Sebak’s 1988 program “Kennywood Memories” and watches it often. Many evenings are spent around the dinner table talking with him about the great rides, picnic memories and warm and carefree summer days spent there. Hopefully, this summer the pandemic will have lessened enough that we can fulfill his wish to go to Kennywood so he can have Kennywood memories of his own.

In my estimation, Sebak has succeeded in the job of a public historian. To preserve and promote history while inspiring a younger generation is ever the goal. I hope that with these articles, I do a small part toward that end.

For me, a few of the most interesting programs Sebak produced were “Things That Aren’t There Anymore” in 1990 and “Stuff That’s Gone” in 1994. With that in mind, I wanted to take a look at our area and talk about a few places that are gone.

In Weirton I would wager that one of the most dramatic changes to our landscape in the past few years is the ongoing demolition of the former Weirton Steel Corp., most particularly the B.O.P., or the Mill of the Future, as it was known.

The enormous building completed in 1967 was a towering structure that dwarfed everything around it save the ancient hills that nestled it in our valley. With the construction of the building and complex, buildings, homes and other plants, especially the shell plant so vital in arms production in World War II, were demolished to make way. Today the site is vacant awaiting the next chapter in our town’s history. Returning to Weirton after the building was demolished took some getting used to.

Another significant change in our community landscape was the demolition of our city’s public elementary schools. The list of those demolished include Cove School, built in 1912, closed in 1991 and now the site of the Weirton Events Center; Weirton Grade School in the North End on County Road, built in 1913, closed in 1963; Weirton Heights Elementary, built in 1925 on the corner of South Twelfth and School streets, closed in 2014; Broadview Elementary, opened in 1955, closed in 2014; and Liberty Elementary School, built in 1939 and closed in 2014. I am personally attached to Liberty School, as that is the elementary school I attended growing up.

I remember fondly the long rambling hallways, library, distinctive 1930s color scheme of the floor and walls, and, if you looked closely on the masonry on the front of the building, images and words were pressed in these unique bricks.

Dunbar School on Weir Avenue, built at the same time as Liberty, also has these distinctive brick motifs. Dunbar School, historic in its own right as a school for African Americans constructed before desegregation in 1955, is still in existence, but it closed as a school in 1991.

The other elementary schools in our city, Edgewood, Marland Heights Elementary and the L.B. Millsop School, are still standing.

One school building that is gone that meant a great deal to many was the old Weir High School on Orchard Street downtown, built around 1923 to replace the old central school next door that was built in 1916.

The new building was described by Frank Pietranton in his 1936 book “History of Weirton and Holliday’s Cove,” who said, “This is a fireproof structure; large airy classrooms are provided for the students; a large gymnasium and an auditorium were included in the building. Laboratories for the science classes are fully equipped. Nothing is lacking which will help the young men and women of Weirton and Hollidays’s Cove to obtain an excellent high school education.”

The building later would be covered in ivy, which is one of the things remembered most about the place.

In 1934 another Weirton landmark was built adjacent to the school. The new Weir High School Stadium was constructed next door on land owned by Weirton Steel. On Sept. 21, 1935, Weir High played its first game there against Cleveland South and won 14-0. In January 1964 after many decades of use as a high school, 400 students and faculty moved to the new campus-style Weir High School located on Weirton Heights. Even though the high school was no longer located on the property, the stadium still was a center for the community. I remember fondly the packed crowds on the concrete stands and the young people packing the green hillside and ground in front of the concession area. If I close my eyes, I can still hear Bob Rossell’s voice echoing off the mill on those cold fall nights. On Oct. 28, 2011, Weir High played its last game at the stadium, renamed in 1981 for longtime coach Jimmy Carey, against East Liverpool and lost.

The school and stadium are gone now, the school demolished and the stadium overgrown. But still we are connected to these things that are past. The places that hold our memories are not in brick and mortar or even in steel, but they are in the stories and memories we share with others. The new places in town, although not the same as we knew them, will be held dear to coming generations, and that is OK.

It is the nature of things to change. Like Rick Sebak, who inspired my 7-year-old son to love Kennywood, we hopefully can inspire a new generation to see just what is so special about our little valley and they can make their own memories to last a lifetime.

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