In which our intrepid hero explores the empty streets of East Liverpool…
I was 21 in 1988 when I learned I would be moving to Ohio (to go to graduate school). I knew nothing about Ohio. The mental image I had was a jumble of snow storms and rubber factories, all with healthy sprinkling of “Rust Belt.” I discovered, of course, that Ohio is a wonderful and varied place—this blog itself is sort of an ode to the state. But it is certainly true that there is a Rust Belt and certainly true that Ohio is one of the states at its center. Ohio cities like Akron, Youngstown, Toledo, Dayton, and others were thriving industrial cities. Ohio boasted steel mills, automobile factories, all sorts of heavy industry. Much of that is gone now and although new technologies and new businesses have replaced much of the heavy industry that went to Japan or Korea or China, Ohio has still not recovered from this transformation and probably never will. Many of the people who had steady factor jobs will simply never make the leap to an information-based economy. Few assembly line workers can become computer programmers. Ohio will always have this hole in it, I think.
[Remember that you can click on each image below to see a larger, better image]
I ended my 14th excursion by discovering the town of East Liverpool, Ohio, located along the Ohio River where Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia all meet. East Liverpool (population 11,195, salute!) is indeed one of Ohio’s Rust Belt towns and it looks it. The town is one of the older settlements in Ohio, thanks to its position on the Ohio River. It grew rapidly in the late 1800s, reaching a population of 20,000 by 1910. However, its rate of growth slowed after that—by 1950, East Liverpool had reached only 24,217 inhabitants. That was to be its highwater mark, as East Liverpool began a population slide that has lasted more than 60 years now. Its current population—still declining—is less than half of what it once was. It is a poor town, too, with a per capita income of not much more than $12,000 and almost 30% of its population below the poverty line.
East Liverpool is not your typical Rust Belt town, though, in that the industry it was famous for was not rubber or steel or cars, but rather ceramics. East Liverpool was one of a number of eastern Ohio communities that depended largely on ceramics for its economy throughout much of the 19th and 20th centuries. Though not the largest such community, East Liverpool may have had the most connection of all with the pottery industry. It was not for nothing that it dubbed itself the “Pottery Capital of the World.” Amazingly, at one point more than 300 pottery companies did business in East Liverpool. In 1900, some 90% of East Liverpool’s workers were employed in the pottery industry.
The decline of East Liverpool predated the general Rust Belt decline. In a prelude to what many “free trade” agreements would later do to other American industries, lower tariffs in the early 20th century hurt the American pottery industry. The Great Depression subsequently drove many of the manufacturers out of business. In the 70s, the other industries that had risen in East Liverpool during the 20th century were crippled by the same factors that created the rest of the Rust Belt. East Liverpool was just another Rust Belt town now.
I drove into downtown East Liverpool late in the day on Saturday, July 13, 2013. East Liverpool’s downtown was somewhat ripped apart a few decades back by building an expressway through it, which demolished significant sections of the old downtown. I suspect that what is left of downtown East Liverpool is tremendously active even on weekdays but certainly on a weekend it was almost deserted. One thing that struck me about downtown East Liverpool was how much of it was overgrown with vines and foliage. Here we see vines creeping all the way to the top of the back of multi-story buildings.
The combination of deserted streets and extreme foliage growth gives downtown East Liverpool a bit of a post-apocalyptic air. At any moment, zombies are going to start shuffling out of this abandoned building.
I could just as easily have called this blog entry “the back of East Liverpool,” because I photographed the sides and backs of more buildings than I photographed the fronts of. In this picture, the wooded hill in the background is Pennsylvania, across the Ohio River.
Here we are looking down towards the river again, with a fading mural reminding us of the Ohio river in a bygone era.
This close-up of the mural, depicting a steamboat leaving a river dock, lets you see a number of details, including the girl waving gaily on the dock. It is a shame that no one has bothered to keep this mural looking nice.
For some reason, a moose stands as a lonely sentinel along the river, guarding East Liverpool from whatever evils might seek to infiltrate the town from Pennsylvania.
Some more of the back of East Liverpool. That’s amazing wear on the bricks in this 1930s era garage. Brick ages in so many fascinating ways, which is one reason why might have noticed that I photograph a lot of brick buildings.
This large structure is the East Liverpool Masonic Temple, clearly in better health than many of the buildings of fraternal organizations in Ohio. Most of the mural shows various elements in East Liverpool’s history, including stone kilns that exemplify the birth of Ohio’s pottery industry (in a future blog entry, I will show you an actual photograph of a surviving kiln from this era), steamboats and barges travelling down the Ohio River, and the coming of the railroad. It also depicts places such as the Carnegie Public Library, the Alumni Clock Tower, and more. The top of the mural is dotted with Masonic logos. This is a new mural that is less than two years old.
Here is a scene from downtown East Liverpool’s “shop” district, seemingly the liveliest part of this section of the town. The old brick buildings nevertheless still make it seem ancient. If you want to know what is down that street, why just scroll down.
Note the “The Potter’s Bank & Trust Company” building, built in 1901 and remodeled in 1924. Most recently it was a PNC bank. Only in East Liverpool would the Potter’s Bank be a reference to actual potters, as opposed to someone named Potter. It seems to be for sale right now. I have seen two prices mentioned: $250,000 and $199,000. I suspect that many if not most readers of this blog have family homes that cost them more than this quite large bank building would cost.
Here is one part of East Liverpool that seemed to be doing business this day: a biker bar.
Like most towns and villages along the Ohio River (at least on the Ohio side), East Liverpool is in a significant river valley, with the “downtown” adjacent to the river and neighborhoods stretching away from downtown in various directions, including up the steep slopes of the valley. The steepest higher-up areas tend to have lower-income neighborhoods. Here is a shot from one of the heights looking down towards the town center and the Ohio River (with Pennsylvania along the horizon).
Some of the streets going up these heights are scary steep, steep enough to trigger my inherent fear of heights. I took a photograph of one such street but came across a problem I have come across before: when you take a photograph of a relatively straight slope, looking down that slope, you can’t tell that it is quite steep. This was steep enough that my foot was compulsively driving itself down on the brake pedal, but you don’t get that from this image. I haven’t figured out yet how to take photographs of this sort of situation.
Here is a relatively level shot of a lower income neighborhood street. It was not a bad block. The street was also fairly wide, too—a number of the streets up on the heights were so narrow as to be almost claustrophobic. There were some interesting dilapidated buildings that I would have liked to have taken photographs of, but they were inhabited, and in the summer, people in such buildings tend to be out on the front porch, usually because they have no air conditioner. I wasn’t interested in trying to take pictures of the people—which also certainly would have attracted unwanted attention—so I had to pass on those houses.
This photograph gives you a sense of how steep some of these occupied heights were. Imagine several levels of parallel streets below this one and you may get an idea.
In this, the height of summer, the abandoned houses—the ones that were not really sellable and had no upkeep—tended to get quite overgrown. The median list price for a home in East Liverpool is well under half of the price for a home in the middle-class suburb of Columbus where I live. That’s what happens with homes during or just after a recession in a depressed area that has been suffering significant population loss. There is just nobody to buy them.
I think you’ll find the that moose is for a Moose Lodge that is on that street 🙂
I didn’t even realize there was a street below it!
I guess we see what we want to see and not much else. Pretty obvious to a local that important and vibrant structures where ignored for this piece, even while standing right next to them. The library. The Alumni building. The Kent State buildings. The hospital. Homes that have been restored or updated. Stores that are occupied. Yes, parts of EL are crumbly, but parts are not, and it wouldn’t have taken much of a walk to show them both. Interesting that you caught the moose, but not the building it stands on. Pictures don’t lie, but they only show what we want to show. This could have been so much better.
Fair enough. But keep in mind, as I have explained elsewhere in this blog, that I take photographs of the things that interest me, not all things. I did not travel to East Liverpool with the intention to document the sites/sights of the city, or with any intention in mind other than to see what I could see and take photographs of things that struck my fancy. I have explained numerous times in the blog that ruined, decayed, or dilapidated buildings or structures are among the things that greatly interest me, and thus they are disproportionately represented in the photos I take and place here–not just for East Liverpool but everywhere I go. Someone whose impressions of Ohio came only from my blog might come away thinking that it was a disaster state, when it patently is not–and even the most blighted areas of Ohio have attractive features. But the more new, fancy and attractive a building is, the less likely I am to photograph it.
It is actually West Virginia hills in the background, not Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is about a mile to a mile and a half north of that location.
Firstly, I would like to point out as someone else did that the hills in the background are in fact West Virginia, not Pennsylvania. If you’re going to write about a town you should at least know the geography of the area. Secondly, your pictures of only the abandoned buildings, the buildings in severe ruin, or the pictures of homes in areas where people are out on the porch “usually because they have no air conditioner” don’t irritate me as much as your petty, self righteous, condescending so called “writing” of this blog post. Who do you think you are? You should be ashamed of yourself for depicting this town, or any town in this manner. You sir are not better than anyone in East Liverpool, but to read this blog you would think you are the king of England speaking about the peasant towns that surround your mighty kingdom. To imply to people who may have never been to East Liverpool that the only business with any business here is”: a biker bar” or to brag about a large bank building being sold for less than what most of your readers paid for their homes. Did you read this before you posted it? Or did the words just spill out of your arrogant mind and find their way to your keyboard?
I am really not sure why you would think that I think I am better than anybody in East Liverpool, or anywhere else, for that matter. As I have explained in a number of places, I am interested by ruined, decayed, or dilapidated buildings, and I show such from my home town of Columbus as well as other places. I did not say that the only businesses with any business was a biker bar; I just commented that that biker bar was doing business. I did not “brag” about that bank building; if you had read my remarks more carefully, I think you would have noticed that my remark was a lament. I am not sure why you would think I am being arrogant (indeed, as I have mentioned in the blog, I grew up in a low income household)–I think it is clear in my various blog entries that I have nothing but sadness and empathy for all the towns in Ohio that have suffered significant population loss and economic decline. East Liverpool was once a thriving, booming town, but it hasn’t been that way for some time, and that saddens me.
Don’t worry about it mark. People from east Liverpool are oblivious to how bad that area and town are. They usually haven’t been more than 50 miles outside of city limits.
I grew up there, it’s absolutely awful. There are no jobs, there is nothing to do for anyone.
Your blog post acurately depicts the area in a whole. Welfare, trash, dilapidation everywhere you look.
I grew up in East Liverpool, mostly, and now I live in the Southwest. This was an interesting read and perspective! I love the description of heights and closeness because as a native I never experienced those perceptions of the steep hills and the homes built on them.
Appalachians can get defensive, even those who have moved away. I didnt think your post was arrogant or misrepresentative of the area. The majority of the buildings are old and beautiful and clearly the town has been declining steadily. There are still lots of good people there, but poverty and chronic air pollution are hard battles.
Thanks for your comment! I’d love to see East Liverpool enjoy a renaissance; it clearly deserves one.
I was born in ELO in 1951 and left in 1964, first to Salem and then out of the state. I always appreciate any/all views of my home town, and this one, while sad, is a good representation of what it’s like there now, like it or not. There are still some functioning social/business buildings, but they are the exception, not the norm.
For some one who has only visited infrequently in the last 50 years the difference between the thriving, busy little town it was then and what it is now is enormous.
I’m glad you took the pictures and posted them. The rest of the country needs to see what our “roots” are like. America is in a lot of trouble, not just in East Liverpool, but in much of the Midwest. I’m trying to think of a healthy economy away from the coasts or parts of the south, and I can’t think of any. It’s a shame, but it’s not going to go away.
I grew up in the Pool and I have to say this is a fair representation of what was once a thriving small town. I love seeing the old buildings and found the facts interesting and the pictures compelling. There has always been a lot of drinking and drug use in ELO, I would assume b/c of the lack of other things to do.
Keep on following your interests and writing about them.
Also, yes the background is West VA, it was a bit unfortunate that you didn’t get that correct.
I grew up in east liverpool. I loved it but left 29 years ago. When I go back to visit relatives it looks very scary to me. I can only imagine how it looks to people who have never been there before. People who still live there love their town and I understand.maybe a lot of them don’t live in any of those areas and are okay with where they are in the town. It looks horrible to me and it’s a shame.