Excursion 15, Part 1 (Up the Old Ohio)

In which our intrepid hero travels up a lazy river…

Typically, in introductions to blog entries such as this one, I have tried to evoke personal memories of years long since gone, but recently, the only memories easily evocable have been dreams of only a few short months ago, those naïve times before I had ever heard of terms like “polar vortex.”  After several years of very mild winters, the winter of 2013-2014 has been a shock to my system I still have not quite gotten used to.  Although we’ve had years with more snow, in terms of pure coldness, this is the nastiest winter we’ve had here in Ohio in 20 years and I guess I was getting spoiled.  As I type, though, the temperature is around 11 degrees, it has been snowing, the wind is whipping outside my window, and the forecast is telling me that two days from now the high temperature will be below zero and the low somewhere around 15 below.  In times like these, I can look at photographs such as these from early August 2013 and almost feel the warmth coming from them.

[Remember that you can click on each image below to see a larger, better image]

It was certainly warm and pleasant and gloriously sunny on August 6, 2013, when I decided to make an excursion to and up the Ohio River.  I drove east on I-70 towards Wheeling, West Virginia, then cut a left before driving into the Ohio River.  This area of east-northeastern Ohio is an interesting but depressing overlap of two geographic areas:  Appalachian Ohio, the hilly and generally economically distressed region that stretches across eastern and southern Ohio; and Rust Belt Ohio, which is concentrated largely in northwest and northeast Ohio, and represents those parts of Ohio in which Old Industry has not transitioned well into New Industry.

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I actually left I-70 shortly before reaching the Ohio River and cut across country a little bit.  Rural Ohio is full of abandoned homesteads like these.  In some cases, abandoned houses are the result of new houses being built somewhere else on the same property, while in other cases, houses are abandoned because the property was sold to someone who didn’t need the residence (for example, they were increasing the size of their own landholdings).  In other cases, it is economic failure or death without descendants that spells doom for a home.  The home above is in poor shape, but whoever has title to the property has an optimistic bone in their body, as there is a “for sale” sign as well as a “no trespassing” sign.

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The Hillside Motel is a bit outside of Bridgeport (see below) and is one of the easternmost of the old motels along U.S. 40.  From the outside, it seems pretty well kept up.

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On the Ohio side of the Ohio River at I-70 are Bridgeport and (just to the north) Martins Ferry, Ohio.  The village of Bridgeport (population 1,831, salute!) is smaller, while Martins Ferry is a town of 6,915 (salute!) and ostensibly the oldest non-native settlement in Ohio.  Martin’s Ferry is just a shadow of its former self.  It grew rapidly in the early decades of the 20th century, reaching a population peak in 1940 at 14,729, but has suffered seven straight decades of population loss since then because of the decline of industry.

In both towns, there are many relics of past ages.  The old Joseph Krob Dairy building is in Bridgeport, a reminder of a bygone era when a local dairy might have a retail store.  Someone else has taken a better picture of it than mine.  Joseph Krob and his wife Christina started their dairy business in nearby Lansing in the early to mid-20th century; Joseph died in 1975 at the age of 75, but Christina only passed away in 2007 at the amazing age of 105.

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Bridgeport and Martins Ferry both are full of interesting old houses, such as this narrow little house.

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What a number of the towns and villages along the Ohio River have, and which I love, are still-standing massive houses from the late 1800s or early 1900s with a decidedly non-standard design.  This massive house is a great example of one of these, so distinct from the cookie cutter residences that dominate today.  At one point, this house might perhaps have been a single residence, but the satellite dishes show that it has been split up into apartments now.

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The ancient building at the far end of this parking lot, once a dentist’s office but now a “carry out” (i.e., beer & wine shop), has an outside wall covered with murals.  You can see the mural of a stream in the above photograph.

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The other mural, sadly obscured by vehicles, greatly resembles Claude Monet’s “Woman with a Parasol – Madame Monet and Her Son.”  I don’t know if it was merely inspired by that painting or if this mural was taken directly from a different, very similar Monet painting.  Art history is not my forte.

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Martins Ferry, sandwiched between the hills and the Ohio River, is dominated by the massive Riverview Cemetery, which makes the town look rather like a necropolis.  The dead seem to outnumber the living.  The image also says something about the steel-based economy that once helped towns like Martins Ferry to flourish; it too is as dead as all the people on the hill.

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This was once a steel mill owned by the Wheeling Pittsburgh Steel Corporation that produced galvanized steel.  It was sold to another company that then went bankrupt.  I don’t think it is in operation any longer, but I am not 100%.  At any rate, if not in operation, it has been in operation recently enough that it could function again.

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Here is another one of those old, large houses of unique construction.  This massive structure is dilapidated but still fascinating.

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The sign on this abandoned building reads “Shenanigans,” describing itself as a “teen club,” “pool hall,” and “archade” (sic).

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Here is one of the sets of locks along the upper Ohio river, at Yorkville, Ohio (population 1,079, salute!).  Only a few of the locks were open on this day but I don’t know if that is typical or atypical.  The Google maps satellite image of these locks show a lot more open.

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Not too far from the locks in Yorkville is this dilapidated building, seemingly seriously damaged by fire.  Notice that Yorkville has the typical look of towns and villages along the Ohio side of the Ohio river, sandwiched narrowly between the heights and the river (which is just behind the photographer here).

Allow me to give a shoutout to the business in the building next door, a franchise for DiCarlo’s Pizza.  DiCarlo’s Pizza is a small regional pizza chain started in 1945 with stores on both the Ohio and West Virginia sides of the Ohio River.  DiCarlo’s Pizza is one of the unique pizza tastes.  It is made on a thin, crunchy crust with a good texture.  The crust is covered in sauce, then flash baked in the oven.  Only after the crust is removed from the oven is cheese added, which means it only partially melts because of the heat of the crust itself.  This gives the whole pizza an unusual taste and texture that I have never seen anywhere else.  It is quite tasty.  I love pizza, but what I really like are those smaller pizza restaurants that truly have an individual style of their own—places such as Victory Pig Pizza in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, or Tommy’s Pizza in Columbus, Ohio.  DiCarlo’s Pizza belongs up there, too, though it is a tiny chain rather than a one-off restaurant.  Briefly, there was a DiCarlo’s franchise in Hilliard, Ohio, which is how I became acquainted with it, but they were undercapitalized and went under quickly.

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I found this tiny little railroad building along the tracks in Yorkville.  I have no idea what its purpose is, or was, but it seemed like a thing of the past, so black and white felt very appropriate.

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Like Martin’s Ferry, Yorkville has its own steel-related plant, and once owned by the same company, too, until it went bankrupt.   Basically, it was a Wheeling-Pitt facility, before it got sold to Esmark, Inc. in 2006, which sold it to OAO Severstal, which sold the plant to RG Steel, which went bankrupt in 2012.  At this point, Esmark reacquired the plant, ostensibly to open it, but it has remained idle so far.  This chain of ownership illustrates how precarious the steel industry is in this region (and the industry was definitely hurt by the Great Recession).  It also has to make one wonder if this plant will truly be re-opened again.

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Just looking at the plant suggests it needs a lot of work—in contrast to the Martins Ferry plant, which seems in much better condition and not nearly so, well, dinosaurish.  This steel plant once was responsible for lots of solid, good-paying jobs (and union jobs at that) that buttressed the local economy.

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Here’s a view of the plant from its vacant parking lot.  Google maps provides images of such detail now that you can actually spot these covered potholes from orbit (paste 40.157922,-80.70411 into Google maps and zoom in).

6 thoughts on “Excursion 15, Part 1 (Up the Old Ohio)

  1. You are truly a gifted writer. I grew up in one of these small towns and fortunately I joined the Military and left early on. It is very sad to see how much the areas have declined and a little depressing, but such is life. It goes on… Wonderful Website

  2. I, too, grew up in that area. My husband & brother in law both worked at the Yorkville Mill. It’s sad to see how it has deteriorated as well as so many others along the Ohio River. There used to be another mill on Rt 7 in Brilliant, Ohio .. the Ohio Ferro Alloys plant that was next to the Ohio Power plant. That plant too has gone under. My husband started at the Alloys when he was 17 yrs old, & later worked at the Yorkville Mill for a time after the Alloys closed down.. Thanks for posting these photos.

  3. Great photos. I retired from the Martins Ferry plant in 2011 when they closed, with a month shy of 40 yrs service. I hated seeing these plants close . they provided good paying jobs for a great deal of the people in this valley for years. Though it is nowhere near it’s former grandness this valley will always be my home.

    • Thank you for the kind words about the photos. 40 years is rather amazing! The area is beautiful and the people are great, so I hope something will come along to rejuvenate the economy.

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