My fiftieth excursion had been a long, nice day and I was ready to go home. But though I was already heading south for home, there was one stopping point left, as long as the light held out: Steubenville, Ohio. Steubenville is south of East Liverpool, also on the Ohio River, and also a struggling Rust Belt town.
[Remember that you can click on each image below to see a larger, better image. Also, the EXIF data for each image contains GPS coordinates that you can use to locate the exact place where the photograph was taken.]
Where East Liverpool’s claim to fame was ceramics and pottery, Steubenville was a steel town. In the early 1900s, industry also made it a boom town—it grew rapidly and fortunes were made. Between 1900 and 1940 the town almost tripled in size, reaching a peak of nearly 38,000 souls. But that did not last. In the mid-1900s, growth slowed, stopped, then began to decline. By the 1980s, the decline was fairly precipitate. As of 2010, fewer than 19,000 people lived in East Liverpool, in a town that suddenly seemed to have more building space than people.
Reminders of Steubenville’s storied past are everywhere in the town. Large houses that once held well-off families are now boarded up and empty—or sadly worn shadows of their former selves. Now, in all fairness, there are a few neighborhoods where these grand old homes have been well-preserved, too. I had a photograph of one such old house, a very nice one, in the process of being restored—but the photo was ruined by an unseen passing car, alas.
One of downtown Steubenville’s still-impressive landmarks is St. Peter’s Catholic Church. Steubenville is one of the oldest settlements in Ohio and St. Peter’s has its own long history, dating back to the 1830s, when in its original version it was known as St. Pius, serving the spiritual needs of many German and Irish immigrants. The current church was built in the 1850s (when the name changed to St. Peter’s, too), though it was expanded several times. Inside, it sports very impressive stained glass windows.
This downtown building was a bit of a mystery to me. It is long and low, but has an entrance similar to that of some apartment buildings of the time. And note that, next to the door, there is a bomb shelter sign. Were these apartments? Was this a boarding house or a dormitory of some sort? It didn’t really look occupied, but it does have a satellite dish, so it couldn’t be too long abandoned, if empty. There was not even an address so I could do research. I finally found out what it was by accident, doing research on the damn mural below. That led me to a 1986 report, the “Steubenville Historic Site Survey Report,” hidden as a 219-page pdf deep in the depths of the Steubenville official website. This document has information on a lot of the old downtown buildings, so I went through it page by page until I finally found this one—thanks to a tiny and crudely xeroxed image of the front of the building (at much the same angle as the above photograph, thank god). It turns out that this address is 224-226 N. 5th Street. The building was built circa 1920 with a “colonial revival influence” design, allegedly. According to the report, “this building first appeared in the 1921 City Directory and had both doctor’s offices and apartments. Doctors A. & C. Sumeri were listed at this address for at least 20 years. It is a well-preserved example of combination commercial/residential structures of the period.”
Next to the tire store is a mural for the Union Savings Institute, painted on the side of the Diocese of Steubenville Chancery Building. This was an old Steubenville bank, opened in 1837. In 1873 it became the Union Deposit Bank. After that, it became the Union Savings Bank & Trust, but I guess they can only fit so much on a mural. Why did the Union Savings Institute rate a mural? I have no idea. Maybe because Steubenville is a bit crazy about murals, with around 23 of them dotting the city. Steubenville claims that its nickname is the “City of Murals,” which I bet is a nickname no one has ever actually used in conversation. But I guess it is better than the nickname of my home city, Columbus, Ohio, which is “Cowtown.”
As my loyal readers know (you’ll get your check, Benito, just wait), I like looking at the backs of things as much as the front. Here is the back side of a stretch of downtown Steubenville, which turns out to be rather illuminating. The building on the left has two signs on it: one for the Federal Terrace Restaurant and the other for the Colonial Supper Club. The Federal Terrace, also known as the Federal Terrace Bar and Restaurant, was a high-flying nightclub started by Albert “Blue” Ricci. A young Dean Martin—who was born in Steubenville—used to hand out and sing here in his younger days. Al Ricci died in 1984; I do not know how long the Federal Terrace survived him.
The Colonial Supper Club is even more mysterious; I did not find any information about that business. Was it also run by the Riccis? Oddly, if one looks at the front of this building, what one finds is a very derelict and seemingly closed business called the “Colonial Terrace Club.” Mysteriouser and mysteriouser, said Alice.
The sun was going down rapidly, but my camera is sturdy enough to suck the light out of a black hole. I thought the back of this building would be more interesting than the front, but in a sense I was wrong, as we’ll see.
Here is another one of Steubenville’s murals, a small part of a huge agglomeration of brick.
In this shot we look east down Market Street towards the Market Street Bridge and, beyond it, the bluffs of West Virginia on the other side of the Ohio River. I had to stop in the middle of a downtown intersection to take this photograph—but you will notice traffic was not exactly heavy. It was a weekend, though.
Across a lonely parking lot we see, on the left, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Adams’ Antiques of Steubenville (the dark building to the right of the church), a seemingly abandoned apartment building with room for a store on the ground floor, and with the white columns, a seemingly abandoned building that looks like it was a club or lodge of some sort. Indeed, some research suggests that this building once held Aerie 421 of the Eagles’ Club. The Eagles’ Club is also known as the Fraternal Order of Eagles—and there is a small eagle at the top front of this building. The FOE was started in 1898 (sounds better than the Orioles, doesn’t it?) in Seattle by six theatre owners who got together to bitch about a strike by their musicians. The Eagles are most well known for being responsible for creating Mother’s Day, so if you are in the guilt doghouse because you forgot to send a card to Ma, these are the creeps you should be pissed at. However, there is no FOE lodge in Steubenville proper anymore, though there is a lodge in Toronto, Ohio, about six or seven miles away.
So earlier I showed you the back of the building. After tootling around for a while, I unknowingly took a picture of its side, above. What I had been so assiduously photographing, was an adult video store, the Past Time Video. Judging by its website—and yes, I visited its website—this is not just a place that sells DVDs but has an actual “theater,” or rather two of them (one straight, one gay), complete with leather (or imitation leather) couches amply stocked with boxes of Kleenex. According to the website Dr. Emilio Lizardo’s Journal of Adult Theaters (“All the news from this thing of ours”), this place is run by Big Jake (who else?) and also sports a retail section and “multiple gloryhole booths.” The booths have red and green lights above the doors so you know when one is occupied and ready for action. I guess this is where Steubenville swingers hang out. Who knew this blog would suddenly become not quite so safe for work? Such are the mysteries of Steubenville.
I suppose after anonymous sex at Past Time Video, the only thing to do is to try a plug of Battle Ax chewing tobacco. This prominent storeside sign is one of several such Battle Ax ads I’ve seen in Ohio. One print ad for Battle Ax, which I found in the November 19, 1898, issue of the Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, features a somewhat angry looking lion with a box of Battle Ax Plug at his feet. The lion is growling at another animal, apparently a Russian bear. The ad copy says, “The Lion’s Share of China may be held down by England, but the Lion’s share of the sale of chewing tobacco is held by Battle Ax Plug. The quality of Battle Ax is not questioned. If you chew tobacco you cannot buy a better, more satisfying and economical chewing tobacco than Battle Ax. You can prove this for yourself if you will buy the large 10-cent piece and try it. There’s a wonderful difference in quality as well as in quantity over common kinds. Try it to-day. (in larger letters) Remember the name when you buy again.” Frankly, that’s not exactly Don Draper stuff there.
Because the day seemed to be wrapping up, I thought I would wrap up as well, with one final shot from my fiftieth excursion, a shot of a seen-better-times building that now houses, according to the hand-made signs on the windows, the Fort Steuben Supplies corporation, which sells plates, cups, carryout trays, bowls, napkins, and perhaps other exciting party supplies as well.
Well, party on, Steubenville. Well met. Until the next time, etc.