West Virginia Tag

Schmulbach Brewery
Musings in West Virginia: Wheeling

Oh, Wheeling. Once one of the primary cities in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and later the State of West Virginia, this rust-belt community has seemingly fallen on endless hard times. Despite the historic Centre Market, the West Virginia Independence Hall, and the famous Wheeling Suspension Bridge, you can’t but help think that the city is lacking in something.

Population? Perhaps, as it has fallen from a high of over 61,000 seventy years ago to just under 29,000 today.

Vibrancy? Maybe, as strolling through their seemingly dense downtown on a weekday afternoon met with few open businesses and even fewer pedestrians.

But I love Wheeling, for all of the grit and decay that it contains. For a community of its size and stature, and especially history, the city boosts an amazing collection of historic structures. Many Italianate row houses line the neighborhoods to the north and east that are typically found in the major east coast cities, and tall, brick buildings dominate the skyline, unbroken by the hideous glass and steel towers of the later 20th-century. Pockmarked are the treasures of any city: well, kept-up side streets, well-crafted school buildings and an aura of friendliness that helps give Wheeling the nickname, “The Friendly City.” The region also has a growing rail to trail network and an impressive park system, albeit some of it neglected. But while we were admiring a rail to trail conversion adjacent to the U.S. Route 250 freeway, we stumbled upon this sad gem.

If the exterior proclaims this as a symbol of Wheeling’s decline, the interior doesn’t help reverse the notion that some properties in this long-declining city have just been pushed the wayside. At some point, after the school closed, it was converted into a home for multiple businesses. A bathroom fixtures dealer, a state office and some rooms that were used primarily for storage kept this stately school active for quite a while, but it seems that the last occupant left about ten years ago.

During the afternoon, after a hearty lunch at a downtown pizzeria, we discovered three factories within minutes of each other, although the details of their history are vague at best. The first factory, which abuts a steep hillside in an isolated part of Ohio County, is at least five stories high and extends from the street back into the hill.

It became clear from the deterioration and condition of the various floors that this factory was sealed off from the top-down. The first floor had paperwork and materials dating to the late 1980s, and the stairwell leading up to the second floor featured a floor door that was at one point locked and barricaded. Another set of steps led downward into stone cellars, although it was flooded and not accessible. The second floor was devoid of much of anything interesting, sans a stack of blueprints, various doors and a crude pinball machine. The third floor, which was also sealed at one point in the staircase, featured various sizable rooms built into the hillside that had obviously been abandoned for much longer than thirty years.

Water intrusion was much more evident on the third floor than anywhere else. Steel beams that held up the above floors were rusting through, and plaster finishes over brick walls were crumbling at the slightest touch.

This is unfortunately where the trip through this building ends. Two staircases lead to the fourth floor and further back into the hillside, but unfortunately, both are well sealed with wooden boards. A ladder, rotting and in very poor condition overall, leads through a hole in the floor to a crawlspace — possibly to an exit point on the fourth floor or elsewhere.

Finally, a trip is not complete without a stop at the impressive Schmulbach Brewery.

There are more photographs from the Schmulbach Brewery on the click-through. If you have any information on the school or three abandoned factories, where there is limited information available, please let me know in the comments below. Stay tuned for more updates from West Virginia, this time from Clarksburg and the southern reaches of the state!

Musings in Ohio: Bellaire Interstate Toll Bridge

It’s not every day that you come across an abandoned bridge over the Ohio River.

Deteriorating above the Ohio River since it closed in 1991, the Bellaire Interstate Toll Bridge connected Bellaire, Ohio to Benwood, West Virginia. The two-lane cantilever span was completed in 18 months and opened in 1926 to much fanfare, utilizing 7 million tons of steel and realizing a link between the two busy, industrial communities.

Seven-thousand vehicles crossed the bridge on the first day alone, which was the sole fixed crossing between Parkersburg and Wheeling, West Virginia. The Bellaire Interstate Toll Bridge carried a modest nickel toll, which remained in effect at that rate for 45 years, when it was raised to a quarter in 1971. Surprisingly, the span only began losing money beginning in 1984, and as a result, the toll was raised to 50 cents.

Portions of the movie, Silence of the Lambs, was filmed on the Bellaire Interstate Toll Bridge, and numerous weddings were held on the span.

In 1991, the bridge was closed to traffic when the Ohio Department of Transportation removed the Bellaire, Ohio approach ramp to make way for the Ohio State Route 7 freeway. The department paid the bridge corporation $2.1 million.

Not all was lost for the Bellaire Interstate Toll Bridge, as it was subsequently sold to Roger Barack, who intended to reuse the span for transportation — most likely, to rebuild the approach ramp and have it functioning as a viable crossing. No work was ever completed, and later, money was set aside for demolition.

Controversies ensued in later years pertaining to the demolition of the Bellaire Interstate Toll Bridge. U.S. Representative Bob Ney obtained a grant to demolish the crossing, however, Ney received campaign donations from Barack and rented an office from Barack that led to conflict of interest accusations. In addition, Ney nominated Barack’s son for an Air Force Academy Appointment. The span was sold in May 2010 to Advanced Explosives Demolition, who is known for their television program, The Imploders. The company reported that preparations for tear-down were underway, and enlisted Delta Demolition for help.

But that was with controversy as well.

The U.S. Coast Guard had not received notification of the sale, or of the bridge status. The demolition plans must be submitted to the Coast Guard for approval, in conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers.

Delta Demolition later denied being the owner of the Bellaire Interstate Toll Bridge, and noted that Barack was still the owner of the bridge. Two days later, Barack said that it had been sold to Advanced Explosives Demolition. More recently, Advanced Explosives Demolition filed a legal complaint in Idaho against Delta Demolition and KDC Investment – a company created that was when Advanced Explosives Demolition sold the bridge to Delta Demolition.

On one warm summer night, I decided to check out the Bellaire Interstate Toll Bridge. Remaining on the crossing were vintage hand-painted signage, and the toll booths that dangle precariously on the bridge.

Bellaire Interstate Toll Bridge

Bellaire Interstate Toll Bridge

The toll booths that dangle precariously on the bridge.

Bellaire Interstate Toll Bridge

The former B&O Railroad crossing lights up at night as a train rolls across the Ohio River.

Bellaire Interstate Toll Bridge

The closed National Tube pipe mill is in the distance.

It is sad to remark that the bridge, which is structurally sound, has visually deteriorated to the point that it “necessitates” removal. The once silver paint has become a shade of black, and the asphalt pavement sports weeds and trees. It doesn’t help matters that the Ohio approach was removed. Read more on the Bellaire Interstate Toll Bridge at one of my other web-sites, Bridges & Tunnels, and check out the other photographs!

Industrial towns on the edge

America continues to lose its edge on manufacturing. In an article authored by Rick Hampson for USA TODAY, he explores the notion of several industrial communities that are “teetering on the edge” of massive population and job losses. Most are communities reliant on one major industry or service.

One of the major highlights of the article revolves around the massive aluminum production plant just south of Ravenswood, West Virginia, a community of 4,000 along the banks of the Ohio River. The Kaiser Aluminum facility, which opened in 1957, included a reduction plant (smelter) and a fabrication plant. Lured by cheap energy prices and the proximity of good river, rail and highway access, the nation’s largest aluminum factory remained in production for over 50 years until the smelter closed on February 4, 2009, laying off over 650 employees. The fabrication plant, which employs more than 1,000, is still in operation.

And that has people in the one-industry town worried.

Ravenswood, and the county it is located in, was considered “a rural problem area” a half-century ago. It was poor, isolated and it’s mainstay was agriculture. Until the nation’s largest aluminum works was constructed. In just a year, the per-capita income of the county doubled, and at least two generations of workers were given the promise of job security and decent pay in a state that has had few opportunities for both. Suburban developments sprouted up on the north flank of town, aided by Interstate 77′s completion in 1964. Today, Ravenswood has some of the highest per-capita income in the state.

But losing such an icon can potentially leave Ravenswood high-and-dry. Their reason for existance, at least in its current form, can be all but lost. Ravenswood doesn’t have a hospital, or a university, and it’s not a county seat. The terrain is hilly and difficult, and few flat lands remain for major industrial development.

Historian Tom Juravich stated that Ravenswood is “one plant shutdown from oblivion.”

But the ghost towns of the west just simply do not occur anymore. At least, not without major economic loss. The community still has a Wal-Mart, and other marginal jobs that in effect, serve and pay each other. Or zero-sum jobs. And it still has affordable housing stock and cheap apartments, ideal for those in such low-wage jobs. But time will tell if the community holds through this crisis.

And it isn’t without precedence. New Boston, Ohio, once home to major industries such as Detroit Steel and it’s associated coke plant, went from being a prosperous, dense, middle-income community in the 1950s, to one of the poorest. It’s poverty rate skyrocketed after several industries closed, replaced with K-Mart’s and Wal-Mart’s that did little to attract new investment and high-wage employment. The city, desperate for anything positive, hailed the new “economic development,” not realizing how much they had lost in just a few decades.

And not realizing how much America had lost.

Ravenswood could very well be heading down this path.

Halloween Haunts

It’s almost Halloween. Here are my favorite haunts that you should check out (some legal, some not)!

Hillside Nursing Home

Hillside Nursing Home consisted of Parkside and Oakside Nursing Home, the former located in a decrepit cinder block structure, the latter in a very old former residence. Residing on a hill in Cincinnati, one only has to imagine the deaths and horrors that happened in this decrypt and neglected nursing home when it was open.

Hayswood Hospital

The ‘gears and cogs’ of preservation groups in this historic river town may turn this long-disused hospital into a vibrant apartment community.

Of course, the former Hayswood Hospital has been the host of numerous ghostly tales since its closure, hosting paranormal group gatherings where the spiritual seek out the ghosts of the institution. According to several accounts, a woman carrying a baby was seen walking through the nursery area of the hospital. The woman, having died in labor, was soon followed by the newborn. Others have reported seeing doctors in the hallways and hearing the cries of its former patients, along with spotting lights in the windows. And the few have reported seeing strange markings in the basement that bestow a threatening hostility on whoever walks or drives by.

“You can see her walking through halls with a dead baby in her hands. It freaks me out.”
–Rebecca Insko>

Waverly Hills Tuberculosis Hospital

Waverly Hills was constructed in 1926 as a tuberculosis hospital, however, modern advances in medicine deemed the center obsolete by 1961. It reopened two years later as the Woodhaven Geriatrics Center, an elderly home, but was finally closed in 1981. Today, it is being renovated through the assistance of donations.

The goal is to create a haunted bed and breakfast. To help offset the cost and continue general renovations, tours are offered that starts in the renovated Laundry room and concludes with a tour of the entire complex, including the famed ‘Death Tunnel’. A night-time ‘ghost hunting’ tour is also given.

Weston State Hospital

It seems as if Weston State Hospital is seeing some daylight at the end of its dark and rather stormy past. From a Civil War that held up construction to fires and extreme overcrowding, the once ‘remote’ asylum for the insane in West Virginia now stands essentially frozen in suspended animation. Recent renovations have stablized the roof and improvements are being considered to restore the large hospital into a ‘National Museum of the Civil War’, among other uses.

Daily heritage tours are available for both small and large groups. They also offer ghost tours and a witches ball. More information can be found here.

Sweet Springs Resort
A trip into West Virginia

I recently had to travel out to Charlottesville, Virginia for a conference and decided to swing by two large historical sites in West Virginia: Weston State Hospital and Sweet Springs Resort.

Weston State Hospital

Weston State Hospital is now known as the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, and is open for tours.

Sweet Springs Resort

Originally opened as a health resort, over the years it became a sanatorium, a hospital, and towards the end of its active life, a nursing home and drug treatment center.

Enjoy these fresh photographs!