Sunday, June 6, 2010

Northern Panhandle

Last week Larry and I traveled to the northernmost tip of West Virginia to an elementary school where I was to tell stories. The trip was an adventure in contrasts. From the aging steel mill towns to the steep ridges and wide Ohio River, there was much to see and think about along the way. We left at 5:00 am, and did not get home until 6:00--not because the trip is that long but because we meandered, just looking.

We took the recommended route this time instead of our favorite road to the panhandle. Route 2 is beautiful but early in the morning we figured we'd lose time due to school buses and work traffic on the mostly two-lane road, so we hopped across the river to travel Ohio Route 7 for a good part of the journey. We crossed back into West Virgina on this bridge:

which replaced the one below which I heard on the radio just the day before was bought by some company that does big implosions for some television show. Will this old bridge become famous on TV in it old age?

We drove through the Weirton/Follansbee area, once home to big steel companies. Now these companies struggle to survive due to competition from cheap imported steel. Driving right through a factory on Route 2 just fascinates me. Larry pointed out the place he worked at Weirton Steel in 2005-2006; he was a bricklayer in the coke ovens and temperatures could get to 300 degrees. The men could only work in 15-minute shifts and even so their clothes could catch fire, their leather boots burn and one man even had his driver's license and credit cards melt in the wallet in his pocket. The pay was good but Larry had to stay all week and in the end it just wasn't worth the money.

It you own any Fiestaware, it came from here in the northern panhandle, in a little town called Newell:

Out back of the factory, we saw this:

What the heck...? It is exactly what it looks like,

a dump full of rejected Fiestaware. A man who was apparently an employee was standing nearby and told us that is is product that didn't meet their quality standards. The glass is recycled, of course, but boy wouldn't you like to have a look through there? Maybe my standards aren't as high as theirs! Of course the dump is off limits to visitors, and rightfully so because it could be dangerous.
Just up the road from Newell is Chester, the northernmost town in West Virginia and home of:

The Chester teapot now has a much more attractive fence and setting than when I saw it ten years ago. Click here to read its history; it's worth a read.
These little windows were for concession sales back when the teapot was first built. Wouldn't you have liked to buy a hot dog here?

Along the river, homeowners have created lovely places to sit and watch the boats go by. I really liked this lovely garden, which I believe was in Newell.

As I said earlier, the northern panhandle is a landscape of contrasts and these photos only begin to touch on its unique history and character. Like many other regions that relied on heavy industry for survival, the panhandle struggles to make its way today, and will probably have to invent a future minus steel some day. For now, steel continues to be a mainstay, along with the chinaware factory, power plants and a few other factories. The river will always be there, peacefully carrying big barges up and down with their loads of coke, coal, gravel and steel. The ridges and hollows will be there too, filled with the hardworking people who find ways to keep going even in hard times.


Susan at Stony River said...

Pretty photos! I like the way you travel -- I'm the same.

We considered Wheeling for moving to, but while it's got pretty houses and lovely parks, everyone seems to be commuting to Pittsburgh or Ohio for work every day. I never want a long commute again in my life, so... Charleston? Huntington? I just went for the middle.

Joby said...

Thank you for taking the time to write about my home area.

As I young child I used to sneak into that same 'dump' at Homer Laughlin. Oh the fun that was had breaking dishes with coffee cups etc...

Beautiful pics.

Granny Sue said...

Susan, I tink you made wise choice. The area you're in is growing and more jobs are available there. At the same time, it's pretty, picturesque, and small-town. Hope we get to see you soon. Call me!

Joby, I have to admit that I am fascinated with the northern panhandle. There is so much history there, so many ethnicities, architecture, and of course the river. I can just see you there, smashing teacups! I wanted to sneak in myself :-)

Twisted Fencepost said...

Wow..300 degrees? I wouldn't think anyone could work in those conditions.
I'd like to take a peak at that discarded Fiestaware. My standards might not be as high as theirs either.
The northern panhandle looks like a beautiful and peaceful place.

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