Weirton West Virginia
I've spent several nice afternoons walking around the Weirton Steel mill. It's one of the few (possibly only) remaining very large integrated steel mills in the US laid out in such a way that one can walk through and close to most parts of the mill on public streets. This rambling layout might be part of the reason that the mill is gradually succumbing to lack of investment and is slowly being shut down.
The city of Weirton is one of the larger in a string of industrial towns on the upper Ohio river. I haven't spent much time in the commercial or residential areas of Weirton. Those areas are organized as several distinct sections or neighborhoods separated by steep hills. Prior to 1947 these areas were all separate small towns. In 1947 they joined together to form Weirton. From what I have seen of the town, I know that there are some nice turn of the century commercial buildings and houses but not quite as many as can be found in near-by Steubenville or Wheeling. Weirton is a little younger than those neighboring cities. Weirton grew for the most part after the steel mill was built in 1909.
The steel mill has always been the main reason for my visits to Weirton. Mazes of pipes connect the different parts of the mill travel along side and over many little used streets. It's easy find places to park. There is little foot or car traffic and the industrial landscape is extraordinary. Construction on the mill started in 1909 and the mill grew over the years into the 1970s. At it's peak the mill employed 12,000 people and was the largest employer in West Virginia (Wallmart is now West Virginia's largest employer). In the 1970s US steel producers found themselves competing in a market that was full of steel and steel products being produced by modern mills in Japan and Europe. Steel producers in the US had failed, generally speaking to invest in improvements to mills. Steel mills all over the US were loosing money and shutting down. The owner of the Weirton mill, National steel having failed to find a buyer for the mill threatened to close it in 1982.
The employees of Weirton Steel started a Employee Stock Ownership Plan and purchased a majority of the shares in a new company- Weirton Steel from National Steel in 1983-84. For the next decade Weirton Steel was the largest company in the US with employees as majority share holders. In the 90s Weirton Steel became a publicly traded company. In 2003 Weirton steel entered bankruptcy. While in bankruptcy the mill and related assets where purchased by ArcelorMittal. ArcelorMittal has drastically curtailed operations at the Weirton mill. Tin plated steel continues to be produced in large quantities but that's the only thing being produced. Current employment is close to 1,000. The blast furnaces where raw ore were turned into steel had been mothballed and are now slated for demolition. Other large sections of the mill are gradually being torn down. ArcelorMittal hopes to demolish unused structures, clean up and sell the land. I am unaware of any preservation efforts.
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