RUST BELT IN WEST VIRGINIA

INDUSTRIAL KANAWHA VALLEY PHOTOS


Perhaps West Virginia's quintessential Rust Belt town is Weirton. One of the main products of Weirton Steel has been tin plated steel. Empty parking lots in this photo are indicative of a workforce that has shrunk from about 12,000 employees to 1,200.


Weirton Steel was part of National Steel until 1983. In the middle of the collapse of the American steel industry National Steel offered to sell the company to its employees, and the employees accepted the offer. The company soldiered on through good and bad years for the next two decades until it was purchased in 2003 by International Steel Group, who in turn was absorbed into Mittall Steel. Sadly, Mittall shut down the hot end of the mill, and now the blast furnaces have gone cold, as shown in this picture. In the fall of 2007 demolition of these furnaces by Arcelor-Mittal had begun.


View of blast furnaces and steel mill in Weirton from up on the hill.


The mill continues on toward the downtown section of Weirton. Pictured here is the building containing the unused Basic Oygen Furnace.


Wires crossing Route 2 at the steel mill in Weirton.


Detail of the Weirton mill showing an International Steel Group sign.


Weirton Steel in the 1950s.


This coke plant at Follansbee, WV was originally owned by Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Co. and now operates as Mountain State Carbon. Later, it was actually partially owned by RG Steel. Although RG went down the drain in 2012, this facility was able to keep operating at a reduced pace.


Another view of the coke plant at Follansbee


All of this plumbing is required to capture the by-products of coke. The old industrial fixture Koppers Company is involved in this aspect of the Follansbee coke plant.


Hot coke sits smoking in gondola cars in March 2006 before being shipped across the river to Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Company's blast furnace at Mingo Junction, Ohio. W-P also had recently constructed an electric furnace at Mingo Junction. However, Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp. is now history, and those hot metal operations across the river have been idled for a while now.


View of the Follansbee coke plant from the southern end of the operation


Despite the aroma from the coke ovens, Follansbee is a pleasant town with a large Italian-American population and well kept homes such as these.


The old Blaw-Knox plant in Warwood, WV.


The LaBelle Nail plant in South Wheeling, WV billed itself as the largest cut nail plant in the world. It was built in 1852, and closed down in 2010. When it shut down the Wheeling Intelligencer quoted a LaBelle employee as saying, "My father worked there for 40 years, and I worked there for 37. It's sad to see it go. Now, here I am at 58 years old trying to start over." This gentleman also noted, "There was just so much foreign competition. Now, there were plants in China and (South) Korea that took some of our largest customers."


Detail of the LaBelle Nail plant.


The back side of the LaBelle Nail plant.


The cathedral of the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese in Wheeling, WV. Wheeling is the Catholic capitol of West Virginia due to the large number of Irish, Polish, Italian, and other European immigrants that came to this city.


Remnants of the old National Tube pipe mill in Benwood, WV. In the background is the dangerous and dilapidated former toll bridge between Benwood and Bellaire, Ohio.


Another view of the remnants of the National Tube Benwood works.


Clarksburg, WV is a classic Rust Belt town that is also home to the West Virginia Italian Festival.


Disconnected smokestacks echo the lost industrial greatness of Clarksburg.


UCAR carbon plant in the Annmore section of Clarksburg.


Factory and store of Fenton Art Glass in Williamstown, WV. Fenton has made glass in Williamstown since 1907. This plant announced plans to shut down in 2007. However, collectors responded to the announcement with a flurry of purchases, and the plant was able to stay open. But in 2011 the company announced another closure, with the company president stating, "The market for our pressed and blown glassware has diminished. We cannot sustain the overhead costs." The plant still produced industrial glass and glass beads, though. Recently US Glass, Inc. acquired the facility and plans to make it more sustainable and viable.


In 1957, at the height of America's industrial might, Kaiser Aluminum constructed this aluminum mill near Ravenswood, WV.


Detail of Ravenswood Aluminum Mill. In 2008, when I took this picture, the plant was operated by Century Aluminum and appeared to be running full speed ahead. Yet less than a year later, Century laid off 651 employees and shut the plant down.

The adjacent but separated company at this site, Alcan Rolled Products, continued to produce, and was later operated by Constellium. In 2012 700 members of United Steelworkers Local 5668 went on strike at the Constellium plant over workers' health insurance benefits.


CSX railroad trestle in Guyandotte, Cabell County, WV.


This is the Huntington Alloys works of the Special Metals Corporation in Guyandotte, near Huntington, WV. It was built in 1922 as a nickel alloy mill operated by the International Nickel Company.


View of the Special Metals plant in Guyandotte, WV.


Another picture of the Special Metals alloy plant - note the internal rails for transporting materials around the plant.


This photograph shows another perspective of the Special Metals plant. I believe that there has been quite a lot of R&D performed at this facility over the years.


Ventillation stacks at Special Metals Huntington Alloys plant.


The Huntington plant of American Car and Foundry (ACF) built "covered hopper cars," Center-Flow cars, and other kinds of rail cars for over 100 years.


Shops of ACF Industries in Huntington. The facility once employed 1,600 workers, and around 400 as late as the 1990s, but the Huntington Herald-Dispactch reported in 2010 that there were four workers remaining - and three were security guards. The newspaper also noted that, although the plant once built 28 Center-Flow rail cars a day, "...by 2001, the market for the Center-Flow cars had dried up and most of the plant’s workers had been furloughed. The few that remained mostly made wheel pairs for tank cars manufactured at ACF’s plant in Pennsylvania. Now, even that work apparently has come to a halt."


Warehouse district in Huntington, WV.


A portion of Steel of West Virginia's mill in Huntington, WV.


Steel of West Virginia began operations in 1909.


As illustrated by the heap of scrap metal in the background, Steel of West Virginia is a "mini-mill" of sorts.


Steel of West Virginia as seen from across Third Avenue in Huntington. From what I hear this operation is prospering.


Norfolk-Southern railroad trestle in Ceredo, WV.

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