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Follansbee an Example of Small-Town America

March 28, 2013
By JENNIFER COMPSTON-STROUGH - City Editor , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

FOLLANSBEE - From the diverse ethnic background of its residents to the hustle and bustle of its Main Street, Follansbee serves as a prime example of what small-town America is all about.

Officially, Follansbee is a relatively young community compared to other local cities and towns that trace their roots back to colonial days. But the wide, flat plateau between the Ohio River and the rolling hills of Brooke County contains evidence that it has been occupied since prehistoric times.

When white settlers first arrived in the region during the 18th century, they found Mingo Indians at the site that became known as "Old Mingo Bottom," according to the "Diamond Anniversary History of Follansbee, West Virginia" found at the Follansbee Public Library. In 1772 Isaac Cox claimed that land after a treaty forced the Indians to vacate the site and move west across the Ohio River. He built a log cabin there that was later transferred along with 343 acres of property to John Decker. In 1774, Decker built a fort near what is now the center of the community.

Article Photos

This sign at the Mahan
Playground along
W.Va. 2 in Follansbee
marks the site where
Fort Decker once stood.

Photo by Jennifer Compston-Strough

That property was passed on to the Wells and Mahan families before being sold to Benjamin G. Follansbee in 1902. The Follansbee Brothers Co. quickly established a tin mill at the site, spawning an influx of new residents to fill the 1,000 jobs the plant offered. People came from all parts of the country and from Europe, especially Italy, Germany and Ireland, to accept those lucrative positions.

The remaining property in the region went to the Brooke County Improvement Co., which laid the town out in lots that were soon occupied by industrial workers and their families. The city of Follansbee received its charter in 1906.

Follansbee Steel is now gone, but some industry still remains. City Manager John DeStefano said the Mountain State Carbon coke plant is still there, and is "probably one of the top coke-producing facilities in the world." Wheeling Nisshin still makes steel in Follansbee, and Koppers Inc. makes tar and pitch using byproducts of the coke facility.

Today, W.Va. 2 doubles as the city's Main Street, carrying large numbers of passenger vehicles and freight trucks through the community every day. To the west, the Ohio River flows past the large industrial complexes, bringing them raw materials and providing transportation for their finished products. To the east of Main Street, neat rows of family homes line straight, well-planned avenues that stretch up the adjacent hillsides.

And residents need not go far to find just about anything they are seeking. Brooke Plaza features large chain stores and restaurants on the north end of town. Along Main Street itself, one can order a custom T-shirt, buy a cup of coffee or a pre-owned vehicle, make a stop at the bank or pick up some flowers on the way home.

A working mom could drop her children off at a day care facility on Main Street and take them to visit the orthodontist nearby. Shoes, furniture and tattoos all are available at the shops that line the city's main thoroughfare, and there are plenty of places to stop for an authentic Italian meal.

"That's our nature here, we're a friendly little town," DeStefano said. "At one time, in its heyday, Follansbee was known as little Italy. ... It was very ethnic at one time, but not so much anymore. ... But that always did add to the character of community.

Looking toward the future, DeStefano believes Follansbee is becoming more of a bedroom community, with people who work in Pittsburgh building new homes in areas of Follansbee such as Highland Woods. And he hopes the growing oil and gas industry will bring some more business to the community.

DeStefano would like to see the city retain its population of just under 3,000 and perhaps grow a bit in the coming years. In the meantime, he said, city officials will work to maintain the quality of services offered to residents and businesses. For example, he said the city pool will be open this summer despite other local communities' decisions to stop operating public pools.

He pointed out that each of the city's five wards has its own playground, and athletic fields are abundant as well.

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