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The rise and fall of the steel industry in southern Ohio

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In March 2007, a contract was let to demolish the New Boston Coke Corporation in New Boston, Ohio. This ends the legacy of the steel mill which built the town, employing the vast majority of its able-bodied residents for 104 years. Abandoned takes a peek at the rise and fall of New Boston, which mirrored the steel industry as a whole.

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New Boston Coke Corporation was once part of a long legacy of steel making in the Portsmouth, Ohio region. The beginnings of the steel industry in New Boston began with the discovery of iron ore in the foothills of southern Ohio, along with the vast virgin forest tracts, and the availability of two major rivers. This led to the construction of numerous blast furnaces and the district soon became a major iron producing center -- spawning such namesake towns as Ironton.

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The first steel plant was constructed in 1831 in Portsmouth, however, it was destroyed by fire in 1898. A move to the adjoining town of New Boston, where land was more plentiful, allowed the facility to expand and become a leader in the production of steel. It featured the first overhead electrical cranes for steel making in the nation that was used in the transport of hot metal and heavy machinery.

In 1916, the first coke plant was constructed adjacent to the steel mill, followed by the "Old Susie" blast furnace. This completed the integration of the plant. Several years later, additional components were constructed within the plant boundaries, and by 1948, it was considered the most modern steel mill in the country -- employing 3,800. The factory was also notable for its contribution to the World War II effort, becoming the largest center of production of 500-lb. bombs that helped the United States win the war against Germany and Japan.

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In the 1950s, the plant continued to expand, employing 4,800 -- most of them residing in the town of New Boston. In 1965, the coke plant was rebuilt and modernized, and a steam plant was constructed. The good times were coming to a close by the 1970s, however, due to increased foreign competition. Gradual shutdowns of the massive steel facility began in 1972, and in 1980, the steel-producing plant was closed. By the time of the closure on May 31, the steel mill and coke plant employed just 1,200.

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The coke plant continued on, gaining contracts from the Rouge River Steel Corporation, a subsidiary for the Ford Motor Corporation. The good times for the coke facility lasted until the late 1990s, when the Ohio EPA reported that the plant was releasing air pollution "worse than some of the largest industrial sites in the United States." Cancer rates in the adjoining New Boston were some of the highest in the United States. The coke plant was closed in 2002, eliminating just 200 jobs. The closure meant that the last component of the steel industry left after more than 104 years in New Boston.

Today, the site is being redeveloped for various businesses including a Wal-Mart and various industries. In March 2007, contracts were awarded for the demolition of the remainder of New Boston Coke Corporation. Demolition is expected to be complete in October.

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Abandoned takes a sobering look at what was a massive steel factory in the heart of southern Ohio. It's fortunes mirrored much of the steel industry in the United States, where jobs decreased from 400,000 to 140,000 from 1970 to 1990. A lengthy look at its history is now online, combined with dozens of photographs inside and out. Find out more about New Boston Coke Corporation!

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great post, the info was interesting and the last picture was awesome.

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^^

That building was part of Detroit Steel which had the steel mill in front of the coke plant. Those buildings were demolished in the mid 1980s, although bits and pieces -- such as this half-demolished ruin, various smokestacks, etc. -- were not demolished until 2004. Made a rather gloomy entrance to the city and region.

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^^

That building was part of Detroit Steel which had the steel mill in front of the coke plant. Those buildings were demolished in the mid 1980s, although bits and pieces -- such as this half-demolished ruin, various smokestacks, etc. -- were not demolished until 2004. Made a rather gloomy entrance to the city and region.

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I don't think any state was hit harder economically than Ohio was by the closing of all the steel mills and coke plants. From Cleveland, and Youngstown all the way down the Ohio River Valley, many small towns lost a huge # of jobs. Ironton, Portsmouth, Zanesville, Piketon, Steubenville, E Liverpool, Youngstown, Warren, Ashtabula, Canton, & Cleveland have all been hit hard. Some towns have not even begun to come back from this. Others are doing better than they were say a decade ago, but I doubt Ohio will ever be the same.

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There are some towns, like Ironton, that are just now seeing a rebirth. For much of the 1970s and 1980s well into 2000s, Ironton was a dying city and there was very little investment. Downtown properties were decaying, however, they still had the traditional downtown stores until the Ashland Town Center opened ~1992. After many years of neglect, you now have the Marting Hotel retirement apartments, the depot being repurposed for a restaurant (after years of abandonment), and some new blood moving in.

Portsmouth is still quite dead. Besides Bonnieville (sp?) -- which has been hit hard and has many empty lots -- the city has not rebounded since the loss of the steel making jobs and the uranium enrichment plant.

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