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Steubenville, OH

March 16, 2016

The fate of Akron-Auditorium churches in northern rust-belt cities was especially precarious. Looking this morning for some information on the former First Methodist Episcopal Church in Steubenville, OH, I was reminded of that.


First M.E. was an exceptional Ne-Classical design by Uniontown, PA architects Fulton & Butler, who produced several churches in the database in western Pennsylvania and the Ohio River valley but they also worked at some distance from their home base. “First M.E.” no longer exists as a congregation, however, but has been bought and adapted as Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox. One wonders what concessions had to be made for both liturgy and religious education.

Scanning Steubenville on google.maps, I found two other churches of interest: their current names are Fifth Street UMC [United Methodist church] and Sycamore Tree Church, with a husband-wife ministerial team and what appears to be an evangelical venue. Fifth Street UMC proves to have already been in the database, a re-branding of the former Methodist Protest church, a splinter Methodist group that rejoined the main body of Northern Methodism in 1939. It is a well preserved example of the Richardsonian Romanesque dating from the 1890s possibly, certainly no later than 1905.


A block east along North Street, there is also Sycamore Tree Church, even more blatantly Richardsonian and bearing the word “Calvary” above its entrance. An email to the Steubenville Public Library (a handsome Carnegie-funded building) might satisfy my curiosity.

All of this — especially the decimated aerial view of the city as well as the both the disappearance or re-branding of church buildings — reminds me that rust-belt cities in the Trans-Appalachian West and Ohio River Valley are vulnerable to the economic collapse of the region. I’ve seen it personally in places like Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, and Youngstown. Compare these two views of Washington Street in downtown Steubenville to see what I mean:

OHsteubenvilleStreetview OHsteubenvilleStreetview2

When Citizen Trump invokes his catchphrase “Make America Great Again,” he conjures the postcard view of what had been a typical American city, thriving on its industrial prowess, where your place in the community was limited only by your energy and pluck. This was the America of Life With Father (a novel written, by the way, in the midst of the Depression and yearning for a similar Trump-like nostalgia), “Ozzie and Harriet,” or “The Truman Show,” the likes of which we may never see again. Indeed, it may very well be that such halcyon places exist only in our longing for the comfort of seersucker, crinoline and Saturday ice cream socials in the park.

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