Last week, I covered shipbuilding in Mason County up to 1915 and stopped there for a very specific reason. After 1915, and all the way up to 1970, local shipbuilding is dominated by one company, and I wanted to be able to devote an entire article to such an important piece of Mason County’s history.
It all begins in 1852 with W.F. Robertson, who opened a foundry and machine shop in Beverly, Ohio. Robertson & Sons specialized in stoves, capstans, and other equipment used in outfitting steamboats, much like our own Point Pleasant Machine Shop operating at the same time. The company remained in Beverly until a fire destroyed its complex in 1870.
Following the fire, Robertson & Sons relocated to Marietta, Ohio and production continued just as it had in Beverly. In 1892, the Robertsons sold the company to Alla Windsor and partners, who renamed it the Marietta Manufacturing Company. They continued the same production of steamboat equipment until 1913, when that year’s disastrous flood destroyed the company’s complex in Marietta and nearly bankrupted them.
Point Pleasant, which we all know was also hit hard by the 1913 flood, immediately began courting the company as part of its efforts to rebuild. Young Walter Augustus Windsor, who was only 23 when his father passed and the company presidency passed to him, was hesitant as it would mean a major company leaving his hometown. However hesitant, he accepted in 1914, and within two years, by 1916, the Marietta Manufacturing Company was back in production at its new complex at the foot of 22nd Street in Point Pleasant’s “Heights” neighborhood. (Named for both the old Sterret homestead and the fact that it is one of the highest places in town, a quality the certainly helped persuade Windsor.)
Under Walter Windsor’s leadership, the company quickly became one of the largest inland shipyards in the United States. He built his own “dream team” by bringing on C.O. Weissenburger as a member of the Board, E.H. Holmes as Chief Engineer, and S.J. Struben and George Overholt as superintendents. With them they brought the experience of Youngstown Steel & Tube and Nordberg Manufacturing.
Less than a year after reopening, the company secured World War I contracts for boilers and engines, 150,000-pound behemoths that were the pride of the company. A year after that, in 1918, with the addition of a plate shop and mold loft, the company moved into full-scale production of ships and put out their first towboat that same year. In 1919, they were awarded their first major contract, four towboats for the U.S. Railroad. That was followed up with a 1920 contract to provide engines for the Mississippi River Fleet and a 1921 contract to provide towboats for the Inland Waterways Corporation.
By then, the Marietta Company was solidly into ship production, and they ran a tight ship. Up and down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, the MMC logo on ships was known as both their name and slogan, “Made Mechanically Correct.” As far away as Columbia, in South America, the MMC logo testified to quality construction. Towboats, derricks, dredges, ferries, yachts, freight barges, the MMC built them all.
With such a reputation, it is no coincidence that the Marietta Company was chosen as one of the few builders of oceangoing ships on an inland waterway. Between 1930 and 1965, they built 94 oceangoing ships for the military (73 of these were built for the World War Two war effort). Of these, the largest were 16 Army mine planters, 188’ in length and 37’ wide with a 12’ draft.
Now, you might ask, how did they get such large ships down the Ohio River? It’s a neat trick really, one thought up by Weissenburger, who became company president after Walter’s death in 1929. All they had to do was open the gates at Racine Dam and let the ship ride the wave to Gallipolis, and so on to the Mississippi.
The Marietta Company continued production until closing its doors in 1970. It was then bought by Point Pleasant Marine, a subsidiary of Amherst-Madison, which operated until 1984. Just shy of 70 years operating in Point, the shipyard that employed 3,000 people at its height finally closed its doors.
Today, quite a bit survives to testify to the Marietta Company’s history. Two of the company’s larger buildings survive just off Marietta Street, as do the slipways and the office (based on Google Earth satellite images). Though, I must admit, unless something is done soon, nothing of the former complex will survive much longer, and Point Pleasant will lose the largest piece from the last 100 years of its history. The Windsor home, a beautiful Colonial Revival house, still stands on Windsor Court at the opposite end of 22nd Street (near Rt. 62 and Jericho Rd). Not to mention, many of the homes between Camden Avenue and 28th Street were built as part of the economic boom that followed the Marietta Company’s relocation to Point and its later expansion into shipbuilding.
Information from Charles Stone and Jack Fowler’s “The History of the Marietta Manufacturing Company,” the West Virginia State Archives, and Marshall University’s Clio.
Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society, reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.