Mason County Memories: A brief history of Point Pleasant II

By Chris Rizer - Special to the Register

Picking up where I left off last week, the coming of the railroad didn’t only change downtown. Remember how I said the railroad also made housing cheaper? With industry moving uptown and houses being built for pennies using material brought in by the railroads, laborers moved uptown with the industry. Why live downtown if you work uptown?

Besides basic logic, how do I know this (pretending I’m not from here)? The houses. The first houses built uptown are Queen Anne, pointing to a date of around 1890. I know from research that the O.R.R. yards opened in 1886, so the change was almost instant.

But there are only a few Queen Anne houses uptown. It quickly changes to a mixture of Colonial Revival, Dutch Revival, Tudor Revival, Craftsman, and American Foursquare. Why? Well, the Malleable Iron Company opened in 1902, and it was quickly followed by the Marietta Manufacturing Company’s move to Point Pleasant in 1914. Both needed massive numbers of people, and it’s a matter of record that our population nearly doubled between 1890 and 1930.

By 1910, those five styles I mentioned had replaced Queen Anne and were dominating American architecture, helped along by architects like McKim, Mead, & White (the various revivals), Greene & Greene and Julia Morgan (Craftsman), and Frank Lloyd Wright (Foursquare). These styles were also advertised by Sears & Roebuck as “kit homes,” easily afforded by the middle class. And Point Pleasant, with industrial production fueled by the WWI boom and Roaring ‘20s, was certainly middle class.

Then, something happens. It’s amazing really, that you can walk up Mount Vernon Avenue and literally watch history. It starts off with Queen Anne, then some Colonial Revival gets mixed in, and then some Craftsman and Foursquare. And then, it’s like someone drew a line right in the middle of 22nd Street. Why is every house above 22nd Street completely different?

That line is Black Tuesday, the stock market crash that kicked off the Great Depression. Without funding, construction just stopped. For a lot people, life came to a crashing halt. Relief only came after President Roosevelt’s New Deal, and in our case, with the Federal Housing Administration. They replaced the banks that had collapsed, providing loans and funding as long construction met federal standards outlined in publications like the 1936 “Principles of Planning Small Houses.”

That particular publication promoted the construction of what we call Minimal Traditional houses, and as I think we can see uptown, it was insanely popular with the average family. It was also very popular with the federal government during World War II, when they needed houses fast for the war effort. Together, these are why virtually every house between 22nd and 28th Streets fits into this style. They were almost all built by either families recovering from the Depression, or in the case of the Park Drive neighborhood, by the federal government for the workers at the Marietta Shipyard, Navy Yard, and WV Ordnance Works at Camp Conley.

After World War II, the ideas and publications put out by the FHA remained popular and led to the Ranch and Split-Level styles of house. Those two styles cover almost every house built in Point Pleasant (and across most of the country) since 1950. For us, this mostly means homes above 28th Street/Sandhill Road.

Well, that covers uptown! What about downtown? As people moved uptown, the tenements and boarding houses were demolished and replaced with bigger commercial buildings. Perhaps the best example of this is the Lowe Hotel, built in the fashionable Beaux-Arts style in 1901.

Then, in 1908, the Ford Model T rolls off the assembly line and completely changes American life. Everything gets a bit faster, sleeker, and buildings are no exception. By the time production of the Model T stops in 1927, we’re seeing buildings like the Art Moderne-style Haynes Building (Mothman Museum) and Art Deco-style State Theater. Sleek and modern, with none of the detailed brickwork of older buildings.

In fact, older buildings were often updated to “get with the times.” Some simply reworked the storefronts and added the stylish new Carrara glass and glass block, like 514, 512, and 317 Main. Others, like the Kisar Block next to the Lowe Hotel, replaced the entire facade!

Then, like uptown, construction stopped during the Depression. Downtown, this continued through World War II as materials were needed more for housing and the war effort.

After the war, there was one last construction boom that gave us the new courthouse and People’s Bank. Both are a mix of the International and Brutalist styles, popularized by Van Der Rohe, Le Corbusier, and Breuer. After this last boom and since 1970, little has changed downtown despite a few fires and demolitions, and most development has been centered on Viand Street and across the river in Gallipolis.

To wrap up, I hope I’ve demonstrated that we have a good collection of buildings spanning the entire history of this country. From the Mansion House, built when Washington was president, to perhaps the best collection of 2nd Renaissance Revival buildings in a town our size, to modern Ranch houses, we have a little bit of everything. That’s weird for a town our size, and we can capitalize on that. We can turn our history into something that draws in people, fosters business, and generates revenue. But first, we need to appreciate it ourselves.

By Chris Rizer

Special to the Register

Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society, reach him at [email protected] The next meeting of the Society will be 6 p.m., Monday, Dec. 16, at the Mason County Library in Point Pleasant.

Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society, reach him at [email protected] The next meeting of the Society will be 6 p.m., Monday, Dec. 16, at the Mason County Library in Point Pleasant.