I absolutely love this aerial photo of downtown Point Pleasant! It’s like looking at a much more detailed version of those “spot the differences” pictures you always see on Facebook, and if you’re like me, the differences in a photo like this end up leading down several rabbit holes. This photo was taken in 1955, sixty-six years ago, and it shows a very different Main Street than the one we know today. Why don’t we go through just a few of the changes?
When you see an older aerial photo, typically that photo was taken for a specific reason. Most of the aerial photos of Point Pleasant were taken during the 1937 flood, while building the floodwall from 1948-52, and in the aftermath of the Silver Bridge collapse. The reason for this one is under construction in the upper left corner. The old Greek Revival courthouse is gone (demolished in 1954), though the County Clerk’s separate office is still standing, and the first floor of the “new” International-style Mason County Courthouse is taking shape.
Taken to record the construction of a building that is itself historic today, elsewhere in the photo, you can see pieces of Point Pleasant’s past that have since been lost.
The one that stands out the most to me is the three-story white building opposite the Lowe Hotel. This structure was built in the aftermath of the 1884 flood by John Stortz as the Stortz House and later renamed the Phoenix Hotel by Homer Smith, who is better known as the original owner and operator of the Lowe Hotel. Under Smith’s ownership, the Phoenix was praised statewide for the “excellence of its table, the comforts of its rooms, and general hospitality of the place, where a man hangs up his hat and feels right at home.” Much like its namesake, the Phoenix burned in 1969, and today this is the location of the G.C. Murphy/Mason Jar building.
Three buildings to the left of the Phoenix Hotel is the Ben Franklin Store, which collapsed several years ago. This store, unlike the national chain of Ben Franklin’s 5 and Dimes, was actually owned by a Ben Franklin! Several in fact, and Benjamin Franklin I through IV are buried in Lone Oak Cemetery. Many readers will remember Ben Franklin IV as president of Point Pleasant and a wonderful magician.
On 5th Street, the Coca-Cola Bottling Plant (replaced by the People’s Bank drive-through and now a parking lot), large two-story corner store (now a new building housing Garlow Insurance), and two-story Art Deco Greyhound Bus Station (now the Courthouse parking lot) are all long gone.
And on Viand Street, the old Central Elementary/Point Pleasant High School opposite the Courthouse has been replaced by the Mason County Library, the Chrysler dealership (close to the right hand side) is now an AutoZone, and the old fire department (just visible on the right edge of the photo) has been replaced by a new, modern fire department and city hall.
Quite a bit has changed in 66 years, some for the better and some for the worse, but even though I’ve listed several changes in this article, that is by no means everything that is different between this photo and today’s Main Street.
What else can you spot?
Chris Rizer is the president of the Mason County Historical & Preservation Society and director of Main Street Point Pleasant, reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.