Several honored at fort dinner

WINTERSVILLE – Although there were two surprise awards anticipated to be given at the annual Old Fort Steuben Project Inc.’s membership meeting and dinner held Wednesday evening at St. Florian Hall, there were actually three.

And Judy Bratten, the fort’s executive director, found herself surprised to be front and center with Larry Coleman, who was honored for outstanding service, and James Ludewig, who was applauded as an outstanding contributor.

Board President Jerry Barilla first acknowledged Coleman’s numerous activities, including serving on the board, being a retired history and government teacher in the East Liverpool school system, holding membership in the Steubenville Kiwanis Club and having been a past president of the Jefferson County Retired Teachers Association.

“Larry is a guy that we can count on,” Barilla said, noting Coleman is on hand to help when school children tour the fort as well as when visitors come to the land office during the annual fort festival in June.

“He’s a great asset not only on the board and in the wisdom that he provides but also as a doer at the fort,” Barilla said.

Ludewig lives in a house on North Street near state Route 7 in what Barilla said is the Means house, possibly one of the oldest homes in Steubenville. He attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, which specializes in art, business and fashion and is ranked as one of the top five fashion schools in the world.

“James has a great passion for antiques, Civil War, Edwin Stanton (secretary of war under President Abraham Lincoln and a Steubenville native) and Steubenville history,” Barilla said. He has restored many sites, including the home in which he lives, and is in the process of restoring a hotel in Cincinnati.

“We got to know James over a few years, and he has contributed a huge amount of artifacts to the Fort Steuben,” Barilla said. They include donations of a Civil War cannon, three river steamboat replicas, authentic signed documents from Stanton, authentic land grants signed by presidents, photos and signed books along with antiques in the land office.

He also has donated his time to cut grass at the fort and opened his home for a tour enjoyed by members of the Serve Others Circle of Kings Daughters and Sons.

When it was Barilla’s cue to turn the mic over to Bratten, he continued instead with an award presentation, noting it was 10 years ago when a search committee organized to hire the fort’s first executive director.

About 25 people applied, recalled Barilla, who said he had a friend – Bratten – who wanted to apply. He listed her qualifications as being an assistant activities director in a nursing home, a mother who home schooled her children, a person who got along well with people and a graduate of Columbia University.

Bratten came to an interview wearing a suit and ultimately asking as many questions as she was posed, an enthusiasm that impressed the committee.

“The bar had been set,” Barilla said of Bratten’s interview conduct. “There are so many things we could talk about that she does,” he said. “She has a big passion for not only education but for whatever she encounters, and she has the drive to do so, and we’re fortunate to have her.”

A flattered Bratten offered thanks and moved into her director’s report of what’s been accomplished since last May. That included the summer concert series, Ohio Valley Frontier Days, Local History Day, Hometown Celebration, about 15 school field trips, a War of 1812 exhibit, summer youth programs, Farmers’ Market, Constitution Week, fall field days for fifth-graders in the city, a Civil War exhibit and program, a Christmas tree decorating workshop, assistance with the Christmas parade, a spring quilt show, a spring Support the Fort concert, a mystery dinner theater event, mural tours, mailings of more than 5,000 Steubenville brochures in response to advertising, a new website and recruitment and training of new volunteers.

Improvements have included the purchase of a swivel cannon for demonstration at festival and field trips and new computers and software; completed roof work in the fort with work in place on repairing and maintaining the land office; a new picnic area with donated tables; and electrical work at the amphitheater.

Plans for future projects include flag poles around the fountain space from each of the military services, a project in partnership with AMVETS Post 275; work on restoring several murals in town; and developing new signage for the archaeology dig

“We also are working with the Lewis and Clark Eastern Heritage Trail and getting interpretive signage. In case you didn’t know, Meriwether Lewis was in Steubenville as he was on his way to meet Clark, and so we want some signage to explain that, and we’re also working on an audio or video smartphone app so when people go into the fort and we don’t have a tour guide, they can have a mobile tour guide,” Bratten said, adding that plans are in the works to publish a coloring book developed by a summer intern.

Bratten thanked all individuals, organizations and businesses that have supported the fort in its varied projects.

“Yet even with all these activities, we continually keep in mind our mission of ‘Keeping History Alive.’ We’re always learning new facts about our history and new ways to look at our history,” she said in introducing guest speaker David Javersak of Weirton, whose presentation was titled “A Place Through Time: Steubenville, Past and Present – Different Ways to Look at Our History.”

Javersak is a West Liberty University dean and professor emeritus. He has written “History of Weirton, West Virginia,” “West Liberty: From Academy to University,” “The Shepherds and Their Mansion” and “The Stifels.”

Javersak said the last few years have not been kind in terms of the public’s view of Steubenville, which “is disappointing in light of the role that this community has played in the history of the state of Ohio and the Upper Ohio Valley.

“This town was the hub of this whole area,” Javersak said. “I think it’s important to remember that and equally important for us to tell our young people what this place has contributed.”

Javersak overviewed the area’s development through the past 200-plus years, including an assessment in 1879, for example, as a manufacturing town that “is commercially one of the most inviting places in Ohio for it possesses the utmost facilities both by land and water.”

In its history, Steubenville peaked with a population of 37,000 plus people. Today it has 18,657.

Javersak described Steubenville as “a place in transition” from an industrial town to “something else.” Working on the city’s image is the first place to begin, according to Javersak.

“The history of what this city once was should serve as a beacon light for its citizens to meet the challenges of the future,” he said.