Pictures from Zalia, please

Local authors of ‘Rockyside, A Forgotten Mining Community’ turn attention to another historic town south of New Cumberland

NEED HELP — Photos from life in Zalia, a small mining community that existed in Hancock County from the mid-1800s until the late 1950s, are what Thomas W. Zielinsky would like access to in his efforts to co-author a book. Monnie Beatty Mack, who was born in Zalia in 1941, has proven to be a good resource and provided a few photos. -- Contributed

WEIRTON — “I have a favor to ask,” begins the e-mail from Thomas W. Zielinsky of Weirton with “request for assistance” in the subject line.

“George Hines and I are hoping to write another book and are researching for pictures of an old mining community just south of New Cumberland,” Zielinsky explained of what sat on old Route 2 between Holbert’s Run Road and Rainey Hill Road.

“This little community, called Zalia, had some 300 people at one time and was home to a gasoline station, two country stores and a swinging little bar called Sam Hamill’s,” he noted. “I’ve been in contact with a lady in Weirton whose father owned the gas station, and whose grandfather owned the store directly across from the gas station.

“We are in desperate need of photos, but unfortunately, have come up with only a few,” he added.

“Since nothing is left, with the exception of several brick walls and pillars that used to support some of the buildings, nothing remains,” Zielinsky lamented, hoping an article might generate interest and input.

“Without pictures, it’s going to be near impossible to write about this little town,” Zielinsky noted. “Rockyside was hard enough — this is nearly impossible.”

Zielinsky and co-author George B. Hines III of New Cumberland wrote “Rockyside, A Forgotten Mining Community,” an undertaking that constituted two years of local research. That book came out in 2017.

Rockyside was once located along state Route 2, just south of where the West Virginia State Police Barracks are now. It is the hillside located 1 mile north outside of New Cumberland along Route 2. The community had an estimated 50-year existence, from about 1880 to roughly 1930, and thrived on nearby mines and potteries. Its mines were a source of clay.

Few people know that that small community also at one time was home to more than 300 people, mostly immigrants from Eastern Europe.

“We really need some help from our readers from around Hancock County in West Virginia and across the river in Toronto,” Zielinsky said, noting he and Hines are asking for anyone who might have pictures of Zalia to get in touch with them.

“We would certainly appreciate any help they could provide. At this point in time, we are not having much success in obtaining photos,” he said.

Anyone who has photos or would like to contribute comments about this area can contact Zielinsky by phone at (304) 723-3263 or by e-mail to tzielinsky@yahoo.com or call Hines at (304) 670-7092.

“We have been conducting research for nearly a year,” Zielinsky said. “We just need to get our message out so people who might be familiar with this area can look in a closet or on a bookshelf for pictures they might have or had passed down to them. Without pictures of this area, it would be extremely difficult to try and put a book together because we don’t want anyone using their imagination. We want to put them right in the heart of Zalia to see what it really looked like. Then we can tell stories of this little community to make it come alive again.”

While the effort has been a challenging one, it has not been completely fruitless.

Zielinsky explained that he is working with a family in Weirton and gotten several photos, “but we are asking for anyone who has relatives who might have lived there to contact us. We have basic knowledge of how Zalia was laid out and some of the families who lived there. We need photos to help us reconstruct what this small area once looked like. This was a very active community with its own post office, train station and river ferry. This research is entirely different from when we did research for Rockyside — we had more material to work with,” he said.

“My contact in Weirton has been absolutely fantastic to work with,” Zielinsky said of Monnie Beatty Mack, who was born in Zalia in 1941. “She has given us a tremendous running start, if you will, and hopefully will lead us to additional photos and information that we can start building onto a book. She and her family moved to Weirton, then moved back in 1948. Her father (Shirl Beatty) owned the gas station, and her grandfather (Eli Beatty) owned the store across the road from the gas station. She has helped identify a number of families who lived in this area that we’re currently trying to follow up on. She remembers there were no brickyards at that time (1940s), because most were closed and dismantled by 1910. She remembers her grandfather’s store with a large pickle barrel as you entered and a one-chair barber shop in the back,” he continued.

Research has produced identification of the following family surnames, including Anderson, Beatty, Myers, Mercer, Davis, Grimes, Tice, Reed, Duvall, Murray, Keenan, Sweat, Hamill, Vincent, Cantor and Conlon.

“If anyone from any of these families is still in the area and has pictures from the Zalia area, I would appreciate hearing from them,” Zielinsky said. “All pictures will be carefully scanned into a computer and returned, or I would be happy to bring my computer and scanner to their home, so the pictures never leave their possession,” he offered.

Zalia was a little mining community that was and still is located along a 1™-mile stretch of road between Holberts Run Road and slightly south of Rainey Hill Road, just south of New Cumberland, according to Zielinsky. Using New Cumberland as the center point, Zalia would be located roughly 1 ¢ miles south toward Weirton, according to Zielinsky. Rockyside would be located roughly 1 ¢ miles north toward Newell. “These measurements would be from the north and south city limits,” he noted.

“There were about 300 people living in this area from the mid-1800s to the late 1950s. This section of road was the former WV state Route 2. A new section of road was built in early 1953 that bypassed the old road,” he added.

“In addition to the families, we know there were two small grocery stores, a gas station and a swinging dance hall called Sam Hamills, located along this road,” Zielinsky noted. “We were fortunate to receive a picture of the gas station. We also believe the gas station was converted into a bar, called the 207 Club, which closed sometime in the late 1970s. The 207 was owned by Johnny Mitchell from New Cumberland. If anyone has a picture of the old 207 building, we would like to hear from them as well.”

Why do Zielinsky and Hines care so much about Zalia now and Rockyside previously?

“The interest George and I have in these ‘forever gone places’ is to preserve a piece of history that, hopefully, will be remembered by future generations,” Zielinsky explained. “These little communities of Rockyside and Zalia produced incredible individuals from families that made significant contributions in their respective towns, whether New Cumberland or Weirton. Some of these individuals left the area and made contributions to where they currently live. It is a way for us to capture and preserve what these little communities contributed to the world,” he said.

“Rockyside was a community of eastern European immigrants that provided the work force for the brickyards north of New Cumberland. They started families, and after the brickyards closed, they moved into New Cumberland to start the next chapter of their life. One of the first one-room schools was built on this hillside, along with the first Catholic church in 1903. Now nothing remains,” he continued.

Zalia also was a community that fueled the brickyards south of New Cumberland, according to Zielinsky. “These brickyards began closing in early 1900, but the community continued on until the mid-1950s. A one-room school house also was built on this section of road, along with the first Methodist church in 1835, which lasted more than a hundred years. The last standing building closed in the late 1970s. Now nothing remains,” he said.

“These communities produced enormous talents from the people who were born and lived there. Nothing was recorded. Now nothing remains. So our interest is to make sure future generations, from the families that gave life to their children is captured, recorded and preserved, so people can look back at their families and see what they did, the struggles they endured, and the sacrifices they made to prepare a better life for them,” Zielinsky said.

Asked what he would most want to get across to readers about this effort, Zielinsky responded, “We want readers to understand that once a family is gone, all that was is also gone. We want to acknowledge these people, families, and children, who lived in an extremely difficult time and the struggles they endured. God has placed each of us on this Earth with a specific purpose, and I believe it’s my responsibility to contribute to preserve history. If we fail to recognize the accomplishments of these people of Zalia, whether large or small, I believe we are doing a disservice to what God is asking us to do. I believe George and I captured the essence of Rockyside and the families that helped forge a significant chapter in the history of New Cumberland and the country in general. Bricks from this one little town are nearly everywhere along the eastern half of this country. New Cumberland at one point in time was considered the brick capital of West Virginia. How many people know that fact, or what ‘Brickyard Bend’ stands for? We want to place a final marker on this last little mining community, so future generations can look back and marvel at what one tiny town, in the far-reaching top of West Virginia, contributed to the world,” he said.

History never appealed to Zielinsky when he was growing up, but now he enjoys learning about the past.

“If we can learn from the past, we might somehow not make the same mistakes in the future,” he said. “I wish I paid closer attention to the stories my mother and father told about Rockyside. I wish I would have asked more questions about their lives and not so much about what was going on in my life. Had I done things differently, I might have had more information to share. When the family is gone, all the memories and information that might have been, is also gone. It has been a struggle for us, but along the way we have met some amazing people, and we want to finish our journey with one final story about Zalia.”

(Kiaski can be contacted at jkiaski@heraldstaronline.com.)