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Nail City

How cut nails helped develop a nation

December 16, 2012
By KIM LOCCISANO - Staff Writer (kloccisano@timesleaderonline.com) , Times Leader

T-L photos and story

By KIM LOCCISANO

Times Leader Staff Writer

Article Photos

T-L Photos/KIM LOCCISANO
This sample board of the LaBelle Nail Company’s wide range of cut nail products is a key part of a display installed at the Artisan Center in Wheeling. It provides a glimpse into the diversity of the cut nails produced in this region, ranging from the most basic design, such as a carpet tacks, to the massive Marine Nail.

The cut nail, sometimes referred to as a square nail, may look like a rather unimpressive creation, but there is no arguing the historic significance the item played in the development of this nation, particularly when it came to the period of westward expansion.

Any student of the history of this region has long understood the importance of the roots of the modern metal industry and just how important the cut nail produced in the Wheeling area mills for generations came to be within that industry.

Even as early as 1870, Wheeling came to be referred to as the "Nail City," but it was soon considered a title to be confined solely to the eastern side of the Ohio River's boarders.

Just across river in Bridgeport, pioneers traveling on land and those using flatboats made every effort to secure an adequate supply of nails to take with them on their westward treks, and they were available in this area at prices not available elsewhere, say historians.

Understanding how important the need for nails was when it came to being able to complete new projects, such highly valued items were often retrieved by just about any means necessary from structures no longer suitable for use or needed.

It was not unusual for a pioneer to burn down an old structure so the nails could be retrieved before they moved on. The nails were considered too costly and too important to future successes to simply leave them behind as a family or businessman moved forward, according to numerous accounts of both a personal and a business nature of practices of the day.

Bridgeport, and the surrounding area, became known as "The Gateway to the West."

This example, or sample board, of the LaBelle Nail Company's wide range of cut nail products is a key part of a display installed at the Artisan Center in Wheeling meant to preserve and share a message with the public of just how important the metal industry has been to this region and to the nation as a whole for a very long time.

This sample board shares a glimpse into the diversity of the cut nails produced in this region, as it includes samples of locally produced cut nails ranging from the most basic design, such as a carpet tacks, to the massive Marine Nail.

Successfully securing work as a nailer was entry into a lucrative business opportunity that was expected to be handed directly from one generation to the next, providing job security while not letting too many people into the trade.

The history of cut nail products is inextricably tied to production at mills in the Upper Ohio Valley, where not so long ago the last vestige of the industry and the historic works was idled. The LaBelle Nail Factory was originally a venture involving more than 20 individuals.

The long ago quieted plant is still visible to those traveling east on the Veteran's Memorial Bridge as the exit ramp enters West Virginia, the intermittent activity there in recent months has no apparent tie-in to the steel works.

One of the more recent accolades shared with those who had worked at LaBelle until its closing more than a decade ago came when it was selected to be the supplier of needed cut nails for renovations at Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello.

 
 

 

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