Looking in on the old grain silos upriver, before they go down


By Douglas John Imbrogno | TheStoryIsTheThing.com | june5,2023

“Perhaps art is simply an organism’s reaction against its retentive limitations. At any rate, you obey the command and grab your camera, supplementing both your brain cells and your pupils.” ~ JOSEPH BRODSKY, “Watermark”

A key fringe benefit of living in West Virginia is that there is a whole lot of outback out there. It is never far away. I routinely exit what passes for the Huntington/Barboursville metroplex (micrometroplex?) and dash north up serpentine W.Va. Route 2 to get out of Dodge. The two-lane hugs the Ohio River and the attractions up that way are several. Among them are the abundant wildlife charms of Hoeft Marsh; the strapping and stalwart Robert C. Byrd Lock and Dam; and the broad river itself beside you. (And then there is Hillbilly Hot Dogs, one of the Seven Weird Wonders of West Virginia.)

You must be attentive on this sinuous road, which features the state of Ohio on display on the other side of the water. If you reach for something as you fly too many miles per hour, or tune out as you bop to whatever you’re bopping out to these days, you can easily veer across the center line and buy the farm in one of two ways. One is greeting an opposing car’s front bumper; the other is vaulting into the river, where you can wave to a passing coal barge as you sink like a stone into a notable body of water the Iroquois first christened as the ‘ohi-yo’ (“the great river” or “large creek”).

Don’t do that. Been there. Almost purchased that farm. I drive less fast up that way these days.

CLICK TO ENLARGE: Once the heart of a thriving farm economy, these silos in Mason County, W.Va., now serve as staging ground for a multi-billion-dollar steel plant. Prep work is already radically altering the local landscape. The woodpiles look to be part of the coming construction. TheStoryIsTheThing.com photos | june2023

While there is a whole lot of countryside up this road, there are also big warehouses, a chemical plant and — coming soon to a vast tract of land in Mason County — a $3 billion steel mill plant on a 1,400-acre site at Apple Grove. I am more interested here in sharing a close encounter with a part of old West Virginia that will be lost, not so interested in reporting on the full import of this plant. Yet the big Nucor plant will have a huge impact, producing steel by recycling scrap metal in electric furnaces and creating an estimated 800 to 1,200 jobs. So, a few words about that.

The facility’s construction will mean many good-paying jobs for a region and state that badly needs them, even as a former reporting colleague at the Huntington Herald-Dispatch, Opinion Editor Jim Ross, urges Nucor to hire more West Virginians to construct the plant. “If too much out-of-state labor is used,” he notes, “West Virginians will feel betrayed. Their elected officials might not say it, but people in the working class will.”

Keep on them, Jim, along with the rest of the West Virginia media. Press previews such as this report assert that the plant will yield reduced carbon emissions as compared with the old way of making steel from iron ore melted in a coal-fired blast furnace. “This is an environmentally friendly company that is bringing hundreds of high-paying jobs here,” the linked story above says, quoting the Mason County Economic Development Authority director. Let us hope that assertion proves true. Trust, but verify, when Fortune 500 companies make claims about carbon emissions as planet Earth tilts, wobbles and slides toward an overheated meltdown.

‘Still Life With Grain Silo in its Final Days.’ | TheStoryIsTheThing.com photos | june2023

So I come here to do one thing. Speaking of vast developments, today I share some close-up photos of two vast structures which, in their glory days, were the literal and figurative height of local industry. Driving up and down W.Va. Route 2, which I do often, I have watched closely as the Nucor plant prep has gathered up, parceled off and fenced in rolling fields. Soon, steel will sprout in these river bottoms, displacing forever the twin towers that once housed thousands upon thousands of tons of grain from long ago Springs, Summers and Falls, feeding countless families through long Winters.

I don’t know if these silos are slated for destruction. I assume they must be goners, but would it not be a fine nod to the industrious legacy of old West Virginia to leave them standing? To see icons of a prior age’s industry poking up in the midst of a 21st century steel plant as it surges and spreads across more than a thousand acres?

The Long View.’ | TheStoryIsTheThing.com photos | june2023

No doubt the plant will be a noisy, clanking, clattering megalith of industrial might. How could it not be, as Nucor plans to forge steel by melting heaps of scrap and processed iron in electric furnaces producing, as one press report notes, up to 3 million tons of sheet steel yearly for the automotive, heavy equipment, agricultural, transportation and construction markets.

Right now, though, the only sounds I hear while standing at the foot of the silos is the whip and whoosh of occasional traffic on W.Va. 2, a trail mix of various birds charting out their personal space in song, and now and again the wind whistling through the portals of these abandoned legacies of a pre-industrial rural heartland.


I don’t know the end aim of all that lumber recently stacked high about the silos, multiple heaps of brawny, squared-off pylons of wood which look like repurposed railroad ties. In their own right, they are impressive icons of old-guard America, along with the pre-America of Indian tribe and nation. Each tree ring (seen especially in closeup below) recalls a year, a season, another notch in the life of so many generations of farm families in West Virginia, after it birthed itself in 1863, and before that in the Commonwealth of Virginia. And before that, wherever these trunks once stood, the rings of these trees may recall the Iroquois, the Monacan, the Shawnee, the Cherokee and other tribes who once passed their way.

These are the people who lived out their lives under tall silos and towering trees as their witness and companion, as scenery and silent sentries, as they grew up, grew old, passed on.

‘I Am Old.’ | TheStoryIsTheThing.com photo | june2023

Always, in the end, trees and silos fall. Steel plants too. Someday it too will be a wreck, a relic, a ruin. What will be left alongside the meandering and ancient ‘ohi-yo’? Looking up, peering heavenward into the thick, curvaceous concrete walls of one of the silos, you see thin, wiry tendrils of vines climbing the walls of formerly essential, now abandoned structures.

Claiming them.

‘Up, Up, and Away.’ | TheStoryIsTheThing.com photo | june2023

Thanks to Jeff Seager for his editing prowess on this piece.

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Pondering some views other than the dismal, daunting breaking news: From where I recline in my living room right now in the West Virginia exurbs, I hear the tree frogs rasp outside on a starry night, clinging to the scaly bark and branches of sycamore, pine, and maple trees on our property. Time to think of something other than the news …

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David Anthony says:

Bernheim had two old silos that were preserved, right next to the visitor center. They regularly vibrated with instrumental music and voice. Local musicians discovered that the acoustics enhanced whatever they performed.

Douglas Imbrogno says:

Very nice. Would that this massive company saw the wisdom in leaving a dollop of Old Appalachia in the midst of its sprawling megalopolis of a plant.

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