The Bessemer Limestone Company (BELCO) was organized in about 1885 to mine the abundant limestone fields in the rural hills south of the settlement of Hillsville in western Lawrence County. Coal had been mined commercially in the Mahoning Valley area since the 1830’s, but large scale limestone mining was a fairly new but growing venture in the 1880’s. Large amounts of limestone were necessary to produce pig iron, which in turn is further refined to make steel. The steel making industry was still in its infancy and the high quality Vanport limestone in the region was of great value to many steel company executives.
BELCO enlisted a host of Swedish but also Finnish, Slavic, and Italian immigrants in its mining operations, around which sprang the little settlement of Bessemer in North Beaver Township. The company and settlement name of Bessemer came from Sir Henry Bessemer, the English inventor of the Bessemer process that utilized limestone in the manufacturing of steel. In 1889 the Pittsburgh, Youngstown, and Ashtabula Railroad (PY&A), under the control of the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR), opened an extension off its mainline at Covert’s Crossing to serve the industries at Bessemer and particularly BELCO.
BELCO thrived and during the 1890’s the company explored ways to help find homes for its growing number of employees. Part of the solution was to erect a row of wooden homes along the the north side of East Poland Avenue. These two-story company homes were rented to the employees of Bessemer Limestone, which later became the Bessemer Limestone & Cement Company. These modest homes provided long time homes to many local residents. As the company diversified by adding two brick plants in the early 1900’s a handful of brick houses was also erected in Bessemer.
The structures of “Wooden Row” became dilapidated over time and were seen as a public eye sore by the late 1940’s. In late 1955 the company officials began negotiations to turn the property over to the Bessemer Borough with the stipulation that a new municipal building and a public park would be built at the site. The homes were demolished in January 1956 and the deed was officially presented to the local officials two months later. The site became home to the new Bessemer Borough Municipal Building, which opened in May 1960, and a small unnamed public park that became known as Kennedy Park in December 1963.
The arrow points to the old houses of Wooden Row neatly lined up along East Poland Avenue in Bessemer. (c1942)