Editor's note: This is the 201st in a series of articles recalling vanished Huntington scenes.
HUNTINGTON - The beginning of the West Virginia Rail Co. can be traced to 1902 when the Huntington Tin and Finished Plate Co. was organized and erected a small mill. The company failed, and the mill was acquired by Al Baumgarten of Pittsburgh, who organized the Huntington Rail Co. and operated it until 1907.
In that year, the company was taken over by new investors and re-named the West Virginia Rail Co. E.N. Huggins of Columbus was the new company's president. The company bought the old plant, which had fewer than 30 employees at work in a small wooden building on a three-acre plot on the Ohio River at the foot of 17th Street.
In 1909, Joseph Schonthal of Columbus purchased the company. The Schonthal family would go on to operate it for nearly 50 years, continually enlarging it and turning it into one of Huntington's best-known and most successful industrial employers.
The company added a bar mill in 1918 and began producing steel reinforcing rods in 1924 and fence posts in the 1930s. By that time the name of the company wasn't comprehensive enough to describe its wide array of products, and so in 1943 its name was changed to the West Virginia Steel and Manufacturing Co. In 1952 the company built a $2.75 million addition housing an electric furnace for production of carbon and alloy ingots from scrap steel.
In 1956, H.K. Porter Inc. purchased the company and operated it as the West Virginia Works of its Connors Steel Division until closing the plant in 1982. In response, Plant Manager Bob Bunting Jr. organized a group of local investors who bought the plant, reopened it and renamed it Steel of West Virginia.
In 1988, Roanoke Electric Steel Corp, purchased the plant and operated it as a subsidiary until 2006 when Steel Dynamics Inc. purchased Ronanoke Steel.
Today, Steel of West Virginia is a wholly owned subsidiary of Steel Dynamics. It occupies more than 500,000 square feet of industrial and office buildings and employs more than 500 people, making it one of Cabell County's largest employers. It is the only carbon steel producer in West Virginia.
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