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Historic Fort Steuben: Get Educated and Stimulated in Steubenville

Have the winter blahs hit you yet? All these grey days can you down, so now might be a good time to take a ride and exercise your brain by soaking up some history at the Fort Steuben Visitor Center in Steubenville, Ohio. 

The Visitor Center serves as both a welcome center for travelers and an exhibit space for the variety of displays and programs associated with Historic Fort Steuben. The Fort – a fully reconstructed 18th-century military fort – is closed for the winter, but the exhibits in the Center can both educate and stimulate your imagination.

Begin with the Fort and the city’s namesake, Friedrich Wilhelm August Heinrich Ferdinand von Steuben. Commonly referred to as Baron von Steuben, he was a Prussian military officer who played a crucial role in the American Revolution by forming the Continental Army into a disciplined and professional fighting force. 

After the Revolution, the newly independent United States began settling what was known as the Northwest Territory (which became Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan & Wisconsin), and the government sent surveyors out to begin mapping and platting what was a wilderness at the time. Conflicts with illegal settlers and native tribes spurred the Continental Congress to send in the 1st American Regiment to protect the surveyors. The original Fort Steuben was a temporary home for the 150 soldiers who were ordered to clear and protect the area for the 14 surveyors who began to measure the Seven Ranges. Information on this process, which continued across the country, the early methods and tools of surveying, and the development of the rectilinear mapping system of the United States remind visitors of how far we’ve progressed since the 18th century.

Artifacts dating back two thousand years confirm the activities of Native Americans in the Ohio Country. Five showcases of stone “points” and tools collected in Jefferson County by a local historian reveal much about the culture of these early inhabitants. Also on display are reproductions of weapons and tools common to the period of the Fort, as well as artistic renditions of native life.

The original Fort Steuben stood until 1790, but the town of Steubenville soon developed and became a small part of the Lewis & Clark expedition. This incredible journey of exploration was conceived by Thomas Jefferson, who chose Meriwether Lewis and William Clark for the Corps of Discovery and gave them specific training and tasks. Lewis was tasked with gathering the equipment for the journey, much of which came from Pittsburgh. He had his boats and equipment transported down the Ohio River, which was much shallower at the time, causing the boats to get stuck on “riffles” in the river many times. On September 6, it happened just outside the town and was mentioned in Lewis’ journal. The Visitor Center now boasts a permanent display as part of the Lewis & Clark National Heritage Trail with programs affiliated with the National Park Service.

The Fort Steuben Museum Shop in the Center stocks an impressive inventory of American and local history books for all ages, maps, posters, old-fashioned toys, puzzles, and memorabilia. There is even a display on a notable person of more recent history: Steubenville native son and crooner Dean Martin.

Staff at the Fort Steubenville Center can direct you to other historic sites as well as shops and eateries, including Naples Spaghetti House, which just celebrated 100 years of preparing delicious Italian specialties.

Now, that’s the kind of history everyone enjoys!

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