Building a brighter future

This is a challenging time for the village of Bellaire.

Residents of the community and the surrounding area recently received news of two major changes, and neither announcement was positive.

First, word was released that St. John Central High School will close at the end of the current school year. About a week later, we learned that Belmont Community Hospital will close its doors in April.

Both revelations dealt blows to the community. People who live and work in Bellaire have never known the village to exist without either entity. St. John Central was founded in 1857 and the hospital in 1914 — times when Bellaire was thriving. A report from The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer in 1886 paints a picture of Bellaire that is very different from what we see today.

That newspaper account states that Bellaire was a center of industry. It cites the presence of railroads, multiple glass and lantern production companies, copper shops, lumber mills and yards, a foundry, a cement works, a bottle factory, a flour mill and more. The population of Bellaire at that time was between 8,000 and 9,000; it peaked around 1920 at more than 15,000 people.

Since then, the population has steadily declined as factories closed. Glass manufacturing, in particular, migrated west across Ohio to take advantage of newfound natural gas deposits. During the 2000 census, the population dipped below 5,000, causing Bellaire to lose its city status. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated the population at 4,170 in 2017.

Rather than allowing despair to set in at the loss of so many people and two major institutions, though, it is time for the Bellaire community to come together for the future good. Village leaders and the people they serve need to face the losses head on and find ways to make the best of the situation.

What can they do to ensure St. John Grade School remains in operation within the high school building? What new purposes can they find for the soon-to-be-abandoned hospital and already empty grade school sites? What can they do to attract new businesses and residents to the village?

We don’t know the answers to those questions, but we are confident that those who live in and love Bellaire can find them with the proper approach. We urge all who care about the community to find ways to work together toward a brighter future.