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Lost Columbus: Buckeye Steel Castings Anchored the South Side’s Steelton Neighborhood

The Parson Avenue Plant was an industrial power for more than a century.

Jeff Darbee
Buckeye Steel Castings workers on the job on Jan. 17, 1985. Millard Medley pours ingot as Bill Qwinn looks on.

Even though it wasn’t an industrial power like Cleveland, Columbus did produce shoes, glass, railroad cars, grave vaults, caskets—and steel, in the form of Buckeye Steel Castings. Established near Downtown in 1881, the company made cast-iron farm tools but soon turned to rail car couplers. An 1894 merger created the Buckeye Malleable Iron and Coupler Co. on Russell Street close to North Fourth Street. Renamed Buckeye Steel Castings after it started making that essential metal, it moved to its Parsons Avenue site in 1902 and made both couplers and railroad trucks—the assemblies that hold a rail car’s wheels and bearings in place. Most have four wheels, but the company also produced a special six-wheel assembly—the Buckeye Truck—for extra-heavy loads. In 1901, Buckeye Steel’s manager was Samuel Prescott Bush, a trained mechanic, railroad motive power superintendent and the grandfather and great-grandfather of two U.S. presidents. He was president of the company from 1908 to 1928.

As Buckeye grew, so did the neighborhood to its north across the railroad tracks, known as “Steelton.” Businesses set up along Parsons Avenue, and plentiful jobs drew immigrants from eastern, central and southern Europe. They filled areas like Hungarian Village west of Parsons and gave it a “melting pot” flavor. Today, many remember its salad days. One is Lou Varga, whose grandfather worked at the steel plant. Varga recalls the smell of the mill: “A dark perfume filled the air,” but it mixed with the aroma of baking bread at the Omar Bakery, where the Kroger on Parsons Avenue is today. There was a constant rain of soot, but it also rained good-paying jobs. Buckeye employees patronized local taverns and had Nagy Brothers Shoe Repair at 1725 Parsons Ave. fix their work boots. (It’s now owned by Columbus Landmarks and available for redevelopment.)

Buckeye Steel Castings fell on hard times around the year 2000, a combination of shifting markets, competition and economic recession. After ownership changes and continued struggles, the plant closed in 2016. It has since been demolished, with only its empty site remaining—it, too, now awaiting redevelopment.

Sources: abandonedonline.net; Lou Varga, writer and former Hungarian Village resident; Columbus Landmarks; Nagy Brothers Shoe Repair National Register of Historic Places nomination form

This story is from the November 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.