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Browns Island


Browns Island stands in the Ohio River opposite Weirton. It is 250 acres in area and four miles long. It has a rich prehistory and is most noted for the Browns Island Petroglyph, now permanently inundated by the Ohio River, and a small Adena mound. Traders spoke of passing the island on excursions down the Ohio River in 1765. Five years later, George Washington passed by the ‘‘long island’’ and remarked in his journal that it was ‘‘not very remarkable for length, breadth, or goodness.’’ Richard Brown, a Revolutionary soldier, acquired the island, which had been part of a land grant awarded to Benjamin Johnston. Brown’s family farmed and lived on the island, which was farmed into the 1900s. Everett Ferguson acquired the entire island in 1925 and sold it in 1946 to Weirton Ice and Coal Supply Company, operated by the immigrant entrepreneur, Michael Starvaggi.

In 1957, Weirton Steel purchased Browns Island for $40,000. Families used it for camping and picnics. In the 1970s, Weirton Steel planned to build a coke plant on the island. Prior to construction the island was cleared of vegetation and 57,000 tons of slag was added to provide a level area, 40 feet above the river. On December 15, 1972, as men prepared to make the ovens operational, they noted a gas leak and reported it. Minutes later the basement exploded, killing 19 men and injuring ten others. It was the worst industrial accident in Weirton’s history. The accident slowed the start of coking operations, which began in May 1973. The plant stayed in operation for ten years, until coke became cheaper for the steel company to buy than to produce. Today there is a storage plant on the island for Weirton Steel.

View Browns Island in a larger map

Written by Jane Kraina


  1. Welch, Jack. History of Hancock County. Wheeling News Litho. Co., 1963.

  2. Doyle, Joseph. 20th Century History of Steubenville and Jefferson County and Representative Citizens. Richmond: Arnold, 1910.

  3. Pietranton, Frank A. History of Weirton and Holliday's Cove and Life of J. C. Williams. Weirton: Frank Pietranton, 1936.

  4. Kraina, Jane. In Time and the River: The Story of Browns Island. Goldenseal, (Winter 1989).