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Roots Run Deep In ‘All-American Town’

March 28, 2013
By CASEY JUNKINS - Staff Writer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

BELLAIRE - When one thinks of Bellaire today, images of watching the Big Reds high school football team compete under sunny Saturday afternoon skies at Nelson Field may come to mind.

Others may think of how the once-busy Bellaire Bridge continues to stand shrouded in controversy above the Ohio River without a western terminus - just as it has for more than 20 years.

However, the story of Bellaire is much more than that of high school sports or of a doomed bridge. After all, this is where the legendary Baltimore & Ohio Railroad crossed the Ohio River in 1871, via the still standing Great Stone Viaduct. Today, the bridge remains part of the CSX Corp. system.

Article Photos

The Bellaire High School Clock Tower is recognized by the Ohio Historical Society.

Photo by Casey Junkins

Bellaire also was home to the Imperial Glass Corp., which once employed hundreds of workers at its giant plant before declaring bankruptcy in the early 1980s.

The facility sat just north of Nelson Field until 1995 when it was demolished to make room for the Imperial Plaza, which now serves as Bellaire's retail hub.

Belmont Street preceded the plaza as the center of business in Bellaire.

Through the 1980s, retailers such as the G.C. Murphy Co., the Reichart Furniture Co. and Dankworth's Pharmacy sold everything from soap to model airplanes and full bedroom sets near the intersection of 33rd and Belmont streets.

Though some of this business has left the downtown area, the staple of Rigas' Family Restaurant remains on the corner. After expanding to take over the space from a former jewelry store in the early 1980s, Rigas' continues serving customers everything from pasta to burgers and steaks.

Another successful Bellaire eatery is Gulla's Lunch, now owned and operated by Paul Gulla, who said traditions such as hot dogs and football endure.

"You can take a person out of Bellaire, but you can't take the Bellaire out of a person," he said.

This year, for the first time since 1950, the Big Reds football team is scheduled to take the field against their southern neighbors - the Tigers of Shadyside High School. The game is set for 12:30 p.m. Sept. 7 at Nelson Field.

Bellaire is also home to St. John Central High School, a private, Catholic high school that serves students from Belmont and Monroe counties. The school also now features its own football field in the southern portion of town.

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