Aaron Keirns, historian and author of the book “Ariel-Foundation Park,” will be honored with an Ohio Local History Alliance Excellence in Achievement Award at the organization’s annual meeting on Saturday, Oct. 8, in Columbus, Ohio.
The book evolved from a desire by Ted Schnormeier, director of the Ariel-Foundation Park project, to document the creation of the park from original concept to grand opening. Keirns, also the main photographer for the book, was brought in to photograph the entire process over a period of two years. As a volunteer member of the Board of Directors, Mr. Keirns was also able to document behind-the-scenes activity and gather a wealth of information and insights from key participants.
The park is built on the former site of one of the largest window-glass manufacturing facilities in the world, Pittsburgh Plate Glass (PPG) Works No. 11. The factory operated from 1908 to 1976. Prior to that, there was a steel-casting plant on the site. This rich industrial heritage became an underlying theme of the park. Large chunks of glass found on-site as well as steel trusses and other artifacts are preserved on the park grounds. A section of wall from the original building (built in 1900), three elevator shaft towers and a 280-foot smokestack were left standing in “The Ruins” area of the park. These artifacts offer visitors tangible links to the past.
As Keirns developed the narrative for the book, it became clear that there was much more to the story than just the park project itself. The unique industrial history of the park site also needed to be told. This would enable visitors to appreciate the significance of the ruins and other features they would see there.
This led Keirns to undertake extensive research into the history of window-glass manufacturing. He also delved deeply into the history of Works No. 11. He interviewed numerous former employees and visited the archives of a number of museums. This included the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, which houses a collection of historical PPG documents. In addition, he researched the remarkable history of Jacob Coxey, a nationally known and controversial visionary. Coxey built the original steel-casting plant on the site.
The resulting book has more than 300 photographs and illustrations that help add meaning and context to the features in the park. Keirns, a professional designer and publisher, also designed and produced the book. He did much of the initial research on a volunteer basis and donated all of his photographs to the project.
Throughout the writing of the book, he reported to Schnormeier who offered editorial input and proofreading. The book was published by the Foundation Park Conservancy and paid for by private donations.
“Ariel-Foundation Park has become a community symbol of culture, the arts, education, recreation, and preservation of history—all in one big beautiful package. Aaron’s book captures the heart and soul of the park’s adaptive reuse and creative preservation of the past,” said Foundation Park Conservancy President Kim Rose. “It will serve to educate and enlighten our community and all of Ohio not only about the important history of the space currently occupied by the park, but about what happens ‘when a small town thinks big.’”
Keirns is an Ohio native with a lifelong interest in history, photography and the written word. He is a semi-retired writer, graphic artist and college instructor. He holds a degree in anthropology and is the author of several books on Ohio history topics.
Since its founding in 1960, the Ohio Local History Alliance has worked closely with the Ohio History Connection (OHC). Both organizations share a common goal to encourage the preservation and the presentation of Ohio’s heritage. The Alliance’s board serves as the nucleus of a network of organizations and individuals interested in all aspects of community history in Ohio.
“Ariel-Foundation Park” is available at Paragraphs Bookstore on South Main Street in Mount Vernon.