Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Walking

Rocky Ridge neighborhood. Notice the tree-lined street.

Rocky Ridge neighborhood. Notice the tree-lined street.

The Way is Made by Walking” —title of a book by Arthur Paul Boers.

Many of us made our ways growing up in Youngstown by doing a considerable amount of walking. A number of people have mentioned this in comments to previous posts and this theme was suggested to me by reader Nancy Inglefield. For many of us growing up, we walked everywhere, and weren’t particularly afraid doing this (although I wonder if girls tended to go about more in groups and were more cautious in this regard).

Youngstown grew up as a pedestrian city with much of the early housing being located along the Mahoning River near the mills and other industries that grew up along the river. People walked to work, parishes were organized around these neighborhoods and so people walked to church. Local businesses grew up to serve people–groceries, drug stores, pizza shops, family run restaurants, hardware stores and more.

Even in the ’60s and early ’70s when I was growing up, this was so where I lived. I walked to every school I attended. The only time I ever rode on a school bus was for field trips. That was easy in elementary school, which was at the end of the street I lived on. Junior high was probably 3/4 of a mile and high school just under a mile and a half (we did get rides to high school from my parents or a neighbor family in really cold weather).

I lived close to Mahoning Avenue. One block west of where I lived, there was a veterinarian, a barber shop, a Dairy Queen that was a favorite summer hangout and a Lawson’s dairy store. Two blocks away was a Sparkle market where we did much of our grocery shopping. Further west up Mahoning Avenue was Petrillo’s pizza, the Schenley Theatre, the Gran Lanes for bowling, and the West Side branch of the library. Further up over the hill, you could walk to the Mahoning Plaza where I loved to go to Western Auto to get accessories for my bike.

One block east toward town, there was an appliance store (Dave’s) where I bought my first stereo, a post office, and a bar. Two blocks east, there was a beer and wine shop and “Pop’s” grocery where I would go to buy baseball cards. In the next few blocks east, there was a bank, a Stambaugh Thompsons (that later closed), a gas station, an Isaly’s store where we could get chip-chopped ham and skyscraper cones, and the fire station where I paid my paper route bills each week to The Vindicator. Just beyond the drug store was the Mahoning Pharmacy where I picked up prescriptions for my parents, bought science fiction paperbacks, and when I was older, would use the phone booth to call girls I didn’t want my parents to overhear me talking to! (That got kind of expensive and a pain when the calls were long-distance and the operator would come on and say “fifty cents for ten more minutes” or something to that effect!). Across the street was a shoe repair shop and a jewelry store, as well as a triple-X movie theatre, the Mahoning Follies, where in more innocent days, my parents had their first date.

I roamed all over the West side as a kid. Practically every day spring through fall I’d be up to Borts Field to play baseball, football, or basketball depending on the season and to swim at Borts Pool. In the winter I went ice-skating on the flooded tennis courts, or if it was cold enough long enough, on Lake Glacier. We’d go over to Holy Name Church for church festivals, or to one of the union halls when friends older brothers or sisters got married. When I cut lawns and delivered papers, I walked with my mower to all the jobs, and usually walked several blocks one way to pick up my papers and several more back to deliver them in all kinds of weather.

When I was young my dad would take me for walks in Mill Creek Park. I remember getting up early on Saturday, packing bacon and eggs which we cooked on an open fire in the park. The talks we had on those walks are cherished memories to this day. From junior high on, I’d go on rambles in the park, wandering the trails that run through the park, sometimes with my dog Sandy.

We hear so much more these days about childhood obesity. I was “chubby” when I was young but slimmed down, I think, because of all that walking. We didn’t look to our parents as a taxi service–there usually was only one car and dad had it at work. And we had sidewalks before suburban sprawl and car culture took over. Part of why we felt safe walking simply had to do with not having to share the road with cars. Most of the places we walked, there were lots of people around from neighbors to other kids to businesses.

It does seem this has changed in many communities. We don’t work, shop, play, or eat out where we live but in “commercial developments” that you have to drive some distance to reach. Because of “car culture” some of the roads in my city don’t even have sidewalks including several near us, one of which has had a pedestrian fatality. Neighborhoods without front porches and where everyone is away during the day mean fewer people to watch out for the kids. Sure, the technology and commercial attractions our children have today would have blown our minds. But I also think of what we’ve lost in cityscapes where we felt free to roam and interact with adults at local businesses independent of our parents.

How much did you walk growing up? Did it seem safe to you? How have you seen things change?

4 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Walking

  1. Ah, yes indeed. We lived on East Evergreen Avenue, the second block south of South High School. I graduated in 1969 and the neighborhood had gone from decent to scary the preceeding couple years. Winter Thursdays I walked home from Girl Scouts meetings in the dark until 1964, alone! How well I remember the evening my brother heard a young woman scream. He flung open the front door as a hysterical gal stormed in and he flew out to chase the attacker that had hidden in our shrubs. That would have been 1970. I still walked home from the bus stop on Market for another year, but I was always afraid. Before “urban renewal” and the university and freeway gobbled up whole areas of town the southside was a great place to grow up.

    • My grandparents lived on Cohasset Drive on the south side. It was a beautiful street in the ’60s and I spent a good part of several summers with them. It was a great area!

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