Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — “Rocky Ridge”

Sled-Hill

Sled Hill in the James L.Wick, Jr. Recreation Area, Courtesy of Mill Creek MetroParks. Used by permission.

“Rocky Ridge” was what we called the James L. Wick, Jr. Recreation Area in Mill Creek Park. The name comes from the rocky escarpment that runs along the southern border of the Recreation Area that descends to Bears Den Road and the Bears Den area below. Development of the Recreation Area began in 1949 and was completed in 1956. I have memories from every season. It was a 15 to 20 minute walk from my house, or a five minute drive, up the hill on Mahoning, a left turn down South Belle Vista past McCollum Road where the road ran through the area (it has now been closed off at the parking lots).

When we were young and it had snowed, we used to haul our sleds up to Rocky Ridge and ride down the hill by the playground area. If you had waxed the runners and the snow was packed, you could make it to the second hill. By the time I was in junior high, in 1968, the ice rink was opened. Many Friday and Saturday nights, my buddy Jim and I would walk up in the cold winter air, pay our money, lace up our skates on the benches in the indoor shelter, leaving our shoes underneath, and go out on the ice and try to meet girls. Occasionally we even succeeded!

Spring brought breezy weather in March, and it was time to pull out the kites. Again, we’d stand at the top of the highest hill by the playground, facing east. I remember one time when I had a ball of string, maybe 1000 feet long, and had my kite out nearly the whole length, and high up in the air, when the string broke. It was gone! I wonder where it ended up? Later spring brought class picnics when we were in elementary school, with games and time to climb the old “monkey bars” and swing on the swings and slide down the big sliding board. This was before the day when play areas had wood chips that made for soft landings. At that time, the surface was asphalt, and I recall more than one scraped knee!

As spring transitioned to summer, it was time for baseball! In high school, I played on a church league fast pitch softball team and we often played games on one of the baseball diamonds. I was never much of a baseball player and I think my career ended when I broke my thumb playing first base (as a right hander with my left hand being my glove hand). I didn’t usually play that position and was reaching to catch a ball thrown to put a runner out when the runner collided with me–spikes on the leg and a broken thumb. I actually finished the game and didn’t find out until later than night that the thumb was broken!

About then, I switched over to tennis, and often played tennis on the courts. It was cool because, at least then, you could play at night as well. I had several buddies on the tennis team at Chaney and thought about joining the team, because I could beat them at least half the time. I never got into golf, but lots of my friends caddied or played at the par 3 golf course that opened up some time in the 1960’s (I believe).

Another summer memory was concerts out on the lawn. I remember hearing Lionel Hampton as kid. I don’t think I realized what a jazz great he was then, though my parents were pretty excited to hear him. Sitting out on lawn chairs and hearing live music as the air cooled down on a summer evening was fun.

I kept playing tennis into the early fall, and then there were pickup touch football games with friends, or when we got to college, Ultimate Frisbee games on whatever field we could find that didn’t have another game going. Eventually, the cold and rainy weather of November drove us inside until the snows and cold came and the ice rink opened once again.

The James L. Wick, Jr. Recreation Area is still a year-round recreation area. Sadly, the ice rink closed some years ago. Now there is a “Sled Hill” with a Warming House and snack shop, as well as opportunities for cross country skiing. The play area is much more child-safe than in our day, with three different play areas. There is a permanent concert pavilion, the Judge Morley Performing Arts Pavilion, sand volleyball courts, and batting cages.

I have to admit, the name “The James L. Wick, Jr. Recreation Area” was always a mouthful for me. We always just called it “Rocky Ridge” (I’ve also heard Rock Ridge, occasionally). Now the name Rocky Ridge is used to describe the neighborhoods north of there between South Schenley and South Belle Vista Avenues up to Mahoning Avenue. There is even a Rocky Ridge Neighbors group. I’m glad they have kept the name alive!

5 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — “Rocky Ridge”

  1. Bob,
    As you described, Rocky Ridge was the land of fun adventures. My brother Mike and I enjoyed sledding , kite flying, ice skating and more. I enjoyed many concerts as well.
    What a treasure!
    Michelle

  2. Rocky Ridge was where I played on a real baseball team in the summer of 1961. Before that it was sandlot and neighborhood teams. Our uniforms consisted of white t shirts and sneakers. I rode my bike from our home on South Bonaire Avenue to Rocky Ridge. Our “Pony” League team played teams from other parks in Youngstown. The games were in the daytime. Very few parents came. A recreation leader at Rocky Ridge was our baseball coach. We went to our away games via several moms who drove us in their cars. I remember that we won every game in the first half of the season and lost every game the second half of the season. The first half champ played the second half champ for the championship. I was definitely a reserve on the team. Playing on this team gave me the confidence to play later in life to include a college baseball team. I have very happy memories of the summer of 1961 and Rocky Ridge.

      • Bob, rest assured I was still a reserve player on the college team. However, I did do a great job as a first base coach. Just to clarify, our team uniform was white t shirts, blue jeans and sneakers.

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