Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Brownlee Woods

Brownlee WoodsFor the first eighteen years of my life, I knew almost nothing about the Brownlee Woods, which was way over on the southeast side of Youngstown, almost into Struthers. Then I started dating the woman who became my wife, and Brownlee Woods became a regular destination. She lived in one of the Cape Cod bungalows built in the 1950’s. For the first year or so, she worked at the Brownlee Woods library. We went to one of the biggest wedding receptions we have ever attended, at Powers Auditorium, when one of the librarians was married. We used to go for walks on summer evenings along Sheridan Road and into some of the older neighborhoods of brick homes. Sometimes we would go over to Ipes Field and play tennis. Two of her uncles lived in Brownlee Woods, and the three brothers helped each other build garages on the same plan her father designed. Her mother lived there until 1996, and we made frequent trips back to see her, taking her to Nemenz to buy groceries and to her senior group at what was once the Bethlehem United Church of Christ. I never thought much about the history of the area.

Brownlee Woods forms a square with its north border along Midlothian Boulevard, its west border I-680, Youngstown-Poland Rd on the east, and Thalia Avenue on the South. It gets its name from the original landowners, James A. and Rebecca Brownlee, whose homestead was on Youngstown-Poland Road and consisted of approximately 235 acres. He was a successful farmer who at one time supplied most of the meat consumed in Youngstown. He died in 1918. An article from 1930 written by Esther Hamilton speaks of Miss Mary, James (the son), and John Brownlee living in the old homestead, now shrunk to six acres. All three were in their seventies at that time.

By 1915, 200 families lived in what was already being called Brownlee Woods. A Vindicator article from 1926 quotes a resident:

“Our business houses are of almost every kind. We have groceries, meat markets, confectionery stores, drug store, automobile repair shops, gasoline stations, barber shop, dairy, barbecue, Mourey’s potato chip, milk mush and noodle factory and we also have two real estate offices.”

On December 24, 1916, Brownlee Woods United Presbyterian Church held its first services, with a Sabbath school beginning on January 7, 1917 and the church being formally organized on February 11, 1917. In 1918, they built their first structure on the church’s present site. It was followed in the same year by the Third Reformed Church pastored by Rev. E. D. Wettoch, who met in a “bungalow chapel”! In 1923, Brownlee Woods was annexed by the city of Youngstown. By 1927, ground was being broken for a Brownlee Woods Branch Library.

Brownlee Woods Library

Brownlee Woods Library

There were two waves of home construction in Brownlee Woods. The first of these was in the late 1910’s and 1920’s. The second wave was in the 1950’s. The home my wife grew up in was built in 1954. The older homes were in a variety of styles: Colonial, Tudor, Victorian, and Craftsman style homes. The newer homes were Cape Cod bungalows and ranch style homes.

In the early 1960’s Paul C. Bunn Elementary School was opened to serve children in the community. The original building was razed in 2007 and a new building opened in 2008 and recently celebrated its tenth anniversary. There is also the Montessori School of the Mahoning Valley in the neighborhood on Lynn Avenue. Youngstown-Poland Road continues to serve as the business corridor of the community with Nemenz, various fast food restaurants, local bars, and the Holiday Bowl (that brings back memories).

In recent years, Brownlee Woods has also faced issues of blight and crime. An active Brownlee Woods Neighborhood Association meets monthly.  In a 2016 Business Journal article, association president Nancy Martin speaks of the approach they are trying to take.

“It’s been my theory that we can get a lot done through code enforcement or demolition. But I don’t want to see street after street after street of houses that are torn down,”

The association has worked on issues of safety, drug sales, and taking care of homes and other buildings in the area as well as working with the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation on a five year plan. Some of their efforts include new signage, planting trees, and benches in a local park.

It’s hard to believe the Brownlee Woods neighborhood is one hundred years old. It is good news that there is an active neighborhood association working to improve the community. Hopefully it can be one of a growing number of bright spots in Youngstown as the neighborhood moves into its next century of life.

23 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Brownlee Woods

      • The neighborhood north of Midlothian and west of Yo-Po Rd. that encompasses Jackson Park (formally Jackson Elementary) is called “POWERSTOWN”. The city of Youngstown posted official names of neighborhoods throughout the city years ago. Although I sometimes hear people referring to it as BROWNLEE WOODS. …I’ve learned all these things since becoming the 7th Ward Councilwoman, which encompasses the southeast portion of Youngstown. I love reading your posts!

  1. Thanks for your work on the history of Brownlee Woods.
    I grew up in the Cape Cod Neighborhood on the north side of Midlothian, near Jackson Elementary School. Our house was built in 1956. We played baseball at Ipe’s Field in the morning. The Park Department hired college students in the summer to supervise the games there.
    The kids that lived on Everett Street next to the Library actually went to Jackson. The Powers Family Grave Site was at the end of our street. I am sure that we lived on the on time Powers farm, but we always said that we lived in. Brownlee Woods.
    Again, thanks for your work, it is interesting.

  2. Thank you so much for telling me about Brownlee Woods, we spent the first years of our marriage living on Thalia. Our son first went to Paul C Bunn. Have many lovely memories of our time there.

  3. I grew up behind Bethlehem United Church of Christ. I also spent hours at the Brownlee Woods Library. It was a great place to grow up.

  4. Pingback: Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Top Ten of 2018 | Bob on Books

  5. I actually grew up on Brownlee Avenue on the Dead End. It was the greatest times of our lives. We lived in one of the older homes. There was a piece of land between us and the neighbors and they built 2 of the Cape Cod syle houses in the late 60’s, If I remember correctly. My Sisters and I walked to Paul C Bunn for school. We played outside till the street lights came on. So many great memories. Thank you for this article.

  6. Thanks for the excellent history of Brownlee Woods. I grew up on Country Club Avenue across the street from the golf course. I thought Country Club was the southern border of part of BW.

    • Searched Brownlee Woods on Google maps and it shows Thalia as the south boundary. With Country Club the next street south, I could see the reason for including it. These boundaries are often a bit fluid! Searching, I do see Country Club is on the Youngstown/ Boardman border. Which do you consider yourself? If Youngstown, then you are Brownlee Woods.

  7. I grew up in the former Brownlee home at the corner of Youngstown-Poland Rd and Brownlee. It was a large home with 4 fireplaces, several wells, an old “Milk House” and “Wash House”. The milk house had water running from one of the wells, at one time, to keep food items cold. The wash house was a 2 story building with a huge fireplace in it for heating water to do laundry. We used it for storage and a workshop. The milk house is where we kept our bicycles, the wagon, some tools, my Mom’s canning jars and other misc. items. There used to be an outhouse on the property, until my father and brother tore it down. When they did, they were attacked by a swarm of bees that inhabitated it! The basement of our house was constructed of huge blocks of sandstone. Over the years, a lot of crockery items were discovered when my parents did garden work or dug up soil. We were blessed to have grapevines, peach, apple, cherry and pear trees, elderberries, quince and such, which my Mom used to spend the summers canning. The living room had a 10 foot ceiling, so we always had a huge Christmas tree.

  8. Paul C. Bunn Elementary School opened in the spring of 1959; I was a 6th grade student and had been taking a bus every day to Adams School on Indianola Blvd. The 3 classes of students in the Brownlee Woods were transferred to either Jackson or Bunn school where we finished the last 2 6-week grading periods .

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