I spent countless hours growing up swimming at Borts Pool and playing baseball, football, basketball, and tennis at Borts Field. In the winter, I ice skated on the tennis courts which were flooded in cold weather. For several years I delivered papers on part of North Maryland and North Belle Vista Avenues between Oakwood and Mahoning Ave. One of the homes on my route was a gray, two story frame building, obviously older than the rest, that sat right next to Sparkle’s parking lot and grocery store. My father told me that it was the old Borts residence, but I didn’t give it much thought.
That is, until recently when I came across the image that appears above. With some changes, that was the house! Little did I realize that I walked by a piece of Youngstown history every day.
As it turns out, the Borts (or Bortz as it is sometimes spelled) family was one of the early families to settle in the area. In 1805, Philip Borts, Sr. moved from Pennsylvania and purchased a farm in Ellsworth township. His oldest son, Philip, Jr., who was born in 1802, married Mary Nickum. George, born in 1827, and his brother Philip were the two surviving sons of the marriage, and moved with the family to the West side of Youngstown in 1833, purchasing about 270 acres. George married Elizabeth Christey on October 18, 1847. They purchased a farm in Berlin township the next year but moved back to the Youngstown house in 1852 when Philip, Jr. died (he only outlived Philip, Sr. by two years).
George may have been bitten by the “gold bug.” He moved to California for three years in the 1850’s to engage in mining but then returned to Youngstown in 1861. He was one of the first to set up a draying, or hauling business, which he carried on for three years, before turning to farming. Whether because of family roots in the area or business success or a combination of the two, George Borts is among those listed by the Mahoning Valley Historical Society as initial subscribers to the founding of the historical society in 1875, along with names like Arms, McKelvey, Strouss, Pollock, and Wick. Borts died in May of 1905, and like many of Youngstown’s early prominent citizens, is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery. Elizabeth lived until 1920.
They had six children, five boys and one girl. Charles Albry worked as superintendent in a rolling mill. According to Miss Caldie Borts, their son William remained single and worked in the theater business. Their daughter Mary married John S. Pollock and died in an auto accident in 1928. Edward died young at age 16. I could find little about the other two sons, George and California. Most of the children are also buried at Oak Hill Cemetery.
According to Google street view, the old Borts home is gone and the lot is vacant. Borts Pool was demolished in 2014 and converted to green space. A 2015 Jambar article reports renovations engaged in by the Youngstown Steel Valley Rugby Club to convert the field to rugby play. A Disney grant has provided money for a walking trail and exercise equipment at Borts Field.
There was actually relatively little that I could find on the Borts family. They clearly were an influential family in the second half of the nineteenth century. With the efforts to rehabilitate Borts Field, the name lives on. I would love it if others can pass along what they know of this family!
[Most of the information on the Borts Family is from Find a Grave sites for Philip Borts (Bortz), Sr., Philip Borts (Bortz), Jr., George Borts, and links from this page to each of the children’s sites.]