Places names, in and around Youngstown, often bear the names of people connected with those places. Struthers is one such place that bears the name of its founder, John Struthers. That came later, however, and is part of a story of land purchased, lost, and reclaimed by the Struthers family.
The best biography I have found of John Struthers is that written by Ted Heineman in his Riverside Journal and much of what I include in this article is drawn from Ted’s fine work on those buried in Riverside Cemetery, including John Struthers. Struthers was born in Maryland in 1759 and moved to Washington County, Pennsylvania in 1775. John fought in the Revolutionary War and in 1786 married Mary Foster, whose brother William was the father of composer and songwriter Stephen Foster. They acquired land in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, where they had four of their children. John had charge of a troop of Pennsylvania Cavalry, and at one point pursued marauding Native tribal people up the Beaver and Mahoning Rivers to what is now Yellow Creek. Taken with the beauty of the area, he acquired 400 acres along Yellow Creek in Poland Township from Judge Turhand Kirtland in October of 1798. (I mention Turhand Kirtland in an article about his son, Jared Potter Kirtland). Turhan Kirtland recorded the transaction in his diary:
Tuesday, Oct. 9 – Went to Pittsburg [sic] to breakfast and from that across the Monongahela to Cannonsburg, seventeen miles, to John Struthers, to receive money due the company for two lots sold him in No. 1 for Mill place.
Wednesday, Oct. 10 – I was obliged to stay at Struthers waiting for the money to be collected.
Thursday, Oct. 11 – I set out for home.
In 1799, Struthers built a log cabin above Yellow Creek near what is now Park Way Avenue in Struthers. At the time, he called the settlement Marbletown. He improved a nearby dam on Yellow Creek and built a grist mill. In the next years John and Mary would have four more children. In 1802, James and Daniel (H)Eaton (they dropped the “H”) built the Hopewell Furnace. The Hopewell Furnace was sold in 1807 to Robert Montgomery, who owned another furnace downstream on Yellow Creek. John Struthers was a partner with Montgomery. Hopewell shut down in 1808, and the other furnace in 1812, due to the rapid depletion of wood for charcoal in the area, and the war of 1812, which drew off workers. Struthers also fought in the war, only to find his enterprises in ruins, necessitating selling his land to pay his bills.
These were hard years for John. He lost his son Alexander in the war. After purchasing land in Coitsville Township, his wife Mary died in 1814. Later, in 1827, two of his daughters, Drucilla and Emma died in a boating accident on the Mahoning River. At age 68, with most of his surviving children having moved away, John was left with his daughter Mathilda on the Coitsville farm.
It is at this point that Stephen Foster enters into the story. Mary’s brother William was in steep debt. John invited him and his family, including Stephen, to move into the largely empty farmhouse. Thus the Youngstown area, and Coitsville in particular, became part of the Stephen Foster story. Stephen spent time hunting with his uncle, being regaled with stories of life on the frontier.
Meanwhile, John’s son, Thomas Struthers thrived in legal practice, rail and oil enterprises, eventually becoming a multi-millionaire. During this time, John died and was buried alongside his wife and two daughters, originally next to the Poland Presbyterian Church, in 1845. Later, they were reinterred in a family plot in Riverside Cemetery. After the Civil War, Thomas used some of his wealth to reacquire all the land his father had lost along Yellow Creek, laying out a new town, “Struthers,” named in honor of his father. He also used his resources and ties to bring industry to the area.
In 1902, Struthers was incorporated as a village, then in 1920 with the growth of the steel industry, as a city. In a way, John Struthers not only gave the city its name and location along Yellow Creek, but also its industrial history, through his partnership with Robert Montgomery, and through his successful son.
[You might want to visit this Business Journal article for another account of the beginnings of Struthers and a great picture of Ted Heineman beside the original Struthers gravesite next to Poland Presbyterian Church.]