Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Center Street Crossing

Center Street Bridge and Crossing with the B & O Train Director’s shed. Photo from Bridgehunter licensed under CC BY-SA

Did you know that at one time the crossing pictured above was the busiest manually operated crossing in the United States? As you can see, there are a number of tracks that cross each other. At one time there were eleven different tracks serving five different railroads that squeezed together and crossed each other on the north bank of the Mahoning River just west of the Center Street Bridge, with Republic Steel’s mills in the backdrop. All told, 500 trains pulling 10,000 cars a day passed through this crossing, serving the mills and the other industries of the Mahoning Valley as well as passenger trains.

Four of the railroads used the north bank of the Mahoning as they approached this point. The fifth, the B & O started out on the south bank of the Mahoning and a few hundred yards west of the Center Street Bridge crosses the river and the other lines to the far side of the north bank, furthest from the river. As you can see, that literally is a trainwreck waiting to happen, were it not for the train director.

The train director stayed in the little bungalow-like one story shed in the center of the above picture. It was warmed by a caboose stove. He worked for the B & O, the ones responsible for the crossing, and his job was to manually signal trains when it was safe to proceed. In railroad vernacular, this was a color-coded “highball.” Here are the railroads and their signal color:

  • Baltimore & Ohio (B & O): green
  • Erie: red
  • Pennsylvania: yellow
  • New York Central and P&LE (which shared the same tracks): white

They used flag signals by day and lanterns by night.

The mills are all gone now. The old Center Street Bridge, a truss bridge connecting Poland Avenue on the south and Wilson Avenue on the north, has been replaced with a new bridge. There are fewer tracks. The crossing, now with electric signals still exists as is evident from this Google Earth Image, looking west from the bridge. The old train director’s shack is gone. But the vestiges remain and remind us that there was a day when this was the busiest crossing in the country, all manually operated.

[The idea and some of the information for this post came from former Youngstown resident, William Duffy. Bill was a former B & O yard director, later working at the B & O freight office at Front and Market Streets. I also found helpful information in The Sentinal Volume 37, Number 4, published by The Baltimore and Ohio
Railroad Historical Society.]

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

8 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Center Street Crossing

  1. I know this history well growing up in Youngstown you never knew when a train was going to delay your travel , i remember sitting in the car bored stiff not knowing how long we were going to be delayed , I would be lying to say that I miss all of the train traffic that use to crisscross the city , Those were the days .
    Thanks Bob
    Joseph Napier Sr.
    Napiervision Productions

  2. When my wife’s maternal grandparents arrived in Youngstown from Hungary about 100 years ago, they owned a home on Center St. a couple of blocks up the hill from Wilson Ave. It was her home during her first five years. Grandpa Czorba was able to walk to work. I think I’m remembering correctly that the Center St. bridge crossed over and through the mill nearby the huge smokestack from which a flame was visible at night like a candle.

  3. Bob
    This is very off-topic, but I didn’t know how else to convey this story. Our daughter was born and raised in Arizona. She met and married her Denver-raised husband there. Their only exposure to Youngstown has been stories we and our other now AZ-based family members have told over the years. They now live in London, England. The other day, my son-in-law sent me a text asking the name of the city pool where we would swim in the summer. I told him it was Bort’s. His next text asked if I remembered Zitellos store. I said I certainly did and asked why. He said he was reading a story written by “a guy” whose history sounded like ours. When I asked “What guy?”, he forwarded your 2017 article about neighborhood stores (nice article, BTW). He was floored by the irony when I explained the connecting threads between him and you.
    A bit more on subject, my brother-in-law recently sent me a YouTube video of the Route 66 episode with a story set and entirely filmed in Youngstown in 1961. In addition to the stars, Martin Milner and George Maharishi, the episode featured Darren McGavin as a boxer. I can vaguely recall local TV and newspaper coverage at the time. In the opening sequence, while the two stars are talking and driving, the camera pans next to them to show the sign for Youngstown Sheet and Tube. They also make a reference to driving on Poland Ave.

    • Google can make for a small world. Nice to know people are finding these articles. I remember Route 66 but not that episode. Youngstown was a significant city back then!

  4. Pingback: Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Center Street Crossing — Bob on Books – The Bridgehunter's Chronicles

Leave a Reply to Allison Edwards Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.