Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Campbell

Ohio Militia at a steelworkers’ strike at East Youngstown in 1916.

In 1902 the Youngstown Iron, Steel, and Tube Company established mills on the north banks of the Mahoning in what was then East Youngstown. Immigrant workers flocked into the settlement on the hills above the plant. By 1915, workers were living in crowded conditions and because of World War I were working 12 hour shifts 6 days a week for 19.5 cents an hour, barely a living wage. In January of 1916, 16,000 Mahoning Valley steel workers went on strike. On January 7, company guards shot into a crowd of people, killing three. Strikers responded by breaking into an administration building and burned 100 blocks of businesses and residences, much of the town. The Ohio National Guard was called in (pictured above) to restore the peace.

Youngstown Sheet and Tube settled the strike by increasing wages to 22 cents an hour. They also engaged in a form of “welfare capitalism” that consisted of helping rebuild much of the town, including worker housing. They bought the Blackburn plat for $250,000 and built a “workingman’s colony” of rowhouses constructed of pre-fabricated concrete. The developments in East Youngstown were built particularly for immigrant and Black populations, segregated from each other. The units had electrical service and indoor plumbing and backyard gardens. There was also a  “community house,” gymnasium, and school with a public square, designed to create a community feel.

All these efforts were led by Youngstown Sheet and Tube’s president, James Anson Campbell. In 1926, as the city rebuilt and became more established, it renamed itself Campbell, recognizing James Anson Campbell’s singular role in establishing the city. These were boom years and the city reached its peak population of 14,673 in 1930. It went through some decline over the next twenty years, and then grew during the Baby Boom years to 13,406. As is well known in Youngstown history, the major blow came on Black Monday as Youngstown Sheet and Tube closed down the Campbell Works, with massive layoffs. That led to steeper population declines to an estimated population of 7,785 in 2019 (All population info from Wikipedia).

The city remains home to the descendants of immigrants with strong Greek, Italian, Slovak, and Black populations. It is also known as the “City of Churches” due to the number of churches in the community. My one friend from Campbell, Dan Yargo, is pastor of one of them, Christ Community Church.

Campbell is working to both preserve and rebuild. In 1982, the workers housing was declared a National Historic Site. Sadly, the units declined and some were razed. Of the original 248 units, 194 remain owned by 55 owners. For a time, Iron Soup Historic Preservation formed to preserve the remaining units and acquired 20 of them. The Facebook page for the organization states: “Iron Soup as an organization no longer exists, the homes are currently under the control of the founder of the original company and is working on mass acquisition of the complex and the formation of a new company that will aim at housing US Veterans.” Although this Vindicator article doesn’t mention it, it appears that Tim Sokoloff is the one leading this effort. He lives in one of the units, renovates and rents out other units to generate income, and says he “will continue his renovations until the city tells him to stop or until he ‘kicks the bucket.’ ”

CASTLO CIC is an effort to attract industries onto the land formerly occupied by Youngstown Sheet and Tube. Seventeen business currently operate on the site with room for more. For recreation, Roosevelt Park offers picnic pavilions, hiking trails and baseball, softball, soccer, and tennis facilities on 64 acres.

Campbell could be called the city Youngstown Sheet and Tube (and James Anson Campbell) built. Now it is not big industry or business, but many individuals and community groups, some the descendants of the immigrants who first moved there, who will build the Campbell of a new century.

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

7 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Campbell

  1. One set of grandparents lived in the company houses but we never did. Campbell was a great place in which to grow up. Religion and ethnic background were not barriers.

  2. My mother, Ann Larocco, grew up in Campbell and graduated from Campbell Memorial High around 1940. Her father, Joseph Larocco, worked at Youngstown Sheet and Tube in Campbell. He is mentioned by name in the Youngstown State University Oral History Program report on the “Youngstown, (Campbell) 1916 Fire and Riot.”

  3. My great grandfather arrived from Italy in the 1910s and found work at Youngstown Sheet and Tube. Being illiterate, thus unable to spell his Italian surname for the paymaster. He couldn’t get his money. A solution was found. His first name was Anglicized and his surname changed by taking the name of the company President, James Campbell. The paymaster could easily write the new names, gramps made his mark, got paid and went on with his life. At “the mill” he went from being Gennaro Mascio to being Gene Campbell. That informal, extra-legal change had consequences two generations later when my father tried to enlist in the Army, but that’s another story.

  4. Am I wrong, or venturing into sensitive grounds, when I ask if it’s true that the community name Campbell was later shortened to the name Camel? For years I heard my Struthers relatives, and even radio DJs, refer to a place called Camel — years later my relatives said they were referring to Campbell!

    • Theoted
      I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest this was simply a local colloquialism. A matter of mispronunciation. I base that conclusion on two experiences drawn from my surname. Firstly, my father’s eldest brother was known to us kids by his lifelong nickname. Though his name was Howard, we knew him as Uncle Hump. Secondly, I recall contacting a friend I grew up with in Youngstown who was living in Chicago about getting together while I was there on business. We nearly missed connections because he called my hotel asking for Bob Camel when no such person was registered.

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