Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown –Ralph Ellis

Lanterman’s Mill by Ralph Ellis. Photo courtesy of Ted Barnhart (modified from original)

Many of us who grew up in Youngstown at one time or another have been enthralled by the view of Lanterman’s Mill and Falls, viewed from the north looking south up the Mill Creek gorge. Perhaps no one was more enthralled with this view than Ralph Ellis, who painted over 800 copies of the Mill during his lifetime, including the one above, owned by Ted Barnhart of Byesville, Ohio. It was originally owned by Frederic Theodore O’Connor who lived on North Maryland Avenue in Youngstown. He was the instructor of a Masonic Class at the Argus Lodge 545 in Canfield, of which Ralph Ellis was a member in 1945. The painting was presented to Mr. O’Connor at the conclusion of the class, passed on to his daughter, the mother of Ted Barnhart, upon his death. The painting is 18″ x 24″ on a wood panel.

Ralph Ellis was born in Elmira, New York on May 22, 1885, son of Victor and Rachel Crook Ellis. He moved to Youngstown in 1909 and was employed as a sign painter and painted murals for many commercial establishments in the city. He formed the Ellis Art Club for other painters, that met in the studio behind his home. He was also an accompanist, playing at the Opera House on the Square. Among the stars with whom he performed was Sarah Bernhardt. He also accompanied silent movies and loved playing the “chase” scenes!

He was active in Masonry Work, as a member of the Western Star Lodge 21, F & AM. This lodge was originally in Canfield and moved to Youngstown, the Argus Lodge taking its place. His largest Lanterman’s Mill painting was a 28 foot by 16 foot mural for the Masonic Temple. He also painted murals on the four walls of a large meeting room on the third floor of the WPA Memorial, built in 1937. The building housed a branch of the Reuben McMillan Library on the first floor along with a theatre where movies were shown, also used for community activities. The second floor housed the American Legion and Ladies Auxiliary. The Argus Lodge used the third floor, and hence the commission to fellow Masonic Brother Ellis. Here is a description of the mural from The History of the Argus Lodge:

The mural in the East depicted the Trial of the Iron Monger before King Solomon. Many of the characters in the mural bore the resemblance of members of the lodge who had given their time and talents to the craft. The other walls depicted the Tyler’s Gate, the Sun in the South, the Sword, the Pot of Incense, the Naked Heart, and King Solomon’s Temple with a path that, because of the optical illusion, seemed to lead to the Temple, no matter from which angle it was viewed.

The work took Ellis two years to complete with his wife keeping him company many weekends.

Sadly, the murals have been covered with dry wall with several businesses currently using the building.

Ralph Ellis went on to paint every nook and cranny of his beloved Mill Creek Park for many years. He passed away at the age of 80 of pneumonia on September 27, 1965. Beyond his obituary in the Vindicator on September 28, 1965 and the Argus Lodge History, there is little information that I could find on him. If others have paintings by him, it would be wonderful to see images. The Masonic Temple closed in 2016 (although it was used for a film in 2022). It would be interesting to know if Ellis’s mural has survived and if there are any efforts to preserve it.

[I would like to acknowledge my appreciation to Ted Barnhart, who suggested the article and provided the picture of the Ellis painting as well as a copy of Ellis’s obituary.]

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

4 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown –Ralph Ellis

  1. Thank you Bob for this informative interesting historical background of this very talented gentleman. Lanterman’s Falls is my favorite to visit whenever I get back “home”. It’s beauty, charm and history are such an integral part of not only Mill Creek Part but also many fond memories for many of us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Heather, it is great to hear from you! It is fun to see your name in print (unless it is for bad trouble!). The writer saw my article and contacted me-was glad to share it. Anyhow, hope you are well. We are living in Columbus and planning to finish with InterVarsity in 2024.


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