Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Meander Reservoir

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Meander Reservoir and the communities (shaded) that it serves

Mom always used to say there was no drinking water as good as Youngstown’s drinking water. I was not quite as opinionated, but on a hot summer day, there was nothing as refreshing as a cool glass of water.

It wasn’t always that way. Until 1932, Youngstown got its water from the Mahoning River. Yes, the Mahoning River. The old water works on West Avenue, built in 1905, had the unenviable task of making that water fit for consumption. Even then, the Mahoning was the most polluted river in Ohio, with temperatures that sometimes reached 104 degrees. They managed to make it safe to drink, but taste was another matter altogether.

A petition effort began in 1920 to form what became the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District and find a new source of water for Youngstown and surrounding communities. The district was comprised of Youngstown and Niles, along with McDonald, with other smaller communities receiving water via these three. Youngstown and Niles approved the district in 1927, with a $2,450,000 bond issue approved the following year to purchase land around Meander Creek and build the Mineral Ridge Dam that would create the Meander Reservoir. The work was completed and the reservoir filled in 1932. At the time, the reservoir held 7.5 billion gallons of water and could supply the city’s needs for two years. In 1958, a nine-mile pipeline from the Berlin Pumping Station to Meander Reservoir created additional capacity and a backup during periods of extended drought.

Today, the reservoir district comprises 7,510 acres, of which 2,010 are water. The reservoir capacity is 11 billion gallons, with a 50 foot high dam that is 3550 long, with a 260 foot spillway. Approximately 21.6 million gallons of water are delivered to Youngstown and surrounding communities. Youngstown and the communities it distributes water to use about 74 percent of the water, Niles 24 percent, and McDonald, 2 percent.

Safe drinking water is critical to the life of a community, as Flint, Michigan illustrates. One of the most significant safeguards to the reservoir are the 4 million evergreen trees on a preserve of land surrounding the reservoir that serve as a buffer to contaminants. The Vickers Nature Preserve, just south of the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District land, also serves to protect the tributaries to Meander Creek. With rare exceptions, fishing and boating are prohibited. In recent years, upgrades were made to the water treatment plant.

Still there are concerns. Algal blooms, like those that have occurred on Lake Erie and other Ohio lakes could render Meander water unusable. There have been discussions of routing water directly from Berlin Lake to the treatment plant, by-passing Meander, but this would involve rate increases, and these have to be weighed against the likelihood of a bloom or other contamination of the reservoir. Agricultural and lawn fertilizers are the principle causes of such blooms so area residents have a critical role to play in preventing runoffs of these chemicals that feed algal blooms.

The other significant threat is contamination from oil and gas wells, the closest less than a mile from the reservoir. All told, according to a Vindicator article, there are 182 gas and oil wells in the vicinity, eighteen miles of pipeline, as well as a 72 inch above-ground sewage line from Canfield to the Meander Creek Treatment Station. There are also risks from the bridges over the reservoir, and contingency plans are in place to handle hazardous material spills into the reservoir. MVSD publishes fracking lab results on its website, with test results in roughly three month intervals, as well as other water purity tests.

Meander Reservoir has provided safe drinking water to the Mahoning Valley on an uninterrupted basis since 1932. Government officials, businesses, and local residents all have a role to play in ensuring the continuing safety of the water. While algal blooms can occur fairly suddenly, contamination from gas and oil wells seem to be a serious threat that could render the reservoir unusable for a long period of time or permanently. The fact that the Mahoning River is only just beginning to come back to life after forty years should be a warning. At present, if an “incident” took place, the 220,000 people who depend on the reservoir might have to use bottled water for an extended period of time, not unlike Flint.

Meander Reservoir, photo courtesy of Tom Volinchak

I hope many more generations talk about the great taste of Youngstown water, have no fears of what comes out of the tap, and enjoy the beauty of the forest preserve and clear blue waters of Meander Reservoir. It is an irreplaceable treasure!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Dr. Leslie S. Domonkos

Leslie Domonkos

Leslie Domonkos, Source unknown

I grew up disliking history. Up through high school, history had largely been presented to me as a series of events, dates to be memorized, and important people. All this, I had to remember for tests, and promptly forget afterward.

Today, I love history as the story of how different factors and forces contribute to events and how these help us understand how we got here, historically, at least. As you might tell from my posts about Youngstown, I love local history–how places get their names, who was such and such, and how they were important in Youngstown history and how the cultural institutions of the city developed?

I think I owe this love of history to Dr. Leslie Domonkos, now an emeritus professor of history at Youngstown State, and the professor who taught the Western Civilization course I took during my first quarter at Youngstown State, 46 years ago. What I remember about his class, is that I never took so many notes in my life–and it was a good thing. His exams were tough. They weren’t fill in the blanks, or a computer-read form. They were essay-based exams of three or four questions that we would answer in handwritten “Blue Books.” You needed to study your notes, do the readings, and take his exam prep suggestions seriously. His lectures were riveting as he opened up the events of European history and the cultural, social, economic, religious and political forces that led to them. He made us think about these forces, and argue which were most important. It was hard, and I loved it, and he awakened a love of history I never knew I had. Looking back, I sometimes wonder why I didn’t major in history. I also think of how much work it was for him to read all those hand-written Blue Book exams and grade them!

Both Dr. Domonkos and his wife Eva were born in Budapest, Hungary, he in 1938 and she in 1941. Her tribute in The Vindicator notes that she came to the U.S. as a World War II refugee in 1951. I do not know if this is true of Dr. Domonkos but he became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1959. For both of them, their arrival in this country was a gift. She worked for many years as a labor and delivery nurse, and later as a childbirth educator at St. Elizabeth’s, returning to Hungary to introduce modern childbirth techniques to that country.

Dr. Domonkos gift to this country was his scholarship and inspired teaching. He graduated from Youngstown University in 1959 with a Bachelors degree in history and completed Masters and Ph.D. degrees in medieval history at Notre Dame. He received a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the University of Vienna during 1963-1964.  He returned to teach as an instructor at Youngstown in 1964, then as an assistant professor in 1965, associate professor in 1969 and full professor in 1975. Twice he served as acting department chair. In 1971, he received an Outstanding Educator in America award. Over the years six Distinguished Professor Awards followed. He published numerous articles in medieval and Hungarian history in addition to co-editing three books. He was admitted to the Corporate Body of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 2003. He retired from Youngstown State in 2002, receiving emeritus status.

In 2013 he was awarded the YSU Heritage Award, the university’s most prestigious award, recognizing faculty and administrative staff who have made a major contribution to the university during their career. At the date this was written, he is continuing to enjoy his retirement.

It is staggering to think of how many students lives were touched by Dr. Domonkos during his four decade career at Youngstown State. Some went on to academic careers in history. No doubt some were just glad to pass his course! But I can’t help but believe there were many of us who gained a much bigger vision of the world beyond the Mahoning valley through his teaching. For me, he inspired a lifelong love of history, manifested in a house full of history books, and a curiosity to know the story behind the facts. I know my life is richer for it. Thank you, Dr. Domonkos!

 

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Brownlee Woods

Brownlee WoodsFor the first eighteen years of my life, I knew almost nothing about the Brownlee Woods, which was way over on the southeast side of Youngstown, almost into Struthers. Then I started dating the woman who became my wife, and Brownlee Woods became a regular destination. She lived in one of the Cape Cod bungalows built in the 1950’s. For the first year or so, she worked at the Brownlee Woods library. We went to one of the biggest wedding receptions we have ever attended, at Powers Auditorium, when one of the librarians was married. We used to go for walks on summer evenings along Sheridan Road and into some of the older neighborhoods of brick homes. Sometimes we would go over to Ipes Field and play tennis. Two of her uncles lived in Brownlee Woods, and the three brothers helped each other build garages on the same plan her father designed. Her mother lived there until 1996, and we made frequent trips back to see her, taking her to Nemenz to buy groceries and to her senior group at what was once the Bethlehem United Church of Christ. I never thought much about the history of the area.

Brownlee Woods forms a square with its north border along Midlothian Boulevard, its west border I-680, Youngstown-Poland Rd on the east, and Thalia Avenue on the South. It gets its name from the original landowners, James A. and Rebecca Brownlee, whose homestead was on Youngstown-Poland Road and consisted of approximately 235 acres. He was a successful farmer who at one time supplied most of the meat consumed in Youngstown. He died in 1918. An article from 1930 written by Esther Hamilton speaks of Miss Mary, James (the son), and John Brownlee living in the old homestead, now shrunk to six acres. All three were in their seventies at that time.

By 1915, 200 families lived in what was already being called Brownlee Woods. A Vindicator article from 1926 quotes a resident:

“Our business houses are of almost every kind. We have groceries, meat markets, confectionery stores, drug store, automobile repair shops, gasoline stations, barber shop, dairy, barbecue, Mourey’s potato chip, milk mush and noodle factory and we also have two real estate offices.”

On December 24, 1916, Brownlee Woods United Presbyterian Church held its first services, with a Sabbath school beginning on January 7, 1917 and the church being formally organized on February 11, 1917. In 1918, they built their first structure on the church’s present site. It was followed in the same year by the Third Reformed Church pastored by Rev. E. D. Wettoch, who met in a “bungalow chapel”! In 1923, Brownlee Woods was annexed by the city of Youngstown. By 1927, ground was being broken for a Brownlee Woods Branch Library.

Brownlee Woods Library

Brownlee Woods Library

There were two waves of home construction in Brownlee Woods. The first of these was in the late 1910’s and 1920’s. The second wave was in the 1950’s. The home my wife grew up in was built in 1954. The older homes were in a variety of styles: Colonial, Tudor, Victorian, and Craftsman style homes. The newer homes were Cape Cod bungalows and ranch style homes.

In the early 1960’s Paul C. Bunn Elementary School was opened to serve children in the community. The original building was razed in 2007 and a new building opened in 2008 and recently celebrated its tenth anniversary. There is also the Montessori School of the Mahoning Valley in the neighborhood on Lynn Avenue. Youngstown-Poland Road continues to serve as the business corridor of the community with Nemenz, various fast food restaurants, local bars, and the Holiday Bowl (that brings back memories).

In recent years, Brownlee Woods has also faced issues of blight and crime. An active Brownlee Woods Neighborhood Association meets monthly.  In a 2016 Business Journal article, association president Nancy Martin speaks of the approach they are trying to take.

“It’s been my theory that we can get a lot done through code enforcement or demolition. But I don’t want to see street after street after street of houses that are torn down,”

The association has worked on issues of safety, drug sales, and taking care of homes and other buildings in the area as well as working with the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation on a five year plan. Some of their efforts include new signage, planting trees, and benches in a local park.

It’s hard to believe the Brownlee Woods neighborhood is one hundred years old. It is good news that there is an active neighborhood association working to improve the community. Hopefully it can be one of a growing number of bright spots in Youngstown as the neighborhood moves into its next century of life.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Cardinal Mooney High School

mooney sealYesterday, the most recent issue of The Mooney Messenger arrived at our home and we learned that Cardinal Mooney High School will celebrate the 60th anniversary of its first graduating class in 2019. So it seems appropriate to tell something of the story of Cardinal Mooney as it has intersected with our lives.

Personally, the only time I ever set foot in Cardinal Mooney was an early Saturday morning in the school cafeteria where I and hundreds of other Youngstown area high school students were taking college entrance exams. The real story of Cardinal Mooney is my wife’s story. She is the Mooney grad, and the reason we receive the magazine.

She remembers as a child when representatives of the Diocese visited her parents soliciting contributions for the construction of Cardinal Mooney. Growing up in Brownlee Woods, they told her parents that this was the high school she would attend. It was.

Cardinal Mooney High School is named after Edward Aloysius Mooney, who was named Archbishop of the Diocese of Detroit in 1937 and Cardinal in 1946 by Pope Pius XII. Cardinal Mooney and his family moved to the south side of Youngstown when he was five years old where his father worked in a tube mill. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1909, taught at St. Mary’s Seminary in 1916, served as pastor of St. Patrick’s Church in Youngstown from 1922-23 before going on to Rome, serving as an apostolic delegate abroad, and Bishop of Rochester, before going to Detroit. He died on October 25, 1958 in Rome.

Previously, Ursuline High School had served the whole diocese but could not accommodate the growing population of Catholic students and the decision was made to build a second high school on the south side of Youngstown. Construction on Cardinal Mooney High School began in 1954 and the school was dedicated by Bishop Emmet M. Walsh in 1956, at the culmination of a successful three year funding drive. Six hundred and ten students enrolled as freshmen or sophomores (a freshman class had been formed in 1955 meeting at the old Glenmary Convent). Enrollments grew rapidly in the 1960’s, and in 1961, an addition was opened. In 2000 the school acquired two military annex buildings and in 2001 completed an athletic training complex.

In recent years there were discussions about moving the school to the suburbs of Youngstown. A study was done, and recommendations made that a move would enhance enrollments. A funding drive fell short and Bishop Murry made the controversial decision that the school would remain in its current location and renovations, presently underway, would be made to the current facility.

Cardinal Mooney’s website makes this statement about the school:

“Cardinal Mooney has maintained a tradition of academic, extra-curricular and spiritual excellence since its inception in 1956.”

My wife speaks of attending daily masses at the school. Today, 46 percent of the enrollment are not Catholics, but the school continues to offer:

  • Required religious education courses rooted in Catholic teachings and tradition.
  • Daily prayer.
  • All-school celebration of the Eucharist, Reconciliation and Liturgy of the Hours.
    Programs for community and school service.
  • Values-based education integrated into every aspect of the school.
  • A school atmosphere emphasizing individual responsibility and respect for all.

Mooney always has been known for academic excellence with 98 percent of students attending college in 2015, 77 percent of whom received scholarships totaling $15 million. The school offers 27 AP and honors courses and boasts a 12:1 student-teacher ratio. Over half the faculty have either Masters or Doctorates.

The school has been an athletic powerhouse. My wife remembers Coach Stoops and the great Mooney teams of the ’70’s. In addition to his sons Bob, Mark and Mike, Bo and Carl Pelini, and Tim Beck are Mooney graduates. Mooney grads in sports include Ray “Boom, Boom” Mancini, NFL players Jerry Diorio, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, Ed Muransky, John Simon, soccer player Kiki Willis and Mark Malaska, a former major league baseball reliever. In addition to that former San Francisco ’49ers owner Edward DeBartolo, Jr. and current owner Denise DeBartolo York are Mooney alumni.

I suspect there are many Mooney alumni who can add to this brief sketch of the history of the school. All I want to add are my congratulations to the board, alumni, leadership, faculty, staff, and students on 60 years of excellence in Catholic education in the Mahoning Valley.

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Reuben McMillan

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Reuben McMillan

When I was a young boy, my father took me to the Main Library each Saturday to take books out of the library–the Reuben McMillan Library. I didn’t give it a thought as a kid, but as I explore our shared history, I keep coming across the names of people who helped make the city of Youngstown what it was and still is. Reuben McMillan is one of these people.

McMillan was born October 7, 1820 in Canfield. He went to various schools until age thirteen and then took up the trade of harness making. Working during the day, he studied Latin, algebra and geometry and other advanced subjects in the evenings. By 1837 (at seventeen!) he started teaching in rural schools and used his earnings to continue to advance his own education from 1839 to 1843 at a private academy. By 1849, he was serving as superintendent of the Hanoverton schools in Columbiana County, then Lisbon and New Lisbon schools until he retired in 1853 due to health issues which dogged him throughout his life. Regaining his health, he became superintendent in Salem in 1855, then Youngstown in 1861.

He served as superintendent in Youngstown for six years until failing health necessitated his resignation in 1867. Were it not for this, he could have been superintendent of the Cleveland system. That was not to be, to Youngstown’s benefit. By 1872, restored health permitted him to return to his superintendent’s position in which he served until 1886. In Joseph G. Butler, Jr’s History of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, he describes why Reuben McMillan was so highly esteemed:

“It was not mere length of service, however, that endeared Youngstown school pupils and Youngstown men and women of mature years to Reuben McMillan. Blessed with great ability, he was also one of the kindliest of men, tender, considerate, devoted to his work and caring little for personal gain. The poorer children of the schools were the object of his
special solicitude. His beauty of countenance of itself stamped him as one of nature’s noblemen. He was a tutor by example as well as precept, living the God fearing life that he encouraged in the youth of Youngstown. In religion he was a Presbyterian, and for some years was an elder in the old First Church here.”

While libraries had been part of Youngstown schools since the 1840’s, McMillan, joined by two teachers and two physicians, formed the Youngstown Library Association on October 27, 1880. The library began with 168 volumes and the two teachers, Miss Pearson and Miss Hitchcock were the first librarians, working out of a building on West Federal Street. The library went through a reorganization and on March 5, 1898 was named the Reuben McMillan Free Library Association, which is still the official name of The Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County. This was a special honor since McMillan was still alive at this time, passing on June 23 of that year.

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Richard A. Brown home, an early location of the Youngstown Public Library

The other special honor bestowed on McMillan came later. From its original home on West Federal, the library moved to the Richard A. Brown home in 1891 (now the site of the Mahoning County Courthouse). In 1907, a $50,000 gift from Andrew Carnegie made possible construction of a library at the corner of Wick and Rayen Avenue. When the library opened on December 3, 1910, with a capacity of 225,000 volumes, it was named the Reuben McMillan Free Library. Usually, the library is named after the major donor and there are many Carnegie libraries around the country. This was a case of a leader whose contribution was more important than money — an idea — a free library open to all residents of the city.

A large portrait of Reuben McMillan was hung in the library with this tribute from John H. Clarke, another advocate for the library, who helped pass legislation to allow tax levies to support public libraries:

“A man who sought neither wealth nor honor save as these were to be found in the faithful doing of his duty. He spent a long life for meager salary in training the youth of the city to live the highest intellectual life. When his name was chosen for the library it was because his generation chose to honor and revere that type of manhood which finds its best expression in that high stern-featured beauty of steady devotedness to duty.”

Reuben McMillan never enriched himself as an educator, but left a rich legacy to Youngstown in establishing a library to enrich the lives of children and adults from every walk of life in the city–a mission it continues to carry out to this day.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Brier Hill

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An early sketch of the Brier Hill district

Brier Hill. The Brier Hill works. Pizza, Italian Festival. St. Anthony’s Church. The story of the Brier Hill neighborhood weaves all of these elements together. The neighborhood’s history goes back to 1801 when George Tod, the father of Governor David Tod, moved to the newly settled town of Youngstown, having been appointed secretary for the Ohio territory. He settled on a farmstead northwest of the Youngstown settlement, naming it Brier Hill because of the briers that covered the hillsides.

When George Tod died in 1841, David inherited the farm but was more interested in what was underground. Seams of a high quality coal known as “block coal” ran under the farm and built his fortune in mining the coal, attracting Welsh settlers who had mining experience in Wales. The coal was in demand for the blast furnaces that were springing up along the Mahoning River, and Tod joined with others in opening the Tod No. 1 furnace in Brier Hill in 1847. By the 1880, blast furnaces and rolling mills lined the valley and attracted other immigrants, especially Italians who became the heart and soul of the Brier Hill community.

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Brier Hill Iron Company’s Grace Furnace circa 1889.

Until 1900, Brier Hill was its own village, with a post office and schools. Only then was it incorporated into Youngstown. There were three parishes that served different ethnic communities–St Anthony’s for the Italian community, St. Casimir’s for the Polish community, and St. Ann’s for the Irish and other Catholic residents. Only St. Anthony’s at 1125 Turin Street still serves the community. St. Casimir’s was sold for a dollar by the Youngstown Diocese to a group that formed the Brier Hill Cultural Center, located at 145 Jefferson Street. A group broke off from St. Anthony’s in 1907 and formed St. Rocco’s which was received into the Episcopal Church in 1918. In 1957, the parish relocated to Liberty Township and had its final services in 2006.

The Brier Hill neighborhood is bounded by Belmont Avenue on the east, the West River crossing on the south, West Federal Street (Route 422) on the west, and Gypsy Lane on the north. Part of the community, that includes Tod Field, is separated from the rest by the 711 freeway. Tod Homestead Cemetary occupies much of the northeast corner of the area.

Brier Hill pizza has its beginnings in the backyard ovens used for breadmaking in the Italian community. (There is a bread oven like one of these in Smoky Hollow’s Harrison Common.) Leftover dough was made into pizza topped with a sweet and thick tomato sauce known as “Sunday sauce,” bell peppers and Romano cheese. The sauce and peppers may well have come out of backyard gardens, and this simple but tasty pizza was probably a special treat during the Depression. Now, you can hardly sell pizza in Youngstown without offering a Brier Hill pizza. But the place to go is St Anthony’s on Friday’s. You need to order ahead and their website has the number to call with your order as well as a video with Casey Malone about their pizza making operation!

For the past 27 years, the Brier Hill Italian Festival has kept the Italian heritage of this community alive. For four days, up to 25,000 people come into the community for good food from one of twenty food vendors, music and Italian culture. The festival gathers at what is perhaps the Italian cultural heart of the community at Calvin and Victoria Streets, where the Italian American (ITAM) VFW Post is located. This started after we moved away, and in our endless quest for good Italian food, we’ve got to go sometime!

Today, Brier Hill, like many other parts of Youngstown struggles with population decline and the razing of properties in parts of the neighborhood. In 1997, the iconic Jenny blast furnace was demolished, one of the last leftovers of the Brier Hill works. In August of 2018, the city was trying to get rid of an illegal dumping ground right behind  St. Joseph the Provider school. St Anthony’s continues to serve the community, the Italian Festival draws business into the community, Jubilee Gardens, one of the larger community gardens with 32 acres, serves food needs in the community, and the Brier Hill Cultural Center keeps Polish culture and wider community history alive. One hopes those seeking to preserve this community, and its history, will be able to attract residents and businesses willing to invest in its future.

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Hotel Pick Ohio (Hotel Ohio)

Pick Ohio Hotel

The early Hotel Ohio, when it was an eight story hotel.

In the era when downtown Youngstown was a thriving retail center and the focal point of the city, perhaps the grandest of the downtown hotels was the Hotel Pick Ohio, part of the Albert Pick chain of hotels. When it opened in 1913 as an eight story building on West Boardman Street, it was known as the Hotel Ohio. A few years later in 1916, a new Tod House opened on Central Square. By the 1920’s five floors were added to bring the building to its present thirteen floors, 148 foot height.

Albert Pick started operating the hotel in the 1940’s. One of the signature additions they made to the hotel was a three panel mural painted by Louis Grell titled “The Kingdom of Ceres,” which may still be seen to this day. Along with the stately lobby, and luxurious lodgings and service, the hotel featured the Crystal Room, known for its buffet, its welsh rarebit, linen table clothes and napkins, and chefs with tall white hats.

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Louis Grell mural “The Kingdom of Ceres” (1946). Photograph used by permission of The Louis Grell Foundation <LouisGrell.com>.

Pick also introduced a chain of Purple Cow Sandwich Shops in his hotels. One could buy a Purple Cow Hamburger for forty cents and the restaurant was open twenty four hours a day. The one on the ground floor of what was now the Hotel Pick Ohio acquired a notorious reputation as a mob hangout, particularly in the early morning hours.

The hotel was a gathering place for meetings and conventions. On July 14, 1963 the hotel hosted the Slovak Catholic Sokol Convention. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy spoke to the group that day. He commended the attendees:

“Clearly, the United States would be a poorer nation today, economically, intellectually, culturally and in every other way, if it were not for the two-million of our citizens who are of Slovak birth or ancestry. And, needless to add, those two million would be poorer if it weren’t for the work of the Catholic Sokol throughout the nation.”

My only visit to the hotel was as a high school senior being honored by the Mahoning Valley Medical Society in 1972. I remember gawking at the mural and all the wood paneling and impressive service. By this time the hotel was changing. Although it went through a renovation in 1968, the clientele was YSU female students (only men lived in its only dormitory at that time, Kilcawley Hall) and increasingly, those who needed low income housing.

In 1982, the Youngstown Metropolitan Housing Authority (YMHA) took over the building, now known as Amedia Plaza. In 2002, a renovation overseen by Ricciuti, Balog & Partners created larger, but fewer apartments for senior citizens. New heating, ventilation, air conditioning and plumbing was installed while preserving the beautiful lobby and mural. YMHA also houses its corporate offices in this building.

It was heartening to learn in researching this piece that not only is the building that once was the Hotel Pick Ohio still standing, but that Youngstown once again has a downtown hotel, with the opening of the Hilton DoubleTree in the old Stambaugh Building, another Youngstown treasure. One hopes this reflects a resurgence of life in downtown Youngstown, recalling something of the city’s former years.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Grocery Bag Book Covers

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Do you remember covering school text books with grocery store bags? When we were in school, textbooks were hard bound and had to last several school years. You were issued books at the beginning of the year with notes on the condition of the cover, binding, and pages and you were expected to turn it back in the following spring only a little worse for the wear of a year’s use. Your family could be charged for badly damaged or lost books, and then, as now, they were expensive.

So one of the requirements was to cover your books. You could buy book covers at your school (usually with the school colors and logo), or find fancy bookcovers with superheroes, hot rods, rock bands–you name it. Many of our families were on tight budgets, and so why not use what was readily available for free–grocery bags. They held up just as well, and you could do your own decorating–just make sure your magic marker didn’t bleed through onto the book! Of course you wrote your name, and the subject.

Not only that, if you knew how to use scissors, it was super simple to do. I covered the book above in just five minutes. Here were the steps:

  1. Collect your materials. Book, scissors, brown paper grocery bag
  2. Cut the bag apart. Cut the bag from top to bottom, ideally on the seam. Then cut the bottom of the bag off.
  3. Figure out the cover length. Center the book on the paper, fold the left side over the front cover, closing the cover so it will be tight when closed. Then cut off excess, leaving the flap about an inch from the binding on the inside. Do the same with the back cover. Remember to put the print side of the grocery bag inside, unless you want to advertise where you shop!
  4. Fold the top and bottom along the top and bottom edge of the book. You could mark it or make a beginning fold on top and bottom, take the book off and make a tight fold.
  5. Then slide paper cover over the front and back covers so that the cover is inside the top and bottom folds of your paper cover.
  6. Decorate to taste!

I discovered in writing this that what we did out of necessity and simply using what is available has become “a thing.” Just search “grocery bag book cover” on the internet and you will see! Stores are returning to paper as an alternative to the non-biodegradable plastic. Some people want to protect the dust jackets on their books. Others like that uniform brown bag look on their shelves rather than a riot of conflicting colors.

Then there are the crafters, who love to draw clever designs on the paper, or even use special papers, (a thick wrapping paper is about the same weight as a paper bag or the store bought covers we used to buy).

But don’t do this for your kids, if they still have books they need to cover–they will not forgive you. It’s easy for them to do–and half the fun is letting them decorate, apply stickers, whatever. That’s how we recycled, stretched the budget, and fostered creativity at the same time!

Growing Up In Working Class Youngstown — William Holmes McGuffey

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William Holmes McGuffey, PD-US via Wikimedia

McGuffey is one of those familiar names of Youngstown. McGuffey Road runs from Wick Avenue through the East side and Coitsville Township. On the south side of the road in Coitsville Township is the William Holmes McGuffey Wildlife Preserve, at the location of William Holmes McGuffey’s boyhood home. There used to be a McGuffey Plaza, and later Mall. On the West side, William Holmes McGuffey Elementary was recently opened at 310 S. Schenley.

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McGuffey’s Eclectic First Reader, PD-US via Wikipedia

McGuffey is most famous for his McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers. Generations of children learned how to read and were taught the basics of good character through his readers. Between 1836 and 1960 130 million copies were sold. Some home schoolers still use them!

McGuffey’s connection was that he spent part of his boyhood at the Coitsville homesite. He was born September 23, 1800 in Claysville, Pennsylvania, in Washington County, about 45 mile southwest of Pittsburgh. The family lived briefly in Tuscarawas County, Ohio before moving to Coitsville. As a child, he was educated by Rev. William Wick, who knew his family from when Wick lived in Washington County. Wick taught him Latin as well as using “Webster’s Speller” and Lindley Murray’s English Grammar. It would be interesting to see how much his childhood education influenced his Readers.

He later attended the Greersburg Academy in Darlington, Pennsylvania, and, from 1820 to 1826, Washington College. While a student he was a traveling instructor, teaching for a time in Poland, Ohio. After completing his studies in 1826, he went to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio where he became a professor. It was during this time that he wrote and published his Readers. His home in Oxford, which I’ve seen, is a historic landmark and still in use. In 1836, he became the president of Cincinnati College (now the University of Cincinnati), president of Ohio University in 1839, and then president of the Woodward Free Grammar School in Cincinnati in 1843. In 1845, he moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, where he taught as a professor of philosophy. He died, and was buried there in 1872.

William_McGuffey_House,_front_and_eastern_side

William Holmes McGuffey home in Oxford, Ohio, Nyttend – Own work, Public Domain via Wikipedia

There is an active local William Holmes McGuffey Historical Society in the Mahoning Valley. This group led efforts to set apart the land and place a historic marker in 1966 at the site of his boyhood home. Dr. John R. White, YSU anthropology professor, led a group of students in efforts to identify the original site of McGuffey’s childhood home.

McGuffey was a giant in American educational history, contributing to a highly literate frontier population. He left his mark on three Ohio universities before taking a professorship at one of the country’s prestigious universities. Unlike many in Youngstown history, his impact didn’t come from what he did in Youngstown, but rather how he used the education that began in Youngstown to impact generations of American children.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown –The Sulphur Spring and Spring Water Trough

Sulphur Spring

Sulphur Spring

At one time Mill Creek Park had at least a couple springs that drew people from throughout the area who brought bottles to take the water home to drink. One of these was the Sulphur Spring. The Sulphur Spring was located on the east side of the Mill Creek Gorge below the Idora bridge. Dr. Timothy Woodbridge, who used the Old Log Cabin near Lake Glacier as his medical office, recommended the water as “spa water” to his patients. In a statement given in the July 23, 1900 Vindicator, Volney Rogers said, “I am glad so many persons are visiting this place. We intend to fix up the springs as soon as possible.”

The August 8, 1900 edition of the Vindicator reported, “There is a demand for electric lights, and the Vindicator has been requested that the necessity of such an improvement be called to the attention of the park commissioners.” Apparently people came from early in the morning to late at night to fill bottles with water from the spring, going on hands and knees to grope their way there at night. Crowds brought their own problems though. There were sanitary concerns as many dipped dirty bottles in the spring, making it less palatable for others.

Apparently Dr. Woodbridge’s claims were validated by many people. The August 8, 1900 article goes on to mention, “The water has worked such a world of good to so many people, that they cannot stay away, and the recommend the water cure to all of their friends for anything from an ingrowing toe nail to a broken leg.”

My grandmother swore by the health properties of a different spring, located near Slippery Rock Pavilion, filling a water trough. I remember going with her and my grandfather to fill up jugs of water. She claimed that it cured her of digestive ailments. I tasted some but didn’t think there was anything special about it. In “Mill Creek Park Remembered,” Robert A. Douglas writes, “At the bottom of the hill was the spring water trough. The cold refreshing water cascaded up or flowed down from an unusual faucet. We would always see how high we could make it rise. This was a really natural treat that attracted many people from all around. On hot summer days, people would bring lots of bottles to fill with the cold, clear spring water.”

Volney Rogers foresaw problems when the city decided to channel overflows from storm and sanitary sewers into the park’s waters. With the southward expansion of the city going into Boardman township, Rogers’ fears became reality and problems when high levels of e. coli and other bacteria in the waters made the lakes increasingly unsafe as well as the springs. In 1967, Mayor Anthony Flask recommended substituting city water in all drinking fountains, and subsequently the Sulfur Spring and the water trough at Slippery Rock were capped.

I have no idea why these waters were so popular and believed to have all kinds of curative effects. My grandmother swore by them, as did others I knew growing up. I suspect that whether there was water pollution or not, people today would not have been allowed to fill bottles and consume the water. I suspect liability concerns would have ruled this out. But these springs were yet another feature that made Mill Creek Park an attraction to area residents.