Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — South High School

South High School, circa 1916

It was a time when Youngstown was undergoing explosive growth and particularly expanding south of downtown. Between 1900 and 1920 the population grew from 44,885 to 132,358. In 1910, there was one high school serving the city, The Rayen School. School superintendent N. H. Chaney started leading a campaign to expand the Youngstown City school system.

Architect Charles F. Owsley, the architect for the Mahoning County Courthouse, was employed to design the building. Looking at both buildings, you can see the family resemblance. Metro Monthly has a video online of both exterior details and pictures of the interior of the school. It was a grand building–the auditorium, ceilings, the school offices. The cornerstone was laid in 1909 and the school opened in 1911. The Rayen School had a reputation for excellence, and the opening encountered skepticism that the new school would match Youngstown’s first school for excellence. Superintendent Chaney assured parents of students that would be sent to South High School that they would be prepared just as effectively for life.

Whether the school matched The Rayen School in academics, South quickly proved itself in athletics, defeating Rayen in their first football match 12-0. For many years to come, this would be the major rivalry between Youngstown schools. By 1914 money had been appropriated for a new stadium behind the school. One of the early football stars at South High School under “Busty” Ashbaugh was Chet McPhee, who played at half back, graduating in 1915. After college, he returned to Youngstown to coach at newly established Chaney High School, a new rival for South.

During the flu epidemic of 1918, South High School was converted to an emergency hospital for a time, when existing hospital capacity was overwhelmed. Approximately 380 patients were cared for there, 90 of whom died, including three teachers who had volunteered their services.

Perhaps the most illustrious alumnus of South High School was Edward J. DeBartolo, Sr. in 1927. Judge Nathaniel R. Jones was another South High School grad, who eventually rose to the second highest court in the land. Football players Bob Dove and Fred Mundee as well as Major Generals Wilbur Simlik and Robert Durkin were graduates. In later years, Simeon Booker who wrote on civil rights in Jet Magazine was also a graduate. Joseph Napier, Sr, is another South High grad and Youngstown storyteller. One of his videos recounts “The Youngstown South Nine,” South’s one championship cross country team in 1980. Napier was a member.

Warrior Logo

At Chaney, we went to a lot of games at South’s stadium, one of two serving the high schools in the city. The South High Warriors in their red and blue were often a tough opponent in football and basketball. My other major encounter with South was the field house, from which I graduated. Beyond those experiences, I did not have a lot of contact with South and don’t think I was ever in the building. From the pictures I’ve seen, that was my loss.

Population was the reason South High School was built and it was the reason it closed. As Youngstown’s population shrank in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, Youngstown closed a number of schools. In 1993, the decision was made to close South High School. For a time, a charter school used the facility, Eagle Heights Academy. Eagle Heights Academy came under scrutiny because of poor academic performance and financial irregularities around 2010 and eventually closed. A new school, South Side Academy, took its place, and in 2015 moved out of the South High facility due to dissatisfaction with White Hat Management, who at that time owned the building. South Side moved into the former St. Patrick’s Elementary at 1400 Oakhill, out of which they currently operate.

It is not clear to me whether the South High School building has a tenant at present. The satellite map from this year suggests that the bleachers in the stadium are deteriorating, and I wonder from looking at it about the condition of the roof. If that goes, then the interior will deteriorate quickly. This would be sad–it is a gem of a building and a South Side landmark. And it represents an illustrious history as the city’s second high school, one that launched many students into life.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Snap The Whip

Snap the Whip, Winslow Homer, 1872. Butler Institute of American Art. Public Domain

When I was growing up, I was told this was the most famous painting in the Butler. If it was on display, every school tour stopped to see it. If memory serves, we had a print of the painting hanging in our school library. I can’t say it was, or is, my favorite. That honor goes to Robert Vonnoh’s In Flanders Field. Art tastes are an individual thing! But it does remind me of some of the playground games we played…

Snap the Whip was painted in 1872. It captures a rural scene in post-Civil War America. It is recess from a one-room school house. You can see the teachers (playground monitors!) standing in the distance. The nine boys are barefoot with a variety of hats, suspenders and jackets, in a grassy field (with a few rocks!) sprinkled with wild flowers. The school and field are nestled in a hilly wooded landscape, thought to be somewhere in upstate New York, perhaps near the Hudson Valley or near Easthampton, on Long Island, both places where Homer spent time.

The painting captures a favorite playground game, Snap the Whip. The lead boy runs back and forth causing the line to weave, and then comes the snap, when the boys in the lead plant their feet and everyone tries to hang on with the “snap” of momentum. Two of the nine boys have let go and are tumbling. Will the rest of the line tear apart as some boys plant their feet and others are still striding?

Executive director and chief curator of the Butler, Louis A. Zona says, “Homer was to painting what Mark Twain was to literature. It shows what life was like in America after the Civil War. Homer has captured the wonders of youth at a special moment in time.” The painting captured for people of the time innocence, simplicity, and play in a peaceful setting after so much turmoil. Even today, it recalls a simpler, agrarian day. I suspect in our risk-conscious, litigious society, Snap the Whip would no longer be permitted (at least when adults are around).

The painting featured as one of the most celebrated works at the 1876 Centennial International Exhibition, held in Philadelphia. Joseph G. Butler acquired the painting in 1919, the year the Butler Institute of American Art opened. Butler grew up with William McKinley, with whom he remained friends and about whom he wrote a biography after McKinley’s death. The painting reminded him of their friendship and shared boyhood. There is a second, smaller version of the painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The big difference is that Homer has removed the hills, replacing them with blue sky. My personal opinion is this makes it a less interesting painting. What do you think?

Snap the Whip, Winslow Homer, 1872. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Public Domain.

Winslow Homer lived between 1836 and 1910. Many people consider Snap the Whip to be the greatest work of one of America’s great artists. He was Norman Rockwell before Norman Rockwell. One of Homer’s lesser works, Lost on the Grand Banks, sold in 1998 for approximately $30 million. It makes one wonder about the worth of the painting in the Butler. Hopefully, it never will be sold–the Butler’s own website describes it as “the heart and soul of the Butler’s collection.” I personally think the Butler is the heart and soul of Youngstown–built and funded to this day out of an industrialist’s fortune. If so, the painting is at the heart of this heart, the soul of this soul. Writing this article and looking at the painting makes me want to sit with the actual work the next time I visit Youngstown. And it reminds me of what a treasure we have in the Butler.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Ohio Leather Company

The Ohio Leather Company

The Mahoning Valley is known as the Steel Valley because of all the mills lining the river at one time. There was one stretch of along the Mahoning in Girard that might well have been called “The Leather Valley.” Girard was home to the Ohio Leather Company, which at one time was the largest processor of calf leather in the United States.

The tannery business in Girard traces back to the Krehl Tannery in 1868. They manufactured harness and sole leather. They first developed the chrome tanning process with patents submitted by August Schultz in 1884. They were followed in 1899 by what became the Ohio Leather Company. In that year the Mahoning Leather Company (the name was changed to Ohio Leather a few years later) was started using a new chrome tanning process patented by Joseph Smith. The process shortened the tanning process from four months to ten hours. The business thrived in Smith’s few remaining years, before his death in 1903.

The following year, the Krehl Tannery burned down in a spectacular fire leaving The Ohio Leather Company without a local competitor. The Ohio Leather Company grew to employing 500-600 workers. In 1917 the company declared a 33.3 percent dividend, a hefty return on investment in any era. The company continued to thrive during the 1920’s under president V.G. Lumbard, who joined the company as General Manager, with background as an expert tanning engineer. In 1933, during the Depression, the company was valued at 1,666,143.38 and did most of its business on a cash basis. They even sponsored a Marching Band which performed at the Mahoning Country Club. Throughout this time it was known for its fine leather products including leather gloves.

One of the challenges in the tanning business was the smell which clung to workers’ clothing. After a while the workers didn’t notice it but their families did. The more serious challenge, as in other industries, was the rise of unions seeking better conditions and wages. Workers with 10-15 years experience were laid off in 1934 under the guise of lack of business while new employees remain. Their complaints were not upheld however. By 1936, employment was up to 800 and they were voted an extra week’s bonus pay. This did not quell union activity. In March 1937, they staged a sitdown strike demanding recognition of the Boot, Shoe, & Leather Workers Union. On March 23, Ohio Leather agreed to recognize the union along with raising wages and agreeing to a 40 hour week.

The war brought contracts for manufacturing high quality leather for shoes. By 1943, 8,000 calfskins a day were processed by the plant. The company continued to thrive after the war until the late 1950’s when profits began to slip. The problem continued into the 1960’s and in 1963, Beggs and Cobb of Boston acquired a controlling interest in the company. Then in November of 1968, Talcott National of New York acquired the company as foreign competition further imperiled profits. Conditions worsened, layoffs followed, and finally operations ceased November 1, 1971.

The building stood vacant for the next two and a half decades with several fires occurring, and finally a blaze in 1995 that gutted the building. In the years since, the property has been in litigation with the city of Girard over cleanup of industrial wastes from the tanning processes, which has sought the acquisition of the land for parks and bike and walking trails. By 2013, much of this land had finally been acquired, with additional negotiations ongoing for some adjacent railway property.

Perhaps one day people will walk or cycle through this area. Will they remember when one of the largest leather businesses in the country operated here? At least they won’t have to contend with the smell.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Pat Bilon

Did you know that when E. T. wanted to phone home, he wanted to call Youngstown? At least that was the case for the actor who played E.T.

He was able to play the part because he was 2 foot 10 inches tall and weighed 45 pounds. The E.T. suit, at 40 pounds weighed almost as much as he did. E.T. the Extraterrestrial (1982) was the second movie in which he appeared. The year before, in 1981, he had a part in Under the Rainbow, alongside Chevy Chase, Carrie Fisher, and Eve Arden.

Michael Patrick “Pat” Bilon was born August 29, 1947 and grew up on the West side of Youngstown. His parents were Michael and Esther Patrick Bilon and they lived on South Osborn, off of Mahoning Avenue. He graduated from Ursuline High School in 1965 and then studied speech and drama at Youngstown State, graduating in 1972.

Before his two movie roles, he worked a variety of jobs around Youngstown. He was a bouncer at Wedgewood Lanes Orange Room. He hosted a weekly Ukrainian Radio Hour music show on WKTL radio in Struthers and was the WKBN Kid in their radio and TV promotions. Then he got a job as a radio dispatcher for the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Department. He even participated in undercover operations. Captain Steve Terlecky once said of him, “I’d like to have a dozen more like him. He does a hell of a job for me.”

He was active at St. Anne’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in Austintown. He taught CCD and coached the basketball team for St. Anne’s school. He was also District 5 director for the Little People of America. It was at a national convention for the organization in 1979 that he was recruited for the part of “Little Pat” in the movie Under the Rainbow. That, in turn, led to the E.T. role.

Sadly, his fame was brief. In 1983 he contracted pneumonia. An infection followed and he was admitted to St. Elizabeth’s on the afternoon of January 26, 1983. He died the next morning at 1:08 am, at age 35. He was buried in Calvary Cemetery, mere blocks from his childhood home.

Although he was small in stature and short in lifespan, he was big not only on the silver screen but also around the city. He had to be impressive to succeed as a bouncer and in undercover operations. His faith, his church, and his ethnic community were important to him. He raised money for various local organizations. He never saw his size as a disability but showed how much Little People were capable of. Doesn’t he sound like a guy who grew up in Youngstown?

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Perlee Brush

One of the first things to be done after the very beginnings of a settlement was to build a school and hire a teacher. This was the case in what was then Youngstown Township, where the first school was established by 1805 or sooner. It was a one room log cabin that might have been something like that above (I cannot find any actual renderings) built on Central Square. Most sources say that it was on the site of the Civil War Soldiers Monument.

The first teacher to be hired was Perlee Brush. We know he was teaching by the fall of 1806 because of an account statement dated October 6, 1806 by Robert Montgomery, who lived just east of the village. Brush had obtained from him cloth for a coat and pants for his teaching clothing, and a subsequent purchase on October 17 of thread, linen, and leather for shirts and shoes. This likely represented a good portion of his salary.

Perlee Brush was no mere school teacher. Like many early settlers in the Youngstown area, he was born in Connecticut, a graduate in 1793 of Yale College, and admitted to the bar after reading law in Connecticut. He was fluent in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, as well as trained in the law. When he moved to the Western Reserve, he was admitted to the Trumbull County bar, of which Youngstown was a part at this time.

The school had 20 to 30 students in summer and 40 in the winter. They paid $1.50 a term for the basic instruction in reading, spelling, writing, and arithmetic. The cost of the higher branches of grammar and geography was $2.00 a term.

Brush was succeeded in Youngstown by James Noyes after a few years. He was a “tall, slim man from Connecticut.” In 1818, Jabez Manning took on these duties followed by Phebe Wick, the first woman at this school, in 1820.

Brush, known as “Old Perlee,” not so much for his age as for his wide acquaintanceships, taught in the area for many years in both Hubbard and Poland. He also practiced law in the justice courts and higher courts in Warren.

In 1826, according to Ohio Genealogy Express, he purchased 100 acres of land in Hubbard. A fellow resident gave this description of his farm:

“A small stream, called Yankee Run, flowed through his land, on which there was an old-fashioned carding machine and fulling mill, which he operated for about a year, and then turned his attention to his farm.”

He lived by himself on the farm until, late in life and in failing health, he was cared for by a neighbor. He died in 1852 at the age of 84. By this time, schools had sprung up throughout the area. Public education would come around the middle of the century. Two years after Brush’s death, Judge William Rayen left a Bequest for a public high school, and in 1866, The Rayen School opened. But it all started with “Old Perlee” Brush, who brought his academic training to lowly one-room schoolhouses in the Youngstown area, setting many of the first generation of children in the village on the path to become Youngstown’s future leaders.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Mary Wells Lawrence

By Wells Rich Greene – From my own personal collection called Braniff Flying Colors Collection., CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

“Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz,”

“Quality is Job One”

“I Love New York.”

Many of us will readily recognize those ad campaigns for Alka-Seltzer, Ford, and New York City. What we may not know is that the woman who was responsible for some of the most successful ads in advertising history grew up in Youngstown. She was the woman behind the end of plain planes in her Braniff airlines campaign that included the “Braniff Strip” Superbowl ads. Her team recommended painting the planes in colorful pastels. She was the first woman CEO of a major advertising agency traded on the Big Board of the New York Stock Exchange. In 2020. she was awarded the Cannes Lion Lifetime Achievement, the Lion of St. Mark–the pinnacle of advertising awards. All from a beginning in Youngstown.

This is Women’s History Month, and so it seemed fitting to recognize a famous woman from Youngstown. Mary Wells Lawrence was born Mary Georgene Berg on May 25, 1928. Her father was a furniture maker. From an early age, her mother enrolled her in elocution, music, dance, and drama lessons leading to a lifelong love of theatre, a key element in her advertising work. After a year in New York at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater in New York at 17, she went on to Carnegie Institute of Technology to study merchandising. There, she met her first husband, Burt Wells, an industrial design student. They married and moved to Youngstown, Mary taking a job as a copywriter, the text part of advertising, for McKelvey’s.

A year later, she was the fashion advertising manager for Macy’s in New York. That year, she divorced Burt, who she remarried in 1954. In 1953, she joined an established firm, McCann-Erickson as copywriter and head of the copy group. In 1957, she moved to a more innovative firm, Doyle, Dane, Bernbach as a Vice President after a brief stint with Lennan and Newell. The late 50’s represented a period of prosperity and the explosion of television as a media, and her career took off with it. Then in 1964 Jack Tinker, who she had worked with at McCann-Erickson formed a new firm with Richard Rich and Stuart Greene, and recruited Mary. Their first client was Alka-Seltzer, and Mary and her team came up with the “No Matter What Shape Your Stomach’s In” campaign, which was hugely successful.

The mid-60’s represented a time of major change in her life. She and Burt were divorced for a second time in 1965. Her firm landed the Braniff account mentioned earlier and she landed Harding Lawrence, Braniff’s CEO as her second husband, marrying him in 1967. They were married until his death in 2002. Jack Tinker and Partners made a major blunder in offering her the job of president with a significant pay increase, but without the title, believing having a woman would undermine confidence in the firm. She left to start her own agency, along with Rich and Greene, forming Wells Rich Greene with her as CEO. After she married Lawrence, they had to shed the Braniff account, but there other accounts included TWA, Benson & Hedges, Proctor and Gamble, Bic (“Flick your Bic), Miles Laboratories, Purina, and Midas (“Trust the Midas Touch”). By 1969, she was the highest paid advertising executive. In 1976, the firm had billings of $187 million.

She retired in 1990, selling the firm to a French firm, BDDP. Sadly, that firm ceased operations in 1998. They lacked Mary’s genius. In 2008, she joined Joni Evans, Lesley Stahl, Liz Smith, and Peggy Noonan in forming, a website for women, refocused as, aimed at younger women in 2010. In 2020, Mansion Global reported the listing of her Park Avenue mansion for $27.95 million. She is living at the time of this writing. All in all, not bad for a woman who got her start in Youngstown.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngtown — Monday Musical Club

Two Programs from the Monday Musical Club

It began as the Ladies Mandolin Club in 1896. The name reflected the popularity of the instrument. In the beginning members were auditioned on the basis of their vocal part or musical instrument. Vocalists had to sing an opera aria and classical songs. Meetings included music study. In 1898, the topics included “Women in Music,” “American Composers,” Modern German, Italian, French, and other European Composers,” and “Religious Music.” They also hosted performances, originally in members homes.

By the World War 1 era, they began hosting visiting artists, using venues such as the Park Theatre, The Ohio Hotel, and the Moose Hall. The Moose Hall became a regular venue and in 1921, the Monday Musical Club donated $1000 in appreciation for use of its auditorium. Among the famous musicians hosted over the years were names like Enrico Caruso, Marian Anderson, Kirsten Flagstad, and Rachmaninoff. During this time, the Monday Musical Club encouraged the fledgling efforts of the Youngstown Symphony.

Stambaugh Auditorium was dedicated on December 5, 1926. The Monday Musical Club presented the first concert in the building the next day, on December 6. Stambaugh Auditorium became its permanent home with many concerts selling out with 2,500 in attendance. Miriam Ullman was president for 29 years from 1939-1943 and 1947-1968, leading the organization during some of its greatest years. Over the years, Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, Liberace, Glenn Miller, Debbie Reynolds, Olivia Newton John, Tony Bennett, Art Garfunkel and many more performed at concerts. Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians were frequent performers. Waring was part of the 1975 season, and Adrian Slifka gave this review in The Vindicator:

Only five “old-timers” accompanied the maestro on this 19th visit under the auspices of the local club which is marking its 78th season. Last night’s program was principally a choral program, with the focus on 20 excellent singers and instrumentalists who, Waring said, averaged only 20 years of age.

That season included six concerts: Victor Borge, “Jelly Roll” Morton’s Orchestra, Paul LaValle’s Band of America, Mazowsze Polish Dancers, Fred Waring, and Ferrante and Teicher.

These were once elegant affairs with long gowns but eventually transitioned to more casual attire. By 2012 when Kathy Doyle, who had led the Monday Musical Society for 28 years stepped down, they only sponsored three concerts a year and averaged only around 1000 in attendance. Ticket sales did not meet their rising costs. In 2014, the Monday Musical Board of Directors voted to cease operations after 118 years. Its remaining assets, the Monday Musical Club Fund, under the umbrella of the Youngstown Foundation, are granted to other musical arts initiatives in the Youngstown area.

I heard of the Monday Musical Club when I grew up. It seemed higher society than the circumstances in which I grew up, and the musicians, for the most part weren’t ones I listened to. Little did I realize then the stature of those who they hosted, nor the role they played in encouraging the Youngstown Symphony and establishing Stambaugh Auditorium as a premier music venue. Though the Monday Musical Club has ceased operations, it continues to support the musical arts in Youngstown. Pretty impressive for a group of women who gathered to improve their skills as musicians and host gatherings in homes and music halls!

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

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!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — St James Meeting House

Nyttend, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

It was a joyous day. My friend from college had found love again after having lost his first wife to cancer. They decided to marry at the St. James Meeting House in Boardman Park. We had driven by many times but had never before set foot in this historic building. By modern standards, it is a spartan building with limited restroom facilities downstairs as well as a dressing area for bride and groom. Upstairs, the sanctuary has vintage hardwood floors, a two-level raised chancel with dark red boards, and white walls, white narrow pews, and woodwork. Above the chancel is a gorgeous stain glass window with a central section and two side sections. One of my memories of the wedding was of the afternoon sun shining through the glass onto my friends. As I said, it was a glorious day in a building that looked like it came from a New England town.

In a way it did.

In 1807, a few years after the initial settling of Boardman, the Parish of St. James was established. Henry Boardman, son of Elijah Boardman of Connecticut, after whom the township was named, donated land, money, and some of the materials for the building. St. James Episcopal Church was built in 1827 and 1828 and consecrated in 1829 by the first Episcopal bishop of the diocese of Ohio, Philander Chase. It was the first Episcopal parish and church in the Western Reserve. The belfry and steeple, which add so much to the building, were added in 1882. The stained glass windows were also added during this renovation.

The building was sited just south of the Boardman town center on the east side of Market Street. A moment’s thought will remind you that this is where Southern Park Mall (or what is left of it) is located along with various outbuildings (Chili’s Restaurant and Bar now occupies the site of the church). In 1970, the Edward J. DeBartolo Company developed the land behind the church into the mall. With the area around it being commercialized, the congregation built a new facility on Glenwood Avenue into which it moved in 1971. It looked like this venerable old building, then 144 years old was slated for demolition. The diocese deconsecrated the building. Briefly, there was talk of moving it to the Pioneer Village at the Canfield Fairgrounds, but that was too costly.

Then the Boardman Historical Society, under the leadership of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Masters and Mr. and Mrs. George Marks, started a drive to move the building to Boardman Park, just down the road. They overcame legal difficulties with the deed and raised $45,000 to move the building down Route 224 to the park. Now it is the central structure in a collection of historic buildings that include the Beardsley-Walter-Diehm House (circa 1828), the Oswald Detchon House (circa 1840), and the Schiller-Chuey Summer Kitchen. In 1979 the building was added to National Register of Historic Places. Supported by the Ohio Bicentennial Commission, The Longaberger Company, The Boardman Historical Society, and The Ohio Historical Society, an Ohio Historical Society marker was erected for the building in 2001.

These days, weddings are the primary events at what is now the St. James Meeting House. It is a popular wedding site, normally averaging 300 weddings a year. Prices are surprisingly reasonable, listed at the time of writing at $170 for Boardman residents and $254 for non-residents. The building can seat 125. This includes a two hour wedding and an hour rehearsal. Groups interested in touring this historic landmark may schedule a tour by calling the Park District office at 330-726-8107, Monday through Friday, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (subject to COVID restrictions).

The building costs about $9,000 a year to maintain, $7,000 of which is defrayed by wedding fees. In September of 2020, the building received a fresh coat of paint. This year, the building, considered the oldest existing church building on the Western Reserve will turn 193 years old. The year 2022 will mark 50 years on the Boardman Park site and 2028 its bicentennial. Obviously, Henry Boardman and the people of St. Mark’s built well and it is to the credit of the people of Boardman, Boardman Park and the Boardman Historical Society, that this piece of Youngstown area history has been preserved so well. One hopes it always will be.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Canfield, the First County Seat

Old Mahoning County Courthouse in Canfield, Ohio. Photo: Robert C. Trube, all rights reserved

Unless you grew up in Canfield, it is likely that your first visit to Canfield was to go to the Canfield Fair. That was true for me. It was a memorable night with my dad–the rides, the animal barns, footlong hotdogs, and to top it all off, while we waiting to turn left into our street coming home, a drunk rear-ended us! Nobody was hurt, but the rear end of my dad’s ’61 Ford Galaxie was crumpled.

The fair came nearly 50 years after the first settlers from Connecticut settled in what was then Township 1, Range 3, shortly after it was surveyed in 1798. Six people purchased shares in the 16,324 acres making up the township. The largest share, 6,171 acres, was purchased by Judson Canfield. After briefly calling the township Campfield, they early settlers saw sense and on April 15, 1800, they voted to call it Canfield in honor of the largest landowner.

The earliest settlers were all from Connecticut. They included Judson Canfield who was there in June of 1798, two of the surveyors, Samuel Gilson and Joseph Pangburn, and Champion Minor with his wife and two children, the youngest dying shortly after they arrived. The center of town was laid out, a log cabin and two homes were built and a barn. They also cut an east-west road, what is now Route 224. Groups from Connecticut added to the settlement each of the next several years.

In 1801, the first business, a sawmill, was built on the northeast part of the townshipThe first birth occurred June 22, 1802, Royal Canfield Chidester. Herman Canfield (Judson’s brother) and Zalmon Fitch operated a store. Fitch also opened a tavern. A small school was started in a combined school, community center and church building with Caleb Palmer as teacher. Samuel Gilson handled mail delivery, traveling back and forth to Pittsburgh to get the mail. By 1805, the little settlement had 17 homes, a store, a school and a sawmill. Immigrants from Germany came in 1805. A significant later immigration of Irish Catholics in 1852 augmented the population.

Canfield was originally on the southern edge of Trumbull County (along with Youngstown, Poland, Boardman, Austintown, and the all the Township 1s and 2s in the southern part of Trumbull County, the county seat of which was Warren. In the 1840’s communities like Youngstown and Canfield were growing because of routing of canals and railroads through the area, even while the county was represented by people from the Warren area in the state legislature. Finally, in 1842, Eben Newton, one of Canfield’s leading citizens was elected to the legislature. Working together with others, a proposal creating Mahoning County as Ohio’s 83rd county passed in the state legislature on February 16, 1846. The southern two tiers of townships from Trumbull County were combined with the northern tier of Columbiana County (surveyed as 6 x 6 mile squares as opposed to the 5 x 5 system used throughout the Western Reserve).

And Canfield? Because of its central location in the new county, it was designated county seat, with the courthouse in the photograph above being erected. The town underwent a boom as it became the center to transact legal business, with its hotel thriving. County seats are typically the sites of the annual county fair, and the first Canfield Fair was held October 5, 1847 as a one day event. In 1851 the Fair moved to its present location, which was expanded in 1867. The first superintendent of the fair was J.W. Canfield, grandson of Canfield’s founder.

Canfield was the agricultural heart of the county, so this made sense. But Youngstown had never been happy about the decision to site the county seat in Canfield. Youngstown was going through its first industrial boom, starting in the 1840’s, and especially in the 1860’s during the Civil War. In 1874, a bill to move the county seat to Youngstown passed in the state legislature. The bill was challenged in court, first argued in Canfield with James A. Garfield representing Canfield. The case eventually went to the Ohio Supreme Court, with the court upholding the bill.

The move of the county seat to Youngstown meant a different future for Canfield, combining the feel of a farming community with Classical Revival architecture, giving the community a sense of refinement–a community of schools and churches. In 1881, the Northeastern Ohio Normal School was established in Canfield to educate teachers for the community. It operated until 1910 when it closed for lack of funds.

For most of the year, Canfield is known as a quiet, relatively affluent city of good schools, a town square that retains its historic character, and a diverse mix of restaurants and local businesses. But for one week of every year, the rest of the county, as well as people from far and wide come to the largest county fair in Ohio. That’s how most of us growing up in Youngstown discovered Canfield.

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