Growing Up In Working Class Youngstown — The Hopeful Gardener

Seedlings under lights.

Seeds saved from the best plants.

Waiting, waiting,

For soil to dry,

For the season’s final frost.

Waiting, waiting,

Until the soil can be worked,

The rich, humousy smell.

Waiting, waiting,

For peas, spinach, and lettuce,

Then sweet and spicy peppers,

Beefsteak tomatoes for sandwiches,

And Romas for sauce,

Eggplant and zucchini coming out your ears.

Waiting, waiting,

For the color of annuals.

Morning glories climbing strings,

Petunias, marigolds, salvia, and zinnias.

All the colors of the rainbow,

The pungent smell of fresh mulch.

Waiting, waiting,

For the hopes of spring planting

To become the fruit of summer.

Review: Iron Valley

iron Valley

Iron Valley, Clayton J. Ruminski. Columbus: Trillium (an imprint of The Ohio State University Press), 2017.

Summary: A history of iron-making in the Mahoning Valley during the nineteenth century from the earliest blast furnace to the advances in furnaces and other technology, leading to the transition to steel-making.

Those of us who grew up in the Mahoning Valley during the middle of the twentieth century often referred to it as the Steel Valley, a name that still lingers. Clayton J. Ruminski’s book new history of iron-making in the Mahoning Valley during the nineteenth century reminds us that in the words of the title, it was the Iron Valley before it ever became the Steel Valley.

The work begins in 1802 and the Heaton family’s early efforts, beginning with the Hopewell furnace in Struthers, to do small scale charcoal fueled, iron-making. The problem was how rapidly, even when mixing in coal from nearby deposits, the fuel source of hardwood trees was depleted. Transportation, as well as fuel, limited growth in this period. The second phase, beginning in 1840 and running up to 1856 was marked by the discover of significant “block coal” deposits at Brier Hill (it was often called Brier Hill coal) and elsewhere in the area. The heating characteristics meant that it could be used directly as a fuel, dispensing with the need for charcoal. New furnaces were opened at Brier Hill by the Tod family, and elsewhere along the Valley. Alongside these, the first rolling mills and puddling mills grew up to process the pig iron into finished products (instead of the pig iron being sent to mills outside the Valley). The Pennsylvania and Ohio Canal helped develop commerce during this period with the transport of both raw materials and finished products.

Between 1856 and 1865, the growth of railroads and the Civil War brought about a further expansion of iron manufacturing. During this figure, well known figures like David Tod, Jonathan Warner, John Stambaugh, Henry Wick, William Butler, and James Ward emerged as key leaders. Furnaces grew larger and production expanded making Youngstown into a pig iron center. This was followed by a period of expansion and depression from 1865 to 1879. Westward railroad growth led to expanded facilities to meet demand, followed by bankruptcy of many smaller merchant iron firms during the Panic of 1873. Subsequently control of the iron industry was consolidated under a few major Youngstown area families.

The decision of Valley owners to focus on iron production while other nearby cities started making steel led to both a leading role in supplying high quality pig iron for finished iron and steel makers, and continuing pressure as steel replaced iron during the period between 1879 and 1894. Mills went obsolete, more Bessemer converters were erected and the first steel mill was opened. The last period covered by the book describes the transition, finally to steel, the end of the merchant iron plants and the consolidation of manufacturing under the familiar names of Republic Steel, United States Steel, and Youngstown Sheet and Tube, and a handful of others.

This book traces the opening of various furnaces, the rise of different companies, the advance of technology, the changing picture of the use and transport of both raw and finished products and the key individuals involved in the iron industry throughout this history. It describes the different areas within the Valley from Warren through Girard, Mineral Ridge, Brier Hill, Youngstown, Struthers, Lowellville, along Crab Creek and Mosquito Creek and up in Hubbard. Lesser attention is given to developments in the neighboring Shenango Valley, which had its own history.

It is a text that combines readability and academic rigor and precision. We have both thumbnail biographies of key figures and lots of technical explanation, history of various companies, and production statistics. Woven throughout are photographs of different furnaces and mills, individuals and groups of workers, many from local archives. Maps in the text and after matter trace the locations and developments of iron furnaces and mills. The text also provides a table of iron and steel sites, their years of production, and the changing ownership during their life. This is valuable as a reference as one reads about different sites and companies operating, keeping track of which can be difficult.

Much has been written about the steel industry in Youngstown. This work helps us understand how the preceding iron industry shaped the contours of the subsequent industry in the Mahoning Valley as well creating the rail, manufacturing, and workforce infrastructure that made that industry possible. It is an indispensable work for anyone who wants to understand the local history of the Mahoning Valley, and as a vignette of the nineteenth century iron industry in a growing country.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Sandra Lee Scheuer

Sandra Lee Scheuer

Sandra Lee Scheuer, undated photograph, source unknown.

This past week marked another May 4th. Not Star Wars day for me, but the 48th anniversary of the shootings at Kent State the took the lives of four students and wounded nine. This year, the site of the shootings was designated a National Historic Landmark. During the mid- 1980’s, I worked in collegiate ministry with students at Kent and walked the grounds where the shootings occurred. Apart from evidence of bullet ricochets in a statue if one looked closely, you would not know the tragedy that unfolded here on May 4, 1970, as students demonstrated here, and on many campuses against the expansion of the Vietnam war into Cambodia. In the mid-1980’s, it seemed there was a studied effort by campus and town to distance itself from the memory of these events. I’m glad for more recent efforts to ensure that the four who died will not be forgotten: Bill Schroeder, Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, and Sandra Lee Scheuer.

I was not quite sixteen at the time of the shootings, a sophomore at Chaney High School. When we returned to school after the shootings, I remember how stunned all of us were. It did not seem that you could find words. There was fear as we heard some adults say, “they should have shot more.” My hair was kind of long then, and I wondered if some would have said or thought that of me.

I was hit particularly hard because one of those shot was Sandra Lee Scheuer, who was born in Youngstown and graduated from Boardman High School. Sandra was twenty years old at the time, an honors student in speech therapy. I didn’t know her, but the fact that she was from the Youngstown area and how she died shook me, and troubles me to this day. She was walking to a mid-term exam with another student, across a parking lot, at 12:25 pm when a group of National Guardsmen 130 yards away turned and fired toward a group of students in the vicinity of the parking lot. When I later walked the ground, I was stunned by how far away the students were who died from the guardsmen who fired–more than a football field away. They were not an imminent threat. Sandra Scheuer was not even involved in the demonstration. A round severed her jugular vein and she died within minutes. Tom Grace, wounded in the ankle, was in the same ambulance as Sandy as paramedics attempted to keep her alive. They could not.

Map of Kent State"Location Map May 4-Shooting" 08780_2005_001

Map of Site of Shootings at Kent State University via National Archives. (Note the distance between the lower left where Guards fired and where Sandy Scheuer fell in the upper right.)


I wonder if we will ever truly know why that particular group of Guard troops turned and fired. What we do know is that the world lost a wonderful young woman in Sandy Scheuer. Speech therapy is a tough academic discipline and to be an honor student requires intelligence and hard work, and a rapport with the people you work with.

Bruce Burkland, who had been going with Sandy for five years before her death, wrote in a letter to The Vindicator:

“To begin to describe what a beautiful person Sandy was would take forever, but there is one thing I want people to know about her which is that Sandy was not a reactionary student and was not involved in the demonstrations at Kent State. Sandy was not the type to cause or incite such events, but rather she always spread joy, happiness and laughter in people’s hearts wherever she went. She was the ultimate of life, especially of my life.”

It is significant that he would emphasize her not being a reactionary or a demonstrator. She was apparently accused wrongly of both, as if this would justify her death. She was neither, but simply a good student, an Alpha Xi Delta sorority sister with ambitions to try to make the world a better place by helping young people with speech and hearing impairments. Others described her as not the least bit political.

We never got to see the life she would live, only hints of what it might have been. But she has been memorialized at Kent State, and in song and poetry. I only recently learned that these words in Neil Young’s “Ohio” are a reference to Sandy:

“What if you knew her,
And found her dead on the ground?
How can you run when you know?”

Canadian poet Gary Geddes also memorialized her in a poem, Sandra Lee Scheuer in 1980. He tells the story of the poem in this article in North by Northwest.

Harvey Andrews also wrote a song called “Hey Sandy” that asks:

“Hey Sandy, Hey Sandy, why were you the one?
All the years of growing up are wasted now and gone.
Did you see them turn, did you feel the burn
Of the bullets as they flew?”

You can listen to the song with the full lyrics here. The problem with this song is that it implies that Sandy was part of the demonstrations, which was not true. The song would have been more powerful, in my view, if it told the true story of how she was simply a good student in the wrong place at the wrong time, and posed the question of how students so far away posed any threat.

When I think of the Kent State shootings, I not only think of the protests against an ill-conceived war in which old men were sending young men to die without a clear mission. I not only think of the day when we awoke to the unthinkable that our government would use those weapons of war on campuses where we assumed our children would be safe. I think of the day when one of Youngstown’s own, an innocent victim, died on the way to take an exam. Sandra Lee Scheuer, I never knew you. But I will always remember…

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Where We Came From


1910 Census Record for the German Orphan (Protestant) Asylum via FamilySearch

In a number of these posts I’ve written about some of the early families who came to Youngstown and where they came from–towns in Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania and elsewhere. Recently, my sister-in-law emailed about our own family roots. I knew some of this but had a lot of question marks. She’s a realtor, and pretty resourceful when it comes up to searching for information. She filled in a few gaps and sparked my own curiosity that led to filling in a couple more. It also left me with some new questions.

I always knew that my grandfather had grown up in an orphanage in Pittsburgh and was pretty sure his father’s name was George. I didn’t know the name of his wife or why my grandfather and his brother Jack and sister Mary ended up in an orphanage. My sister-in-law confirmed that my great grandfather’s name was George, he was born in Kentucky, and my great grandmother was named Mathilde, born in Pennsylvania and deceased young sometime after the birth of her last child.  A 1910 census record at a genealogy site listed all the residents (forty-seven) at the orphanage where my grandfather grew up, including my grandmother and four siblings (there was also an Ernest and an Emma). It was listed as the German Orphan (Protestant) Asylum.

I remembered my grandfather taking me there one day as a child but had no idea where it was. Some sleuthing confirmed that it was the German Protestant Orphan Asylum, located in Mount Lebanon. I was able to match up the superintendent (or matron) of the orphanage listed on the census with a listing in the Directory of the Philanthropic Agencies of the City of Pittsburgh. We don’t know, but we suspect that my great grandfather, faced with raising five young children on his own after his wife’s death decided that this was too much, and placed them in the orphanage.

My sister-in-law also found my grandfather’s 1917 draft card. By that time, he was working in an ammunition factory run by Standard Steel Can in Butler, Pennsylvania. At this time, his father George is listed as still living, residing in Etna, Pennsylvania. My grandfather married shortly after this time and moved to Warren, Ohio where his brother also lived. My father was born in Warren in 1920. A census record from 1940 showed that my grandparents, my dad and his brother had moved to the West side of Youngstown, living in the duplex across the street on North Portland Avenue from where we grew up and my parents lived for 65 years. This was a fact I had not been aware of! At that time my grandfather is listed as a bakery supervisor, probably at the Wonder Bakery plant down the street on Mahoning Avenue. I remember him talking about driving a delivery truck for the bakery and wonder if this is what brought him to Youngstown. Later on, he sold insurance for the Prudential and moved to the South Side.

Looking at the 1940 census records, I realized that there must be one in the same batch for my mother since she and her family lived on South Portland. She was 20 at the time and listed as a “new worker.” My grandfather on my mom’s side is listed as a policeman with the steel mills (I believe U.S. Steel). A year later, my mom and dad were married, less than six months before Pearl Harbor.

All the things my sister-in-law uncovered filled in some gaps and raised some questions as well. I have no memory of my grandfather’s brother Ernest, and very little of Emma. I wonder what brought his father’s family to Kentucky and how George and Mathilde ended up in Pittsburgh. I suspect work had something to do with it. I’m still not sure why my grandparents started out in Warren or exactly when they moved to Youngstown. I wonder how much my grandfather and his father stayed in touch after he was placed in the orphanage. Apparently my grandfather knew where his father was living to list him as next of kin. And we still don’t know who George’s father was and where he came from. Likely from somewhere in Germany.

Germany-Kentucky–Pittsburgh–Mt. Lebanon–Butler–Warren–Youngstown. That’s the path that my father’s family took to get to Youngstown. I hope I haven’t bored you with these efforts to learn more about our family history. Maybe it has sparked an interest to discover the path your family took and how it ran to or through Youngstown. Like many of you, our family is now scattered around the country. And like you, Youngstown was a significant part of our family history, as well as the place of my birth.

My sister in law did a good part of her research on FamilySearch, a free genealogy website that I’ve used for other research on Youngstown families. It just hadn’t occurred to me to use it to look into my own family roots! This was where she accessed census and other records connected with my grandfather and his siblings.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Reverend William Wick


Helen Chapel of the First Presbyterian Church, By Nyttend [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

“In Youngstown, the name ‘Wick’ is a synonym for fiscal integrity and unusual ability, for high character, and for public spiritedness.” — Joseph G. Butler.

Two Wick brothers were among the very earliest to settle in Youngstown and the Wick name not only runs through the city as Wick Avenue, but also the city’s history. Henry and William Wick were both born to Lemuel and Deborah (Lupton) Wick. In this post, I will focus on the older brother, William, who established the first congregation in the Western Reserve, First Presbyterian Church, at the corner of Wick and Wood Street, just across Wick Avenue from its present location.

Reverend Wick was born on Long Island July 29, 1768. The family later moved to Washington County, Pennsylvania. He was educated at Washington and Jefferson College in nearby Canonsburg. He married Elizabeth McFarland, daughter of a Revolutionary War colonel on April 21, 1791. They started out married life on a Washington County farm. They would eventually have eight sons and three daughters. William Watson Wick, their eldest, served as a congressman from Indiana.

Wick read theology in the “Cannonsburg Academy,” a log cabin school presided over by a Dr. McMillan, who persuaded him of the need for preachers on the growing frontier. He completed his studies and was licensed to preach on August 28, 1799. He accepted calls to two churches in Mercer County, Hopewell and Neshannock in 1800. The Presbytery of Ohio released him from the Neshannock call so that he could begin ministry in the Western Reserve in 1801, the first permanent minister in the Western Reserve, receiving support both from the Presbytery and the Connecticut Missionary Society (remember that it was the Western Reserve of Connecticut), along with Joseph Badger.

One of the families that moved to nearby Coitsville Township at the same time was that of William Holmes McGuffey, whom Wick knew from Washington County. McGuffey received his early education from Wick, and one wonders how much he influenced the McGuffey Readers. Wick educated him in Latin as well as using “Webster’s Speller” and Lindley Murray’s English Grammar

Reverend Wick divided his time between the church in Youngstown and the Hopewell congregation. The ministerial life was hard and his health had been delicate even during his years on the farm. In October 1814 a severe cold weakened his lungs. He continued ministering through the winter, his health continuing to fail. He preached his last sermon on February 13, 1815 but address them in his home until he died, March 29, 1815.

At his request, he was buried in Youngstown. On his tombstone, it is noted that he preached one thousand five hundred and twenty-two sermons and married fifty-six couples. The Youngstown church grew rapidly, thanks to an awakening of religious interest in 1803.

First Presbyterian Church continues to this day, it’s tall white spire overlooking downtown Youngstown from the bluffs to the north. I wonder if Reverend Wick would have thought his little log cabin church would still be ministering to the spiritual needs of people in Youngstown over 200 years later?

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Hopewell Furnace

Hopewell Furnace

Hopewell Furnace, Source: Remarkable Ohio

It all began here, as far as iron and steel making in the Mahoning Valley goes. In 1802, the same year that Youngstown was incorporated, James and Daniel Heaton (they later changed their name to Eaton) built an iron furnace along Yellow Creek, below Lake Hamilton, in present day Struthers. It was known as the Hopewell Furnace. It was the first such furnace in Ohio, which became a state the next year, and the first west of the Alleghenies, according to Dr. John R. White (who I had as a professor in several classes at YSU), who excavated the site over three seasons beginning in 1975.

Nearby deposits of kidney iron and coal, forests and that could be converted to charcoal, along with a water source, provided the necessary ingredients for the first iron blast furnace. White asserts that it is the first furnace to use a combination of bituminous coal and charcoal in the New World.  It was first “blown” in 1803 and the smelting operation produced approximately two tons of iron per day during the 275 days a year or so it could operate outside the winter season. The iron was cast onsite into Dutch ovens, kettles, skillets, trivets, andirons, stove parts and hearth grates. These were sold not only to local residents in the growing community but also in nearby Pittsburgh. The furnace became the leading employer in its immediate vicinity and was instrumental in the founding of Struthers.

“Hopewell” expressed the Eaton brothers optimism for this new enterprise. Unfortunately, both competition and depletion of a key resource led to the end of iron-making at this site by 1808. In 1806, John Struthers (after whom Struthers is named) and Robert Montgomery opened another furnace a little ways downstream. This furnace used a more efficient “blast” using water wheels and fans. In 1807 Eaton sold the Hopewell furnace and related interests for $5600 to Montgomery, Clendenin, & Co., who operated it until the following year. By this time the hardwood forests that provided the key ingredient for charcoal had been used up. The Montgomery furnace downstream operated until 1812.

The Eaton family went on to build the Maria Furnace in Niles in 1813 and the Mill Creek Furnace, in present day Mill Creek Park, some time around 1830 and it operated up until around 1850. Around this time, a new, high quality form of coal, known as block coal was found in the Brier Hill area and resulted in a new boom of iron making in the Mahoning Valley, paving the way for the later emergence of steel, stronger and more flexible in the late 1800’s.

It all began in 1802 at Hopewell Furnace. Access to critical resources, growing markets, and a workforce all played a part. Although Hopewell Furnace only operated for about six years, it was a rehearsal for an industry that would shape the life of the Mahoning Valley for the next 175 years.


Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Smoky Hollow


Harrison Common – Smoky Hollow – Pergola. Photo by Jack Pearce [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr

I’ve always been fascinated by the name. Smoky Hollow. Sounds a bit mysterious. Atmospheric. The last was literally so at one time. There often was a veil of smoke over the area in early years due to the nearby Mahoning Valley Iron Company.

The area was once the property of the James Wick family. As mills grew up along Crab Creek in the late 1800’s, immigrants densely settled the nearby neighborhoods with homes where you could read the neighbor’s newspaper through the side window, or even closer in row houses. While immigrants moved there from a number of countries, the Italian community dominated by the 1920’s. There were stores with names on them like Nazurini, Lariccia, Tucci, Gaglione, DeBartolo, Cianello, Conti, and Diciacomo. An early business that has survived to this day is Cassese’s MVR Club. Edward J. DeBartolo, Sr., shopping mall developer was born here in 1919. Jack Warner and Dom Roselli also grew up here.


Harrison Common, The Smoky Hollow Granite Map. Photo by Jack Pearce [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr (site includes a legend of identifiable structures)

The neighborhood is bordered by Wick Avenue on the west, the US 422 freeway on the north and east, and Rayen Avenue and Oak Street on the South. In our childhoods, both my wife and I attended churches on the edge of Smoky Hollow. We went to Tabernacle United Presbyterian Church, at the corner of Wood and Walnut until the congregation relocated to Austintown in 1968. My wife’s family went to Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church, just down Wood Street, and my wife went to the school next to the church through eighth grade. Many of her classmates lived in Smoky Hollow. For a time, my father worked nearby at the Raymond Concrete Pile plant along Andrews Avenue.

From the 1970’s on, the neighborhood declined, especially after the mill closures and a number of homes were vacant and razed. The vacancies combined with the growth of Youngstown State has resulted in the beginnings of redevelopment in the area. University classroom buildings, a parking garage, and apartments were built east of Wick Avenue.

Wick Neighbors, Inc in cooperation with St. John’s Episcopal Church, Youngstown State and the City of Youngstown developed a plan for the redevelopment of the area. One of the first parts of the plan to be completed was the creation of Harrison Common Park in 2011, across the street from the MVR, using a combination of $4 million in public funds and private donations. The park features a brick-paved plaza, a pergola donated by the Rotary Club, landscaping, and a large playing field. There is also a pizza/bread oven, reminiscent of the backyard ovens many early Youngstown residents used for baking bread and pizza-making. There is an inlaid, granite plat map of the Smoky Hollow area from 1920 to 1940.


Bread Oven at Harrison Common. Photo by Jack Pierce [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr

Other improvements in the area include road and infrastructure improvements on Walnut Street and the major improvements made on Wick Avenue. Long term development includes plans for housing and attracting businesses to the Smoky Hollow area. In 2014 Wick Neighbors, Inc. merged into Youngstown CityScape, which continues under the latter name.

To visit the area is to be reminded of a once vibrant neighborhood of small groceries and other businesses, densely packed housing and a vibrant neighborhood life. Now most of the houses are gone. The MVR lives on. Much of Smoky Hollow’s life is connected to the university. Harrison Common Park suggests the center of what could be a new vibrant community in the future. When that future will come and what that will look like remains to be seen. Until then the name reminds us of the place that once was. Smoky Hollow.

[Like some other names in Youngstown, some add an “e” to the name, making it Smokey Hollow. I chose the usage I found in The VindicatorWikipedia, and Youngstown CityScape.]


Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Daniel Shehy (Sheehy)

Daniel Shehy Cabin

An illustration of the cabin erected by Daniel Shehy, From History of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, Ohio, Volume 1, By Joseph Green Butler

Who was the first settler of Youngstown (other  than native peoples)? The standard answer of course is John Young who surveyed the land, purchased the township, platted the initial settlement, and built the first cabin near Spring Common. This has been disputed by a descendant of Daniel Shehy who contends that Young never lived in Youngstown, nor built the first cabin. Clarence A. Horton writes:

“After purchasing the land Daniel Shehy began at once to construct Youngstown’s first cabin along the river on it’s north-eastern side at a point which later became known as Edgewood Street and Truesdale Avenue. The cabin was made of rough logs about 16 by 20 feet, one story and all in one room.” (As quoted in Howard C. Aley, A Heritage to Share, p. 31).

Daniel Shehy (while it is often rendered “Sheehy”, a descendant wrote me to assert the spelling with the single “e”) without question was one of the first settlers. Born in 1756 in Tipperary, Ireland, he fled to America during the Revolution when two near relatives were executed for opposition to government policies. He joined John Young enroute to survey the township lands Young had agreed to purchased, subject to survey. He had $2,000 in gold to invest and agreed to purchase 1000 acres of land, 400 on the east side of the Mahoning, 600 on the west. Shehy and Young ended up in a land dispute when it appeared that Young sold the land Shehy had agreed to buy to a subsequent purchaser. It took two trips to Connecticut to resolve the question (Youngstown was part of Connecticut’s Western Reserve lands). The dispute even landed Shehy in jail and fined $25 for threats against Young.

Some contend that the settlement of the dispute, granting him the 400 acres east of the Mahoning, came when Shehy’s wife Jane named a son John Young Shehy. Daniel and Jane met July 4, 1797 when Shehy, Young, and James Hillman went to nearby Beavertown, Pennsylvania, to celebrate the holiday. They married the same year and had a number of children.

Beyond being one of the first, if not the first settler and presumably farming the land he finally gained title to, Shehy doesn’t appear to play a major role beyond appearing in an early list of taxpayers. The Reverend Thomas Martin celebrated the first Catholic services in Youngstown in their home in 1826.  His cabin appears in a famous horse race between Youngstown and Warren for the county seat of what was then a single county, Trumbull County. The Youngstown horse, Fly, won and kept running for a mile past the finish to Shehy’s cabin. For some reason, Warren still got the county seat.

Daniel Shehy died January 20, 1834, survived by Jane until 1856. His name endures on Shehy Street, on the east side, running from Wilson Avenue to Oak Street south of Himrod. Along with James Hillman and other early Youngstown residents, he is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.

If some family descendants or others up on Youngstown history can add to this account, please leave comments here. Shehy was a key figure in Youngstown history but there is little more written about him that I could find than is written here.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Emmet M. Walsh


Bishop Walsh in the Oval Office with President Truman (7th from left). Photo by Abbie Rowe. Public Domain via Wikipedia.

Fifty years ago this month the Most Reverend Emmet Michael Walsh, Bishop of Youngstown passed away on March 16, 1968. Over 1500 clergy, religious, seminarians, and laypersons attended his funeral mass on March 23, 1968 at the Cathedral of St. Columba. He was later laid to rest in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston, where he had served as Bishop of Charleston before coming to Youngstown.

He was born in Beaufort, South Carolina March 6, 1892, ordained in 1916, serving parishes in Atlanta, Albany, and Savannah,  Georgia before his appointment as Bishop of Charleston in 1927 by Pope Pius XI. At the time of his consecration as the sixth bishop of Charleston, Emmet Walsh, at age 35, was the youngest member of the Catholic hierarchy in the United States. He exercised vigorous leadership in this role, establishing 25 new parishes and four new hospitals in a southern diocese in a predominantly Protestant religious culture. He also served in the leadership of the National Catholic Welfare Conference Legal Department and served as the secretary of the Bishop’s Meeting at the Catholic University of America.

In 1949, Pope Pius XII named him the Coadjutor Bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown and titular bishop of Rhaedestus, Turkey, to assist its aging Bishop James A. McFadden, the first Bishop of the Diocese. During this time, in 1951, President Truman appointed him to the Internal Security and Individual Rights Commission, a body formed to combat Communism, a significant concern in this period (the photo above is of his swearing in to the Commission).

When Bishop McFadden died in 1952, he was appointed the second Bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown in 1952. One of the first challenges he faced was the terrible fire that destroyed the first Cathedral of St. Columba in September of 1954. He oversaw the construction of the new St. Columba’s which was dedicated in 1958.

This was a period of rapid growth both of the city and the Diocese. A number of new parishes were formed throughout the Diocese, which extends west to Akron and Canton. Among the parishes formed in Youngstown during his tenure were St. Christine’s on the west side of Youngstown, Immaculate Heart of Mary in Austintown, and St. Michael’s in Canfield. On September 23, 1956 Bishop Walsh presided over the dedication ceremonies for Cardinal Mooney High School, which had reached an enrollment of 600 in its first year, and has educated thousands in the subsequent 62 years, including my wife. He led a three year funding drive, working with Father James Malone, then the Superintendent of Schools, who would eventually succeed him as Bishop.

In 1957, the Brothers of Christian Instruction were looking for a new location for La Mennais College, a liberal arts college for men. Through connections with Monsignor William Hughes, then principal at Cardinal Mooney, they received permission to open a new college in the Canton area. When they discovered that their proposed name, Canton College, was taken, they decided to name the institution, now know as Walsh University after Bishop Walsh.

Bishop Walsh attended the Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965. At the funeral mass for Bishop Walsh, The Most Reverend Paul F. Tanner described him as “years ahead of his time in concerted efforts by Catholic Bishops.” In both the Diocese of Charleston and the Diocese of Youngstown, there are vibrant parishes, educational institutions, and health care facilities that trace their beginnings to Bishop Walsh. He presided of the rebuilding of the beautiful Cathedral of St. Columba that looks out over the valley and gave good service to diocese, church, and country during his tenure in Youngstown.

Well done, servant of God. Requiescat in pace.


Wikipedia: Emmet M. Walsh

Find a Grave: Rev Bishop Emmet Michael Walsh

The Vindicator: “Years Ago” – Bishop Emmet Michael Walsh Funeral

Walsh University: Our Foundation: Then and Now

Cardinal Mooney Newsletter: “Cardinal Mooney Celebrates Its 60th Anniversary!”

Review: Voices from the Rust Belt

Voices from the Rust Belt

Voices from the Rust BeltAnne Trubek ed. New York: Picador, (forthcoming April 3) 2018.

Summary: A collection of essays from those living, or who have lived, in Rust Belt cities from Buffalo to Chicago, and Flint, Michigan to Moundsville, West Virginia.

I grew up in the archetypal Rust Belt town of Youngstown and write about that experience (you can find all my posts in the “On Youngstown” category on my blog). I left before it acquired the Rust Belt name, in 1976. Back then, it was the “industrial heartland” until the industrial part was gutted in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. I witnessed the effects in three of the cities I’ve lived in, Toledo, Cleveland, and Youngstown, and so was naturally interested in reviewing this collection of essays from those with connections to the Rust Belt cities of the Midwest, from Chicago to Buffalo.

The book is organized into four sections, the first of which was “Growing Up,” which coincidentally opens with an essay from a fellow Youngstown native, Jacqueline Marino. She writes of childhood visits to her grandmother on South Pearl St, covering her mouth as she crossed the Market Street Bridge near the steel mills, and then the changes she saw in her grandmother’s neighborhood and the city as the mills closed, the influence of organized crime in the city (everyone played “the bug”), and the rich memories that she carries to this day of her Italian grandparents kitchen and the oasis it provided in a gritty city. The essay is followed by a Detroit native talking about white flight and the ‘kidnapped children’ who disappeared as families fled the city, a white Clevelander talking about the positive impact of busing on her life, of ethnic hatreds in a Jewish neighborhood in Buffalo, growing up on an Ohio River town home to the West Virginia Penitentiary, and the theft and recovery of a bicycle in Flint.

The second group of essays traces “Day to Day in the Rust Belt” and makes it clear there is no single Rust Belt story. There is the middle-aged social worker in Pittsburgh trying to help a down and out alcoholic when his agency cannot. There is the young life lost to street violence in Flint, the separated couple, both coming out of substance abuse, one more successfully than the other, trying to care for a daughter, remain civil with each other, and pull their lives together. There is an essay on the contrast between Buffalo “boosterism” and the black communities that are more or less left out, the odd phenomenon of a white arts culture thinking they will find salvation, as well as low rent, in Detroit. Finally, we learn about a thriving Iraqi community in Cleveland, one of many such ethnic communities aborning in the Midwest.

The third section explores “The Geography of the Heartland” beginning with a legendary gay bar in the Clifton neighborhood of Cincinnati, a visit to an old family home in Indiana (how many of us have gone back to old homesteads to find them derelict, or in my own case, vanished?), the “fauxtopia” of Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village and the contrast between the exurban dream Ford’s automobiles made possible, and the remnants of the city that was abandoned. Another essay attacks the artists who supplanted industrial workers in Cleveland for their pretensions when what has drawn them is the low cost of living (what is this thing against artists?). A descendent of the West Virginia McCoys reflects on the history of coal mining in the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum, a couple essays reflect on urban ecologies in Chicago and Cleveland.

“Leaving or Staying”–a dilemma faced by many Rust Belt natives is the subject of the last section. A young woman describes finding a delightful neighborhood in Lakewood only to flee it due to a failed love affair. A long-time Buffalo resident talks about the toleration of ex-pats only to become one. An Akron native describes staying in the former Rubber Capital. The collection closes with a poignant narrative of a father bathing his daughter in the lead-polluted water of Flint, Michigan, and the panic when she tries to drink some and what it is like when a basic necessity like water is so dangerous.

Nearly all the essays focused on personal narrative. One stood out as taking a larger look at the challenges of renewal faced by Rust Belt cities, titled “That Better Place; or the Problem with Mobility.” Written by a Cleveland Heights native, it describes the impacts of mobility and the consequences: too much retail space, housing, stressed tax bases, persistent segregation, how school ratings become real estate marketing tools (a particular problem in Ohio) and five proposals to address these challenges.

I noted earlier that there is no single Rust Belt story. While this is true, it was also striking that all these essays describe the problems and the struggle of displacement, of “making it” for those who live in Rust Belt cities. Perhaps the most hopeful story in the collection was of “Little Iraq” in Cleveland and the white woman who was positively impacted by busing. One thing such a collection makes clear is that “turnaround” stories often can be selective with whole populations left behind due to inferior schools and persisting patterns of racialization. Yet I also wonder where are the narratives of those who have overcome the challenges of the Rust Belt, who remember the past but are not trapped in it, and are rolling up their sleeves to make the most of the new economy. The essay by Jason Segedy on loving Akron comes closest to this with his refusal to look for the Next Big Thing (a temptation in all of these cities) and instead begin with “little plans” that might be scaled up with success. I just would have liked one or two essays by those who have done what he proposes. Where are these Rust Belt stories?

The Rust Belt is in my blood, probably literally. I’ve lived in some of these places, visited most of them, and the stories in this book give a cross-section of life as it was and is that is recognizable. Yet I also wish the collection would have captured more of the dynamism of those working to reclaim neighborhoods and mixed use zoning, to start new businesses, and to build a new civic life while sustaining the rich ethnic and cultural heritages of these cities, from cuisine to high culture.

When we lived in Cleveland, I used to joke that Clevelanders actually made up the jokes about Cleveland to keep everybody else away. I wonder if it is time for narratives that are honest about the challenges, but instead of keeping people away, or resenting those like artists who come, propose how our Rust Belt cities might be good places for those up for the challenge, be they artists, activists, businesses, inventors, entrepreneurs, crafts and tradespeople–or even writers!


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary advance review copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.