Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Center Street Crossing

Center Street Bridge and Crossing with the B & O Train Director’s shed. Photo from Bridgehunter licensed under CC BY-SA

Did you know that at one time the crossing pictured above was the busiest manually operated crossing in the United States? As you can see, there are a number of tracks that cross each other. At one time there were eleven different tracks serving five different railroads that squeezed together and crossed each other on the north bank of the Mahoning River just west of the Center Street Bridge, with Republic Steel’s mills in the backdrop. All told, 500 trains pulling 10,000 cars a day passed through this crossing, serving the mills and the other industries of the Mahoning Valley as well as passenger trains.

Four of the railroads used the north bank of the Mahoning as they approached this point. The fifth, the B & O started out on the south bank of the Mahoning and a few hundred yards west of the Center Street Bridge crosses the river and the other lines to the far side of the north bank, furthest from the river. As you can see, that literally is a trainwreck waiting to happen, were it not for the train director.

The train director stayed in the little bungalow-like one story shed in the center of the above picture. It was warmed by a caboose stove. He worked for the B & O, the ones responsible for the crossing, and his job was to manually signal trains when it was safe to proceed. In railroad vernacular, this was a color-coded “highball.” Here are the railroads and their signal color:

  • Baltimore & Ohio (B & O): green
  • Erie: red
  • Pennsylvania: yellow
  • New York Central and P&LE (which shared the same tracks): white

They used flag signals by day and lanterns by night.

The mills are all gone now. The old Center Street Bridge, a truss bridge connecting Poland Avenue on the south and Wilson Avenue on the north, has been replaced with a new bridge. There are fewer tracks. The crossing, now with electric signals still exists as is evident from this Google Earth Image, looking west from the bridge. The old train director’s shack is gone. But the vestiges remain and remind us that there was a day when this was the busiest crossing in the country, all manually operated.

[The idea and some of the information for this post came from former Youngstown resident, William Duffy. Bill was a former B & O yard director, later working at the B & O freight office at Front and Market Streets. I also found helpful information in The Sentinal Volume 37, Number 4, published by The Baltimore and Ohio
Railroad Historical Society.]

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Favorite Things

Wedgewood’s Brier Hill Pizza. Photo by Robert C. Trube, 2014. All rights reserved.

It’s been a crazy week that I won’t even try to go into. I thought for this weekend I would keep it light and fun and write about some of my favorite Youngstown things. I could make this a long list, but I’ll keep it to ten. That way, you can add to it. Let’s celebrate all of our favorite Youngstown things!

  1. Brier Hill Pizza. My favorite is Wedgewood’s but I bet we can have quite a debate about that one alone. Brier Hill pizza is a Youngstown original, and almost any Youngstown pizza is better than pizza anywhere else. I know.
  2. Downtown Youngstown at Christmas growing up. The lights on the Square, the displays in the store windows, and the toy selection in each store.
  3. Idora Park. The Wildcat. The Midway. WHOT Days. The Fun House. The Rockets. The Merry-go-round, The Rapids. It was all good.
  4. Cycling through Mill Creek Park in summers, sailing down those hills, pushing the curves as fast as possible. No helmet. Probably amazing that I’m still alive.
  5. Spending class breaks during college in the Butler. So much good art work. So FREE.
  6. Skyscraper cones at the main Isaly plant. There may be other ways to get more ice cream on a cone, but it looked and tasted awesome.
  7. Mill Creek Park again. Skating across Lake Glacier on cold, clear winter nights and then drinking hot chocolate by the fire.
  8. Lunch breaks at Jay’s Hotdogs downtown when I worked at McKelvey’s. I could eat for less than an hour’s work at minimum wage.
  9. The scary wonder of blast furnaces at night, making the Valley look like it was on fire.
  10. DiRusso’s Italian sausage sandwiches. Elephant ears. Lemonade shakes. Everything else about the Canfield Fair. The smell of all that food was part of the wonder of the fair. It was all good.

Like I said, we’re just getting started and I’m sure some of your favorites will be different than mine. No problem. There’s enough to go around, just like any meal at your grandma’s.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — George L. Oles

New York Tribune, January 8, 1922, p. 54.

It began as a joke. Then it turned serious, and one of the more unusual political stories unfolded in Youngstown’s colorful political history. George L. Oles grew up in Riceville, Pennsylvania and after setting up fruit, grocery, and meat markets in a number of different towns came to Youngstown in 1907. He took over the building of the former Youngstown Opera House on the southwest corner of Central Square and opened his Fulton Fruit and Meat Market. His ads appeared every Thursday in The Vindicator. He touted the superiority of the food in his market, his prices, and commented on the matters of the day. He wrote all the copy himself. A New York Times article compared his ads to Billy Sunday, a contemporary evangelist, for their “slam-bang statements.” His ads were one of the first things to which people turned. Here’s one example from June 23, 1921:

The campaign that began as a joke started in the summer of 1921 after Mayor Fred Warnock won his party’s nomination for another term in office. Some of his ads had expressed dissatisfaction with what he saw as the “machine politics” of both parties in the city and that he thought he could do as well. He first declared his intent to run on August 4, 1921 declaring that women should vote for Mayor Warnock or Mr. Doeright in the primary taking place the following Tuesday, so they can vote for him as an independent on November 8 to defeat them. He calls himself “The Next Mayor of Youngstown.”

He made his declaration the following week. This necessitated him moving into the Tod Hotel to establish residency in Youngstown in time to register as a candidate. He explains all this in this ad from August 11, 1921:

He announced he will work forgo his salary (which he was not able to do because that could be construed as a bribe) and announced his commitment to clean up vice and dirty politics and bootlegging (this was prohibition). He focused his appeal on women voters (who had just recently won the right to vote) and held meetings with women’s groups all over the city, introduced by his wife.

When November 8 came, the amazing happened. This “Potato Peddler” running as an Independent on a Reform platform won by 459 votes over the incumbent Fred Warnock. (He was the only Independent elected as Mayor in Youngstown until Jay Williams ran as an Independent for his first term in 2005. He ran as a Democrat his second term.) He left for Florida with his wife immediately to avoid office-seekers, returning shortly before he took office on January 3, 1922. On his first day of office he informed city workers he expected them to work eight hours or leave and set strict rules forbidding police from drinking and accepting favors.

Like many other reformers, he found that he was up against entrenched interests in the city. His life was threatened. City council resisted his efforts. By the end of June, he was fed up and tendered his resignation, effective at 12:00 am Saturday July 1, 1922. That evening a rally of citizens on Central Square, and later at his home asked him to reconsider. He did and asked for his resignation to be returned at 9:00 am Saturday. Council refused, arguing his resignation had already taken effect. Council president William G. Reese was sworn in as Mayor. In 1923, he lost by a landslide to the Klan endorsed candidate, Charles Scheible, during the heyday of Klan activity in the Valley.

Oles went back to his profitable market, It suffered a fire in 1934, but he rebuilt and continued to serve the Valley. In 1945, having purchased a shipment of potatoes at a favorable price, he donated $500 immediately when he received a request for assistance from the Infantile Paralysis (Polio) Drive. By the 1940’s the market was called Oles’ and in 1948, George L. Oles celebrated 50 years as a grocer with this ad:

Surveying the newspapers for ads for Oles’, I noticed the rise of chains and other grocers that may explain this somewhat cryptic ad that appeared on September 9, 1948. As far as I can determine, this was the last ad to appear in The Vindicator.

I cannot find out anything else about George L. Oles after this date. I would love to know how his story ended. He pulled off an amazing outsider victory for mayor in 1921. He had a passion for good government that seemed to reflect his passion for good business. His market and the ads he wrote each week were a Youngstown institution. It sounds like he was an amazingly generous man. Reading between the lines, I suspect that as Youngstown grew and people moved further from downtown and competitors arose including grocery chains, it became harder to sustain his business. I wish I knew the rest of the story….

Addendum: Tips from a couple readers added to this story. Oles lived on Youngstown Poland Road in Poland. His estate later became the site of Byzantine Catholic Central with his house becoming the home for the Sisters. It is likely that Oles’ health was declining around the time of this last ad. He leased out the deparments to employees. He died on July 15, 1952 and was buried at Tod Homestead Cemetery.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Your Favorites of 2020

Liberty Plaza, probably in the 1960’s. Photo by Hank Perkins, used with permission of the Mahoning Valley History Society Business and Media Archives collection (

Hard to believe this is the last weekend of 2020. I suspect most of us are glad to see it go.

It has continued to be a joy to write about our home town and to read all the comments, many of which add valuable information to the article that I had not come across. In fact one of the top posts this year was suggested by a reader! So with that teaser, here is the top 10 countdown of your favorites, based on the number of views each received. The links will take you to the original post.

10. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Elijah Boardman and Family. Boardman was one of the investors in the Connecticut Land Company which held and sold the land in the Western Reserve. A political career in Connecticut prevented Boardman from living in the township but bore his name, but he surveyed the land and died during a visit to Boardman. This post led to the suggestion that I write about the Simon family, which turned out to be the second most popular post of the year.

9. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Forest Lawn Memorial Park. My parents and my grandparents on my mother’s side are buried here. I wrote about why the land ended up a cemetery rather than a real estate development and how it represented a new trend in cemeteries when it was developed.

8. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — John Struthers. Another of those individuals after whom one of the smaller towns near Youngstown is named. One of the interesting stories is that the town didn’t bear his name until his more successful son reacquired the land his father had owned and sold along Yellow Creek and renamed the settlement in his father’s honor.

7. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Our Parents Worked. Written on Labor Day weekend, I remembered how hard our parents worked in Youngstown’s businesses and industries to give us a better life. Many of you responded with stories of your parents.

6. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Frank Sinkwich. He was one of the football greats to come out of Chaney High School, winning a Heisman Trophy, playing for the Georgia Bulldogs.

5. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Ed Matey. Former teacher, football coach, and athletic director Ed Matey died this summer. He was one of my teachers at Chaney High School and I wrote a piece combining my memories and a retrospective of his career.

4. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown–The 1918 Pandemic in Youngstown. With this year’s pandemic, I thought it would be interesting to look back on the 1918 pandemic, going through Vindicator issues from 1918 to give an account of what things were like in Youngstown.

3. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — William R. Stewart. He was Youngstown’s first Black legislator in the state house. He was also one of Youngstown’s most successful attorneys. To my knowledge, there is no structure or monument to remember him in the city.

2. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Simon Family. This was one of those suggested posts. I wrote the post about Elijah Boardman. A Simon family descendent (who at the time lived in our neighborhood unbeknownst to us) suggested I write about the Simon family and arranged to have a number of great photographs sent. This was fun to write and I loved the great response!

1. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Liberty Township. I suspect the great Hank Perkins picture of Liberty Plaza drew people in. But I also heard from many former and present Liberty Township residents.

I can’t tell you how interesting it is to learn and write about our local history. Often one story leads to another, as was the case in this list. I hope you enjoy these ten snapshots of our local history. I look forward to the things we will discover together in 2021!

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Dr. John C. Melnick

Vintage exam (and surgery) table

There was a time in my childhood when I wanted to be a doctor. I think it had to do with my admiration for my pediatrician, Dr. James Birch. When I was very young, he used to make house calls with his black leather medical bag. I loved the wood toys in his office. It turns out he was one of the many illustrious medical professionals that served the needs of Youngstown area residents over the years from Henry Manning, Timothy Woodbridge, and Charles Dutton in the middle of the nineteenth century to Carlos Booth, who in 1898 became the first doctor in the country to use an automobile to make house calls.

One of those illustrious physicians was Dr. John C. Melnick. He was a Youngstown native, son of Arseny and Rose Melnick. He graduated from The Rayen School in 1946 and Youngstown College in 1949. Before entering medical school at Western Reserve University, he completed a graduate degree in Education and a one year Research Fellowship in biochemistry. In 1955, he received his medical degree. He then did an internship and residency in Radiology in Youngstown followed by a year as a clinical fellow in Radiology at the University of Cincinnati.

Dr, John C. Melnick

He returned to his home town, where he practiced medicine and contributed to the community for the rest of his life. He was a staff radiologist for Southside and Northside hospitals, Eventually he was named Chief of the Diagnostic Imaging Department and Director of the Department of Nuclear Medicine. He discovered a rare bone disease in 1966, which was named in his honor the Melnick Needles Syndrome.

He was a past president of the Mahoning County Medical Society. The Society celebrated its centennial in 1972, and as editor of their newsletter, he contributed a number of historical articles. These were eventually published as A History of Medicine in Youngstown and Mahoning County in 1973.

The Green Catuedral

From this time forward, one of his efforts was to research and preserve both medical history and the history of Mill Creek Park. In 1976, he published his history and description of the park, The Green Cathedral, which remains in print and may be purchased at Fellows Gardens. It is my Mill Creek Park Bible! It arose from his lifelong love of the park, a love shared with his parents and children. He wrote in the Introduction to The Green Cathedral:

The author was introduced to Mill Creek Park when just a toddler, enjoying family picnics, hiking, boating and fishing with his two brothers, Arseny and Al, and his two sisters. Mary and Helen. His parents, during their courtship, picnicked, boated and swam in Lake Glacier. As a young boy he spent many a summer day with neighborhood friends, walking several miles to the park for a day of enjoyment. Food was cooked for lunches, then the hills, ravines and rocks were challenged, climbed and conquered, much as Mount Everest but not quite as high. During his college days, many hours were spent studying with nature’s beauty as a backdrop. The Lake Newport vista near daffodil meadow was a favorite spot as was Lookout Point at the top of the Rock Garden.

John C. Melnick, The Green Cathedral, (unnumbered page)

How many of us can identify with his story? In addition to his book, John Melnick supported a museum bearing his name focused on the history of the park and Fellows Riverside Gardens, located in the D.D. and Velma Davis Visitor Center. He also honored his father with contributions that helped fund the Arseny Melnick observation tower overlooking Lake Glacier, where his parents spent so many of their hours during their courtship.

Another museum honored his mother Rose. Melnick attributed his decision to go to medical school and his success in medical practice to her encouragement and support. Over the years, as he researched the Valley’s medical history, he also collected a number of medical artifacts from the day books of Dr. Henry Manning, where he recorded the patients he saw, his diagnosis, treatment, and fee, to medical and surgical instruments, and medical equipment including an iron lung used to treat polio to a portable X-ray machine. For years the “museum” was stored in crates in rented buildings, and later at Northeast Ohio Medical University in Rootstown. Melnick wanted his museum in Youngstown. In 1999, he reached an agreement to buy the old IBM building across from the Arms Museum from Youngstown State, and the Rose Melnick Medical Museum opened in this location. In 2016, the museum exchanged places with WYSU, which moved into Melnick Hall while the Melnick Medical Museum moved into Cushwa Hall, the home of the Bitonte College of Health and Human Services. The collection includes a Civil War amputation kit, clothing worn by nurses and doctors during different periods, and covers medical and nursing practice, dentistry, and pharmacy. Currently museum hours are suspended due to COVID-19. When open, admission is free.

Dr. John C. Melnick died on January 15, 2008 after an extended illness. But his contributions to medicine and his efforts to preserve the history of his two great loves, the practice of medicine and Mill Creek Park both live on in publications and museums, the latter bearing the names of his mother and father. It is to be hoped that future generations will build on the efforts of Dr. Melnick at both of these museums, perhaps the best way to recognize his contribution to Youngstown.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Man Who Built Commercial Shearing

Many remember when Commercial Shearing and Stamping (later Commercial Intertech) was a great Youngstown company. In 1975, the New York Times reported them 790th in the top 1000 companies but 16th most profitable and in the midst of building a $3.3 million foundry that would double their capacity. This was months after Charles B. Cushwa, Jr. had passed away. At that time it had 21 plants in the U.S. and abroad and employed 3,200 people.

Less is probably known about the man who built that great company. Charles Benton Cushwa, Sr. was born into a steelmaking family. Born in Williamsport, Maryland on November 15, 1878, he grew up in Pittsburgh where his father was superintendent of the Republic Iron Works. He started working there as an office boy, then bill clerk, assistant to the general superintendent and finally superintendent.

He came to Youngstown in 1901 to take the general superintendent position at Youngstown Iron & Steel Works, sold in 1918 to Sharon Steel Hoop Company. In 1920, he went to work with Brier Hill Steel Company as general superintendent and later general manager of their sheet mills in Niles and Warren. After Youngstown Sheet and Tube bought them out in 1923, he joined a group who bought out for $100,000 the Carnick brothers, the previous owners of Commercial. By 1934 he was president of the company.

Their business grew steadily during World War 2 as a supplier of fabricated steel parts for the Army and Navy–things like landing mat plates, Bailey bridges (a type of pre-fabricated truss bridge to quickly bridge rivers and capable of bearing heavy loads), as well as pontoon bridges and floats for submarine nets. They supplied critical components for underground water supplies and sewer systems, hydraulic machinery and storage tanks for liquid petroleum gas. One of their contracts in the war was for 15 inch semi-armor piercing bombs.

In 1948, civic leaders wanted to honor his 60 years in the steel industry with a big gala. Instead, he went to work at the plant, had dinner at home, and a quiet evening reading. He was a devout Catholic, supporting building campaigns for two parishes, serving as past president of the Holy Name Society, helping establish the Father Kane Camp at Lake Milton, and assisting in the founding of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, for which he was chairman of the board of advisors at the time of his death. He also donated funds for the construction of a science building at Notre Dame, beginning a family connection with that institution. He died on December 8, 1951 of a heart attack in the early afternoon after going to morning mass and working in his office.

His son, Charles B. Cushwa, Jr. (one of the candy butchers I featured last week) succeeded him and served as president until April 24, 1975 when he passed away. The family contributed a major gift to Youngstown State prior to his death helping to fund the construction of Cushwa Hall, at that time the home of the College of Applied Science and Technology. Charles B. Cushwa, Jr’s estate included a contribution which helped establish the Charles and Margaret Hall Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, a major research center on the Notre Dame campus that continues to contribute to Catholic scholarship to this day.

Leadership of Commercial Shearing passed out of the family with Charles B. Cushwa, Jr.’s death. Both of his sons, Charles III and William worked in high positions in the company. In 1988 Charles B. Cushwa III went to head up Youngstown State’s Cushwa Center for Industrial Development, named in honor of his father, helping young entrepreneurs start small businesses. In 2003, Charles passed, and in 2020, his brother William.

Commercial has also passed, except for a remnant that carries its name and manufacturing heritage. Parker Hannifin bought out Commercial in 2000. In 2016, Parker Hannifin announced the closure of its remaining Gear Pump operation, with the loss of 137 jobs. There is a remnant of the company operating today as Commercial Metal Forming, making tank heads, supplying 65 percent of the market. with 175 employees at its three facilities, the largest of which is still in Youngstown.

Charles B. Cushwa, Sr. built a company from a $100,000 investment to a multi-billion dollar company. He and his family invested in key Mahoning Valley institutions in religion, higher education, and health care. His steady leadership of both his own company and of many boards fostered flourishing enterprises in many forms. He was another of Youngstown’s great builders, but one modest enough to prefer an evening at home to being feted by the who’s who of the city.

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 Candy Butchers

Esther Hamilton

Imagine a variety show with nationally known performers. During the intermission the elite business leaders of the city donned butcher’s aprons (perhaps to collect money?) and went through the crowd selling small bags of candy for large prices with no change returned. They were the “candy butchers” (if you were wondering how candy could be butchered!). The money collected was used to make up Christmas baskets for the city’s poor.

The mover behind this unusual event was Esther Hamilton. She began this tradition in 1931 while she was still a reporter for the Youngstown Telegram before it merged with the Vindicator. Esther continued the tradition until 1965. It was called the Esther Hamilton Alias Santa Claus Show. My hunch was that Esther could be very persuasive in enlisting the area’s business leaders to don those aprons.

At one of the early gala’s in 1933, vaudeville star Rae Samuels, born in Youngstown, headlined before a crowd of 1,800 on a cold winter night. Apparently even the city mayor was a candy butcher that year.

I found accounts from 1943 and 1944, during the war years. In 1943 they raised $3287.34 and in 1944 $4249. During both years Charles B Cushwa, Jr., the president of Commercial Shearing, Inc., was the winning candy butcher. In 1943, Cushwa peddled Cracker Jacks because of a shortage of sugar during the war for making candy. Another year, Lucius B. McKelvey, president of McKelvey’s was champion candy butcher. McKelvey was known to help deliver the baskets. Isaly’s president and chairman Walter H. Paulo was another candy butcher. I suspect that the list of the candy butchers was a who’s who of Youngstown.

Proceeds continued to grow over the years. By 1962, the show raised $55,339. Every sector of Youngstown society participated. The Mahoning County Medical Society in their 1963 newsletter pitched its membership to contribute:

The Medical Society members have shown their concern for needy families very strongly in the past. For three years straight, the doctor representing the Medical Society has collected enough to break into the “Thousand Dollar Club” . . . .

Send in a contribution to the Medical Society office today. Help a needy family have a happy holiday. Help put the Medical Society over the $1,000 mark.

Long before telethons, the United Way, and online fundraisers, there were candy butchers, headline performers, and the Esther Hamilton Alias Santa Claus Show. I think that sounds like a lot more fun, bringing together the more fortunate of Youngstown for the benefit of the less fortunate. I suspect there are any number of ways to find fault with this, but the fact was that the town came together and the elite donned butcher aprons, and then delivered food baskets. It didn’t solve problems, but it was one small and personal way to say “we care.”

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Sears Christmas Wish Book

1965 Sears Christmas Wish Book front cover

Do you remember eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Sears Christmas catalog, also know as the “Wish Book”? I know I did. I would spend hours poring over the toy section of the catalog. There were hundreds of pages of toys for girls and boys as well as clothing items, electronics, appliances, tools, and guns, among other things. You can see the 1965 catalog and many others at

Looking through that catalog was a walk down memory lane. I was surprised at how many things in that catalog are still around: Legos, Etch-a-Sketch, board games like Scrabble, Risk, Clue, and Monopoly–and Barbie!

Then there were the one-time favorites you no longer can find. Remember View-masters? Erector sets? Kenner building sets? I was struck by how many children’s sized musical instruments found their way onto the pages.

It seemed the big fad of the time was James Bond. There was a race car set with an Aston Martin, Bond and Odd Job dolls and a gun case, and a complete action set. GI Joe was big as well, even as real-life GI’s were headed to Vietnam.

I was a reader then and am now, but I don’t think I noticed all the children’s books including Caldecott and Newberry winners. Of course, there were the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew.

You can see the influence of the space race with various rocketry sets and science and chemistry sets. There also were toys to prepare us for adult life, set apart by gender. In the boys section, there were tool boxes. The girls section had pages and pages of kitchens, dish services, and furniture. The catalogs are a window into those times.

1965 Sears Christmas Wishbook p. 445

I think the pages the received the most attention from me were the slot car sets. There was a period when slot cars eclipsed model railroading. I got caught up in it, debating with my friends about 1/32nd versus HO scale sets. On Christmas day in 1965 I found the set at the top of the page above under the Christmas tree. Within hours it took over our living room. Later it got relegated to our basement. Over time I bought more track and accessories and cars and invited my friends over to race with me. That set still exists packed up and stored somewhere in my utility room.

While the downtown department stores in Youngstown had fantastic toy displays, the prices were high for many of our parents. The discount stores were not yet abundant. Sears was the alternative for many of our parents. In the weeks before Christmas, many of them would line up at the Sears Catalog pick up at the old Sears store on Market Street in the Uptown area to pick up those toys that went from the Wish Book to our Christmas lists and eventually found their way under the tree.

The Sears Christmas Wish Book ceased publication in 2011, coming back for the year of 2017. I can’t think of anything like the Wish Book today. I suppose there is online browsing, but I can’t imagine the same sense of excitement and wonder from scrolling through pages and creating wish lists as when the Wish Book arrived at our door. Good memories.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Howard C. Aley

Photo Source: Howard C. Aley, A Heritage to Share. Youngstown: The Bicentennial Commission of Youngstown and Mahoning County, Ohio, 1975.

I never knew Howard C. Aley, but hardly a week goes by where I don’t reference his A Heritage to Share, his bicentennial history of Youngstown and Mahoning County. He traces the history of the Mahoning Valley from prehistoric times up until 1975. For most of the time from Youngstown’s beginnings, he recounts the history year by year, interspersing feature articles on events and key figures in the area’s history. Whenever I write about Youngstown history, I often start with two sources. Joseph Butler for anything up to the early 1920’s and Howard C. Aley for the whole time up until 1975. Sometimes, browsing through Aley’s book inspires an article. At other times, I ask, “what did Aley say?” While he was alive, I doubt anyone knew more about Youngstown history. Today, as I was browsing his history, I thought it would be interesting to tell his story.

Fittingly, Howard Aley was a lifelong Youngstown resident. He was born on January 12, 1911 to William and Rose Giering Aley. He experienced an illness during his youth that confined him at home. His parents gave him a typewriter to “amuse” him, and the writer was born. He graduated from South High School in 1931 and enrolled at Youngstown College, serving as an editor of The Jambar. He began a career as a teacher in 1935 that lasted until his retirement in 1974.

The series on Valley history

He taught history for seventh through eleventh graders for a year at the Rotary Home for Crippled Children. He began teaching at the Adams School in 1936. In the 1940’s he published a series of books on Valley history used in schools in a tri-county area. They won a Freedoms Foundation Award. He won a second Freedoms Foundation Award in 1960. He moved to Wilson High School in 1953, teaching there for 21 years until 1974. Former students would come up to him, asking if he remembered them, and he almost always did. They were eager to keep in touch with him because of his interest in them and because of how he instilled a love of historical knowledge.

He was a radio and TV personality in the Valley. His TV shows ran under the titles of “It Happened Here” and “Telerama” and “Footnote.” He was also active in a number of Valley organizations including the Monday Musical Club, Youngstown Hospital Association, Aut Mori Grotto and the Youngstown Charity Horse Show. He also edited “Chimes,” the monthly newsletter of Trinity United Methodist Church where he was a member. He loved the Canfield Fair and wrote a centennial history of it in 1946. He served as a president of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society.

His home in Boardman served as a kind of private historical archive. In some recent correspondence with a former neighbor, he mentioned that Aley had a library of several thousand volumes that spilled over into the garage. One summer, Aley found a house in Canfield with newspapers back to the turn of the century. The neighbor spent a summer working with him clipping articles for Aley’s archives. His obituary states that he could find the answer to any question about people or events in the Mahoning Valley in a matter of minutes.

My copy of A Heritage to Share

A Heritage to Share was a fitting capstone to his career as “historian of the Valley.” Completed in time for the celebrations of the national Bicentennial in 1976, it is a treasure trove. It is out of print. My son found a copy for me at a used bookstore. I never got to meet Howard C. Aley, who died in 1983, but I sometimes imagine him turning to me and saying, “do you know why…?” Thank you, Mr. Aley for all you did to tell the Valley’s story.

Source: “Howard C. Aley; Valley Historian,” Youngstown Vindicator, July 14, 1983, pp. 1-2.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Dollar Savings & Trust

Early postcard of Dollar Savings and Trust Building

Somewhere around fifth grade, I decided my allowance wasn’t quite enough for my baseball card collecting (wish I still had that collection). So with dad fronting me the money for a lawn mower, I went door to door and convinced ten people within a couple blocks of my house to let me cut their grass and pay me for it. Back in the sixties, I earned about $20 a week. One of the best things my father did was insist I set up a savings account at the bank down the street from our home, the Dollar Savings and Trust. Our branch was located a few blocks from our home in the same block on Mahoning Avenue as Stambaugh-Thompson’s and an Isaly store. When I was young, I’d go to the bank with my dad sometimes, then we’d pick up some hardware for the house, and finish with ice cream. I had good memories of going to the bank.

I received my own passbook (with my dad’s name also on the account). Most weeks, I’d deposit $5 unless I had a very good week. And then something magical happened. Once a month the teller would add some money to my account that I didn’t deposit. It was interest and my first exposure to the idea that first you work for your money, and then you let your money work for you. I learned to set goals. I remember when I saw a stereo at Dave’s Appliance. I saved for months until I had enough money. I withdrew it from the bank and took it up to Dave’s and bought that stereo. Music never sounded so good!

Later in junior high and high school other jobs followed. I still cut lawns, raked leaves, shoveled snow, delivered papers, and then worked at McKelvey’s. I wanted to go to college, so I kept saving. It paid off. Between savings and scholarships, I ended college debt-free–thanks to dad’s lessons and my local Dollar Savings & Trust, which later gave me a small loan for my first used car after college.

The Dollar Savings and Trust Company (the “and” was replace with “&” only in 1975) was established in 1887. Asael Adams, originally from Cleveland, was one of the early presidents, beginning in 1895. He oversaw the construction of their downtown headquarters on the northwest corner of Central Square in 1901-1902. Charles H. Owsley was the building architect. Owsley and his son Charles F. designed some of the iconic buildings in Youngstown. During this time it reached $1,500,000 in capital.

One of the first tenants of the building beside the bank was the Youngstown Club which occupied the seventh and eighth floors of the building until 1926. In 1947 the bank had grown to the point that it acquired City Trust and Savings for $1.3 million. By 1970, with the opening of an Austintown branch, the bank had thirteen branches. Between 1972 and 1975 the downtown bank was completely remodeled, including refacing the building with a modern looking granite face. At the time of its acquisition by National City Bank in Cleveland in 1994, it had 32 branches, having acquired some other regional banks with $1,052,621,000 in assets and $838,150,000 in deposits. In turn PNC Bank acquired National City Bank in 2008.

About the time PNC acquired National City Bank parts of the granite façade deteriorated and crumbling pieces started falling, endangering pedestrians. Scaffolding was erected and repairs were made by 2011. However PNC moved the downtown bank to City Centre One in 2012, leaving the old building, now rebranded 16 Wick Avenue nearly 90% unoccupied. Several office leasing companies list the whole building as available and held by NYO Properties, developer of many downtown properties, that recently has been trying to sell a number of these. It is also listed on the “Abandoned” website which has a number of images of the interior including the bank vault.

Today, PNC has four branches in the Youngstown area, a far cry from Dollar Savings and Trust at its height. It reflects both the changed landscape of banking and the changed economics of Youngstown. None of the banks we grew up with remain under the familiar names of that time, nor are any under local control. But that doesn’t mean we can’t remember the role they played in teaching us to save, giving us our first loan or mortgage, helping us to manage our earnings and investments, putting our money to work for us.

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