Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown–The 1918 Pandemic in Youngstown

October of 2020 does not appear to be a good month in our current pandemic. As I write, Ohio has registered its largest number of cases in a single day. October of 1918 was a dark month in Youngstown as well. Surveying the Vindicators for October of 1918, the month began on a hopeful note, and in fact the lead headlines the whole month concerned the end of World War I. In the course of the month, the H1N1 Influenza of 1918 would ravage Youngstown. A milder form of the illness had arisen during the spring, but it returned with a vengeance in the fall.

October 4: It was reported that Camp Sherman, an Army camp in Chillicothe, was recovering from the flu. No indication of the flu yet in Youngstown. Pennsylvania, which was hit earlier closed theaters, places of amusement, and saloons.

October 5: On the front page, there is a report of the influenza spreading rapidly in Ohio with 15-20,000 cases. Cincinnati closed its amusement places and saloons. There was a call for nurses to volunteer to go to Camp Taylor in Kentucky.

October 6: Camp Sherman reports 143 deaths from the influenza, which was striking down young men in alarming numbers. The Vindicator also reports that the influenza is hitting camps around the country with 17,383 new cases on Saturday alone.

October 7: An “Impressive and Inspiring” Czecho-Slovak parade took place. It is thought that this, like a similar parade in Philadelphia, served as a “super-spreader” event in Youngstown. Cases exploded after this event.

October 10: The first four deaths from the influenza occur in Youngstown. Twenty children in a children’s home are down with the influenza. Mayor Craver announced a meeting of the board of health to close schools, churches, and all public gatherings.

October 15: “Gloom Enshrouds City Because of Influenza” is the headline for the front page story about the spread of influenza in Youngstown. On the previous day a general quarantine went into effect. Downtown Youngstown was a ghost town, except for hotel lobbies. Emergency hospitals (at that time there was only St. Elizabeth’s and Youngstown Hospital, later South Side Hospital) have been set up at Baldwin Kindergarten at Front and Champion and at South High School, which can accommodate 400 beds. 193 cases were reported in the last day in a city of 120,000. One silver lining was that draft calls were stopped. Nearby East Palestine was hard hit with 1,000 cases.

October 16: The Board of Health reports 923 cases and 15 deaths so far with 4 deaths in the last day. Meanwhile, Cleveland reported 800 new cases in a day. The chief of police issued a warning to saloons violating quarantine orders by leaving their back doors open to customers when they were supposed to be closed. They would receive a $100 fine for the first offense and jail time the second time.

Instructions for nurses giving home care, Vindicator, October 16, 1918

October 27 (the next edition available online): Both locally and in the state, the report is that the epidemic is unchanged. There were 112 new cases reported, lower than the over 300 cases reported daily early in the week. Statewide 5,000 new cases were reported. Ten deaths were reported in Youngstown for the day. The efforts of Red Cross workers were recognized, contributing 8747 surgical articles and 7851 hospital garments, among other supplies. The death toll at Camp Sherman was reported at 1,053.

October 29: Industries in the Mahoning Valley, and Youngstown Sheet and Tube, in particular, are cited for their efforts in preventing illnesses on the job. They operated six emergency hospitals, and experienced no production delays. 400 new cases were reported and 20 deaths. Statewide, there was some evidence things were easing but quarantines would remain in place until at least November 15. Collegiate football was banned in Illinois.

October 30: 524 new cases and 29 deaths were reported in the last day in Youngstown, a new high. South High School teacher Dr. Roy Kittle died of the influenza after volunteering to nurse patients at the school, converted to an emergency hospital.

October 31: Patient counts from the three emergency hospitals (the third being at Jefferson School) suggest that infections are beginning to recede. Sheet and Tube was inoculating employees with a serum to give them immunity to the flu developed by the Rockefeller Institute. Statewide, the death toll reached 5,000.

Cases began to wane after October, which was the worst month. By December, cases were down enough for theaters to re-open. Outbreaks continued into 1919 and early 1920 but the worst was over. The worst was the dark days of October 1918. One study of death certificates in the period of the epidemic indicated that men died in greater numbers than women and immigrants had the highest death rates. There was no coordinated state or national effort to deal with the outbreak, leaving local health officials to deal with the epidemic. Public health officials conceded that the virus had to run its course. They struggled with groups that held large gatherings contrary to health orders. There were lots of ads that promoted patent medicine remedies. The most notable shortage was of Vicks Vap-O-Rub!

I share this as a look-back only. These are two different epidemics, different viruses. Far more young people died of the influenza. Some have drawn lessons from 1918 for what might be done or should be done (or shouldn’t) in our present pandemic. I won’t, other than to note that front-line responders, then as now responded with courage and compassion. About all I would suggest was that the 1918 pandemic receded, and so will this one. Many avoided getting sick by foregoing normal social activities and by following the quarantine. They were around for the Roaring Twenties. Let’s hope there is something ahead like that for all of us! Stay safe, Youngstown friends!

[Please do not use this post for debates about the current pandemic or public health or political policies! This is for historic purposes only.]

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Ohio Works of U.S. Steel

Ohio Steel Works and furnaces, view of west side, 1905” (Cropped) R. W. Johnston Studios. Public Domain

Today it is only remembered by Ohio Works Drive and the home of a few industrial companies. At one time, it was the glow in the night skies that we saw from the West Side of Youngstown and the place where the dads of many of my friends work. After the West River Crossing freeway was built you could look out your window in your car to see the mills stretching to the northwest.

At one time, the Ohio Works consisted of two Bessemer converters and fifteen blast furnaces built between 1893 and the turn of the century. Originally part of the National Steel Company, it was part of a series mergers with Carnegie Steel which later became U.S. Steel Corporation. When U.S. Steel took over it increased the Ohio Works output by 50,000 tons and modernized the Union Mills part of the operation.

Ironically, U.S. Steel was anti-union. Eventually one of the strongest steel worker unions, Local 1330 organized at the Ohio Works. According to Sherry Lee Linkton and John Russo, in Steeltown U.S.A., the organizing efforts went more smoothly at the Ohio and McDonald Works than at Republic and Youngstown Sheet and Tube’s plants, which were involved in the “Little Steel” strike of 1937.

World War 2 was a time of full production and some upgrades were made to the mills during the 1940’s and 1950’s, but little after that time. Warning signals came in the 1970’s with the rise of foreign competition. The Ohio Works was idled for a period in 1971 and the relighting of the furnaces was a big deal in 1972. At that time roughly 2800 went back to work. Then came Black Monday on September 19, 1977. The closure of Youngstown Sheet and Tube’s operations was a warning sign. In January of 1978, word came of plans to close the Ohio Works and McDonald Works.

This was felt to be a betrayal of the efforts of local workers, who despite the lack of upgrades, met production goals and made contract concessions. Then an effort was mounted led by attorney Staughton Lynd and a coalition of community leaders, clergy and workers to buy the mills from U.S. Steel. U.S. Steel refused to sell, and the mills were idled in 1979.

Hope remained while the facilities stood. That ended on April 28, 1982, when dynamite charges were detonated under the four remaining blast furnaces, and they came tumbling down. Steel executives had special seating and a concession area. Workers had to stand behind a wall. It was the last time they did a public demolition. Paul Grilli describes his memories as a three year-old in 1978:

Back to April 28th, 1982. My mom brought me to our picture window, and opened the front door so we could hear the explosion. I remember looking over the roof of the Sebena’s and watching “the smokestacks” as I called them start to lean. You felt the house shake, and then you heard the explosion. It blew my young mind that the sound came later. I didn’t know much about physics at just shy of 3 years old.

Between the Ohio Works and McDonald, 5,000 workers were out of work. Today McDonald Steel Corporation utilizes part of the McDonald site. In 1982 entrepreneur David Houck was able to launch a specialty steel company with investments from 23 investors. One of the most significant shareholders was David Tod, descendent of the Tod family that played a critical role in the early coal, iron, and steel industry in Youngstown. The most recent figures I could find indicated 105 people work for the company in a lean, highly modernized operation. That’s a fraction of the 2200 who once worked on the site.

The Ohio Works were once one of the workshops of America, providing the materials that built our country for nearly a century. Those mills, and the Brier Hill Works across the river were one of the reasons we feared nuclear attacks. Many thought they were a target. I lived little more than a mile away on the lower West Side. Had the worst happened, we would have been wiped out. Little did we dream at the time of the devastation that U.S. Steel and the other corporations would bring to the Valley less than twenty years later. Now what we have are the stories of pride of those who worked there. If that was you or someone you know, I hope you will add to this brief history those personal histories which should be remembered. It should always be remembered that it was people that made our area the Steel Valley.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Kennedy and the Pirates

The Youngstown Vindicator, October 10, 1960 via Google News Archive

Sixty years ago to the day, this was the front page of the Youngstown Vindicator. On the day before, candidate John F. Kennedy did a campaign sweep through the Mahoning Valley. The picture shows him speaking from the Tod Hotel to a crowd that filled Central Square and was estimated at the time at 60,000.

His itinerary took him from the Youngstown airport to downtown Youngstown. He then rode in a motorcade through Girard, Niles, and Warren, where he spoke on Warren’s square to a crowd of 42,000. He then drove to Salem, speaking to 10,000, and then through Canfield, Boardman, and back to Youngstown.

I saw John Kennedy that day. I would have been six years old. It was probably on his trip through Canfield. It was late evening and I remember being lined up along the side of the road with my parents. It happened quickly but I remember him standing and waving, still young and vibrant, unlike the aging Eisenhower. Less than a month later, he was elected, and on a cold day in January, the candidate I saw was sworn in, capturing our imagination with his inaugural address and those words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

The irony of this day was that the big headline of the day was the victory of the Pirates over the Yankees in the fifth game of the 1960 World Series, giving them a 3-2 lead in the series with the final two games at home in Forbes Field. Many of us listened on transistor radios (some of my older friends would try to hollow out a book, put the radio in there and listen at school on headphones (the dead giveaway). The Pirates were from nearby Pittsburgh but seemed like the underdogs against the all-powerful Yankees of Maris and Mantle and Whitey Ford. In the final two games, the Yankees would win the sixth game 12-0. The seventh game was tied 9-9 in the bottom of the ninth when Bill Mazeroski hit a walk-off homerun off of Ralph Terry, usually a starter, pitching in relief.

That World Series and how Pittsburgh won it is one of the highlights in Pittsburgh sports history. Pittsburgh has only won two more World Series since then, in 1971 and 1979. It was only time Mickey Mantle was ever seen to cry by his teammates. The moment when Mazeroski rounded second base and saw the ball go over the fence and began celebrating has been captured and memorialized forever by the statue below, outside PNC field.

Ironic Moments in Pittsburgh History” by daveynin is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

These were halcyon days for a six year old. Seeing a future president and keeping hope alive that the Pirates would win it all against those hated Yankees (and then against all hopes, they really did!). I’m glad we didn’t know all that the 1960’s had in store for us–the Cuban missile crisis and hiding under our school desks, the deaths of two Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr., Vietnam, and riots.

It seems we are destined to live our lives between hope and sadness. Maybe that can be a comfort in what seems to have been a pretty terrible year. Out of the Sixties came inspiring ideas, great cars, moon landings and new technology, some of the best Browns teams ever, so much good music, some of it coming out of Youngstown. Given all that, I’m not giving up hope. Personally, I look forward to an Indians-Pirates World Series. And I hope that we find the way to say “no” to any who would divide us from our fellow citizens. I want to say “yes” to all who rally us to being “one nation under God with liberty and justice for all,” words I recited every day in Mrs. Smith’s first grade class at Washington Elementary during those days in October 1960.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — William O. Brown of the Vindicator

William O. Brown as a young man

The beginnings of The Vindicator and its history is wrapped up in two families, the Maag family and the Brown family. William O. Brown often seems to be left out of the histories I’ve seen of The Vindicator, I think, because he was never one of the publishers. But he was the key link of the passage of Vindicator ownership and leadership from the Maag to Brown families.

He was the grandson of Nathaniel E. Brown, a founder of the Brown-Bonnell Iron Works in Youngstown. Brown himself was born in Portsmouth, Ohio March 29, 1876 and moved with his family to Youngstown in 1878. The family lived in Brown’s grandfather’s home. He graduated from Rayen High School in 1897 and worked with the Ohio Steel Company. He began working at The Vindicator in 1902 and on September 9, 1903, married the daughter of the publisher, William F. Maag, Sr., Alma M. Maag. Brown’s marriage formed the link in this publishing dynasty.

William O. Brown started his work at The Vindicator in the advertising department. While working in advertising he worked tirelessly with large advertising accounts including General Motors and established the paper’s reputation with advertisers. At one point, he was called “Ohio’s Amon Carter.” Amon Carter was a famous Texas publisher. During World War I he served as a captain and ordinance officer in the National Guard.

He became business manager, treasurer and secretary upon William F. Maag, Sr.’s death in 1924. During World War II, he demonstrated his business acumen in making sure the paper always had a good supply of newsprint, which often had to be transported from Canada. In 1945 he became president of The Vindicator while continuing as business manager until his son William J. Brown took over the position in 1955.

Brown had a variety of interests. He was a champion pistol shot and treasurer of the Youngstown Rifle and Revolver Club. He also was a vociferous reader, especially of Dickens, Rider Haggard, and Conan Doyle. He was a foodie, and loved discovering small restaurants with special dishes.

William O. Brown later in life. Photo from The Vindicator, February 23, 1956.

Late in life he had serious heart problems and was confined to his home after December 1954. He died on February 23, 1956. When Brown came to The Vindicator it had a circulation of 15,000. At the time of his death, daily circulation was 100,000 and Sundays 140,000.

When William F. Maag, Jr. died in 1968, William J. Brown became publisher. He passed away in 1981.  Betty J. H. Brown Jagnow became publisher and president and her son, Mark Brown general manager. They continued to serve in these roles until The Vindicator ended publication on August 31, 2019, to be succeeded by a new Vindicator owned by the Warren Tribune Chronicle.

William O. Brown began three generations of Brown family involvement with The Vindicator. He helped build The Vindicator into a nationally known paper and his tenure spanned 54 of his family’s 117 year history with the paper. An editorial tribute appearing the day after his death said of him:

The Vindicator was his life and in more than half a century there were few days when he was not at his desk. The men and women who get out the paper were all his friends, and even in his last illness he ran the risk of setbacks to be among them.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The James Gibson Family

Gibson family plats from a map of Mahoning County, 1860, Library of Congress

When I was dating the woman who is now my wife. She lived in Brownlee Woods while I was on the West side. I-680 ended at South Avenue when we first started dating. When the rest of it opened, I was able to get to her house in under 10 minutes! Until then, I often took shortcuts to avoid all the stoplights on South Avenue. Gibson Street to Roxbury to Zedaker to Midlothian got me there. I also remember playing Gibson Heights Presbyterian Church on East Dewey in our church softball league.

These places bear the name of another early Youngstown family, Captain James Gibson, and his descendants, who lived on the land through which Gibson Street passes. Captain James Gibson was born in 1740 on County Tyrone, Ireland, and came to the United States in 1760, settling in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. The “Captain” came from his leadership of a ranger company guarding the frontier from neighboring native tribes. He fought in the Revolutionary War. In 1799 Gibson, his wife, and four sons came to Youngstown, staying by a spring that was eventually called Gibson Spring, near what is now Poland Avenue. They moved on to Warren for a couple weeks, but finding no desirable land, returned to the location, purchasing 289 1/4 acres from John Young in Great Lot 43 which ran south from the Mahoning River just east of South Avenue to the Youngstown border. They built a temporary log cabin while they worked to clear the heavily forested land to farm it. His wife Anna Belle was a charter member of First Presbyterian Church. (Source: Captain James Gibson and His Wife, Anna Belle and Their Descendants Pioneers of Youngstown, O.)

Samuel Gibson

James died in 1816 and Anna Belle in 1834. When Oak Hill Cemetery opened they were re-interred in that cemetery. Their son Robert Gibson, who had lived with them, continued to reside on the farm, eventually building his own home. Eventually two of his children, Samuel and John owned their own portions within the plat, inherited from their father. You can see their properties above on the 1860 map above. John on the southern most property and Samuel owned two connected properties. He worked on his parents farm while going to school, then taught school at the Salt Springs school, and then returned to farming.

Hon. William T. Gibson

One of Samuel’s sons, William T. Gibson also distinguished himself in Youngstown. Born in 1850, he attended Youngstown City schools, and then Western Reserve University, graduating in 1876. He went on to read law with Youngstown Judge Arrel, being admitted to the practice of law in 1878. He served as city solicitor from 1896 to 1899, then as Mahoning County prosecuting attorney. In 1903 he became Youngstown’s mayor. He was a senior partner in Gibson & Lowry, and president of the Youngstown Savings and Loan. (Source: “William T. Gibson,” 20th Century History of Youngstown and Mahoning County, Ohio, and Representative Citizens.

The family story of the Gibsons is a familiar one in Youngstown history. Early settlers become an established family and eventually pillars of the community and civic leaders. They bought and cleared the land and established prosperous farms. One (the fourth generation in the city) was even a Mayor of Youngstown. Remember that when you drive on Gibson or hear the name.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Mineral Ridge

Main Street in Mineral Ridge c. 1915

It is not even a village with its own post office any more. Officially, it is a Census Designated Place. Located along Rt. 46 between Austintown and Niles, as part of Weathersfield Township, many people may not realize what a significant role Mineral Ridge played in the rise of the iron industry in the Mahoning Valley, paving the way in turn for the steel industry.

The name gives a clue. Farmers who settled in the area knew there was coal in the ground. Some had their own small mines for heating and to sell. The coal and iron industry really took off however in the 1850’s when John Lewis, superintendent of the Mineral Ridge Coal Mines, discovered seams of particularly valuable ore, black band iron ore, running through the area. Between 1856 and 1858 Mineral Ridge was transformed from a sleepy little farming community to a boom town with a number of coal and iron ore companies connected David Tod’s mills in Brier Hill and other mills in Niles. The presence of soft coal, block coal and black band iron ore made Mineral Ridge a critical raw resource center for the Valley’s industry. The resulting iron was known as “American Scotch Pig” and “Warner’s Scotch Pig.”

Mineral Ridge map while it was still a village

By the 1880s, many of the mines were closing, though some continued into the 1900’s and were even mined during the Depression for heating. Mineral Ridge ceased to be a village in 1917, becoming unincorporated in February of that year. Nancy Messier, a blogger growing up in Mineral Ridge provides interesting accounts of what it was like to grow up there in the mid-twentieth century, including a list of Mineral Ridge High School graduates from 1881 to 1954, with graduation programs listing local businesses.

The farming history of the community is remembered by the Moss Ancestral Home, a brick salt box structure that was the home of the Moss Family from 1859 to 1899. The mining history is mainly remembered whenever there is a mine collapse. Like much of Mahoning and Trumbull County, not all of the mines have been mapped and sometimes subsidence occurs in locations not previously known of.

The area has not seen the drastic population declines of some areas. The 2000 population of 3,900 has declined slightly to 3,783 in 2020. While Mineral Ridge no longer has a post office, as of the summer of 2020 it has a Post Office Pub. According to a Business Journal story, three local residents, all area business owners, recognized the lack of a family-oriented dining establishment in Mineral Ridge. They built a new restaurant on the site of the old post office, serving an “Americana menu–affordable family dinners with Italian, Irish and Greek influences.” The three owners hope that word will get out across the Valley.

Mineral Ridge played an important role in the Valley’s industrial history. The minerals from which the area gets its name and the workforce they attracted is worth remembering. The Mineral Ridge Historical Society is a local organization formed to preserve and promote the area’s history. Perhaps the next time you are driving on Rt. 46 between Austintown and Niles, you might take some time to notice the place that played such an important part in the Valley’s story.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Liberty Township

By P. J. Browne, surveyor [2] – Map of Trumbull County, Ohio (Philadelphia: Gillette Matthews & Co., 1856) [1] hosted at Newton Falls Information Network, Public Domain,

I don’t think I realized until I was older that Liberty Township wasn’t part of Youngstown. As a kid, we used to go to church picnics at Churchill Park. In high school, a girl I dated for a bit lived in Liberty. I remember walking from her home to the Liberty Plaza to watch Let it Be. That was probably bad luck. We broke up shortly after watching the movie about the break up of the Beatles. In later years my wife and I got meals at the Bob Evans and at Kravitz’s Deli (one of my dad’s favorites), and at Station Square with friends. All those places are in Liberty Township.

Liberty Township isn’t a part of Youngstown. It isn’t even part of Mahoning County, but rather Trumbull County. But I’m not the only one to connect them. Local historian Howard C. Aley writes,

No other community on Mahoning County’s perimeter has quite the same unique relationship that exists between Liberty Township and its neighboring political subdivision to the south. Contrary to Robert Frost’s neighbor who contended that “Good fences make good neighbors,” there are no fences between Liberty Township and the Youngstown boundary lines, and the communities are, indeed, good neighbors.

Aley wrote this in 1976. Much has changed and I wonder whether the two communities would still think this way, but it does illustrate the close connection. At one time, some of the elite Youngstown families had estates in Liberty Township–the McKelveys, the Logans, the Andrew, the Wicks, and the Stambaughs.

Liberty Township Map from 1918

Did you know that Liberty Township is one of 25 Liberty Townships in Ohio? We live just south of one near Columbus, also in a neighboring county. It was one of the five by five mile townships laid out in the survey of the Western Reserve, west of Hubbard and east of Weathersfield Township. And if you remember, Youngstown, just to the south was at one time part of Trumbull County until Mahoning County was created in 1846. Liberty Township was established in 1806, though settled as early as 1798.

Present day Liberty Township consists of the Village of Girard and unincorporated township lands. At one time there were also villages of Churchill, Sodom, and Seceders Corners. Churchill is a Census Designated Place to this day. The others have disappeared.

Peter Kline

Much of the land outside of Girard was farmland. In 1860 coal was discovered on Alexander McCleery’s farm. Peter Kline, son of one of the leading families in the area amassed the largest farm in Liberty Township, bordering on Churchill, with 700 acres, much of which was devoted to livestock. He also had the good fortune of having coal discovered on his land, mined by Tod, Stambaugh, & Co. At one time 17 mines were operating in the township. Samuel Goist’s farm was a stopping point on the Underground Railroad.

The township is led by elected township trustees and a financial officer. Outside of Girard, the education is provided by the Liberty Township School District including E. J. Blott Elementary School, William S. Guy Middle School, and Liberty High School. Former director of the Ohio Department of Health Amy Acton, who led the state’s early response to COVID-19, is a Liberty High School graduate.

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 (http://mahoninghistory.org).

The complexion of the southern part of Liberty Township along Belmont Avenue has changed. Liberty Plaza was one of the premiere shopping centers in the area at one time. Now the area is a Walmart and a small strip of stores. At the same time, a complex of restaurants and lodgings have sprung up around the I-80 interchange with Belmont. Further south, Jack Kravitz continues to serve up some of the best deli food in the area. And to the north, the township retains its rural character.

Liberty Township. Youngstown’s near neighbor. Stop off place for interstate travelers. Gateway to rural northeast Ohio.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Our Parents Worked

Steelmaking in Youngstown

With Labor Day coming up, it occurred to me that perhaps it was a fitting time to remember how hard our parents worked. Many were trying to get a foothold on the economic ladder, to buy a house, and to see us kids have opportunities they would never have. Pretty soon, at least for my generation, they all will be gone. Last week marked eight years since my father passed. My father and mother both would have been 100 this year. It seems especially fitting this Labor Day to honor them.

They worked since they were children, collecting scrap metal during the Depression to contribute to family income. Many Youngstown men in my neighborhood worked in the mills, some within walking distance. It was hard, grimy, and dangerous. A lapse of attention could cost a finger, a foot, or even a life. Others worked in railyards, or in factories making rail cars, office furniture, or automobiles. Often, they retired as soon as they could, before the strength of their bodies was totally broken down.

Our mothers worked. During the war, many filled the factory jobs vacated by the men gone to war. My mother was a telephone operator. My wife’s mom was an aircraft inspector. Some returned to home making when husbands came back from the war. That did not mean they did not work. Diapers were not disposable. Washers had wringers that could wring an arm as easily as your clothes. Washing, ironing, cleaning, cooking–every day. There were few takeout options or labor saving conveniences. To supplement groceries and stretch budgets, especially during strikes there was gardening, and canning and cooking from scratch.

Men came home and worked on cars and remodeled or added onto homes and pitched in to help relatives and buddies who were doing the same. And they taught us how to do a job well and finish it.

Some worked at the same place for many years. But even before Black Monday, people had to re-tool and find new work. I watched my father go through that, trying a succession of jobs before landing a decent job as a department store buyer and department manager. He always worked hard while treating his people with decency and fairness. He paid all his bills, provided for us, and left no debts. That’s the way he wanted it.

Many of us do enjoy better lives than our parents. They sent us to college or trade school. We may even have inherited from them, adding to our resources. More than that, they likely imparted their work ethic to us, whether we learned the lessons or not.

Our parents worked. Youngstown worked. We enjoyed a richness of life in our neighborhoods and the city that we love to remember. Perhaps as we celebrate this weekend, it’s a good time to remember our parents, how they worked and made Youngstown a good place–and how that hard work shaped our lives. Thank you mom and dad!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Buechner Family

Buechner Hall. Photo from Facebook Page

When my wife and I were students at Youngstown State. We had friends who lived in Buechner Hall at 620 Bryson Street. On one hand, the lobby featured beautiful wood paneling and comfortable furniture, a bit like one would find in your grandmother’s parlor. That’s as far as guests could go, especially gentlemen guests. This was, and is, a privately operated residence hall for women, and it was a place where women on an urban campus could feel secure. The residence hall had its own food and a curfew. Yet the women who lived here generally seemed to accept the restrictions and overall were happy to live there.

Photo source: August 3, 1940 Vindicator

Buechner Hall was built in 1940-1941 to provide affordable lodging for both working women and female students at Youngstown College. Construction was funded by a $2 million bequest from Lucy R. Buechner, given in memory of her mother, Elvira Buechner. A non-profit corporation, the Lucy R. Buechner Corporation was established and continues to use funds from the bequest for building operations, keeping housing costs at an affordable price.

Lucy R. Buechner was the daughter of an early physician and part of a family that invested significantly in Youngstown philanthropy. Her father, William L. Buechner, was born in Reinheim, Hesse, Darmstadt, Germany on December 3, 1830. He received his medical training at the University of Giessen, graduating in 1853. He emigrated to the United States that same year, living briefly in Pittsburgh before moving to Youngstown in 1854. In 1858, he married Elvira Heiner, daughter of Squire Heiner, an early resident of Youngstown. Two children followed, William H., who became a celebrated local surgeon in his own right, and Lucy.

He was recognized for his medical excellence by honorary degrees from Western Reserve University, and later the Rush Medical College of Chicago. He was one of the leaders in the efforts to establish the City Hospital (later North Side Hospital) in Youngstown and served on its staff until his death. He served both on the Board of Heath and the Board of Education. He was also a shrewd investor with investments in stocks of several of the major iron and steel companies of his day, and this established the family’s fortune. Tragically, he died on September 10, 1904, during a driving accident with an unmanageable horse in Mill Creek Park. When he died, at the request of the Mayor, businesses and the Common Pleas Court closed.

His son, William H. Buechner followed in his father’s footsteps in pursuing a medical career. Born in 1864, he graduated from The Rayen High School in 1882, and Western Reserve University in 1885 with his M.D. He pursued additional studies at the University of Pennsylvania in 1886. He went on to work as an assistant of a famous German surgeon, Professor Von Volkman in Halle, Germany, returning to Youngstown in 1890. He was on staff as a surgeon at the City Hospital of Youngstown, performing the first prostatectomy in the city, a delicate operation, according to Dr. John Melnick. He died on December 14, 1920 following a long battle with pneumonia in an age before antibiotics.

The family had all lived at a stately home at the corner of Champion and East Federal Street. After her brother’s death, it was said that Lucy was rarely seen, and then only on her porch in a black dress until complications from an illness ended her life on September 10, 1926. Following her death it was learned that she had given the bulk of her fortune to establish a home for “student girls” and “those who are self-supporting and are engaged in gainful occupation.”

According to a story in The Jambar, some Buechner residents believe Lucy’s ghost haunts the residence. My wife and I don’t recall any such stories. Whatever is the case, Buechner Hall continues to serve Youngstown State’s students, with the restrictions on men visiting rooms that existed when we were there. Typically, there have been wait lists for rooms. Lucy’s gift, and the investments of the Buechner family have left a lasting memorial to Elvira. One can’t help but think she was an extraordinary wife and mother!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Cascade Run Stone Bridge

“Cascade Run Stone Bridge” Bob Trube, (c) 2015.

The Lanterman Falls Bridge, the silver Suspension Bridge and the Parapet Bridge are probably the most photographed bridges in Mill Creek Park. But there are many bridges in Mill Creek Park. Several years ago, on a fall visit to Youngstown we took a number of pictures in the park. One of those was of the Cascade Run Stone Bridge. I was on the north bank of Cascade Run, between the bridge and Lake Cohasset, looking toward the bridge and up the ravine beyond in the afternoon sunlight.

That picture turned into the painting above a few years ago when I was practicing working with an easel and paints before joining my wife and a group of artist friends in a plein air retreat at Linwood Park on Lake Erie. I don’t claim this is great art, more of a beginners effort. I suspect I am just one of many who have been inspired by a place in the park.

A early photo of the Cascade Run Stone Bridge (Source: The Vindicator)

The pictured bridge is a small stone bridge over Cascade Run, just before it flows into Mill Creek at the south end of Lake Cohasset. If you are driving north on Valley Drive from the Suspension Bridge, it crosses the Cascade Run Stone Bridge just before West Gorge Drive and West Cohasset Drive. Cascade Run Ravine is one of the most scenic spots in the park, running parallel to West Gorge Drive. It is a steep ravine (as is West Gorge Drive) punctuated with cascading waterfalls as it makes its way to Lake Cohasset. According to John C. Melnick, it was one of Volney Rogers’ favorite places.

Cascade Ravine was among the earliest park acquisitions. 29.36 acres west of Mill Creek. The deed was signed by George Tod and H. H. Stambaugh on September 15, 1891. A steel bridge at the top of the bridge was built in 1894. A new bridge was built in 1990. The stone bridge over Cascade Run on Valley Drive was built in 1913, which means it has lasted over a century, like many of the other bridges in the park.

This is not one of the more dramatic sights in the park, yet it is one more example of the careful workmanship and aesthetic sense of Volney Rogers and those who worked with him to create scenic and durable structures to complement that natural beauty of Mill Creek Park. It caught my eye on an afternoon roaming the park, and on another afternoon when I painted the scene. It is one of the reasons the park is such a treasure–favorite places to return to at different times of the year, and a thousand new ones to discover.