Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Benjamin F. Wirt


Benjamin F. Wirt, from The Biographical Annals of Ohio (1902). Public Domain

I have two memories of Wirt Street growing up. One was that I dated a girl for a while in Liberty and often, the quickest (though a bit scary) way home was down Wirt Street from Belmont to the West River Crossing Freeway to the West side. The other was as the site of a driving mishap. I was in college and went to visit a friend at Allegheny College. Driving home the morning after a snow storm, I had edged my way down Wirt Street to where it bent to the right, just before the freeway entrance, and I hit a patch of ice, banging into the curb. It “only” resulted in a bent tire rim and a badly knocked out of line front end. It was dad’s car so I paid. Not the happiest of memories of Wirt Street (now Wirt Boulevard).

The Wirt family, of which Benjamin F. Wirt was the most famous, is one of Youngstown’s early families, and I cannot be certain after whom Wirt Street was named, or if it simply represents one of Youngstown’s early families as does Wick Avenue. Peter Wirt was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and moved to Youngstown after the War of 1812. He had a farm in the Brier Hill district and so the street name may possibly be attributed to him. His son William was born in Youngstown in 1826. He worked as a builder and contracter. He married Eliza Sankey in 1849 and Benjamin was born during the family’s brief stay in West Middlesex, Pennsylvania, in Mercer County, in 1852.

Benjamin was a graduate of The Rayen School in 1869 and went on to read law with W. D. Woodworth, was admitted to the bar in 1873 and joined his teacher in a firm now called Woodworth & Wirt. They remained partners until 1880. In 1881 he married Mary M. McGeehen of New Bedford, Pennsylvania and they took up residence at 31 West Rayen Avenue. From 1880 to 1896, he practiced law on his own, handling many important court cases. He entered into partnership with M. A. Norris in 1896, then was elected to the state senate for two terms from 1899-1903 (This is based on his listing in the Biographical Annals of Ohio: A Handbook of the Government and Institutions of the State of Ohio published in 1902). Other articles list him from 1889-1893, but based on the listing, I believe these in error. His terms began just after those of William R. Stewart in the state house of representatives (incidentally Stewart read law in the firm of Woodworth & Wirt!).

Wirt ended his partnership with Norris in 1901, practiced alone until 1911 and then formed the firm of Wirt and Gunlefinger. He served as president of the Equity Savings and Loan Company, changed in 1920 to Federal Savings and Loan Company, one of Youngstowns major lending institutions of the time. He also served as president of the Sons of the American Revolution.

The lasting legacy of Benjamin F. Wirt stems from his and his wife Mary’s collection of rare books, documents, coins, artifacts, and art works.  He had a library of over 4,000 books, one of the largest private libraries at the time in northeast Ohio. Many were rare or first editions. He was a fan of Ohio author William Dean Howells and the collection included correspondence with Howells sister-in-law Eliza, as well as proof sheets and autographed letters. Upon his death in 1930, his estate was placed in trust and it was hoped that the trustees would establish a museum to properly display his collection. The collection remained in storage until the 1960’s. In 1962 Judge John Ford appointed five trustees to carry out Wirt’s last wishes. There was not enough in the trust to build the museum. However, an agreement was reached in 1965 that the Mahoning Valley Historical Society would house and exhibit the collection within the Arm Family Museum, where it is housed to this day.

Wirt followed the path of many of Youngstown’s distinguished citizens. He came from one of the early families. He made his mark in the practice of law, represented Youngstown in state government, led one of the city’s important financial institutions, and left a lasting legacy to the city, enriching its cultural life, and providing resources to researchers to the present day.


Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — William R. Stewart


Photograph of William R. Stewart in the George Washington Williams Room of the Ohio Statehouse, featuring all the African-American legislators in Ohio

He was the son of one of the first African-American families to settle in Youngstown. He was the first African-American legislator from Youngstown. He helped secure the funding to build the first Market Street Bridge and secured taxpayer funding for Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital. After returning from two terms in the state legislature, he worked another six decades as an attorney in Youngstown and at his death in 1958 was called the “dean of the Mahoning County Bar.”

William R . Stewart was born to Lemuel and Mary Stewart on October 29, 1864, in New Castle, Pennsylvania. A year later, the family came via canal boat to Youngstown, where Lemuel Stewart worked as a bricklayer, in partnership with P. Ross Berry, who built 65 structures in the Youngstown area, including a number in downtown Youngstown’s Diamond Block.

While going to school, he joined his father in bricklaying work, and graduated from the Rayen School in 1883. After a short stint with a railroad that soon became defunct, he began reading law in the law office of Woodworth and Wirt. He earned enough in a side business of cutting through red tape to obtain pensions for Civil War veterans, that he was able to enroll in the University of Cincinnati Law School, meeting his wife Consuela, a medical student. They returned to Youngstown where he set up a law practice in the Diamond Block and she practiced medicine as Youngstown’s first female Black physician until passing in 1911.

In 1895, he won election to the Ohio Legislature, running as a Republican. He served two terms there, from 1896 to 1899. In addition to his work on securing funding for the Market Street Bridge and Saint Elizabeth’s, he helped pass an anti-mob violence bill, and one placing justices of the peace on a salary rather than funding them by a fee system. He legislated for police and fire pensions.

He returned to Youngstown, developing an extensive law practice. One of his cases was a landmark railroad case under the new federal liability act. He established the right of his plaintiff to establish his claim based both on state and federal law, a precedent cited in many legal texts. Because of his experience with pensions, he became a trustee for the Youngstown Police Pension Fund. He served on the Youngstown Interracial Committee promoting racial understanding. He was also an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Stewart obit

Screen capture from Google News Archive of Vindicator, April 5, 1958, p. 1 story on the death of William R. Stewart.

After the Diamond Block was demolished, he moved his offices to the Union National Bank building. His pride and joy, though was his Tod Lane home, particularly his rose gardens. He also had a library of over 1,000 volumes. Late in his life, a hip fracture limited his mobility, and he died in his home on April 5, 1958 at the age of 93. He left an estate of a half million dollars, quite sizable for his time.

That caught my attention. He was born during the Civil War and lived until I was nearly four years old. He came to Youngstown when the small village was turning into an iron and coal center. He helped his father and P. Ross Berry build some of its buildings. He served in the state legislature, connected the South Side to downtown and witnessed the transformation of the city into a major industrial center. He was a civic leader respected by the whole city as well as within the black community and sought to foster interracial understanding.

It is surprising to me that his name, as far as I know, appears on no structure or monument in the city. His contributions were numerous, and until I came across his name while looking for something else, I never knew about him. Now I do, and I hope by writing about him, I can contribute to his memory in the city.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Dana School of Music


Unknown., “William Henry Dana, founder of the Dana Musical Institute. ,” Trumbull Memory Project, accessed April 17, 2020,

During 2018-2019, Dana School of Music celebrated its 150th year. That’s an interesting number, because Youngstown State is only 112 years old. It points to a history that goes back to 1869, to a rented room above a hardware store in Warren, Ohio, at the corner of Market and Main Streets. Back of that story was a man who had a vision for quality music instruction at a time when many music conservatories had abysmally low standards.

William Henry Dana was born in Warren, Ohio in 1846. At the age of 16, he went to Williston Seminary to study civil engineering, following in the footsteps of his father Junius, a civil engineer in Warren. He left his studies to serve in the Ohio Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War, returning after the war to work with his father. His real interest, though, was music, and he went to Baxter University of Music, graduating in 1869.

After graduation, he returned to Warren. He had been dismayed by the low standards of instruction in many music schools and determined to set up a school that was different. This included:

Daily Instruction. Compulsory studies. Stated hours of study and practice and these guarded against interruption. Salaried teachers whose life and interests are centered in the school’s best welfare. (Catalogue, 1931-32, p. 6 via JSTOR).

With those principles, Dana established the Dana Musical Institute. At first his father was opposed, perceiving most musicians in the same class as drunkards. Apparently William won him over, because he became the main financial supporter of the school and served as secretary of the Institute until 1906.

In 1871, tuition at the Institute, only the third to in Ohio after Oberlin and Cincinnati, was a mere $75 for a full year of instruction. Initially most of the students were from the Warren area but the quality of instruction and affordable tuition attracted students from throughout the Midwest and Northeast, They rapidly outgrew their rented facilities and moved to a four story mansion on Park Avenue and High Street that once served as a stage coach stop. Eventually, women’s and men’s dormitories were added.

There were high standards for students and faculty. Students were required to attend church as well as twice-daily chapels, and had a curfew and could not drop out of their studies except in cases of illness. All the faculty were to be married, of an age to be respected by the students and devoted to the school’s interests.

Dana matched discipline with musical excellence. He pursued studies abroad in England and Germany, was a member of the Royal Academy of Music in London, and authored several texts on music theory. By 1911, it was chartered to grant Bachelor of Music, Master of Music, and Doctor of Music degrees.

William Henry Dana died in 1916. His son Lynn B. Dana, vice president from 1901, became president upon his father’s death. He was a concert pianist, Royal Academy of Music member and serve a stint as president of the Ohio Music Teachers Association, pioneering the Standardization of Music Teaching.

After a dip in enrollments during the first World War, enrollments climbed to 700 in the 1920’s. At this time, the Dana Music Institute claimed to be the only music school in the world to support its own string quartet, string orchestra, symphony orchestra, military band and chorus.

In 1931, Ohio required music degrees be granted from accredited colleges. The Institute was only a conservatory, not an accredited college. Dana attempted to establish cooperative relationships with Hiram, and later Kent State. During this time, enrollments dropped from 700 to 253.

In the fall of 1941, the school moved to Youngstown, was renamed the Dana School of Music, and became part of what was then Youngstown College. Sadly, Lynn B. Dana died before the beginning of classes, that year. An epoch of the Institute in Warren ended. But a new one in Youngstown began which has carried on to this day.

In my day on campus in the early 1970’s, I remember going to recitals at the old recital hall which is now the Sweeney Welcome Center, part of YSU’s Admissions Office. In 1977, the Dana School of Music moved into newly opened Bliss Hall, which continues to serve as its home.

In an article in YSU Magazine on Dana’s 150th anniversary it featured the diverse range of outstanding musicians trained at Dana:

  • John Anthony, a local rock guitarist.
  • Jazz musician Sean Jones, artistic director of the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra, and Chair of Jazz Studies at the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins.
  • Baroque flutist Mary Oleskiewicz
  • Pianist Christina Reitz.
  • Gospel musician Mark Jackson
  • Trombonist Bob Matchett
  • Country music songwriter and member of the Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, Bob DiPiero.
  • Soprano Amanda Beagle
  • Billy Beck, member of the R & B supergroup, the Ohio Players.

What is impressive to me is the musical excellence across so many genres of music. I also knew many others whose excellence took the form of teaching careers in schools, inspiring students to love and make great music. It shouldn’t be surprising that such excellence might be found here. It was the passion of William Henry Dana. And now it is a 150 year tradition.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Packard Brothers

Packard Brothers

James Ward Packard and William Doud Packer

For most of us, the Packard name has one of two associations. Many of us from the Mahoning Valley attended concerts or other events, including productions of the Kenley Players, at the Packard Music Hall in Warren. Others may have worked, or knew someone who did, at Packard Electric, later Delphi. If you are an auto buff, you may remember Packard automobiles.

All of this traces back to two brothers, James Ward Packard and William Doud Packard, born two years apart in Warren, Ohio in 1861 (William) and 1863 (James). Their father was a prominent Warren businessman and the family had been involved with lumber mills, hardware stores, hotels, and an iron rolling mill. After James graduated from Lehigh University in 1884 he returned to Warren, won a patent for an incandescent light bulb, and joined with his brother William in forming the Packard Electric Company in 1890. The original business focused around the manufacture of incandescent bulbs until this was spun off to General Electric, who for a time had been a silent partner. This occurred around 1903.

Packard_factory_no10_interior_1906 (1)

Manning Brothers Publishing / Public domain via Wikimedia

Meanwhile, James had purchased a car from the Winton Company, with which he was dissatisfied. He and his brother joined with George L. Weiss to form a company first called Packard & Weiss, later called the Ohio Automobile Company, and finally the Packard Motor Car Company in 1902. Their first car was built in 1899. The cars were built in the same buildings occupied by Packard Electric. Then Henry Bourne Joy, a wealthy Detroit industrialist bought a Packard, and was so impressed with the quality of the car that he formed a group of investors. While James Packard remained president, they moved the company to Detroit where Joy served as general manager and later chairman of the board. The Packard became known as the American luxury car, comparable to Rolls-Royce and Mercedes-Benz. Packards were manufactured until 1958.

With the automobile manufacturing in Detroit, and General Electric taking over their incandescent bulb manufacturing, Packard Electric focused on the manufacture of the electrical components in automobiles–ignition systems, wiring harnesses, and other electrical components–for Packard and other auto manufacturers.

At this point the Packards were wealthy men. William built a Warren and Wetmore-designed home in Chatauqua with a duplicate in Warren. He donated the land for Packard Park, completed in 1915. In 1920, three years before he died, he set aside money in his will for a trust to fund a music hall and band. After Katherine Packard died in 1940, plans began for the music hall, which was opened in 1955 as the W. D. Packard Music Hall. The remainder of the trust was used for establishing and maintaining the Packard Band.

James passed away in 1928. Before he died he gave a $1.2 million gift to build what became the Packard Labs at Lehigh University, and the home of the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science. When the building was dedicated in 1930 a Packard “Ohio Model A” was donated to Lehigh and remains to this day in the lobby of the building.

In 1932, Packard Electric was acquired by General Motors, becoming part of its Delphi Automotive Systems in 1995. GM spun off Delphi in 1999 and declared bankruptcy in 2005 when the facilities in Warren with a history going back to 1890 were closed. The company had been known for some of the best automotive wiring components in the world.

While the Packard businesses are gone, their impact on Warren remains in the form of Packard Music Hall, the Packard Band, Packard Park, and The National Packard Museum.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Crandall Park


Sledding at Crandall Park, photo by Don Tankovich, used with permission.

I grew up on the West Side and both sets of grandparents lived on the south side. My only childhood memory was one time when my grandparents took me there. I remember the lake, a play area, tree-lined walkways, and heavily wooded areas. In more recent years, while my parents were still living at Park Vista, we drove past Crandall Park and the Crandall neighborhoods, which offered glimpses of their grand past.

Crandall Park is named after Nelson Crandall, who made his and his family’s fortune working at Brier Hill Iron and Coal Works. He was the secretary for the estate of Governor David Tod, and later collaborated with Henry Tod and John Stambaugh in building the Tod House in 1870. When Youngstown was still a village centered around the downtown, Tod bought a farm north of the village, bordering on the Trumbull County line at Gypsy Lane that also included the land that would become Crandall Park proper surrounded by many of the stately homes that survive to this day.

Beginning in 1904 The North Heights Land Company and the Realty Guarantee Trust Company acquired the land and began development of the area. The Realty Trust donated the ravined area of Andrews Hollow, the portion west of Fifth Avenue becoming Crandall Park, named after the Crandall family. They extended Fifth Avenue north to Gypsy Lane and built a collection of some of the grandest homes in Youngstown along the roads surrounding the park and nearby areas, homes that would be the residences of industry magnates like Thomas Bray, president of Republic Iron and Steel, Frank Purnell, President of Youngstown Sheet and Tube, Edward Clark, president of Newton Steel, and George Brainard, president of General Fireproofing. Philip Wick, Myron Arms, Joseph Schwebel, and Joseph Lustig also owned homes in the area.

As far as Crandall Park itself, by 1925 the lake had been created, tennis courts and picnic areas built. A pavilion was built in 1930, and the picnic shelter in 1936. As the photo above indicates, the hills of the ravine provided a great place for sledding, and when the lake froze, a great place for ice skating. The shelter and the picnic areas offered many locations for family gatherings. The park vied with Wick Park for the honor of most scenic city park in Youngstown.

Most of us remember this area with memories like these. Like other parts of Youngstown, it suffered decline with the mill closures in the late 1970’s. Housing stock south of the park has decline more but the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation has been working with neighborhood residents since 2014 to renew the area. The area has been designated the Crandall Park-Fifth Avenue Historic District. In 2017 the pavilion in Crandall Park was reopened after renovations.

One hopes this work continues. Grand homes, a beautiful park for community gatherings. Shaded streets and boulevards. A reminder of Youngstown’s grandeur, and perhaps a sign of hope for the future.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Milk and Egg Delivery

I remember when we used to get milk in glass bottles, and when you finished a bottle, you would wash it out and place it in an insulated metal box you kept outside your front door. Usually, about once a week, a milk truck would stop at your home, pick up the empties, and leave whatever your family had ordered. Often you would leave the money for your order in the box (it was a simpler, more honest time before “porch pirates”). When we were home during the summer, mom would always tell us to keep an eye out for the milkman from Dawson’s (not to be confused with Lawson’s, which came later) so we could get the milk in the house before it got warm. I also remember seeing the Isaly trucks in our neighborhood.

Isaly's milk delivery box

Isaly milk delivery box

Various caps were used to seal the milk. I remember the ones that were made of cardboard, usually with a message on top that said something like “wash bottle before returning.” They had a little tab in the middle that you would pull up to open the bottle. I have vivid memories of this. For a while, Dawson’s had a series that featured each of the fifty states. I believe they gave you a card to use as you collected these. Eventually, I got all fifty. I wish I still had it–it would probably be a collector’s item today.

We also had an egg man, an older local farmer, who delivered our eggs. His name may have been Bill. He delivered eggs in his car as I recall, and when it was in season, we would also buy fresh corn from him. Occasionally we bought brown-shelled eggs which tasted better. You paid him each week at the time of delivery.

Milk has been delivered in the United States since 1785 when farmers started delivering raw milk in Vermont. This continued for many years, often brought in galvanized pails, but there are limits to the distances it can be transported. Eventually milk pasteurization was introduced, mandated in 1910 in New York City. In pasteurization, milk is heated to around the boiling point, which kills much, but not all, of the bacteria (there is also a double pasteurization process that kills more). Pasteurization extends the shelf life of milk to up to three weeks. The milk we received was both pasteurized and homogenized, the latter being a process by which the fat molecules in milk are broken down, instead of rising to the top as cream.

Many companies, like Isaly’s delivered a number of other dairy products like heavy cream, sour cream, cottage cheese, and buttermilk, and sometimes other grocery items like orange juice and eggs. Part of the attraction, it seems of having these items delivered, was that they were the things you tended to use up most quickly, and it wasn’t always convenient to go to the grocery store just for them.

Two things may have changed this, at least for milk. One was the opening of convenience stores like the Lawson’s just up the street from our house, and the other was the introduction of plastic jugs, which were lighter, less slippery, and easy to carry. I suspect that prices were often better. Yet I remember the fresh taste of the eggs we got from the egg man and the just picked corn. I can’t remember if the milk was better, but I do have to say, I always liked milk as a kid, much less so today, so there might have been something to this.

It is interesting how things have come full circle. I do remember, even into the 1980’s or so, some small grocers in Youngstown delivered, especially to their elderly customers. They are all but gone now and for a while none of the larger chains delivered and people didn’t seem to want that.

Even before the current virus pandemic, that has been changing. Everyone from Amazon and its Whole Foods subsidiary to our local groceries and drug store will deliver. The Community Supported Agriculture movement of local farmers also delivers fresh produce to its subscribers each week. There is even a growing movement in Ohio allowing for raw milk deliveries.

As many of us would say in Youngstown, “everything that goes around comes around.”

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Barney Bean

We would come in before dinner and plop down in front of the TV to catch The Barney Bean Show. If you were a kid during the Sixties, I’m sure you remember Barney Bean and his ventriloquist’s dummy, Sherwood. Barney and Sherwood would come out to talk with the live studio audience of children at the WYTV Channel 33 studio. Barney would wear a brown fringed vest and goofy hat with a big safety pin pinning up the brim. Sherwood was dress in a garish sport jacket, and there was always great repartee between them, with Sherwood often getting the best of Barney. They even combined on a locally produced 45 recording,  “BARNEY BEAN & SHERWOOD – FOR KIDS FOR FUN.”

Barney was David William “Bill” Harris. He was a Mahoning Valley native, born April 10, 1929 in Hubbard. He graduated from Boardman High School and Youngstown College. He was a newscaster but was most well-known as the host of his children’s show. What most people remember was the segment in each show where children could send in to the show to have Barney Bean do a drawing for them on their birthday. With a sketchpad and a magic marker, he started with the child’s initials and would draw a cartoon–different every time! He spoke one time at a youth rally at our church, doing one of his drawings. I think there was a religious focus to his presentation, but all I remember was the drawing!

National celebrity Art Linkletter had a kid’s show around the same time called House Party. He subsequently wrote a book called Kid’s Say the Darndest Things. That proved to be a problem on one of Barney Bean’s live studio shows. He actually had Ronald McDonald on the show. Ronald interviewed the kids in the audience and reputedly asked one of the boys if he had heard any funny jokes. The boy responded with an off-color joke that left Ronald dumbfounded, to which the boy meanly responded, “Eat it, clown.” No chance to edit. That was live TV!

Locally produced children’s shows eventually gave way to national shows like Sesame Street. Bill Harris continued to live in the area working with Gordon Brothers until retiring in 2004. His obituary also indicates that he was part of the Boardman Eagles Club and visited children in the hospital. I wonder if he did drawings for them. I’m also curious whatever happened to Sherwood. Harris lived until June 21, 2008, dying at age 79, leaving behind his wife of 58 years leaving five children, ten grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

He also left behind a bunch of amazing cartoons and good memories for a generation of Youngstown area children!


Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Youngstown Air Reserve Station

Fairchild C-119

Fairchild C-119B-10-FA Flying Boxcar, U.S. Air Force Photo, Public Domain

If you were outside and you heard the roar of those engines overhead, you looked up to watch the “Flying Boxcars” winging their way to the Youngstown Air Reserve Station, connected to what was then Youngstown Municipal Airport. The plane was used as a troop and cargo transport during the Korean War and into the 1960’s when the 910th Troop Carrier Group was first established at the Youngstown Air Force Base.


F-84 Thunderjet. USAFNational Museum of the U.S. Air Force. Public Domain

The beginnings of the Youngstown Air Force Base goes back to the early Cold War. In 1951, the Air Defense Command negotiated with Youngstown to establish a base for defense of the north-central United States in the event of a nuclear attack from Soviet bombers. Originally, the 86th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron flew F-84 Thunderjets. Later, they upgraded to the F-102 Delta Dagger. which the 86th flew until moved in 1960. Also in 1955, the 79th Fighter Group was assigned to Youngstown.


F-102 Delta Dagger, United States Air ForceDonald, David (2004), Public Domain

Also stationed at the Air Force Base in those early years was the Air Force Reserve’s 26th Fighter Bomber Squadron, a reserve unit flying the T-33 Shooting Star, a subsonic jet trainer, and very briefly the F-86H Sabres, a transonic fighter bomber.


The April 1958 issue of Buckstone Carrier (the Youngstown Air Force Base periodical) features a sketch of a C-119 “Flying Boxcar,” tail number 0133, in flight. U.S. Air Force photo by Mr. Eric M. White, Public Domain

In 1959, the 86th was pulled out and the 26th inactivated. In 1960 the 79th was deactivated. The coming of the 910th in 1963 signaled the beginning of what is now a 57 year history. Over the years the mission changed from transport to air support special operations (1971-1973), a fighter group (1973-1981), and Tactical Airlift since then. Once again the loud roar of aircraft engines can be heard near the airport with the arrival of C-130’s. These aircraft can carry 92 troops, 64 paratroopers, and 45,000 pounds of cargo. The 910th has also had unique mission as a large area fixed spray operation, used in killing mosquitoes and other disease carrying insects. Currently, Ohio’s congressional delegation is working to get the latest version, the C-130J for the Youngstown Air Reserve Station.


C-130 over Youngstown Air Reserve Station, U. S. Air Force, Public Domain

Hopefully, the valley will continue to hear the sound of those C-130’s overhead for many years to come.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Why I Still Love Youngstown

Suspension BridgeOne of the things I’ve discovered in writing about Youngstown over the years is that it may be forty years or more, but many people formerly from Youngstown still love the city as they remember it. That’s not true for all, of course, but I’ve reflected on why so many still have a special place in their hearts for Youngstown. I feel that way even though I moved away for work after college in 1976, and have lived longer in my current home than I lived in Youngstown.

Maybe it is just how people feel about their home town, no matter what. Could be, but I find people from Youngstown seem to light up when they have a chance to talk about what was special about home. We make pilgrimages to remind ourselves of what we loved–the Canfield Fair, the original Handel’s, Mill Creek Park, the Butler, or even New York City to ride the old Idora carousel.

If I had to come up with one reason for this love, I think it is simply because, for so many of us, the Youngstown of our memories was a good place to grow up–not perfect, but pretty good. It was a city of families–often extended families living within blocks of each other. It was a city that worked hard, and sometimes partied hard–particularly at weddings and wakes. It was a city that was both gritty and beautiful–with both mills and Mill Creek, blast furnaces and the Butler, both neighborhood garages and grand family-owned department stores. In many parts of town, most of the necessities of life were within walking distance.

Of course there was the food, and the endless quest of Youngstowners to find anything so good elsewhere, whether pizza or pizzelles, halushki or Handel’s. The Recipes of Youngstown cookbooks are a treasure trove for those who lost grandma’s recipe for one or another great Youngstown recipe. Sometimes the best food in the city could be found in her kitchen and her recipe box a family treasure.

The more I’ve delved into the people and history of Youngstown, the more I’ve been impressed by so many who loved the city and gave back and made it the rich place I enjoyed as a child–Volney Rogers, Joseph Butler, Anson Campbell, P. Berry Ross, William Rayen, Reuben MacMillan, the Warner Brothers, the McKelvey and Strouss families, and so many more. I didn’t know most of these stories until recent years, but those stories wove the fabric of my life and that of so many others in the city. They made it a good place industrially, commercially, educationally, culturally, and architecturally. Knowing these stories has deepened my love for such a historically and culturally rich place.

We love it for all our memories–family gatherings, first communions, first dates, first jobs. Some of us married there, and whether those lasted or our spouses survived, we remember. Many of us have buried our parents there. Even if we haven’t visited for some time, we remember our favorite places, whether the beauty of places like Crandall Park, skating on Lake Glacier in winter, the grand old houses around Wick Park and Stambaugh Auditorium.

I could go on, but all the posts I’ve written over the years are really an extended love letter for the city. And I would love to hear about the things you loved, and still love about Youngstown.


Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — John Struthers

Places names, in and around Youngstown, often bear the names of people connected with those places. Struthers is one such place that bears the name of its founder, John Struthers. That came later, however, and is part of a story of land purchased, lost, and reclaimed by the Struthers family.

The best biography I have found of John Struthers is that written by Ted Heineman in his Riverside Journal and much of what I include in this article is drawn from Ted’s fine work on those buried in Riverside Cemetery, including John Struthers. Struthers was born in Maryland in 1759 and moved to Washington County, Pennsylvania in 1775. John fought in the Revolutionary War and in 1786 married Mary Foster, whose brother William was the father of composer and songwriter Stephen Foster. They acquired land in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, where they had four of their children. John had charge of a troop of Pennsylvania Cavalry, and at one point pursued marauding Native tribal people up the Beaver and Mahoning Rivers to what is now Yellow Creek. Taken with the beauty of the area, he acquired 400 acres along Yellow Creek in Poland Township from Judge Turhand Kirtland in October of 1798. (I mention Turhand Kirtland in an article about his son, Jared Potter Kirtland). Turhan Kirtland recorded the transaction in his diary:

Tuesday, Oct. 9 – Went to Pittsburg [sic] to breakfast and from that across the Monongahela to Cannonsburg, seventeen miles, to John Struthers, to receive money due the company for two lots sold him in No. 1 for Mill place.

Wednesday, Oct. 10 – I was obliged to stay at Struthers waiting for the money to be collected.

Thursday, Oct. 11 – I set out for home.

In 1799, Struthers built a log cabin above Yellow Creek near what is now Park Way Avenue in Struthers. At the time, he called the settlement Marbletown. He improved a nearby dam on Yellow Creek and built a grist mill. In the next years John and Mary would have four more children. In 1802, James and Daniel (H)Eaton (they dropped the “H”) built the Hopewell Furnace. The Hopewell Furnace was sold in 1807 to Robert Montgomery, who owned another furnace downstream on Yellow Creek. John Struthers was a partner with Montgomery. Hopewell shut down in 1808, and the other furnace in 1812, due to the rapid depletion of wood for charcoal in the area, and the war of 1812, which drew off workers. Struthers also fought in the war, only to find his enterprises in ruins, necessitating selling his land to pay his bills.

These were hard years for John. He lost his son Alexander in the war. After purchasing land in Coitsville Township, his wife Mary died in 1814. Later, in 1827, two of his daughters, Drucilla and Emma died in a boating accident on the Mahoning River. At age 68, with most of his surviving children having moved away, John was left with his daughter Mathilda on the Coitsville farm.

It is at this point that Stephen Foster enters into the story. Mary’s brother William was in steep debt. John invited him and his family, including Stephen, to move into the largely empty farmhouse. Thus the Youngstown area, and Coitsville in particular, became part of the Stephen Foster story. Stephen spent time hunting with his uncle, being regaled with stories of life on the frontier.

Meanwhile, John’s son, Thomas Struthers thrived in legal practice, rail and oil enterprises, eventually becoming a multi-millionaire. During this time, John died and was buried alongside his wife and two daughters, originally next to the Poland Presbyterian Church, in 1845. Later, they were reinterred in a family plot in Riverside Cemetery. After the Civil War, Thomas used some of his wealth to reacquire all the land his father had lost along Yellow Creek, laying out a new town, “Struthers,” named in honor of his father. He also used his resources and ties to bring industry to the area.

In 1902, Struthers was incorporated as a village, then in 1920 with the growth of the steel industry, as a city. In a way, John Struthers not only gave the city its name and location along Yellow Creek, but also its industrial history, through his partnership with Robert Montgomery, and through his successful son.

[You might want to visit this Business Journal article for another account of the beginnings of Struthers and a great picture of Ted Heineman beside the original Struthers gravesite next to Poland Presbyterian Church.]