Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Playing in the Street


Saw this meme on Facebook the other day and it brought back a flood of memories of growing up on North Portland on the West Side. We played sports on the street in front of our houses, at least until it snowed. Then we sledded.

In spring and summer, it was baseball. Usually there were eight or ten of us, sometimes more. We would choose up sides, often share gloves, an old bat, and a ball usually taped up with black electrical tape because we had long worn the cover off of it. Often, you had a pitcher, two infielders, maybe one in the “outfield.” Often, there was no catcher. It was an incentive to hit the ball, otherwise you had to retrieve it. Basically the street was the field with the curbs as foul lines. The danger of baseball on the street was breaking a window or leaving a dent on a parked car. I’m sure we did both.

From late summer on, we switched over to football. Football really makes sense on streets. The curbs made natural sidelines, although you could get pretty banged up going out for a pass and tripping over a curb. Because it was the street, it was strictly “touch.” Usually we used driveways for goal lines. I was never the great athlete and was glad to get chosen rather than sit on the curb watching. Usually though, that meant my job was to rush the passer, or alternately, to block the rusher. But I was playing.

As in the meme, games were interrupted when cars drove down the street. Sometimes the drivers honked if we weren’t fast enough in getting off the street. No one even got close to getting hit by a car, despite all the worries and warnings of our mothers.

The greater hazard was usually the grouchy neighbor who would yell, “stay off my grass!” Invariably that’s where the hit ball or errant pass would go. It must be a law of physics.

The other hazard with our games was the street itself. It was one of the old brick streets. It was kind of uneven and you could turn an ankle if you weren’t careful. Ground balls could be exciting, taking weird bounces. I’m kind of glad hockey and soccer weren’t big back then. They definitely wouldn’t have worked that well on that old brick street–but I’m sure that hasn’t stopped kids from playing those games.

I can’t say we played in the streets because there was no where else to play. There was a playground at the school down the street. There were sports fields a few blocks away. I think sometimes, it was just one of those things that happened when a bunch of us were hanging around on a summer evening or after school.

These days, I mainly see kids playing on suburban cul de sacs, something we never had growing up. My son grew up just down the street from a cul de sac and that’s where the pick up games happened. Often neighbors would set up basketball hoops on opposite sides of the cul de sac, or hockey or soccer nets, and all of a sudden you had full court or rink or field games. And it was pretty rare that someone yelled, “car.”

Overall, youth sports are far more organized, better equipped, and usually played at facilities designed for the particular game. In a working class neighborhood, we didn’t have most of those things. When someone yelled “car,” we had to stop the game. But I still think we had a pretty awesome childhood.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Jared Potter Kirtland

Front Cover

Jared Potter Kirtland, By Allen Smith – The Ohio Journal of Science, vol. 30 (3) – 1930, Public Domain, via Wikimedia

He grew up in Connecticut and took his medical training at Yale. He was Poland, Ohio’s first physician. His home in Poland was a stop on the Underground Railroad. His father Turhand helped lay out the settlement of Youngstown and has a town east of Cleveland named after him. He has two snakes and a rare warbler named after him. He served in the state legislature, taught at medical schools at both ends of the state and started a natural history museum. He was an ornithologist (birds), an ichthyologist (fish), and horticulturalist (plants). If anyone could ever have been said to have lived an interesting life, it would be him. And until this week, I never heard of him.

He is Jared Potter Kirtland. I’m reading a biography of Frederick Douglass, the black abolitionist, who I discovered spoke at several gatherings in Salem and Youngstown. It made me explore Underground Railroad stops in the area (a post for another time). Along the way, I came across this statement in The Underground Railroad From Slavery to Freedom by William Henry Siebert: “Dr. Jared P. Kirtland, a distinguished physician and scientist from Ohio, kept a station in Poland, Mahoning County, where he resided from 1823 to 1837.” So I searched for more material on Kirtland and discovered this interesting life, part of which was lived in the Mahoning Valley.

He was born on November 10, 1793 in Wallingford, Connecticut. His father Turhand was a land agent with the Connecticut Land Company that was involved in the settlement of Ohio’s Western Reserve. Turhand owned various pieces of land throughout the Western Reserve, including in Poland, and the town that would eventually bear his name. His diary for August of 1798 records him assisting John Young in the survey of Youngstown. He was involved in establishing schools and libraries throughout the Western Reserve including a library in Poland in 1805. Later, he was a State Senator for Trumbull County and a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas in Warren. He contributed to the founding of Western Reserve College, originally in Hudson (and still the home of Western Reserve Academy).

Jared remained in Connecticut in his youth, enrolling at Yale College in 1811 and then in the first class of the new Medical College at Yale in 1813, graduating in 1815. He thought about moving to Ohio to join his father but remained in Connecticut until the death of his first wife in 1823. He became the village of Poland’s first physician with a rapidly growing practice. Turhand built a larger home at what is now Rt. 224 and Ohio. In 1828, he was elected to the Ohio legislature, where he served three terms. He played a key role in the passage of legislation of the Ohio and Pennsylvania canal that played a major role in the industrial growth of Youngstown. Perhaps his statewide contacts led to his next opportunity, that took him forever away from the Youngstown area.

From 1837 to 1842, he taught Medicine at the Medical College of Cincinnati. Then in 1843, he moved to Cleveland, where he helped establish the Cleveland Medical College at Western Reserve University, where he taught until his death in 1877, occupying the chair of theory and practice.

Kirtland was something of a Renaissance man, with interests in a number of fields of natural history. He assisted in the first geological survey of Ohio. He owned a farm in East Rockport, (now Lakewood, Ohio) and was interested in advancing horticulture and agriculture throughout the state. Kirtland’s warbler, Kirtland’s snake and the forest vine snake (Thelotornis kirtlandii) bear his name. He helped found the Cleveland Academy of Natural Science in 1845, which now is the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. In 1851, he served on a committee to ensure the safety of Cleveland’s water supply. He offered his services examining young men entering the army during the Civil War at age 70. He died in Rocky River, Ohio on December 11, 1877 at age 84.

Both Turhan and Jared Kirtland played important roles in the Youngstown and Western Reserve area. Jared was one of the early station masters of the Underground Railroad as the efforts to aid fugitive slaves in their flight to Canada developed. He was a frontier physician, and perhaps one of Ohio’s earliest scientists. He played a key role in Youngstown’s industrial growth as well as contributing to the growth of Cleveland. I’m glad to finally know something of his story.


Biography of the Kirtland and Morse Family,” OhioLINK Finding Aid Repository.

Jared Potter Kirtland, Wikipedia.

Ted Heineman, “Dr. Jared Potter Kirtland, M.D., LL.D. (1793-1877)Riverside Cemetery Journal.

Turhan Kirtland, with Introduction by Mary L. W. Morse, Diary of Turhand Kirtland, While Surveying and Laying Out the Western Reserve for the Connecticut Land Company, 1798-1800

Turhand Kirtland,” Find A Grave.

Wilbur Henry Siebert, The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom. (New York: MacMillan, 1898), p. 104.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Calvary Cemetery


Calvary Cemetery Northeast Entrance, © Bob Trube, 2019.

From the time I was old enough to walk to the West Side Library or the Mahoning Plaza, my walk along Mahoning Avenue took me past Calvary Cemetery. Later on, I used to walk along the east side of the cemetery along S. Belle Vista, either when I walked up to the James L. Wick, Jr. recreation area or more frequently, on the way to Chaney High School. Most of the time, I didn’t give it much thought apart from looking at some of the very impressive grave monuments. We used to joke that they needed those heavy stone monuments to keep some of the people in their graves.

I can’t recall that I was in the cemetery until the deaths of some of my wife’s relatives, and of her mother, who died in 1998, and was buried next to her husband, who had died many years earlier. I did not grow up in a Catholic home, and most of my relations were buried at Forest Lawn over on Market Street. Many of my Catholic friends had grandparents, aunts and uncles who were buried there.

Calvary Cemetery is one of four Catholic Cemeteries serving the Diocese of Youngstown. The others are in Cortland (All Souls), Massillon (also Calvary), and Austintown (Resurrection). Calvary is the oldest of these, and the largest. I could not find a figure of how many people are buried at Calvary Cemetery. Find-a-Grave currently lists 20,586 memorials photographed, which they say is 67% of the memorials. This would suggest that at least 30,000 people are buried there, and perhaps more if a memorial remembered more than one person buried nearby, such as a couple. [Since first posting, I’ve seen comments estimating numbers between 100,000 and 200,000 buried there. Look for an update on this post when I can call the cemetery.]

The cemetery was established in 1885 and was also known as Mount Calvary Cemetery. There were two older Catholic cemeteries in the area, the Old Catholic Cemetery known as Rose Hill, and the German Catholic Cemetery, also known as St. Joseph’s Church Cemetery. When Calvary was opened, those interred at these other two cemeteries were moved there, meaning that Calvary includes graves of those who died prior to 1885.

While the list is not nearly as long as the one for Oak Hill Cemetery, where many of the early “pillars” of Youngstown were buried, the cemetery serves as the final resting place of some important figures in Youngstown history. These include:

  • Michael Patrick “Little Pat” Bilon (1947-1983), an actor most famous for his role as “E.T.” in the 1982 film E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial.
  • Michael Joseph Kirwan (1886-1970), long-time Congressman for the 19th District, serving from 1937-1970.
  • Charles Joseph Carney (1913-1987), Kirwan’s successor in Congress.
  • George “Shotgun” Shuba (1924-2014), the Brooklyn Dodger outfielder most famously know for “The Handshake” as Shuba waited at home plate to shake Jackie Robinson’s hand after Robinson hit a home run. The event was photographed and became a widely circulated symbol of the breakdown of racial barriers in Major League Baseball.
  • Leonard Thom (1917-1946), the executive officer on PT 109, commanded by Lt. John F. Kennedy.
  • Dr. Louis E. Rampona (1904-1986), physician to Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer.
  • Charles J. Williams (b. 1871-d. unknown). He was the first African-American patrolman and detective, appointed to the Youngstown Police Department in 1899.

Calvary Cemetery continues to serve the needs of the Catholic community in Youngstown, although indicates that while accepting burials, space is becoming limited. The cemetery is well into its second century as the final resting place for many Catholic residents in Youngstown. May they rest in peace and rise in glory.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown –Harry B. Burt and Good Humor Bars


Old Good Humor Truck, Author unknown, PD-US

One of the joys of summer was to hear the jingle of an ice cream truck coming down the street. You would race to get money from your parents. The driver would stop and sell you ice cream treats, perhaps an ice cream bar on a stick out of his freezer. Many people don’t realize that these happy memories were the innovations of a Youngstown entrepreneur, Harry B. Burt, and his Good Humor company.

Burt arrived in Youngstown as an eighteen year old in 1893 and opened a candy store on S. Hazel Avenue in downtown Youngstown. Eventually as the business grew, he moved to a corner store at Phelps and Boardman. There were subsequent moves to 27 and 29 North Phelps. Eventually, Burt added a soda fountain, known as Burt’s Arbor Garden.

In 1920, Burt created an ice cream bar consisting of a cut out rectangle of ice cream coated with a smooth chocolate coating. His son thought it tasty but messy and suggested adding a wooden stick to hold the bar. Burt found that the frozen ice cream bonded well to the stick. About the same time, another company invented the Eskimo Pie, without a stick.  When Burt applied for a patent on his Good Humor Bar, it was initially rejected because it was too similar to the Eskimo Pie. Burt went to Washington with a pail of Good Humor bars to show the difference. Subsequently, in 1923, he received a patent for the machinery and production process used to manufacture Good Humor Bars, but not not bar itself.

Where did the name “Good Humor” come from? Burt believed there was a connection between one’s temperament, or “humor,” and one’s palate. There might be some sense to that. Few things make one so happy as a tasty serving of ice cream.

Burt purchased twelve refrigerated delivery trucks to sell the bars throughout the area, and birthed the ice cream truck. The growth of the company and the need for production space led to a move to a new location at 325 West Federal Street in 1922. At this point, Burt only had four years to see the growth of his enterprise, much of the time of which was spent in patent disputes with Eskimo Pies, and a lawsuit with the rival Popsicle Corporation. Burt died in 1926. His wife Cora took the company public and sold franchises for the next two years, then sold the business and its patents to Midland Food Products, a Cleveland company that retained the Good Humor name. Much of the manufacturing moved to Chicago. Michael Meehan purchased a 75 percent interest in the company in 1931, operating in New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Detroit, and Chicago. There were also three major franchises in Baltimore/Washington, Oklahoma (operated by Burt’s son Harry, Jr.) and in California. In 1961 Unilever purchased the company and continues to own and market the brand to the present day. However, they ended marketing through ice cream trucks in 1976.

The building at 325 W. Federal is still standing. In 1935 Mrs. Burt sold the building to James Ross, who ran Ross Radio, an electronics business out of the building for many years. Eventually Jeff Clark took over ownership and maintained the building. Befitting its historical significance, the building was acquired in 2008 by the Mahoning Valley Historical Society as the site of its Tyler History Center.


Harry Burt and Good Humor Bar Historical Marker. Photo by Jack Pierce (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Flickr

When one visits the Tyler, a historical marker in front of the building, which was erected in 2012, reminds us of the history of this building and the unique role Harry B. Burt played in the history of ice cream manufacturing and marketing from this Youngstown location. The plaque reads:

Harry B. Burt (1874-1926) came to Youngstown in 1893 and began making and selling penny candy. He expanded his business with high quality candies, chocolates, and ice cream. Around 1920 Burt invented a process for freezing a stick in an ice cream bar and coating it in chocolate so one could eat it without touching it. He called his new confection “Good Humor Ice Cream Suckers.” Burt purchased the building at 325 West Federal Street in 1921, remodeled it, and opened it on April 4, 1922 to make his products and serve his customers. Here he first mass produced ice cream bars and sold them in area neighborhoods from a fleet of freezer trucks with bells and uniformed drivers. After Burt’s death, investors purchased the brand, formed the Good Humor Corporation of America in Chicago, and it grew into a national phenomenon.

When one thinks of ice cream in Youngstown, we often think first of Isaly’s or Handel’s, but alongside these is Harry Burt’s Good Humor Bar. Whenever, and wherever, we eat ice cream on a stick or hear an ice cream truck, we have Harry Burt to thank.


Harry Burt,” Wikipedia.

Good Humor,” Wikipedia.

100 Years of Good Humor,” Good Humor, Unilever website.

Good Humor Ice Cream Truck, 1938,” Smithsonian Insider, 21 June 2011.

History of the Burt Confectionery & Creation of the ‘Good Humor’ Bar” Mahoning Valley Historical Society.

Don Shilling, “Local Building Honored in National Magazine,” The Vindicator, May 7, 2006.


Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Burning Leaves


Photo by Alex Grichenko, CC0 Public Domain, via

The first leaves have begun to fall on my property. It takes me back in thought to all those afternoons after school when my job was to rake leaves into the fire ring at the bottom of our yard and burn them. The aroma of burning leaves was one of my favorite things of fall. It was not only the aroma. Like many kids, I liked burning things (as long as it wasn’t in the house). One of the things I loved to do was burn our paper trash in the wire burner we would line with old newspaper, light and watch burn. Colored paper had especially colorful flame.

We all did it. It was the only way most of us knew to get rid of those leaves. This was before leaf pickups and most of us didn’t know about composting. During October and November, the haze of burning leaves added to other forms of pollution in the Valley. By Thanksgiving, it was all over, usually just in time for the early snows to arrive.

Somewhere in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s communities across the country outlawed burning leaves. From a work point of view, for many of us it added work as we had to rake all those leaves into those tall brown bags that we would haul to the curb. Some communities would send giant leaf vacuums around and all you had to do is rake your leaves to the curb. That always seemed messier.

The truth was that leaf burning had a number of downsides. The obvious one was fires getting out of control. If the nearby grass or brush or debris was dry and there was any wind, fire could spread. Most houses were pretty close, and our garage was even closer. We always had to watch and make sure we kept the leaves inside the fire ring. You NEVER left burning leaves unattended (which also meant you smelled like leaf smoke, and probably breathed in a certain amount of it). Burning leaves emit hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxide, and carbon monoxide into the air and can create ozone problems. Anyone whose respiratory system was compromised could have more serious breathing problems. And smoke in the lungs is not good for anyone.

There are limited conditions under which rural residents of Ohio can still burn. No burning of leaves can be done in cities (like Youngstown), villages, or other restricted areas. The Ohio EPA website spells out under what conditions open burning is permitted, and under what conditions it is permitted. According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Forestry Division website, Ohio Revised Code 1503.18:

Ohio DNR Forestry prohibits outdoor open burning and prescribed fires in the months of March, April, May, October, and November between 6am and 6pm. This ban includes burning of yard waste, trash, and debris, even in a proper burn barrel.

Even outside the time and date restrictions, any person conducting a burn must obtain landowner permission, remain with the fire while it is burning, and take all reasonable precautions to prevent the fire from escaping.

In addition, the following restrictions also apply:

  • Fires must be more than 1000 feet from neighbor’s inhabited building
  • No burning when air pollution alert, warning, or emergency is in effect
  • Fire/smoke cannot obscure visibility on roadway, railways, or airfields
  • No waste generated off the premises may be burned
  • No burning within village or city limits or restricted areas

Actually, composting, either via leaf bags or on your own compost pile where permitted is the most environmental thing you can do. Properly done, the leaves break down and make great material to enrich your soil. A second alternative that I use is to mow the leaves into the lawn with a mulching mower. Again, the material decays over the winter and puts the nutrients those leaves drew out of the soil back in. The one downside of mowing is the carbon emissions from your mower unless it is a hand mower or electric.

For those living in Youngstown free leaf bags (while supplies last) are available beginning October 1, 8 am to 4 pm Monday through Friday at Green Youngstown, 20 W. Federal Street, Suite 602. Curbside pickup on regular trash pickup days will occur from November 4 through November 29. All of this applies to City of Youngstown residents only! Others should check their own municipality’s leaf pickup provisions.

The end of leaf burning in our cities is good for the air, good for the environment, and good for people. But I miss the savory aroma of those burning leaves!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Lowellville

Train Number 85 in Lowellville OH 1949

Train Number 85 passing though Lowellville from the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad Company Records

One of my childhood memories was driving down to Lowellville to the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie switching yards watching trains loaded with coal, or products from the nearby mills being switch for transport to various places. As you drove down, the valley became steeper and you realized that you were witnessing the transition to the Appalachian foothills that became more pronounced in western Pennsylvania.

In the early 1800’s John McGill, a Revolutionary War veteran, and his brother Robert, established both a grist mill and a sawmill on the south side of the Mahoning River and a settlement that was known as McGillville in its early days. Across the river was another settlement, Lowell, probably after the proprietors of the Lowell Milling Company, a flour mill.

Greetings from Lowellville

Things were pretty sleepy here until the 1830’s with the development of the Pennsylvania and Ohio Canal. In 1836, the village was platted as Lowellville and the canal went into operation in 1839-1840. Lowellville became a shipping center for flour, and for coal from nearby Mt. Nebo. Later on limestone quarrying also contributed to the industrial growth of this area. This growth also led to siting Ohio Iron & Steel’s “Mary Furnace” there in 1845. It was purchased by Sharon Steel Hoop Company, later Sharon Steel. The mill operated until 1961 and was closed in 1963.

Roslyn I. Torella has written what is probably the definitive history of Lowellville. Her Lowellville, Ohio: Murders, Mayhem & More chronicles how Lowellville became a rowdy place when both Struthers and Lawrence County in Pennsylvania (New Castle) went dry, and all those seeking alcohol descended on Lowellville, filling its bars, leading to fights and a prison lock-up for the drunks. But it brought a lot of money into Lowellville. During Prohibition, it was a site of bootleg operations.

On the other side of the coin, the boys of Lowellville stepped up during the Second World War with over 20 percent of the town’s population signing up. Clingan Jackson, longtime Vindicator political reporter lived here for part of his youth and graduated from Lowellville High School. The population in Lowellville as elsewhere in the Mahoning Valley, peaked in 1957 at 2500. The eclipse of the steel industry has turned Lowellville into a quieter place, shrinking from 1281 to 1155 residents between 2000 and 2010. The village has renovated historic buildings in the center of town as well as erecting a gazebo in the park. The village website lists a few restaurants, a number of small businesses, and houses of worship. Of course, there is the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Festival each summer.


Lowellville City Hall – Nyttend – own work, Public Domain, via Wikipedia

It will be interesting to see whether this little village declines are grows in the coming years. One thing is clear, it is a place with an interesting past with a strong focus on family and community and its local school, perhaps with less problems than some of the larger nearby communities. Wouldn’t it be great if Lowellville were thriving when it comes time to celebrate its 200th birthday in 2036?

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Paisley House

Paisley House

The Paisley House, photo courtesy of The Paisley House

I walked past here a hundred times or more. In high school and college, I worked at McKelvey’s while going to Youngstown State. In good weather, I often walked to work to save bus fare. On Mahoning Avenue, just before the Mahoning Avenue bridge was this stately old brick home on the left or north side of the street, just across from the McKinley Avenue entrance to Fellows Gardens. I often wondered, “who lives there?” It was a time when there were still “homes for unwed mothers” and I wondered if it was something like that.

In a conversation with Jill Cox, the Executive Director of Paisley House, she shared that this apparently was a common question. Now Paisley House includes with its name the description “Assisted Living.” The other question people may wonder about is “what is it like in there?” The facility has all the comforts of home including a kitchen where meals are prepared, a dining room with hardwood floors, a grand carpeted staircase, library, sunroom, and comfortable resident bedrooms or suites.

Paisley House traces its history back to 1909. In 1908 a board was formed, consisting of Mary Paisley (chair), Louise Anderson, and C. H. Ruhlman, to establish a facility for “aged” women. On March 1, 1909 The Home for Aged Women of Mahoning County was established. According to Howard C. Aley, the board acquired the old homestead of Jacob Powers and came up with a unique fund-raiser with a goal of raising $15,000. Two men rolled a giant inflatable rubber ball on downtown streets with a woman on each side collecting donations. Appropriately, the campaign theme was “Keep the Ball Rolling.” Subsequently, Sallie Tod left a bequest of $110,000 for the home which over the years has been supplemented by charities, and other donations, making it possible to charge residents less than the full cost of their care. To this day, Paisley House functions as a non-profit organization with a volunteer Board of Directors.

I always knew the house as Paisley House. Ms. Cox could not tell me when the name change occurred from “The Home for Aged Women” to Paisley House, named after founding board chair, Mary Paisley. On October 12, 2002, the name was formally changed to Paisley House, Home for the Aged, recognizing the opening up of their care to both men and women. Today, because the term “aged” is no longer acceptable, they highlight their purpose as a facility providing assisted living services.

The tagline that has been used to describe Paisley House was “no extra for the extras.” Ms. Cox mentioned some of the services that exemplify this tagline. They have a beauty shop in which all the women residents have their hair washed and set weekly by a registered beautician. The laundress provides “impeccable” service in washing, removing stains, ironing and repairing clothes. Meals are home-cooked onsite in the kitchen. The home has a staff of nurses and aides, a house physician, and podiatrist. Regular outings for shopping, movies, and live performances are offered.

Paisley House has room for 24 residents and there are usually a few openings. The website indicates: “At Paisley House, meals, and virtually all of life’s other necessities, are included in a single, affordable monthly fee. There is no up-front investment or long-term commitment.” Because charges change, interested families or individuals should contact the Executive Director to discuss current fees.

For 110 years, Paisley House has been serving the needs of the elderly in the Youngstown area. It was assuring on a recent visit to the West side where so much has changed to see the Paisley House, looking just as I remembered it in the early 1970’s. In my conversation with Jill Cox, the Executive Director, I received the impression of a dedicated team who love what they do and take great pride in continuing the tradition of compassionate care for seniors that was vision of Mary Paisley and that first board that “got the ball rolling.”

You may contact the Paisley House at:

Paisley House
1408 Mahoning Avenue
Youngstown, Ohio 44509

Phone: 330 799-9431

Learn more about the Paisley House at:



Howard C. Aley, A Heritage to Share. Youngstown: The Bicentennial Commission of Youngstown and Mahoning County, Ohio, 1975, pp. 183-184.

Interview with Jill Cox, Executive Director, Paisley House, 9/27/2019.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Mill Creek Before the Park

MillCrMahoning pdf

Map of the Mill Creek watershed in Columbiana County from its origin with Mill Creek highlighted, from Mill Creek Watershed Action Plan (Ohio DNR)

Before there ever was a Mill Creek Metropark, there was Mill Creek. As it turns out, the portion of Mill Creek most of us are familiar with is only the northern half, running from Boardman Township north to Lake Newport, then Lanterman’s Falls and the gorge, emptying into Lake Cohasset, and then running to the south end of Lake Glacier, and from there emptying into the Mahoning River. It got its name from the grist mills built along the Creek. There are several “Mill Creeks” in Ohio.

Mill Creek originates in Columbiana County. For the first forty-plus years of Mill Creek Park, no one knew exactly where the headwaters of Mill Creek were. In 1904, Volney Rogers was finally able to try to search for the headwaters. It was a winter day. He began where Mill Creek flows into the Mahoning River and made it as far as Lanterman’s Falls, no where near Columbiana. In 1921, John H. Chase and his daughter followed the creek into Columbiana County but they were unsuccessful in identifying its source. This was complicated by small streams that flowed in, but weren’t Mill Creek. Finally John Chase and Bruce Rogers, Park Superintendent and brother of Volney, traced the headwaters to a farm owned by William Cope in Fairfield Township on a ridge about 2 1/2 miles south of Columbiana and 20.9 miles from where Mill Creek flows into the Mahoning River. The spring actually started underneath the farmhouse.

rogers and spring

Bruce Rogers pointing to Spring by foundations behind the farmhouse. (Ohio Archaeological and Historical Quarterly, April 1934)

A ceremony was held on October 7, 1933 christening the headwaters, attended by a number of prominent local guests with remarks by Bruce Rogers, a poem, and an account of how they reached the determination that this was the origin of Mill Creek, an account later published in the Ohio Archaelogical and Historical Quarterly written by Charles B. Galbreath, who gave the keynote at the gathering. The christening involved water collected from the Bay of Fundy, the Suwanee River, the Pacific Ocean, the Indian River, Crater Lake, and snow melt from Mount Rainier.

In 1965, the farm was sold to Harry Pierson and became known as the “Headquarters Farm.” It turns out that this property lies just south of the Fairfield Township offices. Beginning in 2016, a combination of Boy and Girl Scout projects and township funded work created an observation and seating area that is Phase One of the Fairfield Township Trustees plan to develop the Headwaters Nature Trail. Phase Two, projected to be completed in 2019 involves more trail clearing, bridges, benches and trail marking.

cope homestead

(Ohio Archaeological and Historical Quarterly, April 1934)

Mill Creek at its origin is 1175 feet above sea level and falls 345 feet enroute to the Mahoning River. According to the Mill Creek Watershed Action Plan the creek cut through a clay and loam layer deposited by glaciers down through the Mississippian age siltstone and shales, and the Pennsylvanian age sandstone and shales, creating the beautiful gorges we know today. There are ten name tributaries feeding Mill Creek and 90 unnamed ones. Ultimately, all the water in this watershed flows into the Mahoning River, which joins with the Beaver River south of New Castle, Pa. and then flows into the Ohio, the Mississippi, and the Gulf of Mexico. It is amazing to think of the journey of that water from a hard-to-find spring in Fairfield Township all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Equally amazing to me is to think that this little rivulet, joined with small tributaries over millennia cut the beautiful gorges of the park so many of us love.

Other source:

John C. Melnick, The Green Cathedral. Youngstown: Youngstown Lithography, 1976, pp. 311-318.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown – Isaly Dairy Plant


Former Isaly Dairy Plant, June 2019. Photo © Bob Trube, all rights reserved

Fifty years ago, the September 12, 1969 Vindicator announced that Isaly’s would no longer make ice cream at its Mahoning Avenue plant on the West Side. This meant a loss of twenty of the 120 jobs at the plant. At the time H. William Isaly, the president of Isaly’s at the time, explained that they were consolidating ice cream production in the Pittsburgh plant. They would continue the processing of milk, cottage cheese, fruit juices, and other staples, as well as its home delivery and distribution operations.

At the time he said, further cutdowns were “unlikely.” He was asked about a rumor that the plant would be turned into a warehouse. Ominously, he said that was always “a possibility” but not something they planned to do “at this time.”

“At this time” only lasted a year. In 1970, the iconic art deco plant was closed and remained empty until occupied by U-Haul in 1987. U-Haul still operates the site, which has not seen significant improvements other than re-facing part of the building and painting it to advertise its storage facilities.

The closure of the Isaly plant would be followed in two years by sale of the company. The company had been declining throughout the 1960’s, and the job reductions and plant closure in Youngstown were just part of a bigger problem. The decline of home deliveries and their loose corporate structure (many stores were independently owned) made them less competitive in an environment of more centralized and standardized businesses. In the 1980’s, the Isaly name began a comeback, based in Pittsburgh selling meats (“chip chopped ham”!) and sauces as well as ice cream, but not Klondikes, which are owned by Unilever.

Isaly’s got its start in Mansfield, Ohio in 1902, then acquired a plant in Marion, Ohio in 1914. In 1918, Isaly’s came to Youngstown, purchasing the Farmers’ Dairy plant at the Mahoning Avenue location. Chester Isaly moved to Youngstown to manage the plant with an initial investment of $100,000 in improvements. In the 1930’s, they redesigned the exterior with an art deco look with a central, five story tower that some say resembled a milk bottle. Charles F. Owsley was the architect and they spent $400,000 on this project. At its peak, this was one of eleven plants Isaly’s operated across Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania and had over 400 stores.

I remember going to the plant, which had an ice cream counter, to get skyscraper cones when I was a kid. Isaly’s used a special scoop to serve the cone, about four inches of ice cream atop the cone, reminiscent of a skyscraper. Compared to the Dairy Cream, which served soft serve vanilla and chocolate, this was ice cream heaven with dozens of flavors of creamy, rich ice cream.

The picture above was taken during a recent visit to Youngstown. The building could probably use some sprucing up, but stands as a monument to a once-great company, preserving the art deco architecture of the 1930’s that swept Youngstown at that time. For many of us, it preserves memories of wonderful ice cream in a distinctive cone.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — William F. Maag, Sr.

william f maag sr

William F. Maag, Sr at the time he was elected to the Ohio Assembly. Photo via New York Public Library Digital Collections

With the passing of the “old” Vindicator on August 31, 2019, there have been many stories of the family who owned the paper through most of its history. William F. Maag, Jr. has received a great deal of attention. He was editor and publisher of the paper from 1924 until his death in 1968. His initials form the call letters for WFMJ radio and TV. Maag Library at Youngstown State is named after him. Maag opened in my last year at Youngstown State and quickly became a favorite place to study. However, not only would there not have been a William F. Maag, Jr. Without his father, there is a good chance that there would have been no Vindicator.

William F. Maag, Sr. was born in Ebingen, in the state of Wurtemberg in southern Germany on February 28, 1850. At age 14, he was apprenticed to a printer. Three years later, before completing the four year apprenticeship, he came to America, settling first in Milwaukee working for The Daily Herald, a German paper, then moving to Watertown, Wisconsin, working for another German paper. It was there he met his wife, Elizabeth Ducasse, marrying her in 1872. After several years with another German paper in Fort Wayne, Indiana, he came to Youngstown in 1875 and purchased the Rundschau. The name could be translated “magazine” or “review” but also could be translated “panorama,” “wide view,” or “full view in all directions.” Under Maag, it performed that function in two ways as the only German language newspaper between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, and by drawing on correspondence from throughout Germany, giving a “panorama” of German news.

The Vindicator was started in July of 1869 by J. H. Odell as a weekly. The paper passed through a succession of owners up until 1887. At about that time, they tried a twice daily paper which struggled financially. A fire in the newsroom led to the paper being put up for auction. Maag was there, putting in what turned out to be the only bid, even though he didn’t want to purchase the paper. He actually didn’t really have enough money to make a go of it alone and entered into a partnership with John H. Webb, who had both the money, and a pleasing writing style. Webb became president and Maag treasurer and business manager. They launched a daily in 1889. In 1893, they built the Vindicator building, installed new equipment, and began a long history at Boardman and Phelps.

In the early days, The Vindicator shared offices with the Rundschau, which Maag continued to publish until 1917, around the time of America’s entry into World War I. On September 28 of that year, the Associated Press reported the suspension of the Rundschau from being published “on account of misunderstandings which frequently arise through German newspapers.”

Maag not only set The Vindicator on a firm financial footing. He was elected for a term to the Ohio Assembly. He served as a presidential elector in 1912, a trustee of the Glenwood Avenue Children’s Home and was active with the Masonic order. He continued his active leadership of The Vindicator until days before his death on April 10, 1924. The Vindicator for that date described him as “dying in the harness.” He was 75 years old.

His son succeeded him in 1924, publishing the paper until 1968. When William F. Maag, Jr. died, William J. Brown succeeded as publisher and president. When he died in 1981 Betty J. H. Brown Jagnow became publisher and president. Soon, her son Mark Brown took over as general manager, a position in which he served until the paper ceased publication on August 31.

Sad as the ending of this family dynasty of publishing The Vindicator is, it might be encouraging to remember that were it not for William F. Maag, Sr., and a lone bid at an auction, we would not be talking about a paper with a 150 year history, but one that was only a minor footnote in journalistic history, lasting a mere 18 years.