Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Great Flood of 1913

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Flooding of Republic Steel Mills along the Mahoning River, Photo from Mahoning Valley Historical Society Archive

The Great Flood of 1913 is an event probably no one reading this remembers. But my grandparents, and those of their generation, talked about it. It rained for four days and nights between March 23 and March 26, 1913. Similar to the Thanksgiving snowstorm of 1950, three different weather systems came together and stalled over the Ohio Valley, blocked by a high pressure system to the east. Flooding occurred throughout Ohio with some of the worst flooding in southwest Ohio and in Columbus. But Youngstown suffered severely as well.

Estimates range between 4.26 inches and 7 to 9 inches of rainfall over the four day period in the Mahoning Valley. Back then there were no reservoirs or flood control measures and so all the water from the tributaries to the Mahoning River caused it to crest at 26.5 feet, 10 feet above the flood stage of 16.5 feet, and 7 feet higher than any previous storm. The peak discharge of the Mahoning River was estimated at 44,400 cubic feet per second.

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Youngstown Daily Vindicator map of flooded areas, March 27, 1913

Youngstown is a hilly city, through which the Mahoning River runs. Therefore many areas of the city were spared flooding, but not the low lying areas along the Mahoning River and Crab Creek. Unfortunately, Youngstown’s steel mills were built in the flood plain as well as the railroads that served them. Parts of downtown adjacent to the river were also flooded, including The Vindicator. Flooding destroyed the West Avenue and Division Street bridges, took out the water pumping station and the power station on North Avenue. Ironically, Youngstown was without drinking water in the middle of a flood!

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Flooding at the B & O Station, Photo from Mahoning Valley Historical Society Archive

Damage estimates at the time were estimated at $2.5 million in the Youngstown area and over $100 million statewide. Governor Cox mobilized National Guard troops to provide disaster assistance and prevent looting. Youngstown Fire Department personnel played a key role in helping pump water out of the North Avenue power station, enabling power to be restored, and out of the press pit of The Vindicator, allowing the newspaper to resume regular publication. All told, about 25,000 people were temporarily out of work.

Flooding had been a regular occurrence along the Mahoning River. Joseph G. Butler, in his history of Youngstown describes floods as a yearly event, though none as bad as this. Sarah Gartland, of the Mahoning Valley Planning Commission states that there were six major floods between 1880 and 1913. This flood led to major changes. The flooding of the water pumping station ultimately led to moving Youngstown’s water supply to Meander Reservoir. Bridges were designed with higher spans so debris wouldn’t build up and then sweep the bridge away.

Most important was the development of flood control measures along the tributaries to the Mahoning River. In 1973, a flood protection project was completed on Crab Creek. Eventually five dams were built creating reservoirs that helped control the flow of water into the Mahoning–the Milton Dam in 1917, Berlin Reservoir (1941-43), Mosquito Reservoir (1943-1944), Shenango Reservoir (1963-1967), and West Branch (Kirwan) Reservoir (1963-1966). A map showing the locations of these reservoirs can be found in an article by Stan Boney, showing how Youngstown is better prepared to withstand rainfall totals like those experienced in the 1913 flood. The Milton and Berlin Reservoirs work together and reduce flooding on the Mahoning River 3-5 feet.

So when you boat on Milton or one of the other reservoirs, thank the Great Flood of 1913  and hope those engineers are taking good care of those dams. The flood of 1959 (I’ll write about that someday, perhaps) is a once in 43 year event, the flood of 1913 a once in 200 year event. Given some of the extreme weather of recent years, a major rain event is only a matter of time.

While there are no longer the same industries along the Mahoning there once were, anything close to the river, in its flood plain is at risk. Given that the 1913 flood was ten feet over flood stage, and the dams may halve that, it does appear flooding could still occur. The master plan for the Youngstown Riverfront Park and Amphitheater indicates that much of the site is within the 100- and 500-year flood plains of the Mahoning River (the Covelli Center is just outside the 500-year boundaries). Let’s hope planners are taking that into account.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Great Thanksgiving Snowstorm of 1950

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My father-in-law after the Great Thanksgiving Snowstorm of 1950. 

The Great Thanksgiving Snowstorm of 1950 is one I don’t remember. I was not yet on the scene. The storm I remember was the Blizzard of 1978, probably because I was stranded in a dorm in Bowling Green for five days. I remember my parents talking about the 1950 storm and my wife shared this picture of her father in the aftermath of that snowfall.

The snowstorm was the biggest in Ohio history, and one of the most unusual weather events to ever occur in the United States. It snowed in the Youngstown area from late on Thanksgiving evening, November 23 through the 27th, dropping a total of 29 inches of snow on the Youngstown area. The 24 hour snowfall record in Youngstown of 20.7 inches was set over November 24-25 during that storm. Some areas got it worse. Steubenville received a total of 44 inches, the record snowfall for Ohio.

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Snowfall totals through the Ohio Valley, National Centers for Environmental Information

Two low pressure systems, one from the Great Lakes and one from the south concentrated just west of the Appalachians over western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio, where the heaviest snowfalls occurred. For this reason it is also known as the Great Appalachian Storm of 1950. There were some weird occurrences. For example, at 2:30 pm on November 25, Pittsburgh had blizzard conditions and temperatures of 9º F while in Buffalo 150 miles north it was 54ºF with the hurricane force winds that prevailed over the east coast and New England. Perhaps weirdest was that this low pressure system slowly tracked west over the next several days before dissipating, blocked by an intense high pressure system over New England. That contributed to the massive accumulations.

According to Howard C. Aley, in A Heritage to Share, Thanksgiving afternoon and evening was almost spring-like. Weather forecasts for Friday were for “snow flurries.” Snow began overnight but wasn’t overly heavy Friday morning. It snowed steadily all day and by Saturday morning the Valley was buried in blizzard conditions. A state of emergency was declared in the city. The National Guard was called in and it was a priority to rescue those whose homes were facing roof collapses, and pregnant women due to deliver. All businesses were closed and estimated losses from lost wages, production, and snow removal totaled over $20 million. Regionally, over one million people lost power, 22 states were affected, and 353 people lost their lives.

Not everything ground to a halt. In Columbus, the annual rivalry between Ohio State and Michigan was played at Ohio Stadium in what became known as the “Blizzard Bowl.” I found this video clip of game highlights. Michigan won 9-3, gaining only 27 yards and not getting a single first down. Temperatures Saturday morning were 5ºF with 40 mile per hour winds. I don’t know how they played that game!

Bulldozers were used to clear the roads. Ohio’s governor declared Monday a legal holiday. Schools remained closed on Tuesday and many remained closed on Wednesday. The Vindicator did not publish for three days, getting a paper out on Tuesday. By Tuesday the 28th some of the main streets of Youngstown were dug out. As you can see from the picture above of my father-in-law, in residential neighborhoods often all they could do was clear a narrow path, just enough to allow emergency services in, or to get key personnel like doctors out.

All over Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, there are people who remember that storm. Youngstown was just about in the epicenter where the two lows merged. It was a Category Five storm on the Regional Snowfall Index, the highest category (the Blizzard of ’78 was also a Category Five, the only one with a higher max RSI, though less snow). I kind of hope these two storms remain exceptional, having lived through the latter and from all I’ve read of the former.

If you remember the Great Thanksgiving Snowstorm of 1950, I would love it if you could share your memories!

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Delivering Holiday Newspapers

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Newspapers B & W (4), by Jon S. [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr

The other day I spotted a bag of advertising circulars for Black Friday laying on the apron of my driveway. It brought back memories of delivering The Vindicator on Thanksgiving morning, as well as all the Sunday papers leading up to Christmas. Generally the Thanksgiving Vindicator was the biggest paper of the year with all the sales ads for Friday (it wasn’t called Black Friday back then). There were maybe twenty or thirty pages of news content, and the rest was advertising, either in the newspaper of the advertising inserts–in all there were often several hundred pages.

Stories that I found online said that these papers could weigh between three and five pounds apiece. I had seventy customers on my paper route, and so that adds up to 210 to 350 pounds of newspapers that I had to deliver. The newspapers were delivered in one bundle, the ads in another. For seventy papers, this often turned out to be four to six bundles for my route.

I picked up my papers at a drop on Steel Street and haul them four blocks uphill on Oakwood Avenue to my route. Most days, I could put all my papers in one canvas paper sack, or two on Wednesdays and on Sundays I used a wagon.  For this haul, I used a wagon one year and it about killed me. I enlisted dad after that, and he would stuff the ads into the papers for one side of the street while I loaded up my paper sack and delivered the other, and then he would meet up with me to deliver the other side, or go up to the other block that I delivered.

Newspapers obviously made a good deal of extra money on all this advertising, but paper carriers didn’t get any more money. But in a way we did in the form of Christmas tips. For a route my size, I could get a hundred dollars in tips at Christmas time. Some were Scrooges, some were generous, and most remembered. It made hauling those papers worth it. One lady made homemade hard candy and would always give me a bag. If you were thinking of quitting your route, you usually waited until after Christmas, despite all those heavy papers.

In most communities, kids don’t deliver newspapers any more. When I delivered papers, most every person on my route, which covered two city blocks, took the paper. These days, you are lucky if about one out of five homes take the paper, and the routes are much larger, and usually delivered by adults in a car. But there are generations of paper carriers with memories of hauling hundreds of pounds of ad-laden Vindicators on Thanksgiving morning. Maybe some of you will share your stories…

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Meander Reservoir

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Meander Reservoir and the communities (shaded) that it serves

Mom always used to say there was no drinking water as good as Youngstown’s drinking water. I was not quite as opinionated, but on a hot summer day, there was nothing as refreshing as a cool glass of water.

It wasn’t always that way. Until 1932, Youngstown got its water from the Mahoning River. Yes, the Mahoning River. The old water works on West Avenue, built in 1905, had the unenviable task of making that water fit for consumption. Even then, the Mahoning was the most polluted river in Ohio, with temperatures that sometimes reached 104 degrees. They managed to make it safe to drink, but taste was another matter altogether.

A petition effort began in 1920 to form what became the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District and find a new source of water for Youngstown and surrounding communities. The district was comprised of Youngstown and Niles, along with McDonald, with other smaller communities receiving water via these three. Youngstown and Niles approved the district in 1927, with a $2,450,000 bond issue approved the following year to purchase land around Meander Creek and build the Mineral Ridge Dam that would create the Meander Reservoir. The work was completed and the reservoir filled in 1932. At the time, the reservoir held 7.5 billion gallons of water and could supply the city’s needs for two years. In 1958, a nine-mile pipeline from the Berlin Pumping Station to Meander Reservoir created additional capacity and a backup during periods of extended drought.

Today, the reservoir district comprises 7,510 acres, of which 2,010 are water. The reservoir capacity is 11 billion gallons, with a 50 foot high dam that is 3550 long, with a 260 foot spillway. Approximately 21.6 million gallons of water are delivered to Youngstown and surrounding communities. Youngstown and the communities it distributes water to use about 74 percent of the water, Niles 24 percent, and McDonald, 2 percent.

Safe drinking water is critical to the life of a community, as Flint, Michigan illustrates. One of the most significant safeguards to the reservoir are the 4 million evergreen trees on a preserve of land surrounding the reservoir that serve as a buffer to contaminants. The Vickers Nature Preserve, just south of the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District land, also serves to protect the tributaries to Meander Creek. With rare exceptions, fishing and boating are prohibited. In recent years, upgrades were made to the water treatment plant.

Still there are concerns. Algal blooms, like those that have occurred on Lake Erie and other Ohio lakes could render Meander water unusable. There have been discussions of routing water directly from Berlin Lake to the treatment plant, by-passing Meander, but this would involve rate increases, and these have to be weighed against the likelihood of a bloom or other contamination of the reservoir. Agricultural and lawn fertilizers are the principle causes of such blooms so area residents have a critical role to play in preventing runoffs of these chemicals that feed algal blooms.

The other significant threat is contamination from oil and gas wells, the closest less than a mile from the reservoir. All told, according to a Vindicator article, there are 182 gas and oil wells in the vicinity, eighteen miles of pipeline, as well as a 72 inch above-ground sewage line from Canfield to the Meander Creek Treatment Station. There are also risks from the bridges over the reservoir, and contingency plans are in place to handle hazardous material spills into the reservoir. MVSD publishes fracking lab results on its website, with test results in roughly three month intervals, as well as other water purity tests.

Meander Reservoir has provided safe drinking water to the Mahoning Valley on an uninterrupted basis since 1932. Government officials, businesses, and local residents all have a role to play in ensuring the continuing safety of the water. While algal blooms can occur fairly suddenly, contamination from gas and oil wells seem to be a serious threat that could render the reservoir unusable for a long period of time or permanently. The fact that the Mahoning River is only just beginning to come back to life after forty years should be a warning. At present, if an “incident” took place, the 220,000 people who depend on the reservoir might have to use bottled water for an extended period of time, not unlike Flint.

Meander Reservoir, photo courtesy of Tom Volinchak

I hope many more generations talk about the great taste of Youngstown water, have no fears of what comes out of the tap, and enjoy the beauty of the forest preserve and clear blue waters of Meander Reservoir. It is an irreplaceable treasure!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Dr. Leslie S. Domonkos

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Leslie Domonkos, Source unknown

I grew up disliking history. Up through high school, history had largely been presented to me as a series of events, dates to be memorized, and important people. All this, I had to remember for tests, and promptly forget afterward.

Today, I love history as the story of how different factors and forces contribute to events and how these help us understand how we got here, historically, at least. As you might tell from my posts about Youngstown, I love local history–how places get their names, who was such and such, and how they were important in Youngstown history and how the cultural institutions of the city developed?

I think I owe this love of history to Dr. Leslie Domonkos, now an emeritus professor of history at Youngstown State, and the professor who taught the Western Civilization course I took during my first quarter at Youngstown State, 46 years ago. What I remember about his class, is that I never took so many notes in my life–and it was a good thing. His exams were tough. They weren’t fill in the blanks, or a computer-read form. They were essay-based exams of three or four questions that we would answer in handwritten “Blue Books.” You needed to study your notes, do the readings, and take his exam prep suggestions seriously. His lectures were riveting as he opened up the events of European history and the cultural, social, economic, religious and political forces that led to them. He made us think about these forces, and argue which were most important. It was hard, and I loved it, and he awakened a love of history I never knew I had. Looking back, I sometimes wonder why I didn’t major in history. I also think of how much work it was for him to read all those hand-written Blue Book exams and grade them!

Both Dr. Domonkos and his wife Eva were born in Budapest, Hungary, he in 1938 and she in 1941. Her tribute in The Vindicator notes that she came to the U.S. as a World War II refugee in 1951. I do not know if this is true of Dr. Domonkos but he became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1959. For both of them, their arrival in this country was a gift. She worked for many years as a labor and delivery nurse, and later as a childbirth educator at St. Elizabeth’s, returning to Hungary to introduce modern childbirth techniques to that country.

Dr. Domonkos gift to this country was his scholarship and inspired teaching. He graduated from Youngstown University in 1959 with a Bachelors degree in history and completed Masters and Ph.D. degrees in medieval history at Notre Dame. He received a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the University of Vienna during 1963-1964.  He returned to teach as an instructor at Youngstown in 1964, then as an assistant professor in 1965, associate professor in 1969 and full professor in 1975. Twice he served as acting department chair. In 1971, he received an Outstanding Educator in America award. Over the years six Distinguished Professor Awards followed. He published numerous articles in medieval and Hungarian history in addition to co-editing three books. He was admitted to the Corporate Body of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 2003. He retired from Youngstown State in 2002, receiving emeritus status.

In 2013 he was awarded the YSU Heritage Award, the university’s most prestigious award, recognizing faculty and administrative staff who have made a major contribution to the university during their career. At the date this was written, he is continuing to enjoy his retirement.

It is staggering to think of how many students lives were touched by Dr. Domonkos during his four decade career at Youngstown State. Some went on to academic careers in history. No doubt some were just glad to pass his course! But I can’t help but believe there were many of us who gained a much bigger vision of the world beyond the Mahoning valley through his teaching. For me, he inspired a lifelong love of history, manifested in a house full of history books, and a curiosity to know the story behind the facts. I know my life is richer for it. Thank you, Dr. Domonkos!

 

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Brownlee Woods

Brownlee WoodsFor the first eighteen years of my life, I knew almost nothing about the Brownlee Woods, which was way over on the southeast side of Youngstown, almost into Struthers. Then I started dating the woman who became my wife, and Brownlee Woods became a regular destination. She lived in one of the Cape Cod bungalows built in the 1950’s. For the first year or so, she worked at the Brownlee Woods library. We went to one of the biggest wedding receptions we have ever attended, at Powers Auditorium, when one of the librarians was married. We used to go for walks on summer evenings along Sheridan Road and into some of the older neighborhoods of brick homes. Sometimes we would go over to Ipes Field and play tennis. Two of her uncles lived in Brownlee Woods, and the three brothers helped each other build garages on the same plan her father designed. Her mother lived there until 1996, and we made frequent trips back to see her, taking her to Nemenz to buy groceries and to her senior group at what was once the Bethlehem United Church of Christ. I never thought much about the history of the area.

Brownlee Woods forms a square with its north border along Midlothian Boulevard, its west border I-680, Youngstown-Poland Rd on the east, and Thalia Avenue on the South. It gets its name from the original landowners, James A. and Rebecca Brownlee, whose homestead was on Youngstown-Poland Road and consisted of approximately 235 acres. He was a successful farmer who at one time supplied most of the meat consumed in Youngstown. He died in 1918. An article from 1930 written by Esther Hamilton speaks of Miss Mary, James (the son), and John Brownlee living in the old homestead, now shrunk to six acres. All three were in their seventies at that time.

By 1915, 200 families lived in what was already being called Brownlee Woods. A Vindicator article from 1926 quotes a resident:

“Our business houses are of almost every kind. We have groceries, meat markets, confectionery stores, drug store, automobile repair shops, gasoline stations, barber shop, dairy, barbecue, Mourey’s potato chip, milk mush and noodle factory and we also have two real estate offices.”

On December 24, 1916, Brownlee Woods United Presbyterian Church held its first services, with a Sabbath school beginning on January 7, 1917 and the church being formally organized on February 11, 1917. In 1918, they built their first structure on the church’s present site. It was followed in the same year by the Third Reformed Church pastored by Rev. E. D. Wettoch, who met in a “bungalow chapel”! In 1923, Brownlee Woods was annexed by the city of Youngstown. By 1927, ground was being broken for a Brownlee Woods Branch Library.

Brownlee Woods Library

Brownlee Woods Library

There were two waves of home construction in Brownlee Woods. The first of these was in the late 1910’s and 1920’s. The second wave was in the 1950’s. The home my wife grew up in was built in 1954. The older homes were in a variety of styles: Colonial, Tudor, Victorian, and Craftsman style homes. The newer homes were Cape Cod bungalows and ranch style homes.

In the early 1960’s Paul C. Bunn Elementary School was opened to serve children in the community. The original building was razed in 2007 and a new building opened in 2008 and recently celebrated its tenth anniversary. There is also the Montessori School of the Mahoning Valley in the neighborhood on Lynn Avenue. Youngstown-Poland Road continues to serve as the business corridor of the community with Nemenz, various fast food restaurants, local bars, and the Holiday Bowl (that brings back memories).

In recent years, Brownlee Woods has also faced issues of blight and crime. An active Brownlee Woods Neighborhood Association meets monthly.  In a 2016 Business Journal article, association president Nancy Martin speaks of the approach they are trying to take.

“It’s been my theory that we can get a lot done through code enforcement or demolition. But I don’t want to see street after street after street of houses that are torn down,”

The association has worked on issues of safety, drug sales, and taking care of homes and other buildings in the area as well as working with the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation on a five year plan. Some of their efforts include new signage, planting trees, and benches in a local park.

It’s hard to believe the Brownlee Woods neighborhood is one hundred years old. It is good news that there is an active neighborhood association working to improve the community. Hopefully it can be one of a growing number of bright spots in Youngstown as the neighborhood moves into its next century of life.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Cardinal Mooney High School

mooney sealYesterday, the most recent issue of The Mooney Messenger arrived at our home and we learned that Cardinal Mooney High School will celebrate the 60th anniversary of its first graduating class in 2019. So it seems appropriate to tell something of the story of Cardinal Mooney as it has intersected with our lives.

Personally, the only time I ever set foot in Cardinal Mooney was an early Saturday morning in the school cafeteria where I and hundreds of other Youngstown area high school students were taking college entrance exams. The real story of Cardinal Mooney is my wife’s story. She is the Mooney grad, and the reason we receive the magazine.

She remembers as a child when representatives of the Diocese visited her parents soliciting contributions for the construction of Cardinal Mooney. Growing up in Brownlee Woods, they told her parents that this was the high school she would attend. It was.

Cardinal Mooney High School is named after Edward Aloysius Mooney, who was named Archbishop of the Diocese of Detroit in 1937 and Cardinal in 1946 by Pope Pius XII. Cardinal Mooney and his family moved to the south side of Youngstown when he was five years old where his father worked in a tube mill. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1909, taught at St. Mary’s Seminary in 1916, served as pastor of St. Patrick’s Church in Youngstown from 1922-23 before going on to Rome, serving as an apostolic delegate abroad, and Bishop of Rochester, before going to Detroit. He died on October 25, 1958 in Rome.

Previously, Ursuline High School had served the whole diocese but could not accommodate the growing population of Catholic students and the decision was made to build a second high school on the south side of Youngstown. Construction on Cardinal Mooney High School began in 1954 and the school was dedicated by Bishop Emmet M. Walsh in 1956, at the culmination of a successful three year funding drive. Six hundred and ten students enrolled as freshmen or sophomores (a freshman class had been formed in 1955 meeting at the old Glenmary Convent). Enrollments grew rapidly in the 1960’s, and in 1961, an addition was opened. In 2000 the school acquired two military annex buildings and in 2001 completed an athletic training complex.

In recent years there were discussions about moving the school to the suburbs of Youngstown. A study was done, and recommendations made that a move would enhance enrollments. A funding drive fell short and Bishop Murry made the controversial decision that the school would remain in its current location and renovations, presently underway, would be made to the current facility.

Cardinal Mooney’s website makes this statement about the school:

“Cardinal Mooney has maintained a tradition of academic, extra-curricular and spiritual excellence since its inception in 1956.”

My wife speaks of attending daily masses at the school. Today, 46 percent of the enrollment are not Catholics, but the school continues to offer:

  • Required religious education courses rooted in Catholic teachings and tradition.
  • Daily prayer.
  • All-school celebration of the Eucharist, Reconciliation and Liturgy of the Hours.
    Programs for community and school service.
  • Values-based education integrated into every aspect of the school.
  • A school atmosphere emphasizing individual responsibility and respect for all.

Mooney always has been known for academic excellence with 98 percent of students attending college in 2015, 77 percent of whom received scholarships totaling $15 million. The school offers 27 AP and honors courses and boasts a 12:1 student-teacher ratio. Over half the faculty have either Masters or Doctorates.

The school has been an athletic powerhouse. My wife remembers Coach Stoops and the great Mooney teams of the ’70’s. In addition to his sons Bob, Mark and Mike, Bo and Carl Pelini, and Tim Beck are Mooney graduates. Mooney grads in sports include Ray “Boom, Boom” Mancini, NFL players Jerry Diorio, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, Ed Muransky, John Simon, soccer player Kiki Willis and Mark Malaska, a former major league baseball reliever. In addition to that former San Francisco ’49ers owner Edward DeBartolo, Jr. and current owner Denise DeBartolo York are Mooney alumni.

I suspect there are many Mooney alumni who can add to this brief sketch of the history of the school. All I want to add are my congratulations to the board, alumni, leadership, faculty, staff, and students on 60 years of excellence in Catholic education in the Mahoning Valley.

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Reuben McMillan

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Reuben McMillan

When I was a young boy, my father took me to the Main Library each Saturday to take books out of the library–the Reuben McMillan Library. I didn’t give it a thought as a kid, but as I explore our shared history, I keep coming across the names of people who helped make the city of Youngstown what it was and still is. Reuben McMillan is one of these people.

McMillan was born October 7, 1820 in Canfield. He went to various schools until age thirteen and then took up the trade of harness making. Working during the day, he studied Latin, algebra and geometry and other advanced subjects in the evenings. By 1837 (at seventeen!) he started teaching in rural schools and used his earnings to continue to advance his own education from 1839 to 1843 at a private academy. By 1849, he was serving as superintendent of the Hanoverton schools in Columbiana County, then Lisbon and New Lisbon schools until he retired in 1853 due to health issues which dogged him throughout his life. Regaining his health, he became superintendent in Salem in 1855, then Youngstown in 1861.

He served as superintendent in Youngstown for six years until failing health necessitated his resignation in 1867. Were it not for this, he could have been superintendent of the Cleveland system. That was not to be, to Youngstown’s benefit. By 1872, restored health permitted him to return to his superintendent’s position in which he served until 1886. In Joseph G. Butler, Jr’s History of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, he describes why Reuben McMillan was so highly esteemed:

“It was not mere length of service, however, that endeared Youngstown school pupils and Youngstown men and women of mature years to Reuben McMillan. Blessed with great ability, he was also one of the kindliest of men, tender, considerate, devoted to his work and caring little for personal gain. The poorer children of the schools were the object of his
special solicitude. His beauty of countenance of itself stamped him as one of nature’s noblemen. He was a tutor by example as well as precept, living the God fearing life that he encouraged in the youth of Youngstown. In religion he was a Presbyterian, and for some years was an elder in the old First Church here.”

While libraries had been part of Youngstown schools since the 1840’s, McMillan, joined by two teachers and two physicians, formed the Youngstown Library Association on October 27, 1880. The library began with 168 volumes and the two teachers, Miss Pearson and Miss Hitchcock were the first librarians, working out of a building on West Federal Street. The library went through a reorganization and on March 5, 1898 was named the Reuben McMillan Free Library Association, which is still the official name of The Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County. This was a special honor since McMillan was still alive at this time, passing on June 23 of that year.

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Richard A. Brown home, an early location of the Youngstown Public Library

The other special honor bestowed on McMillan came later. From its original home on West Federal, the library moved to the Richard A. Brown home in 1891 (now the site of the Mahoning County Courthouse). In 1907, a $50,000 gift from Andrew Carnegie made possible construction of a library at the corner of Wick and Rayen Avenue. When the library opened on December 3, 1910, with a capacity of 225,000 volumes, it was named the Reuben McMillan Free Library. Usually, the library is named after the major donor and there are many Carnegie libraries around the country. This was a case of a leader whose contribution was more important than money — an idea — a free library open to all residents of the city.

A large portrait of Reuben McMillan was hung in the library with this tribute from John H. Clarke, another advocate for the library, who helped pass legislation to allow tax levies to support public libraries:

“A man who sought neither wealth nor honor save as these were to be found in the faithful doing of his duty. He spent a long life for meager salary in training the youth of the city to live the highest intellectual life. When his name was chosen for the library it was because his generation chose to honor and revere that type of manhood which finds its best expression in that high stern-featured beauty of steady devotedness to duty.”

Reuben McMillan never enriched himself as an educator, but left a rich legacy to Youngstown in establishing a library to enrich the lives of children and adults from every walk of life in the city–a mission it continues to carry out to this day.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Brier Hill

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An early sketch of the Brier Hill district

Brier Hill. The Brier Hill works. Pizza, Italian Festival. St. Anthony’s Church. The story of the Brier Hill neighborhood weaves all of these elements together. The neighborhood’s history goes back to 1801 when George Tod, the father of Governor David Tod, moved to the newly settled town of Youngstown, having been appointed secretary for the Ohio territory. He settled on a farmstead northwest of the Youngstown settlement, naming it Brier Hill because of the briers that covered the hillsides.

When George Tod died in 1841, David inherited the farm but was more interested in what was underground. Seams of a high quality coal known as “block coal” ran under the farm and built his fortune in mining the coal, attracting Welsh settlers who had mining experience in Wales. The coal was in demand for the blast furnaces that were springing up along the Mahoning River, and Tod joined with others in opening the Tod No. 1 furnace in Brier Hill in 1847. By the 1880, blast furnaces and rolling mills lined the valley and attracted other immigrants, especially Italians who became the heart and soul of the Brier Hill community.

Historical_Collections_of_Ohio-_An_Encyclopedia_of_the_State;_History_Both_General_and_Local,_Geography_with_Descriptions_of_Its_Counties,_Cities_and_Villages,_Its_Agricultural,_Manufact

Brier Hill Iron Company’s Grace Furnace circa 1889.

Until 1900, Brier Hill was its own village, with a post office and schools. Only then was it incorporated into Youngstown. There were three parishes that served different ethnic communities–St Anthony’s for the Italian community, St. Casimir’s for the Polish community, and St. Ann’s for the Irish and other Catholic residents. Only St. Anthony’s at 1125 Turin Street still serves the community. St. Casimir’s was sold for a dollar by the Youngstown Diocese to a group that formed the Brier Hill Cultural Center, located at 145 Jefferson Street. A group broke off from St. Anthony’s in 1907 and formed St. Rocco’s which was received into the Episcopal Church in 1918. In 1957, the parish relocated to Liberty Township and had its final services in 2006.

The Brier Hill neighborhood is bounded by Belmont Avenue on the east, the West River crossing on the south, West Federal Street (Route 422) on the west, and Gypsy Lane on the north. Part of the community, that includes Tod Field, is separated from the rest by the 711 freeway. Tod Homestead Cemetary occupies much of the northeast corner of the area.

Brier Hill pizza has its beginnings in the backyard ovens used for breadmaking in the Italian community. (There is a bread oven like one of these in Smoky Hollow’s Harrison Common.) Leftover dough was made into pizza topped with a sweet and thick tomato sauce known as “Sunday sauce,” bell peppers and Romano cheese. The sauce and peppers may well have come out of backyard gardens, and this simple but tasty pizza was probably a special treat during the Depression. Now, you can hardly sell pizza in Youngstown without offering a Brier Hill pizza. But the place to go is St Anthony’s on Friday’s. You need to order ahead and their website has the number to call with your order as well as a video with Casey Malone about their pizza making operation!

For the past 27 years, the Brier Hill Italian Festival has kept the Italian heritage of this community alive. For four days, up to 25,000 people come into the community for good food from one of twenty food vendors, music and Italian culture. The festival gathers at what is perhaps the Italian cultural heart of the community at Calvin and Victoria Streets, where the Italian American (ITAM) VFW Post is located. This started after we moved away, and in our endless quest for good Italian food, we’ve got to go sometime!

Today, Brier Hill, like many other parts of Youngstown struggles with population decline and the razing of properties in parts of the neighborhood. In 1997, the iconic Jenny blast furnace was demolished, one of the last leftovers of the Brier Hill works. In August of 2018, the city was trying to get rid of an illegal dumping ground right behind  St. Joseph the Provider school. St Anthony’s continues to serve the community, the Italian Festival draws business into the community, Jubilee Gardens, one of the larger community gardens with 32 acres, serves food needs in the community, and the Brier Hill Cultural Center keeps Polish culture and wider community history alive. One hopes those seeking to preserve this community, and its history, will be able to attract residents and businesses willing to invest in its future.

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Hotel Pick Ohio (Hotel Ohio)

Pick Ohio Hotel

The early Hotel Ohio, when it was an eight story hotel.

In the era when downtown Youngstown was a thriving retail center and the focal point of the city, perhaps the grandest of the downtown hotels was the Hotel Pick Ohio, part of the Albert Pick chain of hotels. When it opened in 1913 as an eight story building on West Boardman Street, it was known as the Hotel Ohio. A few years later in 1916, a new Tod House opened on Central Square. By the 1920’s five floors were added to bring the building to its present thirteen floors, 148 foot height.

Albert Pick started operating the hotel in the 1940’s. One of the signature additions they made to the hotel was a three panel mural painted by Louis Grell titled “The Kingdom of Ceres,” which may still be seen to this day. Along with the stately lobby, and luxurious lodgings and service, the hotel featured the Crystal Room, known for its buffet, its welsh rarebit, linen table clothes and napkins, and chefs with tall white hats.

Pick-Ohio-above-1

Louis Grell mural “The Kingdom of Ceres” (1946). Photograph used by permission of The Louis Grell Foundation <LouisGrell.com>.

Pick also introduced a chain of Purple Cow Sandwich Shops in his hotels. One could buy a Purple Cow Hamburger for forty cents and the restaurant was open twenty four hours a day. The one on the ground floor of what was now the Hotel Pick Ohio acquired a notorious reputation as a mob hangout, particularly in the early morning hours.

The hotel was a gathering place for meetings and conventions. On July 14, 1963 the hotel hosted the Slovak Catholic Sokol Convention. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy spoke to the group that day. He commended the attendees:

“Clearly, the United States would be a poorer nation today, economically, intellectually, culturally and in every other way, if it were not for the two-million of our citizens who are of Slovak birth or ancestry. And, needless to add, those two million would be poorer if it weren’t for the work of the Catholic Sokol throughout the nation.”

My only visit to the hotel was as a high school senior being honored by the Mahoning Valley Medical Society in 1972. I remember gawking at the mural and all the wood paneling and impressive service. By this time the hotel was changing. Although it went through a renovation in 1968, the clientele was YSU female students (only men lived in its only dormitory at that time, Kilcawley Hall) and increasingly, those who needed low income housing.

In 1982, the Youngstown Metropolitan Housing Authority (YMHA) took over the building, now known as Amedia Plaza. In 2002, a renovation overseen by Ricciuti, Balog & Partners created larger, but fewer apartments for senior citizens. New heating, ventilation, air conditioning and plumbing was installed while preserving the beautiful lobby and mural. YMHA also houses its corporate offices in this building.

It was heartening to learn in researching this piece that not only is the building that once was the Hotel Pick Ohio still standing, but that Youngstown once again has a downtown hotel, with the opening of the Hilton DoubleTree in the old Stambaugh Building, another Youngstown treasure. One hopes this reflects a resurgence of life in downtown Youngstown, recalling something of the city’s former years.