Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Passbooks

Mahoning Bank Passbook. Photo by Robert C. Trube

Remember passbooks? Like me, you may even have some old ones around your house like this one I found. This was how we saved money growing up in Youngstown.

It started for me when I set up my own lawn cutting business and started setting aside money to buy my own stereo. Each week, I would walk down to the Dollar Savings and Trust on Mahoning Avenue, a few blocks from my house (I don’t have that passbook anymore). I’d set aside some money for things like baseball cards and maybe save $10 a week.

The Dollar Savings and Trust on Mahoning Avenue was in a long, narrow building. When you walked in, there was an enclosed office in front, teller’s windows on the left, and on the right, a standing desk with chairs on either side. At the desk, you would fill out a deposit (or withdrawal) slip with your account, date, and amount, using one of those pens on a chain that seemed to work about half the time. Toward the back was a manager’s office and the safe with safe deposit boxes. I went in there a few times with my dad.

After you filled out the slip, you stepped across the aisle to an open teller window. After a while, you got to know the tellers, some who had been there for years. You gave them your money and deposit slip and your passbook. They would write or stamp the date, the kind of transaction, the amount, and your new account balance. Once a month, they also wrote in the accumulated interest in your account. And they would initial each transaction.

What a cool idea! They added money to your account (at that time 4 percent interest!) just for taking care of your money. They even paid you interest on your interest! Someone told me early on that one of the keys to getting rich was working for your money and then letting it work for you. They also said that you wanted others to pay you interest rather than you paying interest to them.

It turns out that banks did not always give customers a passbook. At one time, they just kept their own, handwritten account ledgers. Passbooks gave customers a certain amount of control and access to their own accounts. They also served as identification, much like a passport, which is of similar size.

And now they are largely a thing of the past in most places. Computerization and online banking have eliminated paper records, like passbooks. Now, most funds are deposited, withdrawn, or transferred electronically, and we only go to the bank if we need cash, or maybe a loan (even much of applying for a loan may be done online). Even then, we often use ATMs or drive throughs. I deposit checks with my smartphone. I can’t remember the last time I went into a bank and every time I went there, I dealt with different people than were there on my last visit. Now, I keep track of my accounts through the app on my phone or from my computer. It’s convenient, to be sure, but…

I do miss the personal relationships of the past. You knew the tellers names and they got to know yours. They knew your dad and other family members. It was fun to look at your passbook and see the steadily increasing balance of your account toward your goal of something you wanted to buy, or eventually, saving for college. Savings and scholarships meant I graduated without owing anything.

Passbooks were part of how we learned to save. The habit of going to the bank each week to save a bit of what I earned became a lifelong habit. Compound interest was the first lesson I learned about having money work for me. I felt like the tellers were cheering us on.

I wonder how children learn how to do this today. Looking around, I do see that banks have youth accounts. Often the banks are not as close by, certainly not in walking distance. Things can be done online. I wonder if parents need to be more involved than in the past. I could go to the bank myself, even at age ten, and that felt empowering. It meant I was growing up. In Youngstown.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Dollar Savings & Trust

Early postcard of Dollar Savings and Trust Building

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Home Savings


Home Savings Building, Photo by Jack Pierce, 2013 (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Flickr

Growing up on the West Side of Youngstown, the most recognizable feature of downtown Youngstown that I could see from my home was the main offices of Home Savings and Loan. When I was young, I had the back bedroom in our house, which faced east toward downtown. I used to love looking over the valley. One Christmas, I received a telescope as a gift. It was fun looking at the Home Savings Building, and the clock tower on top. If memory serves me correctly at that time, there were neon signs with the name “Home Savings” that would alternately light up on the north and south, and east and west sides of the building.

Whenever I look at old pictures of West Federal Street, you almost always see the Home Savings and Loan building at the far west end, presiding over the financial fortunes of the businesses along that street, as it were. While some of the great old theaters and the McKelvey buildings have been torn down, this main branch remains standing strong.

Home Savings was started in 1889 and the “Savings and Loan” name reflected its mission of providing a safe place to deposit funds at interest and to borrow money to purchase homes, and for other purposes. The bank helped many generations of working class people to realize the dream of home ownership. One of the encouraging things is that despite economic troubles in the Valley, the bank has continued to grow. In 1998 the bank went through a mutual-to-stock conversion, setting up a parent holding company, the United Community Financial Corporation. At the same time, a Home Savings Charitable Foundation was set up and focuses on areas of education, health care and disadvantaged children and adults, according to the “history” section of the Home Savings website. In 2014, United Community Financial Corporation acquired Premier Bank & Trust, a regional bank in the Canton area, bringing its total number of offices to 35 and its current assets to approximately $2.5 billion. In 2016, they created the Home Savings Insurance Group, acquiring a couple local insurance agencies. In 2017, to reflect an increasing involvement in commercial services, the name was changed to Home Savings Bank. While most of Home Savings offices are still in northeast Ohio, there are some in north central Ohio, and loan offices in Cleveland, in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Morgantown, West Virginia, Toledo, and in my own backyard of Worthington, in suburban Columbus.

Some of my memories of my father’s last years involved Home Savings. I was his financial power of attorney and when I began to manage his affairs, one of the things we needed to do was close out his safe deposit box at the main branch. We went down to the basement where the safe deposit boxes were located, off of a richly paneled lobby. I deeply appreciated the respect the bank personnel showed to my elderly father as we completed this transaction. He also had funds on deposit with the bank and, once again, I found the people at the bank great to work with, both before and after my father’s passing.

In an age when it is easy to live in a town where all the banks are from places like Chicago, or New York, or a city somewhere else in Ohio, it is encouraging to see Home Savings still going strong as a Youngstown-based bank. Let’s hope that is a sign for other Youngstown-based businesses.