Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — St James Meeting House

Nyttend, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

It was a joyous day. My friend from college had found love again after having lost his first wife to cancer. They decided to marry at the St. James Meeting House in Boardman Park. We had driven by many times but had never before set foot in this historic building. By modern standards, it is a spartan building with limited restroom facilities downstairs as well as a dressing area for bride and groom. Upstairs, the sanctuary has vintage hardwood floors, a two-level raised chancel with dark red boards, and white walls, white narrow pews, and woodwork. Above the chancel is a gorgeous stain glass window with a central section and two side sections. One of my memories of the wedding was of the afternoon sun shining through the glass onto my friends. As I said, it was a glorious day in a building that looked like it came from a New England town.

In a way it did.

In 1807, a few years after the initial settling of Boardman, the Parish of St. James was established. Henry Boardman, son of Elijah Boardman of Connecticut, after whom the township was named, donated land, money, and some of the materials for the building. St. James Episcopal Church was built in 1827 and 1828 and consecrated in 1829 by the first Episcopal bishop of the diocese of Ohio, Philander Chase. It was the first Episcopal parish and church in the Western Reserve. The belfry and steeple, which add so much to the building, were added in 1882. The stained glass windows were also added during this renovation.

The building was sited just south of the Boardman town center on the east side of Market Street. A moment’s thought will remind you that this is where Southern Park Mall (or what is left of it) is located along with various outbuildings (Chili’s Restaurant and Bar now occupies the site of the church). In 1970, the Edward J. DeBartolo Company developed the land behind the church into the mall. With the area around it being commercialized, the congregation built a new facility on Glenwood Avenue into which it moved in 1971. It looked like this venerable old building, then 144 years old was slated for demolition. The diocese deconsecrated the building. Briefly, there was talk of moving it to the Pioneer Village at the Canfield Fairgrounds, but that was too costly.

Then the Boardman Historical Society, under the leadership of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Masters and Mr. and Mrs. George Marks, started a drive to move the building to Boardman Park, just down the road. They overcame legal difficulties with the deed and raised $45,000 to move the building down Route 224 to the park. Now it is the central structure in a collection of historic buildings that include the Beardsley-Walter-Diehm House (circa 1828), the Oswald Detchon House (circa 1840), and the Schiller-Chuey Summer Kitchen. In 1979 the building was added to National Register of Historic Places. Supported by the Ohio Bicentennial Commission, The Longaberger Company, The Boardman Historical Society, and The Ohio Historical Society, an Ohio Historical Society marker was erected for the building in 2001.

These days, weddings are the primary events at what is now the St. James Meeting House. It is a popular wedding site, normally averaging 300 weddings a year. Prices are surprisingly reasonable, listed at the time of writing at $170 for Boardman residents and $254 for non-residents. The building can seat 125. This includes a two hour wedding and an hour rehearsal. Groups interested in touring this historic landmark may schedule a tour by calling the Park District office at 330-726-8107, Monday through Friday, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (subject to COVID restrictions).

The building costs about $9,000 a year to maintain, $7,000 of which is defrayed by wedding fees. In September of 2020, the building received a fresh coat of paint. This year, the building, considered the oldest existing church building on the Western Reserve will turn 193 years old. The year 2022 will mark 50 years on the Boardman Park site and 2028 its bicentennial. Obviously, Henry Boardman and the people of St. Mark’s built well and it is to the credit of the people of Boardman, Boardman Park and the Boardman Historical Society, that this piece of Youngstown area history has been preserved so well. One hopes it always will be.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Simon Family

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Simon Homestead, photo courtesy of Joanne Simon Tailele.

It’s funny how one thing leads to another. I wrote last week about Elijah Boardman, the Connecticut senator and Western Reserve investor after whom Boardman township was named. I received a comment from an descendant of another early settler in Boardman township, who lived in the township nineteen years before Henry Mason Boardman made his home there. The family owned a farm that extended from Midlothian Boulevard to Indianola Road, and from Southern Boulevard to South Avenue. Lake Park Cemetery was originally their family cemetery, eventually donated to the community. Simon Road is named after them. The family is the Simon family.

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Simon Family in July 1914, image courtesy of Joanne Simon Tailele

Michael Simon, who was born in 1741, moved to Boardman township in 1800, purchasing 640 acres. He was the first to bring wheat into Boardman township and raise a wheat crop. He was married three times and had fifteen children and died in 1839. His fourth son Adam also moved to Boardman in 1800, and is listed as one of the original township trustees. Given the size of this family and multiplied by descendants, I cannot tell the story of the whole family. At an 1882 reunion, 172 blood relations were present as well as 75 others related through marriage. Bernice Simon, who died in 1997, compiled a Simon family history and genealogy, as well as other genealogies and lists of early residents in the Western Reserve. Bernice and her husband Howard donated many of their documents and artifacts to the Detchon House, located in Boardman Park.

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Drawing of Simon Homestead, early Boardman map, and Jesse Simon, Image courtesy of Joanne Simon Tailele.

Michael’s grandson Jesse built the homestead that is still standing on Indianola Road, as are a number of other homes built by Simon family members in the area. Jesse’s grandson Clyde, and his wife Alpharetta Walters Simon, lived down the street. Clyde was an official at Home Savings and Loan, serving as assistant treasurer of the real estate division, contributing significantly to the residential growth of the Youngstown area. Alpharetta, as a young woman, taught in a one room school house, the Heasly School, on South Avenue, where many of the German children in the area learned to speak English.

Alpharetta Simon at Heasly School 1912

Alpharetta Walters Simon at the Heasly School in 1912, photo courtesy of Joanne Simon Tailele

To this day, there is an area west of Simon Road and north of Indianola still referred to as “New England Lanes.” This was once part of the Simon farmland. In the 1950’s, Clyde and Alpharetta’s son Howard Simon (Bernice’s husband) was a home builder and president of the Youngstown Homebuilders Association. He built many of the homes in this area. After Bernice died in 1997, he moved to Lewis Center, Ohio (near Columbus) to live with his daughter Joanne Simon Tailele, who along with her daughter Candy, provided much of the information and photographs for this story. Howard Simon passed away in 2006.

The Simon family both made Boardman history and preserved it. They brought wheat farming to the area, taught area children, contributed to the residential growth of the area and then painstakingly documented both the family’s history and that of the area. This is one of the many family stories of Youngstown. One of the things I’ve loved about writing on Youngstown is that I keep discovering these stories, often from descendants of the people who made the stories. Through their character and hard work, they gave the Valley its history, and inspire us to continue it.

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Special thanks to Candy Cooper McDowell and Joanne Simon Tailele for the idea for this article, all the images used here, and much of the family history. Thank you for letting me share your story. Any inaccuracies are my responsibility.