Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown – Mahoning Avenue Bridge

Historic American Engineering Record, Creator, and Huston & Cleveland. Mahoning Avenue Pratt Double-Deck Bridge, Spanning Mill Creek at Mahoning Avenue C.R. 319, Youngstown, Mahoning County, OH 1968. Documentation Compiled After. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

In January 2021, there was a terrible accident on I-680 under the Mahoning Bridge that resulted in severe damage to one of the bridge supports. I-680 had to be closed in both directions for months as did the Mahoning Avenue Bridge. Essentially, access between the West side and downtown was seriously affected, involving significant detours.

That was the situation in 1900. Mill Creek was a barrier between downtown and the West side. Mahoning Avenue and the West side was only sparsely settled west of Mill Creek. This changed in 1903 with the construction of the Mahoning Avenue Bridge by Huston & Cleveland, an engineering firm out of Columbus, Ohio (they also built a bridge over Yellow Creek on Main Street in Poland in 1904). It was built at a time when Youngstown’s population was expanding rapidly and the city was growing in every direction. The home in which I grew up on the lower West side was built around 1920 as part of that expansion.

I drove or walked across that bridge to the Isaly dairy plant or to go downtown the whole time I lived in Youngstown. We often drove under it to enter Mill Creek Park at Tod Avenue which went over Mill Creek. What I never realized until this week was that those two bridges were actually a single double deck bridge, the only known example of a Pratt Double Deck. You can see this in the photo above which shows both bridges with the connecting girders with the Pratt deck truss on the upper level (Mahoning Avenue) and an adapted form of the Pratt through truss on the lower level (Tod Avenue). This is what you saw as you crossed the lower level bridge:

Historic American Engineering Record, Creator, and Huston & Cleveland. Mahoning Avenue Pratt Double-Deck Bridge, Spanning Mill Creek at Mahoning Avenue C.R. 319, Youngstown, Mahoning County, OH 1968. Documentation Compiled After. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress

You will note these photographs come from a Library of Congress site. The collection includes additional photographs of the bridge from below as well as engineering drawings of the bridge. There is a document marked “Plan of Repairs” from the County Surveyors Office marked 1931, which was when the American Bridge Company of New York made repairs on the bridge. The bridge was further modified when I-680 was built in the 1960’s.

The bridge lasted over 90 years. It was replaced in 1997 with the current structure, classified a steel stringer/multi-beam or girder bridge of 6 spans. Tod Avenue now passes under the Mahoning Avenue bridge and crosses Mill Creek parallel and just south of the present Mahoning Avenue bridge. The old access road just before the Mahoning Avenue Bridge going west no longer exists. You have to turn onto Irving by the old Ward Baking Company building and then left onto Tod Avenue to take it into the park.

The Mahoning Avenue bridge contributed to the growth of Youngstown’s West side. I read elsewhere that the Mahoning Theatre opened in 1921 to serve the growing population on the West Side. That included both of my grandparents who moved to the West side in the 1930’s. My parents met at Chaney High School. Their first date was at the Mahoning Theatre! It’s interesting to think that this unusual bridge played an indirect part in my family history!

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Cascade Run Stone Bridge

“Cascade Run Stone Bridge” Bob Trube, (c) 2015.

The Lanterman Falls Bridge, the silver Suspension Bridge and the Parapet Bridge are probably the most photographed bridges in Mill Creek Park. But there are many bridges in Mill Creek Park. Several years ago, on a fall visit to Youngstown we took a number of pictures in the park. One of those was of the Cascade Run Stone Bridge. I was on the north bank of Cascade Run, between the bridge and Lake Cohasset, looking toward the bridge and up the ravine beyond in the afternoon sunlight.

That picture turned into the painting above a few years ago when I was practicing working with an easel and paints before joining my wife and a group of artist friends in a plein air retreat at Linwood Park on Lake Erie. I don’t claim this is great art, more of a beginners effort. I suspect I am just one of many who have been inspired by a place in the park.

A early photo of the Cascade Run Stone Bridge (Source: The Vindicator)

The pictured bridge is a small stone bridge over Cascade Run, just before it flows into Mill Creek at the south end of Lake Cohasset. If you are driving north on Valley Drive from the Suspension Bridge, it crosses the Cascade Run Stone Bridge just before West Gorge Drive and West Cohasset Drive. Cascade Run Ravine is one of the most scenic spots in the park, running parallel to West Gorge Drive. It is a steep ravine (as is West Gorge Drive) punctuated with cascading waterfalls as it makes its way to Lake Cohasset. According to John C. Melnick, it was one of Volney Rogers’ favorite places.

Cascade Ravine was among the earliest park acquisitions. 29.36 acres west of Mill Creek. The deed was signed by George Tod and H. H. Stambaugh on September 15, 1891. A steel bridge at the top of the ravine was built in 1894. A new bridge was built in 1990. The stone bridge over Cascade Run on Valley Drive was built in 1913, which means it has lasted over a century, like many of the other bridges in the park.

This is not one of the more dramatic sights in the park, yet it is one more example of the careful workmanship and aesthetic sense of Volney Rogers and those who worked with him to create scenic and durable structures to complement that natural beauty of Mill Creek Park. It caught my eye on an afternoon roaming the park, and on another afternoon when I painted the scene. It is one of the reasons the park is such a treasure–favorite places to return to at different times of the year, and a thousand new ones to discover.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown – The Parapet Bridge

Parapet Bridge

Parapet Bridge. Robert Trube, 2015, all rights reserved

From my childhood, I’ve loved the sight of the Parapet Bridge on the east side of Lake Glacier. I first saw it on walks with my dad. Later I sat on Lake Glacier’s banks enjoying the view of it with my girlfriend (now wife of 41 years). I ran past it on morning runs, cycled across it, and have revisited it many times over the years. It turns out that it is one of the most photographed features in Mill Creek Park.  Its massive stone construction with its dark “dragon’s teeth” parapets topping the stone work on each side of the road stands in stark contrast to the fairy-tale-like Silver Bridge. In fact, this accounts for one of its other names, “the Dragon Bridge.” It is also called “the Prehistoric Bridge.”

Apparently Volney and Bruce Rogers saw a similar bridge during a journey in Europe. Bruce’s sketches served as the basis of architect Julius Schweinfurth’s design. The bridge was built in 1913, spanning the Spring Brook Ravine, which empties into Lake Glacier. The combination of the graceful arch, the varicolored stonework, the darker upright parapet stones, and the viewing platforms on each side of each end of the bridge all draw one’s eye. The westward facing platforms look out over Lake Glacier, the eastward ones up Spring Book Ravine and the woods on either side of it.

The bridge is attractive in any season, framed by the surrounded forest. I remember it dark and foreboding on winter nights when I was skating on Lake Glacier, subdued and pristine in the winter covered in snow, newly alive with spring growth, and resplendent surrounded by fall colors. This last seems to be the favorite time to photograph it. Our photo albums have photographs spanning the years from 1973 to 2015.

Volney Rogers was known for his desire to create “fanciful park entrances.” The Silver Bridge is one kind of fanciful, delicate in its beauty. The Parapet Bridge is another kind of fanciful, evoking images of dragons, castle parapets, something old, almost organically grown out of the rock of the earth. Over 100 years later, the bridge stands (as do many other structures built in those early years) as a testimony to the vision of Volney and Bruce Rogers. I look forward to seeing it the next time I visit.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Bridges

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Spring Common Bridge, by Jack Pearce, Own Work CC BY-SA 2.0 

A city grows up along a river. You have to build bridges to get from one side to another. Bridges to walk over. And after the automobile, bridges to drive over. As the steel mills start up more bridges are needed for railroads as they cross rivers, railroad overpasses over roads, road overpasses over railroad right of ways. Then freeways are built. Yet more overpasses over surface streets, and occasionally new overpasses where surface streets run above freeways. Sometimes footbridges are built as well, particularly where children need to cross busy roads or railroads.

Youngstown was, and is, a city of bridges. Even without the many scenic bridges in Mill Creek Park (the subject of previous, and maybe future posts) the city has a rich heritage of bridges. When I was young, my early bridge memories were driving down Mahoning Avenue to downtown, and until the mid-1960’s, to church. We would cross the Mahoning Avenue bridge by Mill Creek Park, just west of the Isaly dairy plant, go under a huge concrete railroad bridge as we approached town, and then over the Spring Common Bridge to reach West Federal Street. If we went ahead and veered slightly left, we’d go up Fifth Avenue, over another set of railroad tracks.

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Spring Common Underpass, by Jack Pearce — Own Work, CC BY-SA 2.0

Later on, when I went to Youngstown State, dad would sometimes cut over on N. West Avenue and cross the single lane bridge over the river there, which avoided going through downtown. Then we’d taken Rayen Avenue over to the university. Every time we crossed that bridge, I’d say a prayer, both that we wouldn’t meet a car coming the other way, and that the bridge wouldn’t fall into the river while we were on it. I understand that this bridge was finally closed in 1997.

My grandparents used to live on the South Side, and sometimes I’d go into town with them. We drove over the Market Street Bridge, which must have been one of the longest bridges in the city. You could look up and down the river and see the various factories and mills along the river. Downtown and Central Square were straight ahead. If you kept going you ascended a bridge on what had become Wick Avenue, with the First Presbyterian Church at the top of the hill. Coming back from downtown to the south side, you knew you had made it over the bridge when you went past the GE light bulb plant on the right with the big lit sign.

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Market Street Bridge, by Daysleeper — Own Work, CC BY-SA 3.0

There was also a steel footbridge over the old Erie Lackawanna tracks connecting Wood Street and the downtown. It was exciting to watch the trains pass underneath. That bridge, along with the railroad tracks are now gone. The closest thing to it are stairs descending from Wood Street to North Phelps Street next to where Rust Belt Brewery is located.

Some of the most dramatic bridges crossed over the river and passed through the mills. There were bridges like this going through both the Ohio Works and the Campbell Works if I remember. My wife talks about riding the bus to school at Sts. Cyril and Methodius, watching molten steel pour from the big ladles, and also watching wastes in all sorts of putrid colors pouring into the river below them as they drove over. You almost wondered as a small child if you were driving into Hell and wondered if you would come out the other side, or not.

Later on, the freeways came, and with these the “Blue Bridge” on the Madison Avenue Freeway running north of downtown by St. Elizabeth’s and past Youngstown State. It was called the “Blue Bridge” because of the blue paint job, which at times was more faded blue and rust.

Some of the bridges are no more. Some have been rebuilt, more than once in the history of Youngstown in some cases. Some remain but are no longer used. No doubt someday these will be destroyed. But as long as a river runs through Youngstown, as long as trains pass through the city. As long as freeways pass over or under surface streets, there will be bridges–some functional, some pleasing to the eye, some a tribute to Youngstown’s industrial past.