Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Tod Homestead Cemetery

“Todd Homestead Cemetery Gate from outside,” Nyttend, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In my parents’ last years, they lived on the North side. Some of their banking was at the Home Savings and Loan on Belmont, and not far from there going southbound, we passed Tod Homestead Cemetery. Sometimes we passed going north to Kravitz Deli, which my dad loved. I had always noticed the impressive cemetery gate when we passed. I discovered in writing this article, that the gate was designed by the same architect who designed another iconic Youngstown structure, that is reminiscent of the gate.

The cemetery bears the Tod family name. It was established in 1908 under terms of the will of George Tod, son of industrialist David Tod, the only Ohio governor from Youngstown. The Tods owned a 900 acre farm on the western banks of the Mahoning River, bounded on the east by Belmont Avenue. Of this, 256 acres were set aside along with an endowment fund to establish a cemetery for the people of Youngstown.

The board formed to establish the cemetery included Mill Creek Park founder Volney Rogers. In 1911, Rogers hired landscape architect Warren Manning to develop a land use and plot layout plan. Manning designed the diagonal northwest to southeast plots that give way in the back to east-west oriented plots. Later on, additional plots were added on the south side of the cemetery. In line due east the entrance was an oval sunken garden east of which was the Tod plot, with a stone obelisk as a central feature, located in line with the cemetery gateway..

Rogers also retained Julius A. Schweinfurth, as architect for the cemetery buildings. It was he who designed the Chapel, entrance arch, and administrative building. The entrance arch is 40 feet and the tower 90 feet high. The style is described as “Italian gothic,” consisting of coarse sandstone topped by a tile roof. The sandstone came both from local and Indiana quarries. It was built in 1919 and was entered into the National Register of Historical Buildings in 1976. Have you figured out what other Youngstown structure the gateway reminds you of? It turns out that in 1913 Volney Rogers, having seen a similar bridge in Europe, hired Schweinfurth to design the Parapet Bridge on the east side of Lake Glacier, beloved of photographers. He also designed Slippery Rock Pavilion.

Rodef Shalom Cemetery was moved to the Tod Homestead Cemetery in 1912, and some cemetery sites list this as an alternate name for the Tod Homestead Cemetery. The Youngstown Township Cemetery, a “potters field” for the poor, was also incorporated into the cemetery in 1914.

In the 1920’s, the cemetery faced financial challenges from its construction and land development costs. A $400,000 gift from John Tod and reorganization under Fred I. Sloan put the cemetery on a solid footing. Sloan led the cemetery until 1958 and was buried there in 1963. One of the other significant structures, the Tod Mausoleum, was built by private investors in 1926 and turned over to the cemetery in 1971.

In 2004, Paul J. Ricciuti, FAIA, one of Youngstown’s leading architects of the late twentieth century into the present, was hired to renovate and restore the interiors of the Chapel, administrative offices and the Tod Mausoleum to their original designs. Then in 2014 the “sunken garden” was re-developed into what is now the Columbarium (“columba” being the Latin for “dove,” a symbol of spirituality and peace), accommodating the increasing numbers who wish to place cremated remains of loved ones in enclosed niches. The area consists of ten low profile structures with a fountain, landscaping, and walkways. This drone video shot in 2015 shows the Columbarium as well as the stunning gateway quite well.

Currently, the cemetery states that there are 38,000 people of all faiths whose final resting place are within its confines. Gravesites and niches are available and the cemetery layout indicates available locations. It reflects the generosity of one of Youngstown’s early founding families, the Tods, the vision of Mill Creek founder Volney Rogers, and the architectural skills of both Julius A. Schweinfurth and Paul J. Ricciuti. It’s design reflects both historic and contemporary elements, suggesting a facility in touch with both its heritage and current needs of the community. And like the park Volney Rogers was associated with, Tod Homestead Cemetery was built as a place of beauty and, with care, to last.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Forest Lawn Memorial Park

Entrance gate to Forest Lawn Memorial Park, seen from the east on Market Street, Youngstown, Ohio, United States,” by jonathundr is licensed under GNU Free Documentation License

I received a letter this week from Forest Lawn Memorial Park, one of the Youngstown area’s cemeteries, located in Boardman on 5400 Market Street. My parents are buried there, as are my grandparents on my mother’s side. It is the place where I was finally parted from each of them in this life, my mother in 2010, my father in 2012. Both were cremated but because they had graves there, were interred in the cemetery. Among those last memories, I can see my father seated in the Little Church holding the urn with my mom’s remains and saying his final goodbyes after nearly 69 years of marriage. Two years later I remember the military salute my father received as a World War 2 veteran, and the two other veterans, and my nephew, then in active service in the Air Force saluting their brother in arms. Taps were played. We each threw a shovel of dirt into the grave, underscoring the finality of our parting. Today, they rest together under the trees and lush lawns of the cemetery.

The cemetery is one of the newer cemeteries in the area. The land on which the cemetery was developed was first held by the Baldwin family, one of the early Youngstown area families, going back to the time of John Young. Later Hugh Bonnell owned a dairy farm, raising prize cattle. Hugh Bonnell was a bachelor connected to the Bonnell family whose wealth came from rail, steel and land interests. Youngstown expanded significantly to the south in the early 1900’s and people started moving in significant numbers into Boardman Township in the 1920’s and Bonnell decided it was just getting too crowded. He moved to Hubbard, moving his house with him. He sold the land to Parkland Development Company, a company founded by four partners: Earl M. McBride, Dennis T. Peters, Paul M. Ludt, and Raymond Book.

Their plan was to develop houses in one of the early automobile suburbs, calling the development Forest Glen Estates. Then the Depression hit in 1929 and no one was buying housing lots. While in California, Earl M. McBride toured Forest Lawn Memorial Parks in Hollywood and in Glendale. These cemeteries were designed as parks, with sweeping lawns, lush trees and landscaping and no big tombstones or monuments which he described as “depressing misshapen monuments and other signs of earthly death.” Gravestones were to be flush with the ground.

On August 18, 1930 the Mill Creek Memorial Park Association obtained a charter to operate a cemetery. They hired architect Monroe W. Copper of Dunn and Copper, Cleveland, Ohio. He designed the entrance at Market Street in the picture above and the chapel. Pitkin and Mott, landscape architects, also from Cleveland designed the layout of grounds and roadways.

Forest Lawn Map in my father’s papers.

Albert A. Haenny, Youngstown did the engineering. The stone mason work in the front entrance and other stone masonry work around the cemetery was done by Felix Pesa & Sons (Stone Masons), of Youngstown. Hadlock Krill and Company, of Cleveland built the Little Church, which was patterned after a 12th century church in Castlecombe, Wiltshire, England.

The first burial took place in 1931. The cemetery states that 19,000 people are currently buried there and 47 acres have been set aside for gravesites that will accommodate 44,000. In all, the cemetery owns about 80 acres with the remainder serving as a buffer. In 2018, the cemetery was added to the National Register of Historic Places, with plaques at the Glenwood entrance in 2019, and the Market Street entrance in 2020.

Perhaps the most famous person to be buried in the cemetery is actress Elizabeth Hartman who played opposite Sidney Poitier in “A Patch of Blue.” She grew up in Boardman and got her start at the Youngstown Playhouse. After her academy award nomination, she appeared in a handful of films, the last of which was “The Secret of NIMH” in 1982 in which she did voiceovers. She suffered from depression, was in and out of psychiatric facilities and died in 1987 from a fall from her fifth floor apartment. It was considered a possible suicide though there were no witnesses nor a suicide note. She was laid to rest at Forest Lawn, along with her parents, predeceasing her mother by ten years.

The letter I received traces some of the changes in burial practices over the years. When the cemetery began, they say, “It was a straight forward business with few options–full body burial within a week.” Now, cremations are changing the business. Many (up to 70 percent) don’t bury remains. The cemetery, however accommodates interment, including grave sharing which lowers costs and extends the working life of the cemetery. In 2019, the cemetery only had 147 burials and project 133 in 2020. However they have remained profitable through services, cost savings, and donations and grants.

It is a comfort to know that the place where your loved ones are buried is solvent. I hope it remains this way and retains its beauty for many years to come. It is one of the first cemeteries in Youngstown to represent a shift in the conception of a cemetery away from big monuments to a park-like atmosphere. Its entrance and Little Chapel are architectural gems, and the stone masonry was done by a local Italian Stonemasons. And it is part of my own family’s 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 — 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 heard estimates between 100,000 and 200,000 and learned through a reader that an employee of the cemetery told her 250,000 people were interred there.]

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 — Oak Hill Cemetery

David Tod Memorial.jpg

David Tod Memorial, courtesy of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society

This past weekend was one of the times many people visit cemeteries. It might be to remember a family member and place flowers at their grave. It might be to place flags at the graves of veterans to remember their service.

In writing about Youngstown, I’ve discovered that Oak Hill Cemetery is the final resting place of many of people I’ve written about: early settlers like Daniel Shehy and James Hillman (both re-interred since they died before the cemetery opened), P. Ross Berry, George Borts, Col. L. T. Foster, George Lanterman, William F. Maag, Jr., G.M. McKelvey, Reuben McMillan, John S. Pollock, Henry H. Stambaugh and James L. Wick, Jr. Two of the most famous were Governor David Tod and Titanic casualty George Dennick Wick (memorialized only since his body was never recovered). Many others from the extended Wick and Arms families also are interred here. A walk through Oak Hill Cemetery is a walk through Youngstown history. The Mahoning Valley Historical Society leads such walks each year, the next scheduled for October 26, 2019. It’s one of those things on my Youngstown bucket list.

I never had occasion to visit the cemetery growing up though we drove past it, particularly when we were visiting South Side Hospital. I did not know anyone buried in it nor the history written on those gravestones. Somewhere in the curriculum of schools, there ought to be a study of local history, and this cemetery would make a good field trip for such a unit.

Oak Hill Cemetery Lot Numbers

Oak Hill Cemetery Map. Source: Find-A-Grave, contributed by Susan Less Philips

The Mahoning Cemetery Association was formed in 1852 in response to the outward growth of the city that was over-running early cemeteries located near the downtown area. In 1853, they acquired sixteen acres from Dr. Henry Manning, who was chairman of the association and a prominent local physician. Some of the earliest burials were re-interments from the older cemeteries, including the burials of Colonel James Hillman and Daniel Shehy. Three acres were added in 1856, purchased from Dr. Manning, for burials from Youngstown Township.

The cemetery took a great step forward in 1924 when Mahoning Cemetery Association chair Henry M. Garlick led a drive raising $500,000 from families with plots in the cemetery to create an endowment that provided for the perpetual care of the cemetery grounds. Among the improvements made at the time was 6,000 feet of macadam road, an eleven foot high fence around the perimeter, leveling the graves, and planting trees and landscaping, and in 1934 an administration building on the west side of the cemetery. The granite gates at the corner of Oak Hill and High were added in 1962.

Oak Hill Cemetery postcard

Entrance to Oak Hill Cemetery before construction of the granite gates

The cemetery was not merely the final resting place of the rich and famous. Overall, 25,000 people are buried here. Scrolling through the list of Oak Hill Cemetery Memorials one comes across names of many servicemen who died during the nations wars, infants and children, and ordinary workers in the city’s industries. At a couple of periods in the history, Oak Hill interred the indigent of the city. Those still interred in the cemetery are in the Youngstown Township section.

The cemetery was landscaped by Warren H. Manning, a protege of Frederick Law Olmstead, perhaps the country’s premier landscape architect. The beauty of his work is evident to this day in the wooded hillsides and curving drives of the cemetery. He designed a fitting resting place for the men and women who invested their lives in the city and a place of peace for those who visit to remember them, or to walk through Youngstown’s history.


Sean Barron, “Learning About Valley Figures at Oak Hill CemeteryThe Vindicator, October 29, 2017.

Matt Farragher, History of Oak Hill Cemetery. Mahoning Valley Historical Society, October 17, 2012.

Oak Hill Cemetery Tour,” Mahoning Valley Historical Society.

Oak Hill Cemetery,” Find-A-Grave.

Oak Hill Cemetery Memorials,” Find-A-Grave.