Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Central Square

Public Square (showing Diamond Cafe)
1909-06-15, Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections

Central Square, the heart of Youngstown’s business district has undergone numerous changes reflecting the development of the city from John Young’s village to the present. At various times, it has been called Central Square, “the Diamond,” and Federal Plaza. Over the years it has seen foot and horse-drawn traffic, streetcars, buses and automobiles. For roughly 30 years, it was a plaza with no east-west traffic on Federal Street. For 31 years, there was a branch of the library on the north side of the square. Here is a timeline reflecting some of the changes on the Square over the years.

1798: John Young lays out plats for his village, designating a public square, a rectangle 250 by 400 feet, similar to New England Villages with the simple word “Square” on his map. With foresight, he lays out streets intersecting the square 100 feet wide.

1803: Youngstown’s first log schoolhouse opens on the Square.

1806: Perlee Brush hired as the first school-teacher.

1800-1860: Central Square is the center of the village primarily along East and West Federal Street consisting of residences and small businesses. For example, Woodman’s Grocery occupied the site that later became the Mahoning Bank Building.

1866: The Rayen School built by P. Ross Berry opens on Wick Avenue north of downtown.

1869: First Tod Hotel built on the southeast part of Central Square by. P. Ross Berry.

Realty Building and the Tod Hotel, from an undated vintage postcard.

1870: The Civil War Soldiers Monument is dedicated July 4, 1870 by Governor Rutherford B. Hayes and Congressman James A. Garfield.

1870’s: P. Ross Berry builds Opera House and building complex known as “The Diamond Block” on the southwest corner of public square.

1875: Horse drawn street cars provide transportation from the Square.

1876: Youngstown becomes the county seat of Mahoning County. The ubiquitous P. Ross Berry builds the first courthouse building at Wick and Wood.

1882: Federal Street is paved.

1886: Electric street lights installed.

1889: First of the downtown office towers built, the four story Federal Building, Daniel Burnham architect.

1899: Market Street Bridge opens, making Central Square the traffic hub from all sides of town.

1902: Dollar Savings and Trust Building completed built by Charles H. and Charles F. Owsley.

1906: Stambaugh Building built. Albert Kahn architect

1907: The Wick Building, also designed by Burnham is erected.

1910: Mahoning National Bank Building, also designed by Kahn.

1923: Central Square Library opened on the site of the defunct “Maid of the Mists” Fountain on the north side of the Square.

1924: Realty Building, architect Morris Scheibel.

1926: Keith-Albee Theatre, later the Palace, built on the northeast side of the Square

1926: Union National Bank, Walker & Weeks architect.

1929: Central Tower, a distinctive art deco building designed by Morris Scheibel.

1940’s: Street car tracks are torn up and used for war material.

1954: Central Square Library closes.

1960: In October, John F. Kennedy speaks from the balcony of the Tod Hotel to an estimated crowd of 60,000 on Central Square.

1964: Palace Theatre closed and subsequently razed.

1968: Tod House is razed for urban renewal.

1974: Central Square is transformed into Federal Plaza, closing east-west traffic for one block in each direction from the square, creating a pedestrian mall.

2004: Central Square re-opened to traffic with new traffic patterns, beds, benches.

This is a far from exhaustive timeline of Central Square. If you know of key dates and events that should be added, leave a comment. I hope this page can be a concise source of the history of this space. Central Square has been the heart of Youngstown, its civic and business heart, a center for political rallies and celebrations, of tree-lightings and festivals.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Civil War Soldiers Monument


The Man on the Monument. Photo by Jack Pierce (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Flickr

I have to admit that I never really looked closely at the monument on Central Square when I was growing up and if I were honest, I couldn’t tell you its story. All I know is that it was a slender, tall pillar with a man on top looking off to the north. I presumed he was a soldier–he looked like he was in uniform and was holding a rifle. Apparently that’s what most people around Youngstown see, because often this landmark is simply called “The Man on the Monument” when in fact it is the Civil War Soldiers Monument.

The recent controversies about statues of Confederate soldiers and other figures got me wondering about the story of the monument. [Note: please do not hi-jack comments either on this blog or Facebook to debate the current controversy–they will be taken down, that’s not what this post is about]. What I learned was that this was a monument to remember the men of Youngstown who died in the Civil War to restore the Union and end slavery. On the north side of the base, you can read the following:


On the four sides of the base of the monument, you can read the names of these men. The Ohio Geneological Society’s Mahoning Chapter has compiled a document organized providing information about each man who died. Here is an example of the kinds of information they provide about each of the men listed:

Shannon, Thomas J., First Infantry Division, Army of Virginia. Surgeon-in-Chief, Cedar Creek. Residence was not listed; Enlisted on 7/22/1863 as a Surgeon. On 7/22/1863 he was commissioned into Field & Staff Ohio 116th Infantry. He died of wounds on 10/20/1864 at Cedar Creek, Virginia. He was listed as: * Wounded 10/19/1864 Cedar Creek, Virginia.. Other Information: Buried: Winchester National Cemetery, Winchester, Virginia. Sources used by HDS: – Official Roster of the Soldiers of the State of Ohio – Roll of Honor of Ohio Soldiers.- The Medical and Surgical History of the Civil War.

On the pillar above the base the battlefields on which they fought are listed, along with the words “E Pluribus Unum” (out of the many, one), the motto of the United States, fitting in an effort to re-unite the states. The eight battlefields mentioned are Antietam, Chickamauga, Shiloh, Winchester, Stone River, Cedar Mountain, Perryville, and Vicksburg. The soldier at the top is standing at “parade rest.”

Governor David Tod first proposed the monument in 1864. One of the most interesting stories about it is that it was funded by ordinary citizens of Youngstown. I came across this interesting account in Stories of Central Square:

“No one who was in Youngstown on the Fourth of July in 1867 will ever forget it. Mrs. Susanna A. Filton, Mrs. Henry Tod and Miss Nancy Van Fleet recalled some of the circumstances yesterday at the Vindicator’s request. To raise money for the monument, as well as to provider for the crowds that were expected, the ladies of the town organized by wards: there were only four or five wards here then, and a friendly, though spirited rivalry existed as to which should raise the most money. Mrs. Felton recalled that on the morning of the Fourth the ladies of the Fourth ward which then took in the streets south of Federal and west of Market, met at the home of their chairman, Mrs. Breaden, the mother of Miss Nancy M. Breaden of Madison avenue. For several days previous they had been busy, cooking and baking, and they had scoured the country fo miles around for milk and cream and eggs. Dawn on the morning of the Fourth found them hard at work freezing ice cream and attending to the thousands of details that had been left until the last.

They had a long table on the Diamond. It was in the form of an L, and extended from Federal street around to Market. Their supplies were in the old Disciple church. Even though every girl and woman of Youngstown helped in one way or another, with the preparation and serving, the crowds that came from every part of the state were needed. The ladies of the Fourth Ward served all day long; besides a big dinner at noon, they served luncheons and ice cream and cake until late in the evening. They worked so hard, indeed, that some of them fainted from the strain, and it was midnight before they returned home. But they were happy after their long task, for they had led the other wards in the amount of money raised and turned over $400 as their contribution toward the expense of the monument.

Youngstown was neither large nor wealthy in those days and before the monument was entirely paid for it was necessary for a committee to canvass the town and secure subscriptions from nearly every man and woman in it. But most of the money was raised by the patriotic ladies.”

The monument was dedicated on July 4, 1870. Two future presidents, Governor Rutherford B. Hayes and congressman James Garfield spoke at the event.

Central Square has undergone a number of changes over the years. At one time, there was a fountain opposite the statue. Eventually this was covered over and a library branch was erected. It was turned into “Federal Plaza” in the mid-1970’s, closed off to traffic and bricked over. In 2005 Federal Street and Central Square were re-opened to traffic. Through all these changes, one thing has stayed the same–“The Man on the Monument”, the Civil War Soldiers Monument.