Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — East Palestine

Downtown East Palestine, Ohio” by 636Buster is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

From time to time I’ve written articles on the suburbs and small towns around Youngstown. East Palestine is a little further afield, about twenty miles south of Youngstown near the Pennsylvania border on the eastern edge of Columbiana County. Growing up, I mainly heard of East Palestine on Friday nights when newscasters were reporting football or basketball scores from high schools in the region. My dad loved to go on Sunday drives and we might have driven there. Now much of the world is paying attention to East Palestine as evident in this BBC story of the aftermath of the derailment on February 3 and its impact on the life and business of one East Palestine family.

The current situation continues to unfold and is receiving abundant news coverage (and should). I thought I would write about the history of the village, how it began and what it was before the crash on February 3.

The village had its beginnings in 1828, when it was named Mechanicsburg. The name only lasted until 1836 when Dr. Robert Chamberlain’s wife Rebecca wanted a “holier” sounding name and suggested the name Palestine. Village officials agreed. Under Christian influences, many area towns had names connected to places in ancient Israel, for example, nearby Enon Valley and Salem. There was just one problem with the proposed name. There was already a town in western Ohio named Palestine. Hence the village became East Palestine (pronounced East PAL-ə-STEEN). The village was incorporated in 1875.

The Chamberlains lived in the Log House at the corner of West Main Street and Walnut Street. Dr. Chamberlain came from Fairfield County, Ohio at 20, read medicine, and practiced in the area for 30 years, also serving as a railroad surveyor, a store owner, and the first postmaster and township trustee. The Log House, built in 1840, was moved in 1886 to 55 Walnut Street, where it sat until 1978 when it was given to the East Palestine Historical Society, who moved it to 555 Bacon Street.

Nearby clay pits supported a pottery business, the East Palestine Pottery Company, which became the W.S. George Pottery Company in 1909, employing many people in the town until it was closed in the 1950’s. The railroad lines, so much in the news of late, supported in the 1920’s, the growth of automobile tire manufacturing by the Edwin C. McGraw Tire Company, and a variety of other factories producing steel tanks, foundry work, electrical refractories, food products, electric wiring devices, wooden ventilators, fireproofing material, synthetic ice, and lumber. Around this time, orchard concerns also flourished and continue, along with other farms, to be part of the local economy, a part very concerned by the toxins released by the derailment.

The village reached a population topping 5,000 in 1920, attaining the status of a city, which it kept until 2011, when it reverted to a village once more, with a population of 4761 in the 2020 census. Some of the important manufacturers currently include Stocheck Incorporated, a copper fabricator; and Cardinal Welding Service, a metal fabricator; also well welders, and companies that do machining, ceramics and drilling. All told, Manta lists 324 companies under businesses in East Palestine. About 1300 students are enrolled in the East Palestine schools.

Perhaps one of the most famous of East Palestine’s residents was Martha Hill, the first director of dance at the Juilliard School. In sports, Wayne Firth Hawkins was the right handed pitcher for Cleveland in 1960 who gave up Ted Williams 500th home run. Also, all of us who love Mill Creek Park have East Palestine to thank as the birthplace of Volney Rogers.

It awaits to be seen what the long term impact will be of the derailment and the release of toxic chemicals in the streams, on the ground, and in the air around East Palestine. We will all be watching what happens here. There are few of us that do not have rail lines running through our communities. CSX has a busy line running within a quarter mile of my house. What happened in East Palestine could happen anywhere. Such a catastrophe could spell the end of a place where people work hard in a variety of pursuits. The burden is on Norfolk and Southern and our elected officials to see that doesn’t happen, and to justly reimburse the residents for what this accident has and will cost East Palestine. I want to see East Palestine celebrate its 200th birthday in 2028.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown–Why Local History?

An early sketch of the Brier Hill district and the town of Youngstown

I was in a conversation this week with someone who asked me why we should honor people in the Youngstown area who have done great things. It is a good question. Part of my response was to say that “For me, it is about more than honoring them or their memory. It is about the values they stood for that you hope to perpetuate.” That answer is part of why I write so much about Youngstown people, cultural institutions, businesses, and events that have shaped Youngstown.

We’re not a bunch of people who happened to land in a particular place that is just like other places in the U.S. Youngstown is a storied place and those who call it home are part of a 225 year old story. I happen to think part of how we make sense of our lives, what matters in them, what values shape them, is to understand the story of which we are a part and within which we live.

Yet one of the most common responses I receive to many of the articles I’ve posted in this series is, “why have I never heard about this before. I never knew that!” The reason, of course is that, with few exceptions, most of us were not taught our local history in school. I happen to think that is a great lack.

Sadly, the only local history many of us know about Youngstown are the stories of the mob, bombings, the closing of the mills, and political corruption. I would be a liar if I were to say that these aren’t part of the Youngstown story. But they are only a part. I haven’t focused much on these things because so much has been written. It also happens that in the plot of the Youngstown story, such things are only a small part of our rich story.

Yet so much that we continue to treasure in Youngstown we owe to people who put their time, skill, energy, and money into our community life. We owe our schools to people like Judge Rayen and N. H. Chaney and Paul C. Bunn. and Howard Jones. The efforts of Reuben McMillan contributed to the excellent library system of today. We have one of the most amazing museums of American art that we can visit for free because of the vision and bequest of Joseph G. Butler. Mill Creek could have become another industrial zone were it not for the vision and labors of Volney Rogers and the park leadership from then until now that stewarded this singularly beautiful place. Leaders like Charles P. Henderson showed that politics needn’t be corrupt. The Warners built an amazing theatre that the Powers family and later, the DeBartolo and York families preserved as a wonderful space for the performing arts. The Covelli Centre recognizes the efforts and investment of a contemporary restaurant entrepreneur. I could go on and on.

Local history helps us know how our city developed in the shape it did. It answers questions like “How did Brier Hill get its name and why is it so important?” What connection did the famous educator William Holmes McGuffey have with the east side of Youngstown? How did East Youngstown become Campbell? How did Salt Springs Road get its name? Why is the Wick family so important to our history? What importance did the Gibson, Zedaker, Foster, and Brownlee families have in the development of the South Side?

Local history matters because it is a story we get to help write. Among those I listed above are people from the early beginnings of Youngstown, a number from a century ago, and some who are our contemporaries. How do we write that story? The people in that history did it through hard work, integrity of character, a willingness to go out on limbs and take risks, and a stick-to-itivness. Many of them persisted twenty, thirty, forty, or even fifty years in pursuing the common good of the city. I suspect that if anything is done that lasts another one hundred years or more, it will be because of people who embrace those same values and pursue a similar course.

And this is why our local history matters. First it made us, and then we get to make it.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown –Harry B. Burt and Good Humor Bars


Old Good Humor Truck, Author unknown, PD-US

One of the joys of summer was to hear the jingle of an ice cream truck coming down the street. You would race to get money from your parents. The driver would stop and sell you ice cream treats, perhaps an ice cream bar on a stick out of his freezer. Many people don’t realize that these happy memories were the innovations of a Youngstown entrepreneur, Harry B. Burt, and his Good Humor company.

Burt arrived in Youngstown as an eighteen year old in 1893 and opened a candy store on S. Hazel Avenue in downtown Youngstown. Eventually as the business grew, he moved to a corner store at Phelps and Boardman. There were subsequent moves to 27 and 29 North Phelps. Eventually, Burt added a soda fountain, known as Burt’s Arbor Garden.

In 1920, Burt created an ice cream bar consisting of a cut out rectangle of ice cream coated with a smooth chocolate coating. His son thought it tasty but messy and suggested adding a wooden stick to hold the bar. Burt found that the frozen ice cream bonded well to the stick. About the same time, another company invented the Eskimo Pie, without a stick.  When Burt applied for a patent on his Good Humor Bar, it was initially rejected because it was too similar to the Eskimo Pie. Burt went to Washington with a pail of Good Humor bars to show the difference. Subsequently, in 1923, he received a patent for the machinery and production process used to manufacture Good Humor Bars, but not not bar itself.

Where did the name “Good Humor” come from? Burt believed there was a connection between one’s temperament, or “humor,” and one’s palate. There might be some sense to that. Few things make one so happy as a tasty serving of ice cream.

Burt purchased twelve refrigerated delivery trucks to sell the bars throughout the area, and birthed the ice cream truck. The growth of the company and the need for production space led to a move to a new location at 325 West Federal Street in 1922. At this point, Burt only had four years to see the growth of his enterprise, much of the time of which was spent in patent disputes with Eskimo Pies, and a lawsuit with the rival Popsicle Corporation. Burt died in 1926. His wife Cora took the company public and sold franchises for the next two years, then sold the business and its patents to Midland Food Products, a Cleveland company that retained the Good Humor name. Much of the manufacturing moved to Chicago. Michael Meehan purchased a 75 percent interest in the company in 1931, operating in New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Detroit, and Chicago. There were also three major franchises in Baltimore/Washington, Oklahoma (operated by Burt’s son Harry, Jr.) and in California. In 1961 Unilever purchased the company and continues to own and market the brand to the present day. However, they ended marketing through ice cream trucks in 1976.

The building at 325 W. Federal is still standing. In 1935 Mrs. Burt sold the building to James Ross, who ran Ross Radio, an electronics business out of the building for many years. Eventually Jeff Clark took over ownership and maintained the building. Befitting its historical significance, the building was acquired in 2008 by the Mahoning Valley Historical Society as the site of its Tyler History Center.


Harry Burt and Good Humor Bar Historical Marker. Photo by Jack Pierce (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Flickr

When one visits the Tyler, a historical marker in front of the building, which was erected in 2012, reminds us of the history of this building and the unique role Harry B. Burt played in the history of ice cream manufacturing and marketing from this Youngstown location. The plaque reads:

Harry B. Burt (1874-1926) came to Youngstown in 1893 and began making and selling penny candy. He expanded his business with high quality candies, chocolates, and ice cream. Around 1920 Burt invented a process for freezing a stick in an ice cream bar and coating it in chocolate so one could eat it without touching it. He called his new confection “Good Humor Ice Cream Suckers.” Burt purchased the building at 325 West Federal Street in 1921, remodeled it, and opened it on April 4, 1922 to make his products and serve his customers. Here he first mass produced ice cream bars and sold them in area neighborhoods from a fleet of freezer trucks with bells and uniformed drivers. After Burt’s death, investors purchased the brand, formed the Good Humor Corporation of America in Chicago, and it grew into a national phenomenon.

When one thinks of ice cream in Youngstown, we often think first of Isaly’s or Handel’s, but alongside these is Harry Burt’s Good Humor Bar. Whenever, and wherever, we eat ice cream on a stick or hear an ice cream truck, we have Harry Burt to thank.


Harry Burt,” Wikipedia.

Good Humor,” Wikipedia.

100 Years of Good Humor,” Good Humor, Unilever website.

Good Humor Ice Cream Truck, 1938,” Smithsonian Insider, 21 June 2011.

History of the Burt Confectionery & Creation of the ‘Good Humor’ Bar” Mahoning Valley Historical Society.

Don Shilling, “Local Building Honored in National Magazine,” The Vindicator, May 7, 2006.


Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Lowellville

Train Number 85 in Lowellville OH 1949

Train Number 85 passing though Lowellville from the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad Company Records

One of my childhood memories was driving down to Lowellville to the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie switching yards watching trains loaded with coal, or products from the nearby mills being switch for transport to various places. As you drove down, the valley became steeper and you realized that you were witnessing the transition to the Appalachian foothills that became more pronounced in western Pennsylvania.

In the early 1800’s John McGill, a Revolutionary War veteran, and his brother Robert, established both a grist mill and a sawmill on the south side of the Mahoning River and a settlement that was known as McGillville in its early days. Across the river was another settlement, Lowell, probably after the proprietors of the Lowell Milling Company, a flour mill.

Greetings from Lowellville

Things were pretty sleepy here until the 1830’s with the development of the Pennsylvania and Ohio Canal. In 1836, the village was platted as Lowellville and the canal went into operation in 1839-1840. Lowellville became a shipping center for flour, and for coal from nearby Mt. Nebo. Later on limestone quarrying also contributed to the industrial growth of this area. This growth also led to siting Ohio Iron & Steel’s “Mary Furnace” there in 1845. It was purchased by Sharon Steel Hoop Company, later Sharon Steel. The mill operated until 1961 and was closed in 1963.

Roslyn I. Torella has written what is probably the definitive history of Lowellville. Her Lowellville, Ohio: Murders, Mayhem & More chronicles how Lowellville became a rowdy place when both Struthers and Lawrence County in Pennsylvania (New Castle) went dry, and all those seeking alcohol descended on Lowellville, filling its bars, leading to fights and a prison lock-up for the drunks. But it brought a lot of money into Lowellville. During Prohibition, it was a site of bootleg operations.

On the other side of the coin, the boys of Lowellville stepped up during the Second World War with over 20 percent of the town’s population signing up. Clingan Jackson, longtime Vindicator political reporter lived here for part of his youth and graduated from Lowellville High School. The population in Lowellville as elsewhere in the Mahoning Valley, peaked in 1957 at 2500. The eclipse of the steel industry has turned Lowellville into a quieter place, shrinking from 1281 to 1155 residents between 2000 and 2010. The village has renovated historic buildings in the center of town as well as erecting a gazebo in the park. The village website lists a few restaurants, a number of small businesses, and houses of worship. Of course, there is the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Festival each summer.


Lowellville City Hall – Nyttend – own work, Public Domain, via Wikipedia

It will be interesting to see whether this little village declines are grows in the coming years. One thing is clear, it is a place with an interesting past with a strong focus on family and community and its local school, perhaps with less problems than some of the larger nearby communities. Wouldn’t it be great if Lowellville were thriving when it comes time to celebrate its 200th birthday in 2036?

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.

Learning About Your Home Town

vintage youngstown postcard

Vintage postcard of the downtown Youngstown, Ohio skyline

For the past five years I’ve been on a journey of learning about the place where I grew up, Youngstown, Ohio. You can read all about it if you click “On Youngstown,” where all my posts, and readers’ comments may be found. Recently, I’ve talked to several friends who have been inspired by these posts and have begun researching and writing about the towns where they grew up and their own memories of that experience. Based on my own experience, it is something I would highly encourage.

It has brought back a number of good memories of people, places, and experiences that shaped the person I’ve become. It has afforded chances to express gratitude to some who are still living, and chances to honor those who have passed. Remembering has again and again brought a smile to my face, particularly when some long lost memory surfaces. Sure, I have some bad memories as well. I tend not to write about those online, but to understand how these have shaped me as well brings the gift of self-understanding.

I’ve discovered how much I did not know about my home town–and that I’m not alone. It’s odd that with all the things we learn in school, we don’t learn about our home towns, especially when the names of places and the places themselves often have such interesting stories behind them.

Writing about this online has brought me in touch with a whole community of people from my home town from high school classmates to people I’ve never met, but who share the same experiences of people and place. Often, they remind me of things I’ve forgotten about, or in some cases never knew.

And that leads into another reason. Learning about one’s home town is like a real-life detective story. One fact sparks a question, or another memory, and chasing that down usually leads to two or three others. That’s why five years have passed and I’m still coming up with new ideas.

Your memories are history. If nothing else, it is family history, and other relatives may appreciate it. But I’ve found myself consulting oral histories to learn about everything from pizza recipes to working conditions to local traditions. Local history is a collection of personal histories.

I think learning about a place fosters love for it. I think that can be true of the place where we grew up, and if we’ve moved, the place where we now live. Learning about a place and recalling our own memories of that place are what makes it special to us. Sadly, I think it is possible to live in places without caring for them. I don’t like to think of the consequences of that when it is true of most of those living in a place.

How might one start? I’d suggest starting by thinking of all your favorites: foods, activities, music, hangouts and other places, people. It might help to think through the seasons of the year, or different periods of your life: early childhood, elementary school, middle and high school, post secondary school, etc. Probably as you start writing or recording your memories, questions will occur to you: where did that name come from, why are so many things named after this person, how did my town get its start, how did it grow? Or pick one aspect of your home town that interests you, and try to find out all you can about it.

Where do you go to find answers to what you don’t know? It has been fun to build a library of books about my home town and you might look online for what has been written about yours. In some cases, you might even find free works online in the public domain. Google is amazing for searching down online resources. Beyond this, if you really get into the local history, your local historical society (most towns have them) or library can be a trove of resources. Becoming a sleuth chasing down your questions is part of the fun!

If you do this, I’d love to hear from you, and compare notes. I’m sure each of us will think our home town was the best. And we will be right.


Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The “Foster” in Fosterville

Foster Farm and Coal Operation

Foster farm and Foster Coal, scanned from Titus, Simmons, and Titus Atlas of Mahoning County, Ohio

When I was in elementary school, I used to spend several weeks in the summer with my grandparents who lived on Cohasset Drive off of Glenwood. One of the fun things we used to do was go over to Fosterville, particularly to go to matinees at the Foster theater. In later years, Mr. Paul’s Bakery was the place to go for baked goods and cakes for nearly every occasion, including weddings.

When I wrote last week about coal mining in Youngstown, I discovered who the Foster was in “Fosterville.” His name was Colonel Lemuel Talcott Foster and his family moved to the Youngstown area in 1825, when he was ten months old. He grew up working in his father Jonas sawmill and on his farm. He was also a boyhood friend of William McKinley, a friendship that lasted the rest of McKinley’s life.

During the Civil War he organized the First Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Calvary and was elected Colonel. He was involved in a number of engagements including the taking of Island No. 10 at Vicksburg. He also recruited effectively for what were then called the “colored” regiments.

Returning from the war, he devoted his energies to developing the three hundred acres he had acquired located where present day Indianola Avenue and Canfield Road meet Glenwood Avenue. He raised shorthorn cattle, there are records that he was a horse breeder, and he farmed. But perhaps what he was most known for was the Foster Coal Company and the high quality coal in the two mines on his property. The coal even won a gold medal at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.

His first wife bore a name also familiar in the nearby area. He and Florence Lanterman were married in March of 1869 and had two children before she passed in 1873. He married again in 1878 to Susannah B. Alexander.

As a business and civic leader he was a friend of politicians and ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1878 and 1880, and for state senator in 1891. He also served as a Justice of the Peace for nine years and for six years as a township trustee.

Foster witnessed the beginning of the transition of the area from farming and mining to a residential area. The last mine closed in 1915. In the early 1890’s, when Volney Rogers was engaged in the creation of Mill Creek Park, he donated a twenty acre tract of land to the park. In 1895 the Youngstown Park and Fall Street Railway company was formed providing trolley service from downtown to a terminus in the Fosterville area in what would become Idora Park, which was situated at the end of the trolley line.

I have not been able to find any evidence of Foster’s involvement in either the Railway or Idora Park. I wonder if he was more focused on the enterprises on his own property including his spacious home. He possessed one of the largest personal libraries in the area with over 2,500 volumes. He passed away on September 7, 1911.

And now you know how Fosterville got its name.