Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Wall Garden

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The Wall Garden, looking east. Photo by Bob Trube ©  2019.

In childhood, my grandmother always loved to visit what we then called “the Rock Garden” when all the flowers were in bloom in spring. She loved the cascades of the yellow basket-of-gold flowers, purple creeping flox and the white flowers of the yucca plants they somehow managed to grow.

Most of the time, drivers probably give little thought to this rock retaining wall on West Drive between the south end of West Glacier Drive, and the Birch Hill Cabin and Lily Pond areas. That is too bad, because the Wall Garden, as it is formally called was part of one of the major construction projects in the development of Mill Creek Park.

In the early years of the park, created in 1891, most of the roads were little more than dirt roads along Mill Creek or Bear Creek, which flowed into Mill Creek from the west. There was one such road, called the Old Hamilton Road along Bear Creek at the base of the steep hill where the two creeks met. Atop of the hill was a dirt road for many years called One Way Drive (now One Way Trail, one I hiked as a kid). The road ran from McCollum Road above the Lily Pond, atop the hill and came out by the foreman’s house on West Glacier Drive.

After Lake Glacier was created, William Henry Manning, the consulting architect for Mill Creek Park, decided in 1921 to cut through part of the big hill above Bear Creek and create West Drive, connecting up with Birch Hill Cabin, the Lily Pond, and the Bears Den area further west. The project was known as “the Big Cut,” and to prevent soil and rock slides, or a collapse of part of the One Way Drive atop the hill, stone was quarried from Bears Den to serve as a retaining wall for the area below “Lookout Point” which overlooks the Lily Pond and Birch Hill area.

The Wall Garden was begun in 1925 and completed in 1927. Altogether, it is 552 feet long and 54 feet high and was planted with plants that could grow in the soil and crevices between the rocks. What may have been a necessity from an engineering point of view was turned into another facet of the beauty that is Mill Creek Park that has endured for nearly a century.

Sources:

John C. Melnick, M.D., The Green Cathedral (Youngstown: Youngstown Lithographing, 1976), pp. 117-120.

Carol Potter and Rick Shale, Historic Mill Creek Park (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Press, 2005), p. 81.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Bears Den

1908 Postcard of Bears Den

1908 Postcard of Bears Den

Did you ever climb around the rocks in the Bears Den area of Mill Creek Park? The area makes you wonder if there was a time when a group of giants were tossing the huge boulders at each other, they look so tumbled down.

Maybe your visits were tamer, perhaps hiking a trail along Bears Den Creek or going to a gathering at Bears Den Cabin, having a picnic in the picnic area in the Upper and Lower Meadows, or playing a game of ultimate frisbee on the open field of the Upper Meadow.

I think at one time or another, I probably did all of these things. You probably did as well. Have you ever wondered about the history of this area, where all those rocks came from and how the area developed?

I always thought all those blocks were left by glaciers. I came to discover that the more likely explanation was that as Bears Den Run (or Bear Creek as it is sometimes called) flowed into Mill Creek, it cut through the sandstone, of which the rocks consist to underlying softer layers of shale, undercutting the sandstone until pieces of it collapsed into the creek. Gradually the descending creek cut the ravine we see today. It’s not particularly complicated. It mostly comes down to running water. (From a paper by John S. Petrek, Geological Features in Mill Creek Park Youngstown, OhioJune 1971, pp. 26-27).

I say mostly because there were industries along Bears Den Run at various periods. Grist and sawmills. Blacksmith shops. And most significant, several quarrying operations, one of which was in the ravine behind Bears Den Cabin (William McKinley was one of the business partners), another, the Jake Stambaugh quarry in the bluff next to the Wick Recreation Area along Bears Den Road. Stone from these quarries were used for bridges over Bears Den Run, the Bruce Rogers Bridge at Birch Hill, the Lake Cohasset Dam, and the Wall Garden overlooking West Drive.

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Part of Bear Creek (Bears Den Run), Bob Trube © 2019

If you look at a map of Mill Creek Park, you readily notice that most of it runs south to north on either side of Mill Creek and the three lakes formed by dams. Bears Den and the Wick Recreation Area to the north jut out to the west from the rest of the park. The park was created in 1891. Volney Rogers continued to acquire parcels, and acquired the Bears Den properties in 1894. However this area was not connected to the rest of the park until 1921 when another 60 acres were acquired in the Bear Creek Valley (the narrow corridor connecting Bears Den with the rest of the park at West Drive) and Bears Den Drive was constructed.

Bears Den Cabin was built in 1931 in the northwest corner of the Upper Meadows. A kitchen was installed in 1960, a parking lot in 1962 and modern lighting in 1963. Pictures on the park website suggest the kitchen and interior has been further updated. The cabin is heated and also has a fireplace but no air conditioning. It can accommodate up to 40 people and be rented by the half or full day ($75 for a half day; $125 for a full day for Mahoning County residents; $100/$165 for non-residents, as of 8/2019).

The name “Bears Den”? At one time there really were bears living in those caves and roaming the ravine. One still hears reports of black bears in other areas around northeast Ohio, so this shouldn’t be entirely surprising,

Finally, about all that climbing around in Bears Den. This actually violates current park regulation 20.6 which reads: “No person is permitted to climb or rappel hillsides or ravine areas on Park District lands.” These regulations were first published in 1989 and most recently amended in 2017. Whether any of this existed when most of us were growing up I don’t know. Certainly none of us knew anything about that. Even the distinguished Dr. John C. Melnick recounts this incident from his youth in The Green Cathedral:

One of the author’s most harassing experiences occurred in Bears Den. Once as a young boy hiking in the Bears Den it was decided to climb up the side of huge boulders. After several of these were conquered, an attempt was made on a very high boulder measuring over 25 feet in height. By use of small hollows in the rock for steps and grasping places, success was achieved for about three quarters of the height when additional footing was lacking. No progress could be made either up or down. In a state of apprehension, help from his friends saved the day” (pp. 145, 147).

Whether it is the placid sound of the running waters of Bear Creek as you walk along side on one of the trails, the rugged beauty of the tumbled boulders in the ravines, or the pleasant picnic areas, the Bears Den area is one of areas of the park that has been delighting visitors over the last hundred years.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Mill Creek Golf Course

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Mill Creek Golf Course – Fairway North Course. Photo by Jack Pearce [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr

I will admit up front that my connection with Mill Creek Golf Course is a slender one. I’m not a golfer. Given my hand-eye coordination and temperament, this would probably be, in words often attributed to Mark Twain, “a good walk spoiled.” My brother was the golfer, and I was delighted when he let his “little brother” “caddy” for him when he and some buddies went golfing. Besides remembering when one of the buddies got so mad after one shot that he flung one of his clubs at a tree, I mostly remembered the beauty of the tree-lined fairways and sipping a cold Coke while my brother and his buddies enjoyed more adult beverages after a round of golf.

The tree lined fairways reflected the design work of Donald Ross, once one of the premier golf course designers in the United States. Ross grew up in Scotland, the birthplace of the game of golf and home to some of its most fabled courses. Ross designed the golf course at the Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina and the Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, North Caroline, the home of the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship. In all, he designed over 400 courses around the country. His designs were marked by careful attention to detail and by creating challenging courses while moving very little earth, working with the natural contours and features of the land.

The Mill Creek Golf Course was opened in 1928. It consists of two 18 hole, par 70 courses, the North Course and the South Course. The Mill Creek Metropark website describes the different challenges of the two courses:

“The South Course plays over a flat terrain with tree-lined fairways. Natural areas and streams come into play on five holes. The South Course has been selected by Golfweek as one of America’s 30 Best Municipal Courses. The North Course weaves through tall trees and includes a variety of natural hazards.”

There are over one hundred bunkers on the course. In 2018, as part of course upgrades, the bunkers, beginning with the South Course have been restored, with improved drainage and bright white play sand, making them easier to see, and hopefully avoid. Donald Ross once said, “There’s no such thing as a misplaced bunker. Regardless of where the bunker may be, it is the business of the player to avoid it.”

The Fieldhouse, built in 1929 includes a pro shop and restaurant. Mill Creek also has golf pros on staff who offer golf instruction.

In addition to the natural beauty and challenge of the course, one thing that makes the course special is that it is a public course, serving area residents first. Mahoning County residents qualify for a discount on the course, but the highest price that non-residents will pay for 18 holes of golf riding in a golf cart is $41.00 ($34.00 for residents). Seniors over 60, and those under 17 choosing to walk can play 18 holes for $16–less than a dollar per hole.

If you are going to be in the area, it is recommended that you schedule your tee time online. People have different experiences on the course, often weather or time-of-play related. On TripAdvisor, 82 percent of people have rated the course excellent or very good. The course, especially the South Course, can get boggy when there have been heavy rains. Especially heavy rains at the end of May 2019 closed the course due to flooding and debris for several days. From reviews, it appears that the pace of play sometimes can be very slow, especially on weekends, and excellent at other times.

Mill Creek Golf Course has been serving area residents for over 90 years, offering natural beauty, especially in the autumn, and challenging play on a course designed by one of the great golf course designers of the time. It is encouraging to hear that the course is investing in upgrades, to preserve yet one more jewel of the Mahoning Valley.

 

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 — Lake Cohasset

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Lake Cohasset in Autumn, Photo by Bob Trube

“Cohasset” was significant to me in two respects. My grandparents, on my father’s side, lived on Cohasset Drive, at that time a beautiful tree-lined street, that on the west side of Glenwood Avenue dead ends on Mill Creek Park above Lake Cohasset, which I have always regarded as the most scenic of Mill Creek Park’s lakes.

There are a number of different definitions of the word “Cohasset,” all of which fit Lake Cohasset. Wikipedia states that it was an Algonquian name, a contraction of “Conahasset,” meaning “long rocky place.” Britannica’s definition is similar, saying the word derives from the Algonquian names “Quonohassit (Conohasset)” and meaning “rocky promontory” or “high place.” Carol Potter and Rick Shale, in Historic Mill Creek Park, state that the word means ” ‘place of the hemlocks or pines’ in the language of the Delaware Indians” (who are one of the Algonquian peoples). Similarly, the 20th Century History of Youngstown and Mahoning County says the word means “place of pines.” There are rocky bluffs on both sides of  this long, narrow lake, which is lined by hemlocks and other pines. However you define it, the name fits! And like many place names in Ohio (itself a Seneca name), it comes from the native peoples who were here before us.

Lake Cohasset, covering 28 acres, was the first artificial lake in the park, created by a dam at its north end in 1897, shortly after Volney Rogers helped create Mill Creek Park. The dam is 23 feet high, and the spillway 147 feet in length. Volney Rogers described the dam construction as follows:

“The foundation is a hard, fine grained sandstone rock, and this was excavated by pick only to a depth of from eighteen inches to four feet across the gorge, the width and length of walls and abutments. This excavation was filled with masonry of sandstone and cement. The walls are of cut stone, rock face, both beds and joints of every stone being broken. The result is a simple, strong, durable and appropriate structure, whose waterfall and accompanying scenery will delight visitors for long, long ages.”

More than 120 years later, visitors still delight in both the structure and accompanying scenery!

In the early days the park purchased a naphtha boat offering round trip excursions for 10 cents, in 1898. The boat was called the Narama. People would hold moonlight parties on the Lake. In 1924, a bathing pool and bath house were opened up on the south end of Lake Cohasset. Howard C. Aley writes in A Heritage to Share:

“A new bathing pool at the head of Lake Cohasset was opened to the public, with bathing suits in all sizes and colors available for rent at 20 cents an hour, plus 10 cents for dressing room and towel. Sunday bathing was available for those who could not swim during the week.”

Boating, swimming and fishing in Lake Cohasset have long been banned, as they are currently. One of the things that contributes to the serenity of the place is the lack of activity on the lake. Hiking on the trails that run along either side of the lake allows one to view the Lake in all its beauty throughout the year. The old East Drive above the lake is now converted to a hiking and biking trail, while the West Drive remains open for automobiles. In recent years 42 bird species have been observed around the lake.

The lake was dredged in 1949 and as far as I know, has not been since. One of the recommendations following high E. coli levels in the Mill Creek watershed that led to closure of all three lakes in 2015 was the dredging of Lake Cohasset due to sediment buildup. At this time, no further action has been taken.

Volney Rogers wrote of Lake Cohasset in A Partial Description of Mill Creek Park, Youngstown, Ohio:

“The vistas from both drives, and from the foot-paths present some of the most charming park scenes in America….

The cliffs and bluffs around the lake, and in view from its waters are clothed with lichens, mosses, ferns, wild flowers, and shrubs, as well as trees, and as a whole present one of Nature’s very best lake borders.”

This is one of the treasures of Youngstown that I hope the Mill Creek Metroparks leadership will exercise good stewardship to preserve. The views and the natural beauty of this setting that Rogers are those I remember from my youth and have treasured on visits back home. I hope they will be there for the “long, long ages” of which Rogers wrote.

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown –The Sulphur Spring and Spring Water Trough

Sulphur Spring

Sulphur Spring

At one time Mill Creek Park had at least a couple springs that drew people from throughout the area who brought bottles to take the water home to drink. One of these was the Sulphur Spring. The Sulphur Spring was located on the east side of the Mill Creek Gorge below the Idora bridge. Dr. Timothy Woodbridge, who used the Old Log Cabin near Lake Glacier as his medical office, recommended the water as “spa water” to his patients. In a statement given in the July 23, 1900 Vindicator, Volney Rogers said, “I am glad so many persons are visiting this place. We intend to fix up the springs as soon as possible.”

The August 8, 1900 edition of the Vindicator reported, “There is a demand for electric lights, and the Vindicator has been requested that the necessity of such an improvement be called to the attention of the park commissioners.” Apparently people came from early in the morning to late at night to fill bottles with water from the spring, going on hands and knees to grope their way there at night. Crowds brought their own problems though. There were sanitary concerns as many dipped dirty bottles in the spring, making it less palatable for others.

Apparently Dr. Woodbridge’s claims were validated by many people. The August 8, 1900 article goes on to mention, “The water has worked such a world of good to so many people, that they cannot stay away, and the recommend the water cure to all of their friends for anything from an ingrowing toe nail to a broken leg.”

My grandmother swore by the health properties of a different spring, located near Slippery Rock Pavilion, filling a water trough. I remember going with her and my grandfather to fill up jugs of water. She claimed that it cured her of digestive ailments. I tasted some but didn’t think there was anything special about it. In “Mill Creek Park Remembered,” Robert A. Douglas writes, “At the bottom of the hill was the spring water trough. The cold refreshing water cascaded up or flowed down from an unusual faucet. We would always see how high we could make it rise. This was a really natural treat that attracted many people from all around. On hot summer days, people would bring lots of bottles to fill with the cold, clear spring water.”

Volney Rogers foresaw problems when the city decided to channel overflows from storm and sanitary sewers into the park’s waters. With the southward expansion of the city going into Boardman township, Rogers’ fears became reality and problems when high levels of e. coli and other bacteria in the waters made the lakes increasingly unsafe as well as the springs. In 1967, Mayor Anthony Flask recommended substituting city water in all drinking fountains, and subsequently the Sulfur Spring and the water trough at Slippery Rock were capped.

I have no idea why these waters were so popular and believed to have all kinds of curative effects. My grandmother swore by them, as did others I knew growing up. I suspect that whether there was water pollution or not, people today would not have been allowed to fill bottles and consume the water. I suspect liability concerns would have ruled this out. But these springs were yet another feature that made Mill Creek Park an attraction to area residents.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — James L. Wick, Jr.

James L Wick Jr grave

Headstone for James L. Wick, Jr. family plot, Oak Hill Cemetery, Photo by Linda Bunch, all rights reserved, via Find A Grave

Rocky Ridge was a favorite area growing up, whether it was playing on the playground as a child, sledding down the hill below the play area in the winter, playing baseball on one of the diamonds, touch football, or tennis on the tennis courts. As a teen, I was at the skating rink every weekend during the winter and I have memories of going to open air concerts. The one that stands out featured jazz great Lionel Hampton–something I didn’t appreciate at the time!

 

Formally, the name of this place is the James L. Wick, Jr. Recreation Area.  We never called it that, and I have to say I was oblivious to who this gentleman was. In researching him, I found out that I walked by his home on 384 S. Belle Vista (I believe on the corner of S. Belle Vista and Chaney Circle) every day when I went to and from Chaney. The home itself has some history to it, being the original home of Samuel Price, a prominent West Side resident (think Price Road, which is practically across the street from this home). Wick and his wife Clare purchased the home in 1919.

Wick was born into the Wick family, Youngstown royalty of sorts. His father, James Lippincott Wick was a business partner of Freeman Arms (James, Sr. married Julia Arms) and was also associated with G. M. McKelvey’s. James L. Wick, Jr. was born January 28, 1883. He graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, financed by an uncle. He went to work as a general master mechanic at Youngstown Sheet and Tube, then in 1918 took a position as secretary and assistant general manager of Falcon Bronze Company, a bronze foundry. By 1926 he was president, but only separated by a door from the plant where he helped pour a melt and sometimes operated a crane. Wick and Louis M. Nesselbush patented a cooling plate for inwalls and mantles in 1938. He sold the firm to American Brake Shoe Company in 1953.

He played an important role in three Youngstown institutions. He was the chairman of the board of trustees of Youngstown College, later University from 1921 to 1955, overseeing its growth from a night school of the YMCA to a nationally accredited university. Jones Hall, the main building of the university was built under his tenure.

Any of us who write about Youngstown history are indebted to the Mahoning Valley Historical Society. He was one of the incorporators of the Society in 1909 and served two terms as president. His most significant contribution was to help provide a permanent home for the Society and its growing archives. As its president, he persuaded Mrs. Wilford P. Arms to leave her home at 648 Wick Avenue to the society in 1961, and then sold lifetime memberships of $1,000 or more to endow the facility. He remained active with the Society until his death and had a passion for passing along the history of the Valley to its youth, and it was reported he was a lively storyteller.

His other major passion was Mill Creek Park. He knew Volney Rogers, served on the Mill Creek Park board for 21 years until he retired in 1958, could identify trees and shrubs throughout the park, and fought to preserve the park when it was threatened by developers. After his retirement, Rocky Ridge was renamed in his honor, one he could easily visit just a short drive down S. Belle Vista from his home.

He seems kind of a renaissance man. He was a gifted amateur painter, naturalist, inventor, and historian. He was a member of engineering societies, the Youngstown Country Club, a trustee of the Butler, and member of the board of First Presbyterian Church.

I wish I had met him. He passed away on March 16, 1972, my senior year at Chaney. In the words of songwriter Joni Mitchell, “don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til its gone.” I never knew this man, who contributed so much to Youngstown, and did so much that we might know its history, lived along my way to school. I’m glad I know a bit of him now. And perhaps by telling his story, and the story of our city, I can do my small bit to honor his legacy.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Goldfish Pond

 

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The Lily Pond, before 2016 renovations

A 15 cent loaf of day old bread was all you needed for a delightful family outing to the Goldfish Pond. You gave each of the kids a slice, taught them to break off small pieces and toss them into the water. Suddenly a school of goldfish appeared. Then everyone, including the parents, threw in more bread and watched the feeding frenzy. Hundreds would gather along the shore, from tiny fish to big old grizzled veterans of many years in the pond.

It was one of the first feature designed by Volney Rogers with W.S.C. Cleveland in the newly acquired park, formed by damming the outlet for a nearby natural spring. Legend has it that the first five goldfish came from a police officer, Martin Moran, who gave them to Volney Rogers to be released into the pond. The pond opened in 1896.

The pond was formally called the Lily Pond, because sections are covered with lily pads. It was, and still is a home to frogs, turtles, ducks and geese. On our last visit, we delighted in observing a turtle sunning itself on a log, as well as the mallard ducks who made their home in the pond.

The pond has required periodic dredging (in 1935 and 1975), and extensive improvements in 2016.  They added a boardwalk leading to an observation deck as well as an arrival plaza with drinking fountains, benches and an information kiosk. There is a floating boardwalk and observation deck over the Frog Pond.

Feeding fish or other wildlife is now prohibited in the park. It turns out that our stale bread is not really healthy for wildlife and pollutes the pond. it also defeats the natural instincts of animals.

I wonder if Lindley Vickers knew that when he took generations of school children for nature hike around the pond and along the nearby trails? What I do know is the he helped us love the pond and the animals and plants found around it. I suspect there are ways to accomplish that without feeding the wildlife. What I do hope is that park officials major in delight rather than rules so a new generation learn to love the park.

The Lily Pond is located off of Birch Hill Drive, which connects McCollum Road on the West side, with West Drive in the park. Birch Hill Cabin is located across the road and is available for groups up to 48 to rent. I remember several gatherings there, and a walk around the Gold Fish Pond was a great chance for some fresh air, especially if you were with a date. It was only a quarter mile around, but with benches, it was a good, if not private, place for conversation in a beautiful place.

What do you remember about visiting the Goldfish Pond?

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Lanterman’s Mill and Falls

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By Keith Roberts [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I suspect if someone were to try to come up with a list of the most scenic views in Mill Creek Metropark, Lanterman’s Mill and Falls would be at the top of the list. During my teen years, I loved exploring the trails that run through Mill Creek Park. Of course I had seen the falls and the mill many times from the Youngstown-Canfield Road bridge on car rides. It wasn’t until I was walking along the trail downstream from the falls and came to a point where the falls and the mill was framed by the Youngstown-Canfield Road bridge that I realized what an incredible view this offers.

Apparently people have thought this view one of the most spectacular over the years. Here is a photograph I found from the early 1900’s:

Historic Lanterman Falls

The picture shows an earlier, and less substantial bridge over the river gorge than the one I grew up with which is still there.

The history of this site goes back to the beginnings of Youngstown. Two of the surveyors working with John Young in 1797, Phineas Hill and Isaac Powers surveyed Mill Creek and came upon the falls and immediately recognized the potential for a mill on the site. Hill agreed to purchase 300 acres around this site with the condition that a saw- and gristmill be built within 18 months, one of the first industries in what would become Youngstown. They operated the mill from 1799 until 1822. In 1823 Eli Baldwin replaced the structure and operated it as a gristmill only until it was washed away in a flood in 1843. According to the Lanterman’s Mill History page at the Mill Creek Metropark website, the millstone is still resting about 500 feet downstream in the creek bed.

German Lanterman built the third mill on this site with it’s current wood frame structure. He operated a gristmill with three sets of grinstones until 1888. For most of this time the mill was highly successful. In 1892, as Volney Rogers was acquiring the land for Mill Creek park, saving it from an industrial future, he acquired a building falling into disrepair and, along with Pioneer Pavilion, initiated repairs and preserved this iconic structure.

Originally, it held a ballroom, bathhouse for the nearby Pool of Shadows which was used for swimming, and a concession stand. Boats were stored on the upper floor in the winter. Later in 1933 the first floor was converted into a nature museum. Later it became the park’s historical museum. Major renovations were made in the early 1980’s, and one of my college professors, Dr. John White organized an archaeological dig and found evidence of an earlier raceway. The work was made possible by the Florence and Ward Beecher Foundation who made a $600,000 grant to the project. Lorin Cameron, an expert gristmill renovator oversaw the project.

As a working mill, Lanterman’s Mill requires continued maintenance, especially the wood of the water wheel and its supporting structures. In 2013 a new support beam for the water wheel was installed. The first Recipes of Youngstown cookbook proceeds were dedicated to water wheel repairs.

The mill is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm. Admission for Mahoning County residents is $1.00, for non-residents $2.00, students and seniors $.75 and children under 6 are free. Visiting the mill is a lesson in Youngstown’s industrial history. Walking the paths, the covered bridge, and standing on the observation deck help visitors discover the scenic wonder that has captured the hearts of generations of Youngstown area residents, including mine.

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — “Rocky Ridge”

Sled-Hill

Sled Hill in the James L.Wick, Jr. Recreation Area, Courtesy of Mill Creek MetroParks. Used by permission.

“Rocky Ridge” was what we called the James L. Wick, Jr. Recreation Area in Mill Creek Park. The name comes from the rocky escarpment that runs along the southern border of the Recreation Area that descends to Bears Den Road and the Bears Den area below. Development of the Recreation Area began in 1949 and was completed in 1956. I have memories from every season. It was a 15 to 20 minute walk from my house, or a five minute drive, up the hill on Mahoning, a left turn down South Belle Vista past McCollum Road where the road ran through the area (it has now been closed off at the parking lots).

When we were young and it had snowed, we used to haul our sleds up to Rocky Ridge and ride down the hill by the playground area. If you had waxed the runners and the snow was packed, you could make it to the second hill. By the time I was in junior high, in 1968, the ice rink was opened. Many Friday and Saturday nights, my buddy Jim and I would walk up in the cold winter air, pay our money, lace up our skates on the benches in the indoor shelter, leaving our shoes underneath, and go out on the ice and try to meet girls. Occasionally we even succeeded!

Spring brought breezy weather in March, and it was time to pull out the kites. Again, we’d stand at the top of the highest hill by the playground, facing east. I remember one time when I had a ball of string, maybe 1000 feet long, and had my kite out nearly the whole length, and high up in the air, when the string broke. It was gone! I wonder where it ended up? Later spring brought class picnics when we were in elementary school, with games and time to climb the old “monkey bars” and swing on the swings and slide down the big sliding board. This was before the day when play areas had wood chips that made for soft landings. At that time, the surface was asphalt, and I recall more than one scraped knee!

As spring transitioned to summer, it was time for baseball! In high school, I played on a church league fast pitch softball team and we often played games on one of the baseball diamonds. I was never much of a baseball player and I think my career ended when I broke my thumb playing first base (as a right hander with my left hand being my glove hand). I didn’t usually play that position and was reaching to catch a ball thrown to put a runner out when the runner collided with me–spikes on the leg and a broken thumb. I actually finished the game and didn’t find out until later than night that the thumb was broken!

About then, I switched over to tennis, and often played tennis on the courts. It was cool because, at least then, you could play at night as well. I had several buddies on the tennis team at Chaney and thought about joining the team, because I could beat them at least half the time. I never got into golf, but lots of my friends caddied or played at the par 3 golf course that opened up some time in the 1960’s (I believe).

Another summer memory was concerts out on the lawn. I remember hearing Lionel Hampton as kid. I don’t think I realized what a jazz great he was then, though my parents were pretty excited to hear him. Sitting out on lawn chairs and hearing live music as the air cooled down on a summer evening was fun.

I kept playing tennis into the early fall, and then there were pickup touch football games with friends, or when we got to college, Ultimate Frisbee games on whatever field we could find that didn’t have another game going. Eventually, the cold and rainy weather of November drove us inside until the snows and cold came and the ice rink opened once again.

The James L. Wick, Jr. Recreation Area is still a year-round recreation area. Sadly, the ice rink closed some years ago. Now there is a “Sled Hill” with a Warming House and snack shop, as well as opportunities for cross country skiing. The play area is much more child-safe than in our day, with three different play areas. There is a permanent concert pavilion, the Judge Morley Performing Arts Pavilion, sand volleyball courts, and batting cages.

I have to admit, the name “The James L. Wick, Jr. Recreation Area” was always a mouthful for me. We always just called it “Rocky Ridge” (I’ve also heard Rock Ridge, occasionally). Now the name Rocky Ridge is used to describe the neighborhoods north of there between South Schenley and South Belle Vista Avenues up to Mahoning Avenue. There is even a Rocky Ridge Neighbors group. I’m glad they have kept the name alive!