Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Smoky Hollow

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Harrison Common – Smoky Hollow – Pergola. Photo by Jack Pearce [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr

I’ve always been fascinated by the name. Smoky Hollow. Sounds a bit mysterious. Atmospheric. The last was literally so at one time. There often was a veil of smoke over the area in early years due to the nearby Mahoning Valley Iron Company.

The area was once the property of the James Wick family. As mills grew up along Crab Creek in the late 1800’s, immigrants densely settled the nearby neighborhoods with homes where you could read the neighbor’s newspaper through the side window, or even closer in row houses. While immigrants moved there from a number of countries, the Italian community dominated by the 1920’s. There were stores with names on them like Nazurini, Lariccia, Tucci, Gaglione, DeBartolo, Cianello, Conti, and Diciacomo. An early business that has survived to this day is Cassese’s MVR Club. Edward J. DeBartolo, Sr., shopping mall developer was born here in 1919. Jack Warner and Dom Roselli also grew up here.

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Harrison Common, The Smoky Hollow Granite Map. Photo by Jack Pearce [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr (site includes a legend of identifiable structures)

The neighborhood is bordered by Wick Avenue on the west, the US 422 freeway on the north and east, and Rayen Avenue and Oak Street on the South. In our childhoods, both my wife and I attended churches on the edge of Smoky Hollow. We went to Tabernacle United Presbyterian Church, at the corner of Wood and Walnut until the congregation relocated to Austintown in 1968. My wife’s family went to Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church, just down Wood Street, and my wife went to the school next to the church through eighth grade. Many of her classmates lived in Smoky Hollow. For a time, my father worked nearby at the Raymond Concrete Pile plant along Andrews Avenue.

From the 1970’s on, the neighborhood declined, especially after the mill closures and a number of homes were vacant and razed. The vacancies combined with the growth of Youngstown State has resulted in the beginnings of redevelopment in the area. University classroom buildings, a parking garage, and apartments were built east of Wick Avenue.

Wick Neighbors, Inc in cooperation with St. John’s Episcopal Church, Youngstown State and the City of Youngstown developed a plan for the redevelopment of the area. One of the first parts of the plan to be completed was the creation of Harrison Common Park in 2011, across the street from the MVR, using a combination of $4 million in public funds and private donations. The park features a brick-paved plaza, a pergola donated by the Rotary Club, landscaping, and a large playing field. There is also a pizza/bread oven, reminiscent of the backyard ovens many early Youngstown residents used for baking bread and pizza-making. There is an inlaid, granite plat map of the Smoky Hollow area from 1920 to 1940.

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Bread Oven at Harrison Common. Photo by Jack Pierce [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr

Other improvements in the area include road and infrastructure improvements on Walnut Street and the major improvements made on Wick Avenue. Long term development includes plans for housing and attracting businesses to the Smoky Hollow area. In 2014 Wick Neighbors, Inc. merged into Youngstown CityScape, which continues under the latter name.

To visit the area is to be reminded of a once vibrant neighborhood of small groceries and other businesses, densely packed housing and a vibrant neighborhood life. Now most of the houses are gone. The MVR lives on. Much of Smoky Hollow’s life is connected to the university. Harrison Common Park suggests the center of what could be a new vibrant community in the future. When that future will come and what that will look like remains to be seen. Until then the name reminds us of the place that once was. Smoky Hollow.

[Like some other names in Youngstown, some add an “e” to the name, making it Smokey Hollow. I chose the usage I found in The VindicatorWikipedia, and Youngstown CityScape.]

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Sides of Town

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Map from the City of Youngstown, Ohio. Used by permission

 

Almost any time you ask someone who grew up in the city of Youngstown where they were from, they will answer you in terms of which side of town they grew up in. If they grew up in one of the distinctive or “named” neighborhoods of the city, they might add that as well, like Brier Hill, or Brownlee Woods. But in Youngstown you were East Side, West Side, North Side, or South Side.

The fascinating thing to me, living as I do in a much larger city, is that while we were geographically very close–a few miles–to each other and yet often knew little of other sides of town, unless we had relatives who lived there. All of Youngstown would fit into one “side” (yes we use this language where I now live as well) of the city where I live. It takes me longer to drive to my grocery store on the same side of town than it used to take me to drive from the West side to the South side to visit my girl friend (now wife) who lived in Brownlee Woods.

The West side, where I grew up, consists of the areas west of Mill Creek and the Mahoning River northwest of downtown extending to the north, west, and south city limits. The North side is the area north of downtown up to the north city limit between the Mahoning River on the west and Crab Creek on the east. The East side was the area east of Crab Creek, downtown, and the Mahoning River as it flows southeast out of the downtown area, bordered on the north, east and southeast by the city limits. The South side is the area south of downtown and I-680 to the southern city limits (which jut out to the south to incorporate the Pleasant Grove and Brownlee Woods neighborhoods) and is bordered on the west by Mill Creek and on the east by the Mahoning River, except for a portion of the Buckeye Plat east of the river.

Each side of the city included neighborhoods with distinctive names (forgive me if I’ve omitted any) as well as many neighborhoods that had none, including mine on the lower West side north of Mahoning Avenue:

  • West side: Garden District (more recent), Ohio Works, Salt Springs, Schenley, Kirkmere, Rocky Ridge, and Cornersburg.
  • North side: Brier Hill, Crandall Park North, Fifth Avenue, Golf View Acres East and West, Smoky Hollow, and Wick Park.
  • East side: Beachwood, Hazelton, Lansdowne, Lincoln Knolls, McGuffey Heights, and Sharon Line.
  • South side: Boulevard Park, Brownlee Woods, Buckeye, Fosterville, Handel’s, Idora, Indian Village, Lansingville, Lansingville Heights, Newport, Oak Hill, Pleasant Grove.

The sides of the city definitely had their own personality. But I have to admit that I don’t know the different parts of town, especially the East side, well enough to be sure I am accurately characterizing them, so take whatever I say with a grain of salt. The West side, where I grew up was known as the “white West side” (historically due to red-lining) and still is the one predominantly white area of the city. It was definitely home to a number of blue collar families, many who had someone working in the Ohio works or another manufacturing concern. As people prospered they moved further out on the west and southwest areas of the city.

The North side, I always thought of as the rich and cultured area, with the mansions on Fifth Avenue. But it was, and is, home to the vibrant Italian community of Brier Hill. The South side was the largest, most populous part of the city. Both of my grandparents lived there. I remember spacious homes, tree-lined streets in many of the neighborhoods between Glenwood and Market Street. Newport was always where we went to see the best Christmas displays, and it was obvious that those who lived there were successful in business.

As I said, the East side was the area I know the least about. My dad worked for a company along Crab Creek, Raymond Concrete Pile. We used to drive out Hubbard Rd to visit relatives in Hubbard. I recall that it seemed almost rural, with many houses on large lots quite a distance from each other. From what I read, this area has the most undeveloped and agricultural space in the city, as well as McKelvey Lake. I’d love for those who grew up on the East side to tell me more of what your side of town was like.

I suspect for all of us from Youngstown, we have special memories of the side of town on which we grew up. I’d love for you to share them, and what made your area of town special (no bashing other parts of town!).

 

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Wick Park

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Wick Park in the early days. Public Domain

A park with walkways, a pavilion, playground, picnic areas, shaded with abundant trees. Around the perimeter on three sides some of the grandest homes in the city. On the fourth, an auditorium in neoclassical style, and in later years a senior facility. That was, and still in significant measure is, Wick Park. In the boom years of the first part of the twentieth century, this area was home to many of Youngstown’s most affluent citizens, sheltered away from the mills and factories that made their fortune. This Metro Monthly article gives you a good idea of what some of the homes were like back then.

My first encounters with Wick Park were during a summer when I volunteered with a children’s ministry working in a more urban part of the North side. They offered a summer program and I helped volunteer, helping organize games and activities for the children at the park. I loved the combination of shelters, open spaces and an abundance of trees and shade that made this a delightful recreation spot for the children who were both a delight and challenge and left me beat at the end of every day.

Later, while I was in college, I took a physical conditioning course and one of our regular activities was to don our running clothes and do laps around Wick Park. Each lap, as I recall, was about a mile. When I started, I barely made it up Elm Street to the park and had to walk-run even one lap. Eventually I reached the point where I could do three or four laps easily, and the Park was a favorite place to run with a buddy or two whenever I needed a study break.

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A view of Wick Park across Fifth Avenue from Park Vista (c) Robert C Trube, 2011

In recent years we would drive past Wick Park when we would visit my mom and dad during their last years when they lived in Park Vista, across the street. One of the nicest features of where they lived is that the front windows of their dining room looked out over the park.

The larger Wick Park district extended all the way over to Wick Avenue running north of Youngstown State. Wick Avenue at one time was Youngstown’s version of “millionaire’s row.” Apart from the restored Pollock Mansion and the Arms Museum of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, most of these are gone, replaced by many vacant lots. Auto dealerships like State Chevrolet, where my wife bought her first car, are long gone. Going up Wick Avenue, one of the few businesses left is the Golden Dawn, where a number of us would go after volunteering at a free clinic next to campus in one of those mansions owned by First Christian Church at the time.

Many of the large homes were broken up into apartments, which eventually led to decline in their condition. Vacant homes that were eventually demolished are a reality here as elsewhere in Youngstown. But from what I’ve read and heard, there are some neighborhood organizations collaborating with others to renew the area. According to Metro Monthly efforts by the Wick Park Neighborhood Association and the Northside Citizens Coalition has led to everything from urban gardens, farmers markets, property divestment that has brought new residents in and rehabilitation of a number of the grand old houses. Efforts by Youngstown CityScape has led to improvements of the park including new signage, sidewalk repairs, accessible parking near the pavilion, a new playground, and security gates.

It seems that one thing every Rust Belt city is discovering is that you re-build neighborhood by neighborhood, business by business, institution by institution. It takes scrappiness, perseverance, and collaboration of city leaders, businesses, neighborhood leaders and residents–over a long period of time (think what it takes just to renovate one home!). The Wick Park Historic District is one of the jewels of Youngstown. I’m glad to hear there are people thinking, talking, and working hard to both recover past glories and build toward a new future in this area, and providing models for other neighborhoods in the city to follow.

I’d love to hear both about memories of the Wick Park area, and from those who are working to revitalize this area!

 

 

 

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Front Porches

The home I grew up in with our front porch. (Photo taken by Carol E Campbell)

The home I grew up in with our front porch. (Photo taken by Carol E Campbell)

The hot weather of the past week brought to mind one of our favorite ways of keeping cool on those warm and muggy summer evenings. We would sit out, often until late in the evening, to catch whatever breeze there was while the house cooled off after sunset.

You see, most of us didn’t have air conditioning back then. Sitting out on the front porch with a cool drink, and maybe some ice cream, was the best way to keep cool. My parents had old-fashioned metal lawn chairs that could rock (we inherited them). I would often sit on the old metal glider, rocking back and forth to keep cool.

We had big green awnings that dad hung each spring to shade the porch from the late afternoon sun. We had spirea bushes in front of the porch that came up just above the banisters and the awnings came most of the way down so that kept the sun out pretty well.

Often, I would have my transistor radio on listening to Herb Score broadcasting the Cleveland Indians games. We always hoped this would be the year they’d win the pennant, and then the World Series. Still hoping.

Everyone sat out on summer evenings. Sometimes you would visit families walking down the street, many walking to the Dairy Queen a block up on Mahoning Avenue. Mostly, the parents would talk–about how hot it was, how good the yard was looking, how work was going, how big the kids were getting. Or we would watch neighbors drive down the street and notice when they got a new car.

As I grew older, I would cross the street and sit on the front steps of my friend Jim’s house and talk with him until his parents told us it was time to call it a night. As it turned out, that was usually when my parents wanted me home. You’d think they conspired with each other. Mostly I remember talking with Jim about cars, sports, and that mystery we both were trying to figure out–girls! (Don’t ask me if we ever did!)

Front porches weren’t just a west side thing (where I grew up). Most homes in the older urban neighborhoods of Youngstown had front porches. My grandparents lived on Cohasset Drive, a beautiful tree-lined street and they had a big front porch with old, comfy porch furniture.

Now everyone has air conditioning and, at least in our area, few houses have front porches. If we ever buy another house, I want a front porch. As it is, whenever it isn’t too hot, we sit out in the drive and enjoy the evening air and visit with people walking by, usually with their dogs. Growing up in a neighborhood of front porches, it just doesn’t seem right hiding out in my house or backyard on a summer evening. But it is different. In Youngstown, I knew the names of every family in the neighborhood. I can’t say that here. We didn’t always have fond thoughts of each other, but we knew each other. That’s what came of growing up on a street lined with houses with front porches.

[Want to read other “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown” posts? Just click “On Youngstown” on the menu bar at the top of this page to read any or all in this series.]

Review: Slow Church

slow churchSlow Church by C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014.

Summary: This book argues that the church has been “McDonald-ized” and that just as the Slow Food movement has returned to embracing food that is good, clean, and fair, so the church needs to embrace an ethic of quality, an ecology of reconciliation, and an economy of abundance.

Slow church. That’s not what I wanted when I was growing up. I wanted to get my weekly dose of church and get on to more interesting things. If the authors are to believed, the church growth specialists gave my generation what we wanted–fast church. Messages that cut to the chase, efficient, homogeneous organization that led to big box churches that provided a great show. For a time, I was part of such a church in another city, typically driving 10 miles to attend. But it seemed totally unconnected to the place where we lived and so when we moved to our current home town, we found a church in the neighborhood, which in recent years has come to embody many of the things the authors of this book describe as part of the “slow church” movement.

The authors describe an approach to thinking of the church that gives words to much of what we were looking for. They believe that God’s redemptive work is slow and values the unique qualities of people and place and gifting that our particular places of worship reflect. They organize their approach around three categories.

First they think in terms of ethics. What is the good to be pursued in the life of a local congregation? It begins with a sense of place that takes time to become a community that shares life together and learns how to serve the mix of people in a real neighborhood rather than efficiently reaching a “market segment.” It encourages stability that takes time to understand a place rather than our restless mobility. It values patience that is willing to suffer alongside others and walk alongside the people of one’s community through the seasons and changes of life as Christ is formed in us.

A second emphasis is on ecology. It focuses on the connectedness of all things and all of life as opposed to fragmenting life, and groups of people into segments, often with the result of dividing them against each other–young and old, liberal and conservative, poor and affluent, and even humans versus the rest of creation. It cares about the dehumanization of work and fosters good work based in our neighborhoods. It celebrates sabbath where God provides enough in six days for us to live seven.

A third focus is on economy. Will we join the culture’s economics of scarcity or the kingdom economy of abundance? This means noticing all the abundance God has placed in the people and physical resources of a church and a community and responding with gratitude and hospitality. And in a wonderful connection with the slow food movement, it means reveling in the fellowship of the table, having rich conversation over good food.

This book is particularly important for churches that take seriously the work of “re-neighboring” and community development in transitional or struggling communities. It is also important for churches in more suburban “communities” that often don’t have a real sense of community and place, and are at great peril over the long haul.

The authors challenged me to consider how, even though I am in a church that is seeking to become these things, I am embedded in a “fast church” life and way of thinking that is formed more by my culture than the church community with which I identify. I work in a ministry that is not located in the community where I live, where I travel extensively, and work with colleagues in a tri-state area, and more widely with individuals throughout the country as well as an extensive virtual community. As I write today, I don’t have good answers to resolve this tension. But this book serves as impetus for a conversation, maybe a slow conversation, but one that I recognize needs to begin in my life.

How about you?

I Wish I Lived in Antrim Heights

I wish I lived in Antrim Heights.  There may be a property development somewhere in Michigan by that name according to my Google search but that’s not what I have in mind. What I have in mind doesn’t involve a move from the community I live in. It involves giving the community I live in a name.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that communities that have a name have an identity. In my city, areas like Clintonville, The Short North, The King-Lincoln district either have maintained, or used the development of an identity, to sustain or revitalize their communities as vibrant mixes of neighborhoods, businesses, and other institutions including schools and libraries. I’ve seen a similar thing as I’ve interacted with people from Youngstown in the series I’ve been doing on Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown. “Named” neighborhoods seem to be doing better than unnamed ones like the one I grew up in.

Far Northwest Columbus

The area I live in goes under the vague moniker of “far northwest Columbus”. But it struggles to have a real identity. You can live in this area and have a Dublin, Powell, Worthington or Columbus address. The area is served by two different school districts, both among our area’s best. Most of the homes, schools, and businesses were built around 25 to 30 years ago when Columbus expanded to the county line. Then, we were an “outer ring” suburb. Now, we are “inner ring” as development has continued into the county north of us. We have a growing immigrant population, as evidenced by the ethnic groceries in our area. The demographics of our area are changing.

Actually, I think this could make us a more interesting area if we had a clear sense of identity, not only in terms of a name but in terms of the kind of community we were becoming. It seems that this is a time where civic, school, church and business leaders could come together and create a clear sense of community identity as well as identify priorities for strengthening the community for the future. A few years ago, an ad hoc group came together to save a local wetland that a developer wanted to seize. But once they blocked this, the group dissipated. Yet the area still lacks for parks and recreation facilities and only concerted community leadership can address this. Traffic continues to worsen in our area which increasingly serves as a conduit to the suburbs to the north of us in another county. Road widening and sidewalks are desperately needed on the north-south road (Smoky Row Road) that carries much of this traffic.

I think it begins with a name. I choose the name Antrim Heights for two reasons. The Antrim family owned large tracts of land in this area. When we first moved here in 1990, my son could still see cows outside the window of his middle school that were part of their farm. The Heights part is based on the fact that most of this area lies in an elevated area between two rivers, the Olentangy and the Scioto. (I suppose you could call it Mesopotamia as well–the land between two rivers!).

I don’t know what the Antrim family would think of this. I hope they would be honored.  What would be best though is if leaders in my community would actually recognize the need to develop something more substantive than “far northwest Columbus” for an identity and to think what kind of community we want this to become. While a name alone won’t do all that our area needs, it serves as a beginning, as a point of pride, a source of identity.  I hope one day to live in Antrim Heights, or someplace equally illustrious–right where I am!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Neighborhoods

Youngstown is a city of neighborhoods. I suppose that is true of most cities but until I began this series of posts I only had the vaguest notion of how true this was of Youngstown. I was always aware of the “sides” of town, having grown up on the West Side. Sometimes it seemed like traveling to any other side of town was like traveling to the other side of the world when we were growing up. That seems strange now that I live in a much larger city where the trip to the grocery store takes almost as long as it would to drive to another side of Youngstown. I know this because my wife grew up in Brownlee Woods and it took me 7 minutes to drive from my house on the West Side to hers (we both lived near I-680 so that helped).

Many of the neighborhood communities in Youngstown had a name, and the ones that did, at least in some cases, still maintain a certain sense of vitality. Brier Hill comes up again and again in my reading. A strong Italian-American community, common employment in the mills, great food, and St. Anthony’s church all seem to be defining qualities that brought this community together. They’ve even given their name to the iconic Youngstown pizza!

Rocky Ridge neighborhood accessed from http://www.cityofyoungstownoh.com/about_youngstown/youngstown_2010/neighborhoods/west/rocky_ridge/rocky_ridge.aspx

Rocky Ridge neighborhood

But there are many others as well: Brownlee Woods, Buckeye Plat, Lansingville, Crandall Park, Wick Park, Rocky Ridge, Kirkmere, Newport, Smoky Hollow, Fosterville, Idora and more. Some, like Buckeye Plat were established to provide housing for mill workers near the mills. Others, like Brownlee Woods and Kirkmere were post World War 2 developments with a much more mixed population.

What distinguished many of these communities and helped explain how they were worlds unto themselves was that churches, stores, restaurants, gas and auto repair shops, schools and libraries were all often within walking distance. That’s why going downtown or to the other side of town was such a big deal. Most of the time, you just didn’t need to leave your neighborhood to live your life, except to travel to work, if you lived further out. In the earlier days of the city’s development, workers walked to and from work in the mills and manufacturing plants. Most older homes had front porches and socializing at night with those walking through the neighborhood or those next door was common.

Neighborhoods are not only an important part of Youngstown’s past but seem to be an essential part of Youngstown’s future.  Active neighborhood associations like the Idora Neighborhood Association are encouraging the renovation of homes, neighborhood block watches and moving into the city. The City of Youngstown is assisting these efforts through their Neighborhoods website.

If you are from Youngstown, where did you grow up? Did your community have a name? What were your favorite neighborhood memories?

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Part One

OH Youngstown aA while back I wrote a post titled “What’s Missing in the Diversity Discussion” and I observed that what we often don’t explore, although good work on this has been done, is the area of class differences. I mentioned growing up in working class Youngstown and being in a seminar where as a “get to know you” exercise, we could propose a question we’d like others to ask us about ourselves.  Mine was, “I’d like to be asked what it was like growing up in working class Youngstown.”

In response to that blog, “Steve” actually asked that question. I don’t think I can answer that in a single post but I’d love to give it a start with this post.

The first thing I can say is that, far from being conscious of this being a struggle, my memory of growing up in my neighborhood is generally quite positive. Our home was located on the inner west side of Youngstown, roughly a mile or so from the Briar Hill steel mills. The men who worked in these mills could walk to and from work, and the community was laid out so that almost everything you really needed was within walking distance.

So one thing growing up was that this idea of being driven everywhere was foreign. I walked to school, to the post office, the “Pops” grocery for baseball trading cards, to the Dairy Queen, and Isaly’s for ice cream, to the bank to deposit my paper route earnings, to the library for books, and to Borts Field to go swimming, or meet up with friends for pick up games of baseball, basketball, and football.

What strikes me is that from a fairly early age (say by 8 or 10) I got used to doing much of this on my own, without parents hovering about. There were no parents arbitrating game quarrels. We worked things out, often with the “do over” rule. Yet they were still a significant part of our lives. All of us ate at home nearly every night at a certain time, and often that was between 4 and 6 pm, timed to the end of labor shifts.

I think what made this independence at an early age possible was the combination of this neighborhood web where if you really got out of line your parents heard about it, and those evening meals.  It wasn’t perfect. Sometimes there were dinner table fights. But this sense of early independence combined with a community and family that really was in your life prepared us at an early age to assume our place in that community.

We didn’t know anything about extended adolescence. When you graduated from high school, you either started working (often in the mills or the Lordstown GM plant) or went to college — and often worked in the mills or elsewhere during the summer to pay for it.  Many of our families wanted us to go to college, because work in many factories was hard, dangerous and wore you down physically. They were aware that education afforded the “opportunity for a better life”. Yet there was an ambiguity about this. Education meant becoming part of “management” which was always suspect, or one of those “pointy-headed intellectuals”.

Steve, that’s part one of an answer. Stay tuned for more.