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 — 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 — Volney Rogers

When I was growing up, Volney Rogers was the other junior high school on the West Side. We were rivals in junior high football, soon to be classmates at Chaney High School, into which both schools fed.  I may have been dimly aware that there was a real Volney Rogers and that he had something to do with Mill Creek Park, but other than that, I was clueless. That’s too bad, because learning more about Volney Rogers would have taught me a good bit both about responsible citizenship and Mill Creek Park.

Do you know that very likely there would not have been a Mill Creek Park were it not for the efforts of Volney Rogers? The rock in places like Bears Den might have been dug out and used for construction. The trees that line Mill Creek gorge might have gone to sawmills and been used up in home construction. There would have been no Lakes Glacier, Cohasset, or Newport. Pioneer Pavilion would not have been preserved. There would likely be no Lanterman Falls and Old Mill. Mill Creek might have been either an industrial stream or possibly dammed for a reservoir. The trails, the picnic areas, the scenic views–none of it may have existed were it not for the vision and industry of Rogers.

Volney Rogers was a lawyer, along with his brother Disney, with offices in downtown Youngstown. In 1890, he explored Mill Creek Gorge on horseback and determined to preserve it, even as stone quarries and sawmills were beginning to strip the gorge of its rugged beauty. He secured rights to large tracts of land from over 90 owners, helped write and pass “The Township Park Improvement Law” that created the park district, and turned over the land he had acquired in 1891, creating Mill Creek Park. He worked with his brother Bruce, and noted landscape architect, Charles Eliot (who had worked with Frederick Law Olmsted, a notable architect of the urban parks in major cities throughout the U.S.). During a recession in 1893, the park offered a source of work for men who laid out trails, restored Pioneer Pavilion, and built the dam for Lake Cohasset. Lake Glacier’s dam was also completed during Rogers life, being built in 1906.

Rogers was a lawyer who understood the implications of land use, sewage disposal, and the environmental implications of poor infrastructure decisions. Vindicator articles on August 9 and August 10, 2015 chronicle his fight against big steel to avoid running sewer lines for storm sewer run-offs into Mill Creek. He took the fight all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court, losing in the end, and losing with it his health. He left Youngstown shortly after, broken-hearted, and died in 1919. In 2015, Mill Creek’s lakes were closed for all purposes because of high e. coli levels, a result of the very problems Rogers foresaw.

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Volney Rogers Monument, an early postcard.

In 1920, a bronze statue of Rogers was erected near the main entrance to the park on Memorial Hill Drive, just off of Glenwood Avenue, a monument which remains. So often, we build monuments to great people but forget what they really did and what we could learn from them. Rogers fight with big steel is one more example repeated so often in Youngstown history of sacrificing the long term good of the city to a powerful interest. More positively, Rogers is an outstanding example of the kind of civic leader every city needs in every generation if it is to be a great place. He devoted his time, energies, his own money, and ultimately his health to leave Youngstown a beautiful place. Who are the civic leaders in Youngstown today who will follow his lead and set aside self-interest and self-aggrandizement to leave Youngstown a better place in the twenty-first century?

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Pioneer Pavilion

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1916 Postcard of Pioneer Pavilion

Did you ever attend a party or a wedding at Pioneer Pavilion when you were growing up? I have at least two memories of events at the Pavilion. The first was a square dance a college fellowship I was a part of had in the Pavilion. The wood floors, beams and stonework made it the perfect complement to our dance, which was just a good and fun way to meet people and work off some energy. I remember the dance being in the fall, and when we got a bit warm, we could step outside into the cool night air and cool off and look at the stars in the autumn sky.

The other memory was a wedding held outside in the middle of the summer. It was a beautiful setting except that some bees found the bride’s bouquet very attractive, a bit of a distraction from the joyous proceedings. But the setting was gorgeous, the bees eventually dealt with, and the couple well, and happily married.

I was amazed to learn that the Pavilion is nearly 200 years old and one of the oldest structures in Youngstown, being built in 1821, long before the founding of Mill Creek Park in 1891. According to the Mill Creek Metroparks website, it originally served as a mill for carding and fulling wool, then later as a storeroom for the nearby Mill Creek Furnace. Obviously, this sandstone structure was well-built and has served as a gathering place for parties, weddings and other events since it was remodeled for this purpose shortly after the park’s founding, in 1893. According to Wikipedia, the renovation of the Pavilion in 1893 helped provide employment for men who had lost jobs during the Panic of 1893.

Pioneer Pavilion is located on a portion of Old Furnace Road (connecting it with its Mill Creek Furnace history) that descends steeply into the Mill Creek gorge part of the park from the intersection with West Cohasset Drive on the west, and Robinson Hill Drive on the east. I used to love to coast down the hill on the one side, making the tight bend by the Pavilion and then the strenuous climb up the other side.

Pioneer Pavilion continues to serve the Youngstown area as a location for graduations, weddings, family reunions, and other events. The upstairs can accommodate up to 96 people, the downstairs up to 24. Gas log fireplaces add to the ambiance. Rental information is available on the Mill Creek Metroparks website.

Pioneer Pavilion, along with Lanterman’s Mill, is one of the historical and architectural treasures of Youngstown. I am amazed how similar recent pictures of the Pavilion look to the postcard above from 1916. None of us knows what the future will bring but I hope there will be those with the foresight of Volney Rogers who will continue to maintain this historic building, and monument to Youngstown’s early industrial heritage, for future generations.

I’d love to hear your memories of gatherings at Pioneer Pavilion!

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown–The Silver Bridge

The Silver Bridge. The Cinderella Bridge. The Castle Bridge. The Walt Disney Bridge. It has been called all of these things. Strictly speaking, its name is the Suspension Bridge. For those of you who are not from Youngstown, Vindy.com has a wonderful video of the bridge in its autumn glory. Whatever you call it, it is truly one of the magical features that make Mill Creek Park the special place it is for all of us who call Youngstown home.

I learned that Volney Rogers, who helped establish Mill Creek Park, intended it that way. He wanted “fanciful entrances” to the park, and this bridge, the oldest in the park, clearly lived up to his expectations. It was designed by Charles Fowler and built by the Youngstown Bridge Company in 1895. The total length of the bridge is 89.9 feet and the deck width is 20 feet (32 feet with walkways). It is characterized as an “eyebar suspension” bridge. But what makes it stand out is the silver paint job, the decorative spires and arches and metal work. It is a favorite wedding picture location and any of us who have photo albums probably have a picture of the bridge somewhere. Perhaps some of the most gorgeous pictures are those taken after a big snowfall in the winter, when it looks like the central feature in a winter wonderland.

The bridge spans Mill Creek north of Lanterman falls and before it flows into Lake Cohasset and links the west and east sides of the park. In high school and college, I loved to cycle through the park and sometimes stop just to think and try to sort out life. One of my favorite spots was the rock formation on the west side of the bridge. I loved to clamber up on the rocks, which were shaded by trees and take in the bridge, the stream and surrounding area. There are so many places like that in the park and this was one of my favorites.

There is an open meadow on the east side of the bridge that we called The Flats. Coming off the bridge, the road bends to the right, with Mill Creek on one side and the meadow on the other. When I was a teenager The Flats was a favorite gathering place for young couples who wanted to sit in the sun, guys playing frisbee, and probably more than a few smoking weed!

The bridge is a functional bridge, open to traffic. In 2007, it went through a major rehabilitation project to restore its appearance and structural integrity. DOT Construction Corp of Canfield did the restoration work, important in safeguarding this river crossing in the park as well preserving its structural beauty. The Mahoning Valley Historical Society, Youngstown State University, and the Ohio Historic Preservation Office all consulted on the restoration. It was posted on the National Register of Historic Places on October 29, 1976. Truly a jewel!

What are your memories of the Silver Bridge? Do you have a favorite time of the year to photograph the bridge?