The two overlooks at Fellows Riverside Gardens provide views of the two faces of Youngstown. The north overlook provides a vista of the Mahoning Valley. One can see the sites of former steel mills, and further off, two significant Youngstown institutions, St Elizabeth Health Center and Youngstown State. In the foreground to the right is the former Isaly facility, and further off the downtown. The other overlook, to the south, reveals the north end of Mill Creek Metro Park, with a grand view of Lake Glacier. On one side the changing economy of the city, on the other, its emerald jewel.
In 1958, Elizabeth Fellows bequeathed this property and funds to establish the gardens that bear her name and are now visited by over 400,000 each year. Plantings began in 1963 and it seemed like my life has woven through this site ever since. My dad and I went for walks in the park often and we walked there soon after the first plantings began, mostly roses if I recall. We went to the garden center and looked at plans for the future expansion.
As the years passed, more garden beds, shady alcoves, fountains and paths were laid out. It was a great place in spring and summer to go for walks with your sweetheart. We have photos of a summer afternoon at the Gardens, each of us against the backdrop of the south overlook with Lake Glacier in the distance. We have wedding photos of the two of us sitting by the fountain, and of us gazing lovingly at each other with Lake Glacier in the background once again. That photo is just across the room from me as I write. Oh, we were young, thin(!), and in love. I can say that at least the “in love” part is truer than ever after nearly 38 years.After we moved away, the Gazebo was built, yet another great site for weddings. We would take our parents to the Gardens on visits back and it seemed to just grow in beauty, even in the midst of Youngstown’s struggles. In later years, the D.D. and Velma Davis Education and Visitor Center was built. My dad knew D.D. Davis and thought highly of him. You cannot imagine how thrilled he and my mom were when we celebrated their sixtieth anniversary there in the summer of 2001, with a catered dinner in the gallery, and a family picture on the overlook to Lake Glacier on the center’s terrace. For a few years after my parents continued to enjoy good health, and even as they grew more frail, one or the other of us would take them to the Gardens from time to time.
About five years ago was our last visit. It was for the wedding of a college friend’s daughter. Our son and she grew up going to the Canfield Fair every year before her mom passed. They knew each other well enough to not be interested in other–just good friends. One of our memories from that day was getting pictures of my son and his wife at the same spot where we had posed for our wedding. There was also a moment that day that caught at our hearts, as we found a brick remembering my wife’s dad and his brothers, all of whom had passed.
The seasons and generations of plantings at Fellows mirror the seasons and generations of the families whose stories have woven through this place. The spring of young love gives way to the summers of families with children and parents enjoying the gardens together. Diamond Anniversaries symbolize the autumn years as does sitting peacefully with Dad on a bench, too frail to walk much, but drinking in the beauty and the memories. And there is winter, when we have names and memories of those who have passed…and the hope of Spring’s New Life.