Growing Up in Working Class Youngtown — Monday Musical Club

Two Programs from the Monday Musical Club

It began as the Ladies Mandolin Club in 1896. The name reflected the popularity of the instrument. In the beginning members were auditioned on the basis of their vocal part or musical instrument. Vocalists had to sing an opera aria and classical songs. Meetings included music study. In 1898, the topics included “Women in Music,” “American Composers,” Modern German, Italian, French, and other European Composers,” and “Religious Music.” They also hosted performances, originally in members homes.

By the World War 1 era, they began hosting visiting artists, using venues such as the Park Theatre, The Ohio Hotel, and the Moose Hall. The Moose Hall became a regular venue and in 1921, the Monday Musical Club donated $1000 in appreciation for use of its auditorium. Among the famous musicians hosted over the years were names like Enrico Caruso, Marian Anderson, Kirsten Flagstad, and Rachmaninoff. During this time, the Monday Musical Club encouraged the fledgling efforts of the Youngstown Symphony.

Stambaugh Auditorium was dedicated on December 5, 1926. The Monday Musical Club presented the first concert in the building the next day, on December 6. Stambaugh Auditorium became its permanent home with many concerts selling out with 2,500 in attendance. Miriam Ullman was president for 29 years from 1939-1943 and 1947-1968, leading the organization during some of its greatest years. Over the years, Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, Liberace, Glenn Miller, Debbie Reynolds, Olivia Newton John, Tony Bennett, Art Garfunkel and many more performed at concerts. Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians were frequent performers. Waring was part of the 1975 season, and Adrian Slifka gave this review in The Vindicator:

Only five “old-timers” accompanied the maestro on this 19th visit under the auspices of the local club which is marking its 78th season. Last night’s program was principally a choral program, with the focus on 20 excellent singers and instrumentalists who, Waring said, averaged only 20 years of age.

That season included six concerts: Victor Borge, “Jelly Roll” Morton’s Orchestra, Paul LaValle’s Band of America, Mazowsze Polish Dancers, Fred Waring, and Ferrante and Teicher.

These were once elegant affairs with long gowns but eventually transitioned to more casual attire. By 2012 when Kathy Doyle, who had led the Monday Musical Society for 28 years stepped down, they only sponsored three concerts a year and averaged only around 1000 in attendance. Ticket sales did not meet their rising costs. In 2014, the Monday Musical Board of Directors voted to cease operations after 118 years. Its remaining assets, the Monday Musical Club Fund, under the umbrella of the Youngstown Foundation, are granted to other musical arts initiatives in the Youngstown area.

I heard of the Monday Musical Club when I grew up. It seemed higher society than the circumstances in which I grew up, and the musicians, for the most part weren’t ones I listened to. Little did I realize then the stature of those who they hosted, nor the role they played in encouraging the Youngstown Symphony and establishing Stambaugh Auditorium as a premier music venue. Though the Monday Musical Club has ceased operations, it continues to support the musical arts in Youngstown. Pretty impressive for a group of women who gathered to improve their skills as musicians and host gatherings in homes and music halls!

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Campbell

Ohio Militia at a steelworkers’ strike at East Youngstown in 1916.

In 1902 the Youngstown Iron, Steel, and Tube Company established mills on the north banks of the Mahoning in what was then East Youngstown. Immigrant workers flocked into the settlement on the hills above the plant. By 1915, workers were living in crowded conditions and because of World War I were working 12 hour shifts 6 days a week for 19.5 cents an hour, barely a living wage. In January of 1916, 16,000 Mahoning Valley steel workers went on strike. On January 7, company guards shot into a crowd of people, killing three. Strikers responded by breaking into an administration building and burned 100 blocks of businesses and residences, much of the town. The Ohio National Guard was called in (pictured above) to restore the peace.

Youngstown Sheet and Tube settled the strike by increasing wages to 22 cents an hour. They also engaged in a form of “welfare capitalism” that consisted of helping rebuild much of the town, including worker housing. They bought the Blackburn plat for $250,000 and built a “workingman’s colony” of rowhouses constructed of pre-fabricated concrete. The developments in East Youngstown were built particularly for immigrant and Black populations, segregated from each other. The units had electrical service and indoor plumbing and backyard gardens. There was also a  “community house,” gymnasium, and school with a public square, designed to create a community feel.

All these efforts were led by Youngstown Sheet and Tube’s president, James Anson Campbell. In 1926, as the city rebuilt and became more established, it renamed itself Campbell, recognizing James Anson Campbell’s singular role in establishing the city. These were boom years and the city reached its peak population of 14,673 in 1930. It went through some decline over the next twenty years, and then grew during the Baby Boom years to 13,406. As is well known in Youngstown history, the major blow came on Black Monday as Youngstown Sheet and Tube closed down the Campbell Works, with massive layoffs. That led to steeper population declines to an estimated population of 7,785 in 2019 (All population info from Wikipedia).

The city remains home to the descendants of immigrants with strong Greek, Italian, Slovak, and Black populations. It is also known as the “City of Churches” due to the number of churches in the community. My one friend from Campbell, Dan Yargo, is pastor of one of them, Christ Community Church.

Campbell is working to both preserve and rebuild. In 1982, the workers housing was declared a National Historic Site. Sadly, the units declined and some were razed. Of the original 248 units, 194 remain owned by 55 owners. For a time, Iron Soup Historic Preservation formed to preserve the remaining units and acquired 20 of them. The Facebook page for the organization states: “Iron Soup as an organization no longer exists, the homes are currently under the control of the founder of the original company and is working on mass acquisition of the complex and the formation of a new company that will aim at housing US Veterans.” Although this Vindicator article doesn’t mention it, it appears that Tim Sokoloff is the one leading this effort. He lives in one of the units, renovates and rents out other units to generate income, and says he “will continue his renovations until the city tells him to stop or until he ‘kicks the bucket.’ ”

CASTLO CIC is an effort to attract industries onto the land formerly occupied by Youngstown Sheet and Tube. Seventeen business currently operate on the site with room for more. For recreation, Roosevelt Park offers picnic pavilions, hiking trails and baseball, softball, soccer, and tennis facilities on 64 acres.

Campbell could be called the city Youngstown Sheet and Tube (and James Anson Campbell) built. Now it is not big industry or business, but many individuals and community groups, some the descendants of the immigrants who first moved there, who will build the Campbell of a new century.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — St James Meeting House

Nyttend, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

It was a joyous day. My friend from college had found love again after having lost his first wife to cancer. They decided to marry at the St. James Meeting House in Boardman Park. We had driven by many times but had never before set foot in this historic building. By modern standards, it is a spartan building with limited restroom facilities downstairs as well as a dressing area for bride and groom. Upstairs, the sanctuary has vintage hardwood floors, a two-level raised chancel with dark red boards, and white walls, white narrow pews, and woodwork. Above the chancel is a gorgeous stain glass window with a central section and two side sections. One of my memories of the wedding was of the afternoon sun shining through the glass onto my friends. As I said, it was a glorious day in a building that looked like it came from a New England town.

In a way it did.

In 1807, a few years after the initial settling of Boardman, the Parish of St. James was established. Henry Boardman, son of Elijah Boardman of Connecticut, after whom the township was named, donated land, money, and some of the materials for the building. St. James Episcopal Church was built in 1827 and 1828 and consecrated in 1829 by the first Episcopal bishop of the diocese of Ohio, Philander Chase. It was the first Episcopal parish and church in the Western Reserve. The belfry and steeple, which add so much to the building, were added in 1882. The stained glass windows were also added during this renovation.

The building was sited just south of the Boardman town center on the east side of Market Street. A moment’s thought will remind you that this is where Southern Park Mall (or what is left of it) is located along with various outbuildings (Chili’s Restaurant and Bar now occupies the site of the church). In 1970, the Edward J. DeBartolo Company developed the land behind the church into the mall. With the area around it being commercialized, the congregation built a new facility on Glenwood Avenue into which it moved in 1971. It looked like this venerable old building, then 144 years old was slated for demolition. The diocese deconsecrated the building. Briefly, there was talk of moving it to the Pioneer Village at the Canfield Fairgrounds, but that was too costly.

Then the Boardman Historical Society, under the leadership of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Masters and Mr. and Mrs. George Marks, started a drive to move the building to Boardman Park, just down the road. They overcame legal difficulties with the deed and raised $45,000 to move the building down Route 224 to the park. Now it is the central structure in a collection of historic buildings that include the Beardsley-Walter-Diehm House (circa 1828), the Oswald Detchon House (circa 1840), and the Schiller-Chuey Summer Kitchen. In 1979 the building was added to National Register of Historic Places. Supported by the Ohio Bicentennial Commission, The Longaberger Company, The Boardman Historical Society, and The Ohio Historical Society, an Ohio Historical Society marker was erected for the building in 2001.

These days, weddings are the primary events at what is now the St. James Meeting House. It is a popular wedding site, normally averaging 300 weddings a year. Prices are surprisingly reasonable, listed at the time of writing at $170 for Boardman residents and $254 for non-residents. The building can seat 125. This includes a two hour wedding and an hour rehearsal. Groups interested in touring this historic landmark may schedule a tour by calling the Park District office at 330-726-8107, Monday through Friday, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (subject to COVID restrictions).

The building costs about $9,000 a year to maintain, $7,000 of which is defrayed by wedding fees. In September of 2020, the building received a fresh coat of paint. This year, the building, considered the oldest existing church building on the Western Reserve will turn 193 years old. The year 2022 will mark 50 years on the Boardman Park site and 2028 its bicentennial. Obviously, Henry Boardman and the people of St. Mark’s built well and it is to the credit of the people of Boardman, Boardman Park and the Boardman Historical Society, that this piece of Youngstown area history has been preserved so well. One hopes it always will be.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Canfield, the First County Seat

Old Mahoning County Courthouse in Canfield, Ohio. Photo: Robert C. Trube, all rights reserved

Unless you grew up in Canfield, it is likely that your first visit to Canfield was to go to the Canfield Fair. That was true for me. It was a memorable night with my dad–the rides, the animal barns, footlong hotdogs, and to top it all off, while we waiting to turn left into our street coming home, a drunk rear-ended us! Nobody was hurt, but the rear end of my dad’s ’61 Ford Galaxie was crumpled.

The fair came nearly 50 years after the first settlers from Connecticut settled in what was then Township 1, Range 3, shortly after it was surveyed in 1798. Six people purchased shares in the 16,324 acres making up the township. The largest share, 6,171 acres, was purchased by Judson Canfield. After briefly calling the township Campfield, they early settlers saw sense and on April 15, 1800, they voted to call it Canfield in honor of the largest landowner.

The earliest settlers were all from Connecticut. They included Judson Canfield who was there in June of 1798, two of the surveyors, Samuel Gilson and Joseph Pangburn, and Champion Minor with his wife and two children, the youngest dying shortly after they arrived. The center of town was laid out, a log cabin and two homes were built and a barn. They also cut an east-west road, what is now Route 224. Groups from Connecticut added to the settlement each of the next several years.

In 1801, the first business, a sawmill, was built on the northeast part of the townshipThe first birth occurred June 22, 1802, Royal Canfield Chidester. Herman Canfield (Judson’s brother) and Zalmon Fitch operated a store. Fitch also opened a tavern. A small school was started in a combined school, community center and church building with Caleb Palmer as teacher. Samuel Gilson handled mail delivery, traveling back and forth to Pittsburgh to get the mail. By 1805, the little settlement had 17 homes, a store, a school and a sawmill. Immigrants from Germany came in 1805. A significant later immigration of Irish Catholics in 1852 augmented the population.

Canfield was originally on the southern edge of Trumbull County (along with Youngstown, Poland, Boardman, Austintown, and the all the Township 1s and 2s in the southern part of Trumbull County, the county seat of which was Warren. In the 1840’s communities like Youngstown and Canfield were growing because of routing of canals and railroads through the area, even while the county was represented by people from the Warren area in the state legislature. Finally, in 1842, Eben Newton, one of Canfield’s leading citizens was elected to the legislature. Working together with others, a proposal creating Mahoning County as Ohio’s 83rd county passed in the state legislature on February 16, 1846. The southern two tiers of townships from Trumbull County were combined with the northern tier of Columbiana County (surveyed as 6 x 6 mile squares as opposed to the 5 x 5 system used throughout the Western Reserve).

And Canfield? Because of its central location in the new county, it was designated county seat, with the courthouse in the photograph above being erected. The town underwent a boom as it became the center to transact legal business, with its hotel thriving. County seats are typically the sites of the annual county fair, and the first Canfield Fair was held October 5, 1847 as a one day event. In 1851 the Fair moved to its present location, which was expanded in 1867. The first superintendent of the fair was J.W. Canfield, grandson of Canfield’s founder.

Canfield was the agricultural heart of the county, so this made sense. But Youngstown had never been happy about the decision to site the county seat in Canfield. Youngstown was going through its first industrial boom, starting in the 1840’s, and especially in the 1860’s during the Civil War. In 1874, a bill to move the county seat to Youngstown passed in the state legislature. The bill was challenged in court, first argued in Canfield with James A. Garfield representing Canfield. The case eventually went to the Ohio Supreme Court, with the court upholding the bill.

The move of the county seat to Youngstown meant a different future for Canfield, combining the feel of a farming community with Classical Revival architecture, giving the community a sense of refinement–a community of schools and churches. In 1881, the Northeastern Ohio Normal School was established in Canfield to educate teachers for the community. It operated until 1910 when it closed for lack of funds.

For most of the year, Canfield is known as a quiet, relatively affluent city of good schools, a town square that retains its historic character, and a diverse mix of restaurants and local businesses. But for one week of every year, the rest of the county, as well as people from far and wide come to the largest county fair in Ohio. That’s how most of us growing up in Youngstown discovered Canfield.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Sabin Vaccine Distribution

Photo from The Vindicator, December 1, 1961 via Google News Archive

Today we were able to schedule vaccinations for COVID-19. We happened to discover our local department of health’s vaccination site was scheduling appointments for our age group. The week after next, we will literally drive through the Celeste Center on the Ohio State Fairgrounds, roll down our car windows, roll up our sleeves, get our shots, and drive to a waiting area to make sure we have no reactions.

It reminds me of a similar mass vaccination when I was a child. Polio left Franklin Roosevelt with paralyzed legs and infected many children and adults, sometimes requiring iron lungs to help them breathe, and often leaving them with one or more paralyzed limbs. We know some of these people. We feared summer when polio spread most rapidly and spoke of “polio season.” The first breakthrough came in 1955 when Jonas Salk from the nearby University of Pittsburgh introduced a “killed virus” vaccine. I received this as a shot as a young child. Then in 1961 Albert Sabin introduced an oral version of an attenuated virus vaccine that produced a stronger immune response but was safe. One of the striking things was that Sabin refused to patent the vaccine and did not make any money off it, living on his professor’s salary.

It was administered in three ways: via a dropper, mixed into a cup of distilled water, or put into a sugar cube. The Sabin vaccine was distributed in two drives in Youngstown, one on November 30 and December 1, 1961, and the other on February 15 and 17, 1962. In Youngstown, the vaccine drive was headed up by Dr. Kurt Wegner with the Mahoning County Medical Society. During each of these drives, upwards of 130,000 Mahoning County residents received the vaccine in a single dose diluted in a small cup of distilled water. There were sites at the courthouse, Manor Avenue School, Austintown Fitch, Boardman, Poland, Canfield, Struthers High Schools, Chaney, East, and North High Schools, Hillman, Kirkmere, Hayes, and others.

We went to Chaney High School, like those in the photograph above. I can’t remember whether it was in November or February. There were long lines but they moved fairly quickly. We got our little cup, drank it up, and walked out. That was it. And polio disappeared. Eventually, the Sabin vaccine disappeared (still in use in some countries) and the Salk version since 2000 is the only version given in the U.S. in four doses.

It is kind of amazing to me given our present situation that most of Mahoning County’s residents received the vaccine during two weekend drives, at a time when they weren’t in a health emergency. It’s a different time, and today’s vaccines have different and more stringent storage requirements.

I don’t want to debate vaccines here (please, please don’t). It’s a personal decision. Mine is to get the vaccine. I remember polio seasons and am glad many others don’t need to. I look forward to the day the pandemic is in the rear view mirror. And to that jab in my arm.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Village of Poland

Old Stone Tavern (Fowler’s Tavern), built in 1804 in Poland, Ohio. Note that William McKinley, later president, enlisted into the Union Army here in 1861.

If the naming conventions used to name other villages and townships in Mahoning County had been followed, the village would have been called either Kirtland or Fowler (and yes there are towns in Ohio that have these names). Kirtland would be for Turhand Kirtland, who was the Connecticut Land Company agent who surveyed this part of the Western Reserve. It is the southeasternmost part and was designated “Town 1, Range 1” which may be seen on signs for the village and township to this day. Fowler was Jonathan Fowler, Kirtland’s brother-in-law and the first settler, with his wife Lydia in the township, coming there in 1799. A daughter, Rachel, was born to them in 1800, the first child born in the township. He built a sawmill and gristmill in 1801 and what is now know as the Old Stone Tavern (then Fowler’s Tavern) in 1804. Poland served as the gateway for many coming through Pennsylvania to the Western Reserve, up the Beaver and Mahoning River. Fowler’s Tavern was a good stopover, before going on to Warren or Cleveland or other places in the Western Reserve. Sadly, Jonathan Fowler drowned on the Beaver River in 1806 while engaged in merchandise trade that took him as far as New Orleans.

Location of Poland Township

So how did the village and township get the name Poland? For a time it was known as Fowler’s Place. It has to do with two statues commemorating the Revolutionary War heroes, Thaddeus Kosciuszko and Kasimierz Pulaski. As I understand it, this is the only place, in Peterson Park, where the two are depicted together. Kirtland and Fowler decided to name the township “Poland” in honor of these heroes’ country of origin. And so it is to this day.

Poland’s second resident was John Struthers, who settled on 400 acres of land along Yellow Creek a few months later in 1799 than Fowler. He was involved with the second owner of the Hopewell Furnace, but business losses necessitated the sale of his land. He lost his wife and two daughters. His son, Thomas Struthers, prospered in a law practice, and recovered the land John had lost and eventually formed the new town of Struthers, down river from Poland.

For a small village, it has a lot of history associated with it. In addition to the many century-or-more-old homes, it was where William McKinley lived for a time, and, as noted above, it is where he enlisted to serve in the Union Army during the Civil War. After the war, he returned to Poland for a time to read law, and then went to Albany to complete his legal training before moving to Canton, Ohio.

McKinley graduated from Poland Academy, which later became Poland Seminary in 1859. Poland Seminary was home for a time to a woman who eventually became one of America’s outstanding journalists, Ida M. Tarbell. Tarbell, investigated John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil and her stories contributed to the breaking up of his monopoly.

In the late 1800’s, the seminary struggled. In 1895 portions of its building collapsed. In 1909, the remaining facilities where sold to the local school district with the provision that the name “Seminary” be retained in the high school’s name, which is true to this day.

Poland Library, (c) Robert C Trube, 2014.

Poland wasn’t formally incorporated as a village until 1866, which means in 2016 that it celebrated 150 years. in 2005, the village acquired Poland Municipal Forest, a 265 acre park. In 2010, its population was 2,555. Along with Canfield, it is considered one of the best places to live in the Youngstown area, with good schools, a quaint town center, a gorgeous library, and parks and lots of history.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Truman Dry Cleaners

Harry S. Truman, Library of Congress,

You are opening a dry cleaning business just after World War II. What do you name it? In the case of the storefront at the corner of Mahoning Avenue and North Portland in Youngstown, you named it after the then current president, Harry S. Truman. Not only was there instant name recognition, but Truman was always impeccably dressed as you can see in this portrait. One of Truman’s earlier endeavors was a partnership in a haberdashery, selling men’s clothing and accessories.

I grew up less than a hundred yards from Truman Dry Cleaners on North Portland Avenue. One of my early tasks was to take my dad’s shirts, and less often his suits or dress slacks for dry cleaning and pressing–medium starch on the shirts! You would drop off the items to be dry cleaned, and receive a claim check.

A few days later came the tricky part. I would bring the claim check and money to pay for the cleaning. Then you would watch the clerk run this conveyor on which hundreds of people’s laundry hung until the item that matched the claim check came up. Using a pole with a hook at the end, she would lift your items off, and give them to you. Then I had to get them home without anything getting wrinkled (dad frowned on that). Fortunately, it was a very short walk.

When I was young, the business was just a small storefront with a big neon sign in front. Later, the then-owners, a family by the name of Zwicker, expanded the building roughly tripling its size. They also added a drive through, entered off of North Portland and exiting onto Mahoning Avenue. Business was changing from walk-up businesses to serving people as they drove from place to place doing errands in their cars.

A few years later, probably in the late 1960’s they built an additional building, a huge garage-like structure. I thought they stored supplies there. All I knew was that one of the family owned a cool, light gray Corvette Stingray. I drooled every time I saw it. It turns out that it was the birthplace of a new business and an auto collection. In the 1970’s Fred Zwicker and his wife started a business making sandblasters and cabinets used in auto repainting. This grew into the business TP Tools & Equipment, now located in Canfield and one very cool car turned into a car museum, the TP Tools Auto Museum, that includes a fantastic car collection and the back bar from Strouss’ famous malt bar.

Twenty-three years ago the cleaners was sold to Rick Carlini, who changed the name Appearance Plus Dry Cleaners. On Thursday, January 21, WKBN reported that this business, which had operated at the same location for 75 years was closing and the buildings up for sale. Rick Carlini is retiring.

It is amazing that the business has had such a good run. That would be good in any place. But when I saw the report, I realized that one more part of my past was history. It is one of the last of so many local businesses within a short walk of my home to go, one of the many places part of the fabric of my everyday life. Here’s hoping that it can become the location of a new small business.

[Addendum: After posting, two Zwicker family members left comments, filling in many gaps in my story about the history of their businesses. So be sure to read the comments!]

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Center Street Crossing

Center Street Bridge and Crossing with the B & O Train Director’s shed. Photo from Bridgehunter licensed under CC BY-SA

Did you know that at one time the crossing pictured above was the busiest manually operated crossing in the United States? As you can see, there are a number of tracks that cross each other. At one time there were eleven different tracks serving five different railroads that squeezed together and crossed each other on the north bank of the Mahoning River just west of the Center Street Bridge, with Republic Steel’s mills in the backdrop. All told, 500 trains pulling 10,000 cars a day passed through this crossing, serving the mills and the other industries of the Mahoning Valley as well as passenger trains.

Four of the railroads used the north bank of the Mahoning as they approached this point. The fifth, the B & O started out on the south bank of the Mahoning and a few hundred yards west of the Center Street Bridge crosses the river and the other lines to the far side of the north bank, furthest from the river. As you can see, that literally is a trainwreck waiting to happen, were it not for the train director.

The train director stayed in the little bungalow-like one story shed in the center of the above picture. It was warmed by a caboose stove. He worked for the B & O, the ones responsible for the crossing, and his job was to manually signal trains when it was safe to proceed. In railroad vernacular, this was a color-coded “highball.” Here are the railroads and their signal color:

  • Baltimore & Ohio (B & O): green
  • Erie: red
  • Pennsylvania: yellow
  • New York Central and P&LE (which shared the same tracks): white

They used flag signals by day and lanterns by night.

The mills are all gone now. The old Center Street Bridge, a truss bridge connecting Poland Avenue on the south and Wilson Avenue on the north, has been replaced with a new bridge. There are fewer tracks. The crossing, now with electric signals still exists as is evident from this Google Earth Image, looking west from the bridge. The old train director’s shack is gone. But the vestiges remain and remind us that there was a day when this was the busiest crossing in the country, all manually operated.

[The idea and some of the information for this post came from former Youngstown resident, William Duffy. Bill was a former B & O yard director, later working at the B & O freight office at Front and Market Streets. I also found helpful information in The Sentinal Volume 37, Number 4, published by The Baltimore and Ohio
Railroad Historical Society.]

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Favorite Things

Wedgewood’s Brier Hill Pizza. Photo by Robert C. Trube, 2014. All rights reserved.

It’s been a crazy week that I won’t even try to go into. I thought for this weekend I would keep it light and fun and write about some of my favorite Youngstown things. I could make this a long list, but I’ll keep it to ten. That way, you can add to it. Let’s celebrate all of our favorite Youngstown things!

  1. Brier Hill Pizza. My favorite is Wedgewood’s but I bet we can have quite a debate about that one alone. Brier Hill pizza is a Youngstown original, and almost any Youngstown pizza is better than pizza anywhere else. I know.
  2. Downtown Youngstown at Christmas growing up. The lights on the Square, the displays in the store windows, and the toy selection in each store.
  3. Idora Park. The Wildcat. The Midway. WHOT Days. The Fun House. The Rockets. The Merry-go-round, The Rapids. It was all good.
  4. Cycling through Mill Creek Park in summers, sailing down those hills, pushing the curves as fast as possible. No helmet. Probably amazing that I’m still alive.
  5. Spending class breaks during college in the Butler. So much good art work. So FREE.
  6. Skyscraper cones at the main Isaly plant. There may be other ways to get more ice cream on a cone, but it looked and tasted awesome.
  7. Mill Creek Park again. Skating across Lake Glacier on cold, clear winter nights and then drinking hot chocolate by the fire.
  8. Lunch breaks at Jay’s Hotdogs downtown when I worked at McKelvey’s. I could eat for less than an hour’s work at minimum wage.
  9. The scary wonder of blast furnaces at night, making the Valley look like it was on fire.
  10. DiRusso’s Italian sausage sandwiches. Elephant ears. Lemonade shakes. Everything else about the Canfield Fair. The smell of all that food was part of the wonder of the fair. It was all good.

Like I said, we’re just getting started and I’m sure some of your favorites will be different than mine. No problem. There’s enough to go around, just like any meal at your grandma’s.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — George L. Oles

New York Tribune, January 8, 1922, p. 54.

It began as a joke. Then it turned serious, and one of the more unusual political stories unfolded in Youngstown’s colorful political history. George L. Oles grew up in Riceville, Pennsylvania and after setting up fruit, grocery, and meat markets in a number of different towns came to Youngstown in 1907. He took over the building of the former Youngstown Opera House on the southwest corner of Central Square and opened his Fulton Fruit and Meat Market. His ads appeared every Thursday in The Vindicator. He touted the superiority of the food in his market, his prices, and commented on the matters of the day. He wrote all the copy himself. A New York Times article compared his ads to Billy Sunday, a contemporary evangelist, for their “slam-bang statements.” His ads were one of the first things to which people turned. Here’s one example from June 23, 1921:

The campaign that began as a joke started in the summer of 1921 after Mayor Fred Warnock won his party’s nomination for another term in office. Some of his ads had expressed dissatisfaction with what he saw as the “machine politics” of both parties in the city and that he thought he could do as well. He first declared his intent to run on August 4, 1921 declaring that women should vote for Mayor Warnock or Mr. Doeright in the primary taking place the following Tuesday, so they can vote for him as an independent on November 8 to defeat them. He calls himself “The Next Mayor of Youngstown.”

He made his declaration the following week. This necessitated him moving into the Tod Hotel to establish residency in Youngstown in time to register as a candidate. He explains all this in this ad from August 11, 1921:

He announced he will work forgo his salary (which he was not able to do because that could be construed as a bribe) and announced his commitment to clean up vice and dirty politics and bootlegging (this was prohibition). He focused his appeal on women voters (who had just recently won the right to vote) and held meetings with women’s groups all over the city, introduced by his wife.

When November 8 came, the amazing happened. This “Potato Peddler” running as an Independent on a Reform platform won by 459 votes over the incumbent Fred Warnock. (He was the only Independent elected as Mayor in Youngstown until Jay Williams ran as an Independent for his first term in 2005. He ran as a Democrat his second term.) He left for Florida with his wife immediately to avoid office-seekers, returning shortly before he took office on January 3, 1922. On his first day of office he informed city workers he expected them to work eight hours or leave and set strict rules forbidding police from drinking and accepting favors.

Like many other reformers, he found that he was up against entrenched interests in the city. His life was threatened. City council resisted his efforts. By the end of June, he was fed up and tendered his resignation, effective at 12:00 am Saturday July 1, 1922. That evening a rally of citizens on Central Square, and later at his home asked him to reconsider. He did and asked for his resignation to be returned at 9:00 am Saturday. Council refused, arguing his resignation had already taken effect. Council president William G. Reese was sworn in as Mayor. In 1923, he lost by a landslide to the Klan endorsed candidate, Charles Scheible, during the heyday of Klan activity in the Valley.

Oles went back to his profitable market, It suffered a fire in 1934, but he rebuilt and continued to serve the Valley. In 1945, having purchased a shipment of potatoes at a favorable price, he donated $500 immediately when he received a request for assistance from the Infantile Paralysis (Polio) Drive. By the 1940’s the market was called Oles’ and in 1948, George L. Oles celebrated 50 years as a grocer with this ad:

Surveying the newspapers for ads for Oles’, I noticed the rise of chains and other grocers that may explain this somewhat cryptic ad that appeared on September 9, 1948. As far as I can determine, this was the last ad to appear in The Vindicator.

I cannot find out anything else about George L. Oles after this date. I would love to know how his story ended. He pulled off an amazing outsider victory for mayor in 1921. He had a passion for good government that seemed to reflect his passion for good business. His market and the ads he wrote each week were a Youngstown institution. It sounds like he was an amazingly generous man. Reading between the lines, I suspect that as Youngstown grew and people moved further from downtown and competitors arose including grocery chains, it became harder to sustain his business. I wish I knew the rest of the story….

Addendum: Tips from a couple readers added to this story. Oles lived on Youngstown Poland Road in Poland. His estate later became the site of Byzantine Catholic Central with his house becoming the home for the Sisters. It is likely that Oles’ health was declining around the time of this last ad. He leased out the deparments to employees. He died on July 15, 1952 and was buried at Tod Homestead Cemetery.

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