Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Howard C. Aley

Photo Source: Howard C. Aley, A Heritage to Share. Youngstown: The Bicentennial Commission of Youngstown and Mahoning County, Ohio, 1975.

I never knew Howard C. Aley, but hardly a week goes by where I don’t reference his A Heritage to Share, his bicentennial history of Youngstown and Mahoning County. He traces the history of the Mahoning Valley from prehistoric times up until 1975. For most of the time from Youngstown’s beginnings, he recounts the history year by year, interspersing feature articles on events and key figures in the area’s history. Whenever I write about Youngstown history, I often start with two sources. Joseph Butler for anything up to the early 1920’s and Howard C. Aley for the whole time up until 1975. Sometimes, browsing through Aley’s book inspires an article. At other times, I ask, “what did Aley say?” While he was alive, I doubt anyone knew more about Youngstown history. Today, as I was browsing his history, I thought it would be interesting to tell his story.

Fittingly, Howard Aley was a lifelong Youngstown resident. He was born on January 12, 1911 to William and Rose Giering Aley. He experienced an illness during his youth that confined him at home. His parents gave him a typewriter to “amuse” him, and the writer was born. He graduated from South High School in 1931 and enrolled at Youngstown College, serving as an editor of The Jambar. He began a career as a teacher in 1935 that lasted until his retirement in 1974.

The series on Valley history

He taught history for seventh through eleventh graders for a year at the Rotary Home for Crippled Children. He began teaching at the Adams School in 1936. In the 1940’s he published a series of books on Valley history used in schools in a tri-county area. They won a Freedoms Foundation Award. He won a second Freedoms Foundation Award in 1960. He moved to Wilson High School in 1953, teaching there for 21 years until 1974. Former students would come up to him, asking if he remembered them, and he almost always did. They were eager to keep in touch with him because of his interest in them and because of how he instilled a love of historical knowledge.

He was a radio and TV personality in the Valley. His TV shows ran under the titles of “It Happened Here” and “Telerama” and “Footnote.” He was also active in a number of Valley organizations including the Monday Musical Club, Youngstown Hospital Association, Aut Mori Grotto and the Youngstown Charity Horse Show. He also edited “Chimes,” the monthly newsletter of Trinity United Methodist Church where he was a member. He loved the Canfield Fair and wrote a centennial history of it in 1946. He served as a president of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society.

His home in Boardman served as a kind of private historical archive. In some recent correspondence with a former neighbor, he mentioned that Aley had a library of several thousand volumes that spilled over into the garage. One summer, Aley found a house in Canfield with newspapers back to the turn of the century. The neighbor spent a summer working with him clipping articles for Aley’s archives. His obituary states that he could find the answer to any question about people or events in the Mahoning Valley in a matter of minutes.

My copy of A Heritage to Share

A Heritage to Share was a fitting capstone to his career as “historian of the Valley.” Completed in time for the celebrations of the national Bicentennial in 1976, it is a treasure trove. It is out of print. My son found a copy for me at a used bookstore. I never got to meet Howard C. Aley, who died in 1983, but I sometimes imagine him turning to me and saying, “do you know why…?” Thank you, Mr. Aley for all you did to tell the Valley’s story.

Source: “Howard C. Aley; Valley Historian,” Youngstown Vindicator, July 14, 1983, pp. 1-2.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Dollar Savings & Trust

Early postcard of Dollar Savings and Trust Building

Somewhere around fifth grade, I decided my allowance wasn’t quite enough for my baseball card collecting (wish I still had that collection). So with dad fronting me the money for a lawn mower, I went door to door and convinced ten people within a couple blocks of my house to let me cut their grass and pay me for it. Back in the sixties, I earned about $20 a week. One of the best things my father did was insist I set up a savings account at the bank down the street from our home, the Dollar Savings and Trust. Our branch was located a few blocks from our home in the same block on Mahoning Avenue as Stambaugh-Thompson’s and an Isaly store. When I was young, I’d go to the bank with my dad sometimes, then we’d pick up some hardware for the house, and finish with ice cream. I had good memories of going to the bank.

I received my own passbook (with my dad’s name also on the account). Most weeks, I’d deposit $5 unless I had a very good week. And then something magical happened. Once a month the teller would add some money to my account that I didn’t deposit. It was interest and my first exposure to the idea that first you work for your money, and then you let your money work for you. I learned to set goals. I remember when I saw a stereo at Dave’s Appliance. I saved for months until I had enough money. I withdrew it from the bank and took it up to Dave’s and bought that stereo. Music never sounded so good!

Later in junior high and high school other jobs followed. I still cut lawns, raked leaves, shoveled snow, delivered papers, and then worked at McKelvey’s. I wanted to go to college, so I kept saving. It paid off. Between savings and scholarships, I ended college debt-free–thanks to dad’s lessons and my local Dollar Savings & Trust, which later gave me a small loan for my first used car after college.

The Dollar Savings and Trust Company (the “and” was replace with “&” only in 1975) was established in 1887. Asael Adams, originally from Cleveland, was one of the early presidents, beginning in 1895. He oversaw the construction of their downtown headquarters on the northwest corner of Central Square in 1901-1902. Charles H. Owsley was the building architect. Owsley and his son Charles F. designed some of the iconic buildings in Youngstown. During this time it reached $1,500,000 in capital.

One of the first tenants of the building beside the bank was the Youngstown Club which occupied the seventh and eighth floors of the building until 1926. In 1947 the bank had grown to the point that it acquired City Trust and Savings for $1.3 million. By 1970, with the opening of an Austintown branch, the bank had thirteen branches. Between 1972 and 1975 the downtown bank was completely remodeled, including refacing the building with a modern looking granite face. At the time of its acquisition by National City Bank in Cleveland in 1994, it had 32 branches, having acquired some other regional banks with $1,052,621,000 in assets and $838,150,000 in deposits. In turn PNC Bank acquired National City Bank in 2008.

About the time PNC acquired National City Bank parts of the granite façade deteriorated and crumbling pieces started falling, endangering pedestrians. Scaffolding was erected and repairs were made by 2011. However PNC moved the downtown bank to City Centre One in 2012, leaving the old building, now rebranded 16 Wick Avenue nearly 90% unoccupied. Several office leasing companies list the whole building as available and held by NYO Properties, developer of many downtown properties, that recently has been trying to sell a number of these. It is also listed on the “Abandoned” website which has a number of images of the interior including the bank vault.

Today, PNC has four branches in the Youngstown area, a far cry from Dollar Savings and Trust at its height. It reflects both the changed landscape of banking and the changed economics of Youngstown. None of the banks we grew up with remain under the familiar names of that time, nor are any under local control. But that doesn’t mean we can’t remember the role they played in teaching us to save, giving us our first loan or mortgage, helping us to manage our earnings and investments, putting our money to work for us.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Forest Lawn Memorial Park

Entrance gate to Forest Lawn Memorial Park, seen from the east on Market Street, Youngstown, Ohio, United States,” by jonathundr is licensed under GNU Free Documentation License

I received a letter this week from Forest Lawn Memorial Park, one of the Youngstown area’s cemeteries, located in Boardman on 5400 Market Street. My parents are buried there, as are my grandparents on my mother’s side. It is the place where I was finally parted from each of them in this life, my mother in 2010, my father in 2012. Both were cremated but because they had graves there, were interred in the cemetery. Among those last memories, I can see my father seated in the Little Church holding the urn with my mom’s remains and saying his final goodbyes after nearly 69 years of marriage. Two years later I remember the military salute my father received as a World War 2 veteran, and the two other veterans, and my nephew, then in active service in the Air Force saluting their brother in arms. Taps were played. We each threw a shovel of dirt into the grave, underscoring the finality of our parting. Today, they rest together under the trees and lush lawns of the cemetery.

The cemetery is one of the newer cemeteries in the area. The land on which the cemetery was developed was first held by the Baldwin family, one of the early Youngstown area families, going back to the time of John Young. Later Hugh Bonnell owned a dairy farm, raising prize cattle. Hugh Bonnell was a bachelor connected to the Bonnell family whose wealth came from rail, steel and land interests. Youngstown expanded significantly to the south in the early 1900’s and people started moving in significant numbers into Boardman Township in the 1920’s and Bonnell decided it was just getting too crowded. He moved to Hubbard, moving his house with him. He sold the land to Parkland Development Company, a company founded by four partners: Earl M. McBride, Dennis T. Peters, Paul M. Ludt, and Raymond Book.

Their plan was to develop houses in one of the early automobile suburbs, calling the development Forest Glen Estates. Then the Depression hit in 1929 and no one was buying housing lots. While in California, Earl M. McBride toured Forest Lawn Memorial Parks in Hollywood and in Glendale. These cemeteries were designed as parks, with sweeping lawns, lush trees and landscaping and no big tombstones or monuments which he described as “depressing misshapen monuments and other signs of earthly death.” Gravestones were to be flush with the ground.

On August 18, 1930 the Mill Creek Memorial Park Association obtained a charter to operate a cemetery. They hired architect Monroe W. Copper of Dunn and Copper, Cleveland, Ohio. He designed the entrance at Market Street in the picture above and the chapel. Pitkin and Mott, landscape architects, also from Cleveland designed the layout of grounds and roadways.

Forest Lawn Map in my father’s papers.

Albert A. Haenny, Youngstown did the engineering. The stone mason work in the front entrance and other stone masonry work around the cemetery was done by Felix Pesa & Sons (Stone Masons), of Youngstown. Hadlock Krill and Company, of Cleveland built the Little Church, which was patterned after a 12th century church in Castlecombe, Wiltshire, England.

The first burial took place in 1931. The cemetery website states 19,000 people are currently buried there and 47 acres have been set aside for gravesites that will accommodate 44,000. In all, the cemetery owns about 80 acres with the remainder serving as a buffer. In 2018, the cemetery was added to the National Register of Historic Places, with plaques at the Glenwood entrance in 2019, and the Market Street entrance in 2020.

Perhaps the most famous person to be buried in the cemetery is actress Elizabeth Hartman who played opposite Sidney Poitier in “A Patch of Blue.” She grew up in Boardman and got her start at the Youngstown Playhouse. After her academy award nomination, she appeared in a handful of films, the last of which was “The Secret of NIMH” in 1982 in which she did voiceovers. She suffered from depression, was in and out of psychiatric facilities and died in 1987 from a fall from her fifth floor apartment. It was considered a possible suicide though there were no witnesses nor a suicide note. She was laid to rest at Forest Lawn, along with her parents, predeceasing her mother by ten years.

The letter I received traces some of the changes in burial practices over the years. When the cemetery began, they say, “It was a straight forward business with few options–full body burial within a week.” Now, cremations are changing the business. Many (up to 70 percent) don’t bury remains. The cemetery, however accommodates interment, including grave sharing which lowers costs and extends the working life of the cemetery. In 2019, the cemetery only had 147 burials and project 133 in 2020. However they have remained profitable through services, cost savings, and donations and grants.

It is a comfort to know that the place where your loved ones are buried is solvent. I hope it remains this way and retains its beauty for many years to come. It is one of the first cemeteries in Youngstown to represent a shift in the conception of a cemetery away from big monuments to a park-like atmosphere. Its entrance and Little Chapel are architectural gems, and the stone masonry was done by a local Italian Stonemasons. And it is part of my own family’s 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–My First Vote

A voting machine like the one where I cast my first vote. Dsw4, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

As I write, over 75 million Americans have cast their vote in the upcoming elections. I plan to vote on Tuesday, November 3. It brings back memories of the first time I vote. Do you remember your first vote?

Mine was on November 7, 1972. Were it not for the Twenty-sixth Amendment to the Constitution in 1971, I would not have been able to vote until 1975. It was only the second year eighteen year-olds could vote and the first time eighteen year-olds could vote in a presidential election. The amendment read:

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.

Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The Twenty-sixth Amendment meant a great deal to our generation. Until the year I came up for the draft, you could be drafted and sent to Vietnam before you ever had a chance to vote for or against the people making those decisions. It seemed only just that those fighting the nation’s wars should be enfranchised to vote.

In 1972 Richard M. Nixon was running against George McGovern. After Kent State, Nixon began winding down the Vietnam war. That year’s draft lottery took place but no one was drafted. This was good news. My lottery number was 12. Nixon won in a landslide.

I don’t discuss how I vote and I won’t here. Both my wife and I grew up in families where we talked politics but believed in the privacy of the ballot box. We didn’t (and still don’t) think it is anyone’s business how we voted.

Earlier in the fall, I went down to the Board of Elections and filled out the form to vote. There were not a lot of different places where you could register to vote back then. It was the Board of Elections or nothing.

Washington School. Source unknown, reproduced from Old Ohio Schools

On voting day, I walked down the street to my former elementary school, Washington Elementary, to vote. I was a student at Youngstown State and came in after my classes. The entrance for voting was off of Oakwood Avenue in the school basement. Years before when I went to school there, I remember watching people go in to vote. Now I was one of them.

There was a bit of a community celebration when I walked in to vote. My mother was one of the poll workers in our Fourth Ward precinct. A few of the others were former customers on my paper route. It was a proud moment all around when I stepped up to sign the poll book and they matched my signature with the one on record. We didn’t have to provide identification back then. It felt like I had passed into adulthood. Our signature was our identification.

The voting machines were these big hulking gray monsters were you flipped levers beside the names of those you were voting for. When you were done, there was a big lever at waist level that you would pull which would register your vote and pull the curtains open. When you pulled that curtain, you knew that you had voted.

Since then I’ve voted numerous times in five different cities. In every presidential election. But also for local and state officials. For levies and ballot issues. It’s not a perfect system. But I’ve known people who either did not have a vote, or it was a formality in an authoritarian regime. I never forget what that first vote meant. In Youngstown.

What was it like for you to vote for the first time? Please, no comments about the current elections. Share your memories but not your political opinions.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown–The 1918 Pandemic in Youngstown

October of 2020 does not appear to be a good month in our current pandemic. As I write, Ohio has registered its largest number of cases in a single day. October of 1918 was a dark month in Youngstown as well. Surveying the Vindicators for October of 1918, the month began on a hopeful note, and in fact the lead headlines the whole month concerned the end of World War I. In the course of the month, the H1N1 Influenza of 1918 would ravage Youngstown. A milder form of the illness had arisen during the spring, but it returned with a vengeance in the fall.

October 4: It was reported that Camp Sherman, an Army camp in Chillicothe, was recovering from the flu. No indication of the flu yet in Youngstown. Pennsylvania, which was hit earlier closed theaters, places of amusement, and saloons.

October 5: On the front page, there is a report of the influenza spreading rapidly in Ohio with 15-20,000 cases. Cincinnati closed its amusement places and saloons. There was a call for nurses to volunteer to go to Camp Taylor in Kentucky.

October 6: Camp Sherman reports 143 deaths from the influenza, which was striking down young men in alarming numbers. The Vindicator also reports that the influenza is hitting camps around the country with 17,383 new cases on Saturday alone.

October 7: An “Impressive and Inspiring” Czecho-Slovak parade took place. It is thought that this, like a similar parade in Philadelphia, served as a “super-spreader” event in Youngstown. Cases exploded after this event.

October 10: The first four deaths from the influenza occur in Youngstown. Twenty children in a children’s home are down with the influenza. Mayor Craver announced a meeting of the board of health to close schools, churches, and all public gatherings.

October 15: “Gloom Enshrouds City Because of Influenza” is the headline for the front page story about the spread of influenza in Youngstown. On the previous day a general quarantine went into effect. Downtown Youngstown was a ghost town, except for hotel lobbies. Emergency hospitals (at that time there was only St. Elizabeth’s and Youngstown Hospital, later South Side Hospital) have been set up at Baldwin Kindergarten at Front and Champion and at South High School, which can accommodate 400 beds. 193 cases were reported in the last day in a city of 120,000. One silver lining was that draft calls were stopped. Nearby East Palestine was hard hit with 1,000 cases.

October 16: The Board of Health reports 923 cases and 15 deaths so far with 4 deaths in the last day. Meanwhile, Cleveland reported 800 new cases in a day. The chief of police issued a warning to saloons violating quarantine orders by leaving their back doors open to customers when they were supposed to be closed. They would receive a $100 fine for the first offense and jail time the second time.

Instructions for nurses giving home care, Vindicator, October 16, 1918

October 27 (the next edition available online): Both locally and in the state, the report is that the epidemic is unchanged. There were 112 new cases reported, lower than the over 300 cases reported daily early in the week. Statewide 5,000 new cases were reported. Ten deaths were reported in Youngstown for the day. The efforts of Red Cross workers were recognized, contributing 8747 surgical articles and 7851 hospital garments, among other supplies. The death toll at Camp Sherman was reported at 1,053.

October 29: Industries in the Mahoning Valley, and Youngstown Sheet and Tube, in particular, are cited for their efforts in preventing illnesses on the job. They operated six emergency hospitals, and experienced no production delays. 400 new cases were reported and 20 deaths. Statewide, there was some evidence things were easing but quarantines would remain in place until at least November 15. Collegiate football was banned in Illinois.

October 30: 524 new cases and 29 deaths were reported in the last day in Youngstown, a new high. South High School teacher Dr. Roy Kittle died of the influenza after volunteering to nurse patients at the school, converted to an emergency hospital.

October 31: Patient counts from the three emergency hospitals (the third being at Jefferson School) suggest that infections are beginning to recede. Sheet and Tube was inoculating employees with a serum to give them immunity to the flu developed by the Rockefeller Institute. Statewide, the death toll reached 5,000.

Cases began to wane after October, which was the worst month. By December, cases were down enough for theaters to re-open. Outbreaks continued into 1919 and early 1920 but the worst was over. The worst was the dark days of October 1918. One study of death certificates in the period of the epidemic indicated that men died in greater numbers than women and immigrants had the highest death rates. There was no coordinated state or national effort to deal with the outbreak, leaving local health officials to deal with the epidemic. Public health officials conceded that the virus had to run its course. They struggled with groups that held large gatherings contrary to health orders. There were lots of ads that promoted patent medicine remedies. The most notable shortage was of Vicks Vap-O-Rub!

I share this as a look-back only. These are two different epidemics, different viruses. Far more young people died of the influenza. Some have drawn lessons from 1918 for what might be done or should be done (or shouldn’t) in our present pandemic. I won’t, other than to note that front-line responders, then as now responded with courage and compassion. About all I would suggest was that the 1918 pandemic receded, and so will this one. Many avoided getting sick by foregoing normal social activities and by following the quarantine. They were around for the Roaring Twenties. Let’s hope there is something ahead like that for all of us! Stay safe, Youngstown friends!

[Please do not use this post for debates about the current pandemic or public health or political policies! This is for historic purposes only.]

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Ohio Works of U.S. Steel

Ohio Steel Works and furnaces, view of west side, 1905” (Cropped) R. W. Johnston Studios. Public Domain

Today it is only remembered by Ohio Works Drive and the home of a few industrial companies. At one time, it was the glow in the night skies that we saw from the West Side of Youngstown and the place where the dads of many of my friends work. After the West River Crossing freeway was built you could look out your window in your car to see the mills stretching to the northwest.

At one time, the Ohio Works consisted of two Bessemer converters and fifteen blast furnaces built between 1893 and the turn of the century. Originally part of the National Steel Company, it was part of a series mergers with Carnegie Steel which later became U.S. Steel Corporation. When U.S. Steel took over it increased the Ohio Works output by 50,000 tons and modernized the Union Mills part of the operation.

Ironically, U.S. Steel was anti-union. Eventually one of the strongest steel worker unions, Local 1330 organized at the Ohio Works. According to Sherry Lee Linkton and John Russo, in Steeltown U.S.A., the organizing efforts went more smoothly at the Ohio and McDonald Works than at Republic and Youngstown Sheet and Tube’s plants, which were involved in the “Little Steel” strike of 1937.

World War 2 was a time of full production and some upgrades were made to the mills during the 1940’s and 1950’s, but little after that time. Warning signals came in the 1970’s with the rise of foreign competition. The Ohio Works was idled for a period in 1971 and the relighting of the furnaces was a big deal in 1972. At that time roughly 2800 went back to work. Then came Black Monday on September 19, 1977. The closure of Youngstown Sheet and Tube’s operations was a warning sign. In January of 1978, word came of plans to close the Ohio Works and McDonald Works.

This was felt to be a betrayal of the efforts of local workers, who despite the lack of upgrades, met production goals and made contract concessions. Then an effort was mounted led by attorney Staughton Lynd and a coalition of community leaders, clergy and workers to buy the mills from U.S. Steel. U.S. Steel refused to sell, and the mills were idled in 1979.

Hope remained while the facilities stood. That ended on April 28, 1982, when dynamite charges were detonated under the four remaining blast furnaces, and they came tumbling down. Steel executives had special seating and a concession area. Workers had to stand behind a wall. It was the last time they did a public demolition. Paul Grilli describes his memories as a three year-old in 1978:

Back to April 28th, 1982. My mom brought me to our picture window, and opened the front door so we could hear the explosion. I remember looking over the roof of the Sebena’s and watching “the smokestacks” as I called them start to lean. You felt the house shake, and then you heard the explosion. It blew my young mind that the sound came later. I didn’t know much about physics at just shy of 3 years old.

Between the Ohio Works and McDonald, 5,000 workers were out of work. Today McDonald Steel Corporation utilizes part of the McDonald site. In 1982 entrepreneur David Houck was able to launch a specialty steel company with investments from 23 investors. One of the most significant shareholders was David Tod, descendent of the Tod family that played a critical role in the early coal, iron, and steel industry in Youngstown. The most recent figures I could find indicated 105 people work for the company in a lean, highly modernized operation. That’s a fraction of the 2200 who once worked on the site.

The Ohio Works were once one of the workshops of America, providing the materials that built our country for nearly a century. Those mills, and the Brier Hill Works across the river were one of the reasons we feared nuclear attacks. Many thought they were a target. I lived little more than a mile away on the lower West Side. Had the worst happened, we would have been wiped out. Little did we dream at the time of the devastation that U.S. Steel and the other corporations would bring to the Valley less than twenty years later. Now what we have are the stories of pride of those who worked there. If that was you or someone you know, I hope you will add to this brief history those personal histories which should be remembered. It should always be remembered that it was people that made our area the Steel Valley.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Kennedy and the Pirates

The Youngstown Vindicator, October 10, 1960 via Google News Archive

Sixty years ago to the day, this was the front page of the Youngstown Vindicator. On the day before, candidate John F. Kennedy did a campaign sweep through the Mahoning Valley. The picture shows him speaking from the Tod Hotel to a crowd that filled Central Square and was estimated at the time at 60,000.

His itinerary took him from the Youngstown airport to downtown Youngstown. He then rode in a motorcade through Girard, Niles, and Warren, where he spoke on Warren’s square to a crowd of 42,000. He then drove to Salem, speaking to 10,000, and then through Canfield, Boardman, and back to Youngstown.

I saw John Kennedy that day. I would have been six years old. It was probably on his trip through Canfield. It was late evening and I remember being lined up along the side of the road with my parents. It happened quickly but I remember him standing and waving, still young and vibrant, unlike the aging Eisenhower. Less than a month later, he was elected, and on a cold day in January, the candidate I saw was sworn in, capturing our imagination with his inaugural address and those words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

The irony of this day was that the big headline of the day was the victory of the Pirates over the Yankees in the fifth game of the 1960 World Series, giving them a 3-2 lead in the series with the final two games at home in Forbes Field. Many of us listened on transistor radios (some of my older friends would try to hollow out a book, put the radio in there and listen at school on headphones (the dead giveaway). The Pirates were from nearby Pittsburgh but seemed like the underdogs against the all-powerful Yankees of Maris and Mantle and Whitey Ford. In the final two games, the Yankees would win the sixth game 12-0. The seventh game was tied 9-9 in the bottom of the ninth when Bill Mazeroski hit a walk-off homerun off of Ralph Terry, usually a starter, pitching in relief.

That World Series and how Pittsburgh won it is one of the highlights in Pittsburgh sports history. Pittsburgh has only won two more World Series since then, in 1971 and 1979. It was only time Mickey Mantle was ever seen to cry by his teammates. The moment when Mazeroski rounded second base and saw the ball go over the fence and began celebrating has been captured and memorialized forever by the statue below, outside PNC field.

Ironic Moments in Pittsburgh History” by daveynin is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

These were halcyon days for a six year old. Seeing a future president and keeping hope alive that the Pirates would win it all against those hated Yankees (and then against all hopes, they really did!). I’m glad we didn’t know all that the 1960’s had in store for us–the Cuban missile crisis and hiding under our school desks, the deaths of two Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr., Vietnam, and riots.

It seems we are destined to live our lives between hope and sadness. Maybe that can be a comfort in what seems to have been a pretty terrible year. Out of the Sixties came inspiring ideas, great cars, moon landings and new technology, some of the best Browns teams ever, so much good music, some of it coming out of Youngstown. Given all that, I’m not giving up hope. Personally, I look forward to an Indians-Pirates World Series. And I hope that we find the way to say “no” to any who would divide us from our fellow citizens. I want to say “yes” to all who rally us to being “one nation under God with liberty and justice for all,” words I recited every day in Mrs. Smith’s first grade class at Washington Elementary during those days in October 1960.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — William O. Brown of the Vindicator

William O. Brown as a young man

The beginnings of The Vindicator and its history is wrapped up in two families, the Maag family and the Brown family. William O. Brown often seems to be left out of the histories I’ve seen of The Vindicator, I think, because he was never one of the publishers. But he was the key link of the passage of Vindicator ownership and leadership from the Maag to Brown families.

He was the grandson of Nathaniel E. Brown, a founder of the Brown-Bonnell Iron Works in Youngstown. Brown himself was born in Portsmouth, Ohio March 29, 1876 and moved with his family to Youngstown in 1878. The family lived in Brown’s grandfather’s home. He graduated from Rayen High School in 1897 and worked with the Ohio Steel Company. He began working at The Vindicator in 1902 and on September 9, 1903, married the daughter of the publisher, William F. Maag, Sr., Alma M. Maag. Brown’s marriage formed the link in this publishing dynasty.

William O. Brown started his work at The Vindicator in the advertising department. While working in advertising he worked tirelessly with large advertising accounts including General Motors and established the paper’s reputation with advertisers. At one point, he was called “Ohio’s Amon Carter.” Amon Carter was a famous Texas publisher. During World War I he served as a captain and ordinance officer in the National Guard.

He became business manager, treasurer and secretary upon William F. Maag, Sr.’s death in 1924. During World War II, he demonstrated his business acumen in making sure the paper always had a good supply of newsprint, which often had to be transported from Canada. In 1945 he became president of The Vindicator while continuing as business manager until his son William J. Brown took over the position in 1955.

Brown had a variety of interests. He was a champion pistol shot and treasurer of the Youngstown Rifle and Revolver Club. He also was a vociferous reader, especially of Dickens, Rider Haggard, and Conan Doyle. He was a foodie, and loved discovering small restaurants with special dishes.

William O. Brown later in life. Photo from The Vindicator, February 23, 1956.

Late in life he had serious heart problems and was confined to his home after December 1954. He died on February 23, 1956. When Brown came to The Vindicator it had a circulation of 15,000. At the time of his death, daily circulation was 100,000 and Sundays 140,000.

When William F. Maag, Jr. died in 1968, William J. Brown became publisher. He passed away in 1981.  Betty J. H. Brown Jagnow became publisher and president and her son, Mark Brown general manager. They continued to serve in these roles until The Vindicator ended publication on August 31, 2019, to be succeeded by a new Vindicator owned by the Warren Tribune Chronicle.

William O. Brown began three generations of Brown family involvement with The Vindicator. He helped build The Vindicator into a nationally known paper and his tenure spanned 54 of his family’s 117 year history with the paper. An editorial tribute appearing the day after his death said of him:

The Vindicator was his life and in more than half a century there were few days when he was not at his desk. The men and women who get out the paper were all his friends, and even in his last illness he ran the risk of setbacks to be among them.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The James Gibson Family

Gibson family plats from a map of Mahoning County, 1860, Library of Congress

When I was dating the woman who is now my wife. She lived in Brownlee Woods while I was on the West side. I-680 ended at South Avenue when we first started dating. When the rest of it opened, I was able to get to her house in under 10 minutes! Until then, I often took shortcuts to avoid all the stoplights on South Avenue. Gibson Street to Roxbury to Zedaker to Midlothian got me there. I also remember playing Gibson Heights Presbyterian Church on East Dewey in our church softball league.

These places bear the name of another early Youngstown family, Captain James Gibson, and his descendants, who lived on the land through which Gibson Street passes. Captain James Gibson was born in 1740 on County Tyrone, Ireland, and came to the United States in 1760, settling in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. The “Captain” came from his leadership of a ranger company guarding the frontier from neighboring native tribes. He fought in the Revolutionary War. In 1799 Gibson, his wife, and four sons came to Youngstown, staying by a spring that was eventually called Gibson Spring, near what is now Poland Avenue. They moved on to Warren for a couple weeks, but finding no desirable land, returned to the location, purchasing 289 1/4 acres from John Young in Great Lot 43 which ran south from the Mahoning River just east of South Avenue to the Youngstown border. They built a temporary log cabin while they worked to clear the heavily forested land to farm it. His wife Anna Belle was a charter member of First Presbyterian Church. (Source: Captain James Gibson and His Wife, Anna Belle and Their Descendants Pioneers of Youngstown, O.)

Samuel Gibson

James died in 1816 and Anna Belle in 1834. When Oak Hill Cemetery opened they were re-interred in that cemetery. Their son Robert Gibson, who had lived with them, continued to reside on the farm, eventually building his own home. Eventually two of his children, Samuel and John owned their own portions within the plat, inherited from their father. You can see their properties above on the 1860 map above. John on the southern most property and Samuel owned two connected properties. He worked on his parents farm while going to school, then taught school at the Salt Springs school, and then returned to farming.

Hon. William T. Gibson

One of Samuel’s sons, William T. Gibson also distinguished himself in Youngstown. Born in 1850, he attended Youngstown City schools, and then Western Reserve University, graduating in 1876. He went on to read law with Youngstown Judge Arrel, being admitted to the practice of law in 1878. He served as city solicitor from 1896 to 1899, then as Mahoning County prosecuting attorney. In 1903 he became Youngstown’s mayor. He was a senior partner in Gibson & Lowry, and president of the Youngstown Savings and Loan. (Source: “William T. Gibson,” 20th Century History of Youngstown and Mahoning County, Ohio, and Representative Citizens.

The family story of the Gibsons is a familiar one in Youngstown history. Early settlers become an established family and eventually pillars of the community and civic leaders. They bought and cleared the land and established prosperous farms. One (the fourth generation in the city) was even a Mayor of Youngstown. Remember that when you drive on Gibson or hear the name.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Mineral Ridge

Main Street in Mineral Ridge c. 1915

It is not even a village with its own post office any more. Officially, it is a Census Designated Place. Located along Rt. 46 between Austintown and Niles, as part of Weathersfield Township, many people may not realize what a significant role Mineral Ridge played in the rise of the iron industry in the Mahoning Valley, paving the way in turn for the steel industry.

The name gives a clue. Farmers who settled in the area knew there was coal in the ground. Some had their own small mines for heating and to sell. The coal and iron industry really took off however in the 1850’s when John Lewis, superintendent of the Mineral Ridge Coal Mines, discovered seams of particularly valuable ore, black band iron ore, running through the area. Between 1856 and 1858 Mineral Ridge was transformed from a sleepy little farming community to a boom town with a number of coal and iron ore companies connected David Tod’s mills in Brier Hill and other mills in Niles. The presence of soft coal, block coal and black band iron ore made Mineral Ridge a critical raw resource center for the Valley’s industry. The resulting iron was known as “American Scotch Pig” and “Warner’s Scotch Pig.”

Mineral Ridge map while it was still a village

By the 1880s, many of the mines were closing, though some continued into the 1900’s and were even mined during the Depression for heating. Mineral Ridge ceased to be a village in 1917, becoming unincorporated in February of that year. Nancy Messier, a blogger growing up in Mineral Ridge provides interesting accounts of what it was like to grow up there in the mid-twentieth century, including a list of Mineral Ridge High School graduates from 1881 to 1954, with graduation programs listing local businesses.

The farming history of the community is remembered by the Moss Ancestral Home, a brick salt box structure that was the home of the Moss Family from 1859 to 1899. The mining history is mainly remembered whenever there is a mine collapse. Like much of Mahoning and Trumbull County, not all of the mines have been mapped and sometimes subsidence occurs in locations not previously known of.

The area has not seen the drastic population declines of some areas. The 2000 population of 3,900 has declined slightly to 3,783 in 2020. While Mineral Ridge no longer has a post office, as of the summer of 2020 it has a Post Office Pub. According to a Business Journal story, three local residents, all area business owners, recognized the lack of a family-oriented dining establishment in Mineral Ridge. They built a new restaurant on the site of the old post office, serving an “Americana menu–affordable family dinners with Italian, Irish and Greek influences.” The three owners hope that word will get out across the Valley.

Mineral Ridge played an important role in the Valley’s industrial history. The minerals from which the area gets its name and the workforce they attracted is worth remembering. The Mineral Ridge Historical Society is a local organization formed to preserve and promote the area’s history. Perhaps the next time you are driving on Rt. 46 between Austintown and Niles, you might take some time to notice the place that played such an important part in the Valley’s story.