Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Irish in Youngstown

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Flag of Ireland

Did you know that an Irishman was among the earliest settlers in Youngstown, and has good credentials to be designated the first permanent resident? Daniel Shehy was born in Tipperary, Ireland in 1756, fled to America during the Revolution, and was part of the team with John Young that surveyed Youngstown in 1796. Young only lived in the town that bears his name temporarily. Shehy acquired land and stayed. The first Catholic services in Youngstown took place in his home, celebrated by Reverend Thomas Martin in 1826. And so began the Irish involvement in Catholic affairs in Youngstown.

Many Irish immigrants came to the Youngstown area with the construction of the Pennsylvania-Ohio Canal in 1839. More came with the construction of railroads in the 1850’s, many fleeing the Potato Famine in Ireland in the late 1840’s. They settled in clusters around the city in Vinegar Hill (around Shehy Street) Bottle Hill (off Albert Street) and in Smoky Hollow and North Walnut Streets, and in the Kilkenny area along Poland Avenue, south of the Mahoning. Further immigrations after 1860 swelled the Irish population in Youngstown to over 5400 by the 1900 census.

The Irish rapidly established a presence in business and safety services, including a number of police and firemen. E. M. McGillen’s department store was the first with electric lighting (later purchased by G. M. McKelvey). James O’Neil opened a dry goods store on the south side of Federal between Hazel and Phelps. James, John, and Patrick Kennedy arrived in Youngstown in 1855 from Tipperary, Ireland and started a prosperous construction business. Patrick M. Kennedy, from this family played an instrumental part in the founding of what became Home Savings and Loan.  John V. McNicholas II came to Youngstown around 1860. His son, J.V. McNicholas III started a moving and transfer company in 1905 that became J.V. McNicholas Transfer Company. When I delivered the Vindicator, J. V. McNicholas had the contract to deliver our papers. The company continues to serve the Mahoning Valley and beyond as Carney-McNicholas.

The Irish, as the earliest group of Catholic immigrants, played a key role in the rise of the Catholic community in Youngstown. Irish Catholics formed the St. Columba’s congregation in 1847, building what would eventually be the cathedral for the Diocese of Youngstown. The Ursuline Sisters led parochial education in the city. The first bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown, James McFadden, was an Irish-American, as were James Malone and Thomas Tobin. Many sons of Irish families served as priests.

Many Irish worked in the coal, iron, and steel industries of Youngstown. One of the most interesting stories I came across was one written by Todd Franko, Vindicator editor on Michael McGovern, known as the “Puddler Poet” (puddlers turned pig iron into wrought iron). Franko dubs him the “Bruce Springsteen of his era” for the labor poetry that he wrote. There is an effort underfoot in Williamstown, Ireland to research his life and work, led by Jim Fahy (there is a .pdf on McGovern’s life written by Fahy available in the Vindicator article). McGovern’s last poetic words are inscribed on the monument where he is buried at Calvary Cemetary:

“Just place a rock right over me,

And chisel there that all may know it.

‘Here lies the bones of M. McG.,

Whom people called the Puddler Poet.’”

I can only scratch the surface of the Irish contribution to Youngstown history. The Mahoning Valley Gaelic Society and The Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) and Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians are organized to keep Irish heritage alive. The AOH group in Youngstown may be the first formed in Ohio, in 1865 by John Gallagher, according to this national history. Tom Welsh has written a collection of biographies of the Hogan family and collected a series of oral histories of a number of Irish-Americans from Youngstown at the Steel Valley Archive. There is a valuable published history titled Irish in Youngstown and the Greater Mahoning Valley authored by The Irish American Archival Society and published by Arcadia Press.

As we celebrate another St. Patrick’s Day, it seems fit to celebrate the contribution of Irish-Americans to Youngstown’s history. They are a significant part of the rich ethnic heritage of Youngstown.  Éirinn go Brách!

Sources for this article:

Irish in Youngstown and the Greater Mahoning ValleyThe Irish American Archival Society.

A Heritage to Share, Howard C. Aley, p. 44.

Seeking Youngstown’s Special IrishmanTodd Franko. Vindicator, March 11, 2018.

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Marjorie Mariner

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TV Guide Ad for “Kitchen Corner”

She was Youngstown’s Julia Child or Martha Stewart. She was one of the pioneering women in local television, with her daily show running from 1953 to 1967 on WFMJ, channel 21. She also had a weekly recipe column in the Youngstown Vindicator. I recall listening to her on the radio on WFMJ – 1390 and that people could call in for cooking advice.

Marjorie, or Marge, Mariner was born in Youngstown in 1903. A 1957 article from The Radio TV Mirror gives us the fullest portrait of her life. She said her only ambition “was to get married.” She grew up with a mother who spoke, sharing poetry and who sometimes lifted her up to look over the podium and speak them. She also baked her first cake when she was seven years old. She went to Ohio State to study home economics and nutrition, and returned to Youngstown, teaching school for five years.

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Vindicator recipe from 6-6-57 via Google New Archive

Before going off to college, she had dated Minola Mariner and then met up again after college, marrying her first love. He was a civil engineer working in construction. The couple had two children, a son Joseph, and a daughter Janis. A brief note in the October 19, 1953 issue of Broadcasting + Telecasting indicates that the Simon, Williams, and Roberts Advertising Agency had signed Marjorie Mariner for a client, Century Foods, to do a program for WFMJ. At the beginning, it started as a five minute daily show. Eventually the show, named Kitchen Corner expanded to 45 minutes. The Radio TV Mirror article describes the format of the program:

On Kitchen Corner, seen each weekday from 1:15 to 1:45 P.M., she encourages a love for cooking and an awareness of better food habits for better health. “And sharing of recipes,” says Marjorie, “is just like visiting over the back fence.” Each day, her “visit” is different.
Monday, it’s seasonal cooking ideas; Tuesday’s the day for club ideas; Thursday, for special diets. On Wednesday and Friday, she invites a guest homemaker to prepare her favorite recipe.

One of the distinctive features of her show was the local “homemakers of the day” that she featured. The February 25, 1966 issue of the New Castle News includes an article about two New Castle women who were going to be on the show. Sandra Zona was the Arts and Crafts guest and Nellie Powers was going to share her brownie recipe. A 2017 Metro Monthly article by Elizabeth Glasgow, a great niece of Mariner’s, describes her aunts, cousins, and her five year old self gathered around a table with ham sandwiches and punch on one of the shows. Another blogger, Diane Laney Fitzpatrick, describes one of the shows:

On Kitchen Corner With Marjorie Mariner (which we knew simply as the Marge Mariner show), Marge would stand there behind the counter with all of her ingredients already measured out. This alone fascinated me. Not only did she have everything pre-measured out, she had it in these tiny sparkling, clear glass bowls and clear glass measuring cups. Even 1/4 teaspoon allspice or 1/2 teaspoon salt were measured into tiny little glass bowls, like Barbie-sized bowls.

So it would take Marge less than 10 minutes to throw the whole kit and kaboodle into a large mixing bowl (again, clean clear glass, no raw hamburger residue or dried-on cookie batter from the last thing she made), mix that up, pop it in the oven, and be done with it. She hardly broke a sweat.

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Billboard ad 11-25-57 via Google Books

She was featured in an ad for local TV personalities in the November 25, 1957 issue of Billboard magazine where it was noted that a sixty second commercial usually received another sixty second personal endorsement from Mariner. At that time, she had already won three TV Guide awards as one of the top national cooking shows.

The Radio TV Mirror article from 1957 says that at that time, the family owned a remodeled farmhouse with 10 acres and three dogs.  Her TV program ended in 1967. I believe she continued to do radio shows after that time. Her husband, Minola passed away in 1987 and she died in 1995. Both are buried in the Coitsville Presbyterian-Jackson Cemetery.

In Youngstown, you often learned to cook well from a mother or grandmother. Marjorie didn’t replace them, but rather featured them while sharing her own down-to-earth love of cooking. As one woman put it,”She’s not too smart and we can understand her and how she loves to cook — just like us.”

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — George Borts Farm

Atlas of Mahoning County Ohio from actual surveys by and Full View HathiTrust Digital Library HathiTrust Digital Library

 Scanned from Titus, Simmons, and Titus Atlas of Mahoning County, Ohio, 1874

I spent countless hours growing up swimming at Borts Pool and playing baseball, football, basketball, and tennis at Borts Field. In the winter, I ice skated on the tennis courts which were flooded in cold weather. For several years I delivered papers on part of North Maryland and North Belle Vista Avenues between Oakwood and Mahoning Ave. One of the homes on my route was a gray, two story frame building, obviously older than the rest, that sat right next to Sparkle’s parking lot and grocery store. My father told me that it was the old Borts residence, but I didn’t give it much thought.

That is, until recently when I came across the image that appears above. With some changes, that was the house! Little did I realize that I walked by a piece of Youngstown history every day.

As it turns out, the Borts (or Bortz as it is sometimes spelled) family was one of the early families to settle in the area. In 1805, Philip Borts, Sr. moved from Pennsylvania and purchased a farm in Ellsworth township. His oldest son, Philip, Jr., who was born in 1802, married Mary Nickum. George, born in 1827, and his brother Philip were the two surviving sons of the marriage, and moved with the family to the West side of Youngstown in 1833, purchasing about 270 acres. George married Elizabeth Christey on October 18, 1847. They purchased a farm in Berlin township the next year but moved back to the Youngstown house in 1852 when Philip, Jr. died (he only outlived Philip, Sr. by two years).

George may have been bitten by the “gold bug.” He moved to California for three years in the 1850’s to engage in mining but then returned to Youngstown in 1861. He was one of the first to set up a draying, or hauling business, which he carried on for three years, before turning to farming. Whether because of family roots in the area or business success or a combination of the two, George Borts is among those listed by the Mahoning Valley Historical Society as initial subscribers to the founding of the historical society in 1875, along with names like Arms, McKelvey, Strouss, Pollock, and Wick. Borts died in May of 1905, and like many of Youngstown’s early prominent citizens, is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.  Elizabeth lived until 1920.

They had six children, five boys and one girl. Charles Albry worked as superintendent in a rolling mill. According to Miss Caldie Borts, their son William remained single and worked in the theater business. Their daughter Mary married John S. Pollock and died in an auto accident in 1928. Edward died young at age 16. I could find little about the other two sons, George and California. Most of the children are also buried at Oak Hill Cemetery.

According to Google street view, the old Borts home is gone and the lot is vacant. Borts Pool was demolished in 2014 and converted to green space. A 2015 Jambar article reports renovations engaged in by the Youngstown Steel Valley Rugby Club to convert the field to rugby play. A Disney grant has provided money for a walking trail and exercise equipment at Borts Field.

There was actually relatively little that I could find on the Borts family. They clearly were an influential family in the second half of the nineteenth century. With the efforts to rehabilitate Borts Field, the name lives on. I would love it if others can pass along what they know of this family!

[Most of the information on the Borts Family is from Find a Grave sites for Philip Borts (Bortz), Sr., Philip Borts (Bortz), Jr., George Borts, and links from this page to each of the children’s sites.]

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — McKelvey Lake

USGS 7 5 minute image map for Campbell Ohio

Portion of  topographical map from the US Geological Survey showing McKelvey Lake

I’ve always been curious about McKelvey Lake. But truth be told, as a West-sider, I have to admit that this is one place around Youngstown that I have never seen. Pictures I’ve seen online show a scenic lake surrounded by trees, another natural oasis within the city limits of Youngstown.

Part of my curiosity relates to the name. Having worked at McKelvey’s in high school and college, I wondered if it was related to the McKelvey family who owned the department store. It turns out that Lucius B. McKelvey served as a director of the Mahoning Water Company that administered the water supply from the lake and later served as its president. I cannot find any account of the naming, so I’m guessing that it was connected with McKelvey’s tenure. He was a community leader who also was president of the Youngstown Automobile Club, was involved in a variety of community efforts, and in 1941, received an award for China relief, as well as serving as president of the G.M. McKelvey Company until his death in 1944.

McKelvey Lake was created by the damming of Dry Run, which flows into the Mahoning River at Lincoln Park. The current dam was built in 1926, creating a 125 acre lake three miles east of downtown, that is perhaps the most prominent feature on a map of the East side of Youngstown. The lake is surrounded by woodlands.

The Mahoning Water Company was later acquired by the Ohio Water Service Company which operated it for many years, followed by a series of mergers and acquisitions. It is currently owned by Aqua America. McKelvey Lake served as a reservoir for the Struthers area during the steel era, until the 1980’s. Since then, it has served as a back up water source, with Evans Lake as primary source to the service area.

The lake has something of a sinister history that belies its scenic appearance. The legend is that this is where organized crime figures “dumped the bodies.” A Vindicator article from 2012 describes a dive training exercise with the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Department that recovered knives, guns (including one traced to a homicide), vehicles, jewelry, and a mixing console. A 2013 story recounts the recovery of a couple vehicles. I suspect if the lake could talk it could tell some stories. The Jacobs Road bridge across the lake lends itself to dumping items (and at least one suicide attempt) and this is where divers have found a number of the items mentioned.

There is some hope for a better future. There have long been plans, according to The Business Journalfor turning this into a recreation area. In 2005, Youngstown received a $265,000 Clean Ohio grant to purchase 200 acres of woodland between the dam and Lincoln park to be preserved in its natural state in perpetuity.  A Vindicator article in 2017, which recounted this purchase, also reported support by Mahoning County commissioners for another Clean Ohio grant for the Natural Areas Land Conservancy (NALC) to purchase the lake and the surrounding woodlands from Aqua Ohio. The article reports that the intended use was “ ‘as an open and inviting community green space and passive recreational area suitable for activities, ranging from hiking and picnicking to kayaking and cross-country skiing, within an urban neighborhood that urgently needs an outdoor recreational amenity of this sort.’ ” A follow up article in June of 2017 indicated that NALC had received the grant and the hope was that the property would transfer in the next year. There is no more recent news about this effort and the lake is still listed as one of Aqua America’s Ohio water sources.

It is to be hoped that lake could be re-purposed as a recreation area, transferring it from private to public use. The increased public presence might curtail its use as a dumping ground while preserving its natural beauty. The June 2017 article indicates there has been severe dam deterioration that was supposed to have been addressed by October 26, 2018 by Aqua Ohio. I find no reports that this has been accomplished or about transfer of the property. Hopefully, this will be accomplished soon, if it has not been already, and that this beautiful resource will not be allowed to deteriorate.

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — P. Ross Berry

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P. Ross Berry, Courtesy of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society

It seems fitting during Black History month to talk about one of the most distinguished Black residents of Youngstown, Plympton Ross Berry (usually know as P. Ross Berry, having dropped his full first name for the initial). It has been said that at one time, he was involved in building most of the buildings in downtown Youngstown. Berry was born in June 1834 (some accounts list 1835) as a free person of color in Mt. Pleasant, Pennsylvania. His family moved to New Castle where he was trained as a bricklayer, becoming a master bricklayer and stonemason by age 16.

One of the first projects on which he worked, in 1851, was the Lawrence County (PA) courthouse, which is still standing. A letter to the New Castle News documents his role in contributing to the architectural design of the Greek Revival facade. He married in 1858 and he, his wife, and four children came by canal boat to Youngstown in 1861.

The project that brought him to Youngstown was a contract for the brick work at the Rayen School. In short succession he received contracts for work on the second St. Columba’s Church, the Homer Hamilton foundry and machine shop on South Phelps, the new jail on Hazel Street, the First Presyterian Church, the William Hitchcock and Governor Tod homes, the first Tod House on Central Square, the Grand Opera House in what was known as the “Diamond Block,” where the Huntington Bank is now located, and the 1876 Mahoning County Courthouse at Wick and Wood. According to the research of Joseph Napier, Sr., Berry built 65 structures in the area, as well as the brickwork on many Youngstown streets.

His stature in the community was such that a number of white bricklayers worked under his direction, something very uncommon in the day. As black soldiers migrated to the Mahoning Valley after the Civil War, he also trained many of them to work as bricklayers and was responsible for founding the Brick Masons Union, Local 8. Berry own his own brick foundry and made a reddish-orange colored brick, and example of which you can see in the Rayen Building. Because of his success and prominence, he was involved in a number of philanthropic causes and helped with the founding of the St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church.

Berry is described by Howard C. Aley as a handsome man, six foot six inches in height. His wife, Mary Long, eventually bore him eight children, four boys and four girls. Several sons worked in the business and his offspring were successful doctors, attorneys, musicians, and leaders in the community.

Berry worked until age 82 and died on May 12, 1917. He is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery. The P. Ross Berry Middle School was completed in 2006, named in his honor. The school was closed as a middle school in 2012 and now serves as the site of the Mahoning County High School.

P. Ross Berry’s story was one I had not heard until recently and is one that deserves to be much more widely known. He is one of the outstanding citizens, builders, architects, and philanthropists Youngstown has produced.

Sources:

Howard C. Aley, A Heritage to Share

All Things Youngstown

New Castle News

Mahoning Valley History

Joseph Napier, Sr, The P. Ross Berry Story (video)

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Pot Roast

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The roast on our stove, with an hour to go. Yes, we covered it after taking this picture.

It could be a brisk fall day when you were out playing touch football with your friends or a cold winter afternoon after you had delivered your papers. You come into a house pervaded by the savory smell of a pot roast simmering on the stove. You can’t wait to sit down to the dinner, and mom tells you it still has an hour to go.

That’s the smell driving me wild as I write this post, that has been filling our house all afternoon. Just before writing, I took the picture above, having helped my wife chop potatoes, carrots, and onions to cook for the last hour or so–only an hour more to endure of having my mouth water before we get to sit down and enjoy melt in your mouth meat with all the fixings. Maybe writing this will distract me.

This is another one of those perfect working class meals–hearty, filling, and inexpensive. The pot roast was an inexpensive cut of meat, a chuck roast or shoulder roast, tenderized by those hours of slow cooking. Potatoes, carrots, onions, flour, salt and pepper, garlic and other seasonings like thyme (we use a spice mix that includes marjoram and cinnamon as well). We use a half and half mix of water and beef broth, which brings out the meat flavor.

We start by dredging the meat in a mix of flour, salt and pepper, and then browning it in a pan. Then we put it into our cook pot covering the meat with our mix of water and beef broth and seasonings to simmer for three to three and a half hours on our stove top. (Some bake in their ovens.) Then we add the potatoes, carrots, and onions, and some additional seasoning and cook for another hour. We don’t like to add these at the start because we want them tender, not mushy. We split the servings and have dinner ready for the next day as well.

The basic test of doneness is the meat is fork tender–you can cut it with your fork. What’s Cooking America recommends that the internal temperature of your pot roast should be 180° F.

It is amazing how smells bring back memories as well as make your mouth water and your stomach growl. I think of all those times I came home to those savory smells, and remember my mom who had to think up dinner every day.

Well, the roast is about ready so I better stop. Have I made your mouth water yet?

I suspect there are as many ways to do a roast as there are readers of this post. Would love to hear your special tips!

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Snow Forts

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Provincial Archives of Alberta [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

Staring at the snow piles around my driveway after shoveling snow yesterday, I was reminded of the snow forts we used to build as kids in Youngstown during those winters when we would get all those snows off of Lake Erie.

The best snows for snow forts were the heavier ones because the snow would pack easier. Sometimes we would just mound up and pack the snow into walls. Or we would get a sturdy box–a wooden box was best–and make snow bricks by packing the snow in the box, then turning it over and adding it to our wall. This allowed us to make curves, or even igloos. Sometimes we would create tunnels to crawl through. If it didn’t snow more than a few inches, you’d end up using all the snow in your yard for your snow fort!

Of course, the reason for a snow fort was to have epic snow ball fights. When you had a snow fort, you didn’t have to make your snow balls one at a time during the fight. You could stockpile them, even let them get hard overnight. Then the unsuspecting neighbor kid who walked by would get clobbered.

Or you could do staged battles–a capture the fort sort of thing. I suspect forts got captured fairly often, unless you had more defenders than attackers. Snow balls really aren’t that good at stopping people!

The strangest thing is that we would often be out there for hours at a time. I don’t remember all the warnings about wind chill. I’m convinced that our nerve endings didn’t fully mature until we were adults. We’d be digging and building and battling in the snow and think nothing of the cold. Sure mom bundled us up in snow pants and coat, scarves, hats, gloves and boots (remember the boots you would pull on over your shoes?). Now, I’m out there snow shoveling for a half-hour, and I’m ready to come in for a hot shower and some coffee.

In my neighborhood, there weren’t many of us who went to ski resorts in the winter. But we found plenty of things to keep us busy–ice skating, sledding, or building snow forts and having snow battles. For a good snow fort, all you needed was snow, a shovel, a sturdy box, and your hands. What could be simpler or more fun?

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Blizzard of 1978

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Blizzard of ’78, Photo courtesy of the Vindicator

As I write, most of Ohio is bracing for a significant snowfall. Recently I wrote about one of the historic snowstorms that hit Youngstown, the great Thanksgiving storm of 1950. Many of us may have heard about that one from our parents, or were young children at the time. Many of us, however, lived through the Blizzard of ’78 that struck the morning of January 26 and continued through the 27th.

Three different low pressure systems collided over western Ohio in a phenomenon known as bombagenesis (what a cool word!), creating an intense low pressure system with record low barometric pressures, 28.34 inches at the Youngstown airport. Wind gusts in some places reached 100 mph. When the storm hit, I had been living away from Youngstown for a couple years, and ended up stranded in Bowling Green, Ohio for five days until I-75 was opened in northwest Ohio. Drifting there was so bad some trucks were covered with snow, and that area of Ohio was perhaps the hardest hit.

The storm hit Youngstown hard as well. I went back and read the Vindicator accounts of what happened locally and thought I would trace this from January 26-28.

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Screen capture of front page of Youngstown Vindicator, January 26, 1978 via Google New Archives

Thursday, January 26, 1978

The storm hits in the early morning hours. At 4:30 am, temperatures were 43 degrees. By 7:00 am, they had dropped to 16 with wind gusts up to 65 miles per hour and driving snow and white out conditions. Power lines arced, light poles fell, one traffic light at Market and Myrtle ended up hanging a few feet off the ground. Power outages were reported along Mahoning Avenue, in the Wickliffe area and parts of the east side. Outages set off 25-30 burglar alarms, keeping police busy. Windows were blown out of homes and businesses including the Hills store in the Lincoln Knolls plaza and Gray Drugs windows in the Boardman Plaza. WHOT had to operate on auxiliary power and WBBW lost power at various points during the day. The postal service cancelled mail deliveries and all schools including Youngstown State were closed that day.

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Screen capture of front page of Youngstown Vindicator, January 27, 1978 via Google News Archives

Friday, January 27, 1978

The Vindicator reported that at least 200 area residents had been evacuated to shelters, many in the Newton Falls area. Others slept at their place of work, unable to return home. Ohio Edison reported 2335 local residents without power and had over 200 linemen at work in the bitterly cold conditions. Statewide, roughly 150,000 to 175,000 were without power. Temperatures were around zero with wind chills at -30 to -40 degrees. Interstates in the western part of the state were closed as well as the Ohio Turnpike. Governor James A. Rhodes, emotionally moved at times spoke about people who were displaced:

“They are helpless victims of something they have no control over…They are going through something tonight that none of us would want to go through.

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Screen capture of front page of Youngstown Vindicator, January 28, 1978 via Google News Archive

Saturday, January 28, 1978

Ohio Edison reported that all but 125 homes had power and said the remaining outages would be restored that day. Roads were slowly getting opened up. In many cases a single lane was opened on some stretches. The Ohio Turnpike was still closed west of the Lorain-Elyria exit, west of Cleveland. Edwin Powell, Vindicator circulation manager claimed that most people still received Thursday and Friday’s papers, in some case, both being delivered on Friday. He said it was a no-win situation, some being upset that papers weren’t delivered, others that the kids were out delivering in that weather–this was when youth still delivered newspapers. Carriers reported that the worst problems were the wind blowing snow in their face and holding onto their papers and getting them into their sacks. As conditions improved and roads got dug out, authorities got a better idea of the storm’s toll. At this point, the Vindicator reported that 18 people statewide had died, including a Lordstown resident who lost power and was found dead in his home of a heart attack. (Later on, the death toll in Ohio was revised to 51, and 70 total in the path of the storm).

Because of the wind and cold, this storm is ranked the worst storm in weather history in Ohio. In some place, wind chills were -70 degrees. In Youngstown, over a foot of snow fell. Statewide, 5000 National Guardsmen were mobilized to rescue stranded residents and drivers (one truck driver whose truck was covered with snow survived a week in his cab before being found). Damage estimates from the storm were $210 million.

One of the interesting debates is whether there was a spike in childbirths nine months later — “blizzard babies.” The evidence is mixed, but I think most of us like the idea of couples finding this particular way to stay warm! However you do it, stay warm and safe this weekend!

I’d love to hear your blizzard memories! Let us know if you were a “blizzard baby!”

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 — Butler Institute of American Art

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Lorinda Dixon [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

The Butler is 100 years old this year! In 1919, the Butler Institute of American Art was dedicated, named after industrialist, author and philanthropist Joseph G. Butler, Jr., who contributed the funds to establish the museum. The original museum building, designed by architects McKim, Mead, and White, is an architectural gem and on the National Register of Historic Places.

Butler always felt that American artists had been overshadowed by those from Europe. As an art lover, he assembled a significant collection at his Wick Avenue home, that he intended would form the beginning of the collection of the museum he envisioned. Much of this was lost in a fire in 1917, but by then, plans for the museum were already underway. In 1919, Butler helped dedicate the first museum in the country devoted to American art.

One of the conditions that Butler set when he established the museum is that it would operate on a pro bono basis, on which it has operated to this day. This sets it apart from many museums (the Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Toledo museums are also free, except for special shows). The Columbus Museum of Art, where I live is free only for members and young children. Adults under 60 pay $14, students and seniors $8 (Sundays are free for all, however). When Butler died in 1927, most of his estate of $1.5 million was bequeathed to the museum, and fittingly, his memorial service was held at the museum.

I first visited the museum as a child, enjoying the collection of Remington works depicting Native Americans and western life. Later, as a college student at adjacent Youngstown State, I loved going over to the museum on class breaks. I discovered that there was such a thing as a “Hudson River School” due to the museum’s collection of these paintings. I’d seen prints of “Snap the Whip” by Winslow Homer on the walls of Washington Elementary. At the Butler, I could sit and study the original. But my favorite, then and now, is Robert Vonnoh “In Flanders Field-Where Soldiers Sleep and Poppies Grow.” I grew up in the Vietnam war era, and the painting symbolized to me both the futility of war and the longing that peace and flourishing would prevail.

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Robert Vonnoh, “In Flanders Field-Where Soldiers Sleep and Poppies Grow” [Public Domain] via Wikimedia

We’ve visited the museum several times since and witnessed its growth including the new south wing, The Beecher Center. There is also a new Andrews Pavilion with a gift shop, cafe’, and sculpture atrium. In 2006, the museum also acquired the adjacent property formerly belonging to the First Christian Church, using it as an education and performing arts space. The museum collection now exceeds 20,000 works, which now include works in new digital and holographic media. One of the museum’s major acquisitions in 2007 was Norman Rockwell’s, Lincoln The Railsplitter, previously owned by Ross Perot. They also operate a satellite museum in Trumbull County with its own schedule of shows.

Concurrent with its one hundredth birthday, the Butler is hosting a show titled “100 Years of Printmaking II” that surveys printmaking in America over the last 100 years. The museum offers ongoing educational programs for parents with young children, youth and seniors. Dr. Louis Zona, executive director and chief curator of the museum, offers periodic Sunday afternoon lectures, the current schedule of which may be found on the museum website.

The Butler Institute of American Art is not only a Youngstown treasure. It is an American treasure, displaying the creativity of American artists from every period of our history. Happy one hundredth birthday, and may you see many more!