Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Devil Strips

© Robert C Trube, 2023

Not long after we moved into our current home in central Ohio, I asked a neighbor a question about putting trash onto our devil strip. When I received a quizzical look, I realized he was trying to figure out what I was talking about. So I said, “You know, the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street. The devil strip.” He responded, “Oh, you mean the tree lawn.”

In that moment I realized two things. One was, “We’re not in Youngstown anymore.” The other was that what I assumed was a universal term for that strip of grass might be unique to the part of Ohio I grew up in.

A Harvard University blog devoted to regional English cites usages exclusively in northeast Ohio from Youngstown to Cleveland to Akron, stating that “[The term] is known throughout the Youngstown, Ohio, area.” The Urban Dictionary states that the devil strip refers to “The grassy area between the street and the sidewalk. This term is unique to the Akron, Ohio area.”

It’s not quite that simple, actually. References to the term have been found as early as 1883 in Cleveland, Ohio referring to the construction of a strip of land between street car lines going in the opposite direction, “known by the significant rather than elegant name of the devil’s strip.” The next earliest reference was in 1887 occurring in Toronto, Canada, describing the construction of devil’s strips:

The sub-grade is carefully prepared, levelled, and rolled, if found necessary, for solidification.  The kerbs are placed in position, either being set in concrete or gravel.  The subsoil is drained by four-inch tile drains running parallel with the kerb in three rows, one under each kerb, and one under the devil’s strip, or centre of the roadway, the former making connections with the catch-water basins.

If electric car tracks are to be laid, the sub-grade must be excavated to twelve inches extra in the track allowance, this being then filled in with six inches of ballast and compacted.

Even the Akron Beacon Journal acknowledges an 1890 article in its own paper referring to Cleveland:

“Mayor Gardner ordered Supt. Schmitt to stop all traffic on Woodland avenue street railroad from Wilson to East Madison for failure to obey State law which gave Cleveland [the] right to compel street railroads to pave a strip 16 feet wide. This meant all space between the tracks, the devil strip and two feet on the outside.”

The same article notes that at one time the term was widely used throughout Canada and in New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Minnesota and Iowa. But northeast Ohio seems to be the only place where it stuck.

So, how did the term go from referring to the strip between street car lines and the strip between street and sidewalk? The Beacon Journal article cites an Athens Daily Messenger from 1912 with this editorial comment:

“There are no double track street car lines in Athens — yet. But the proverbial ‘Devil’s strip’ is here just the same. Did you ever note how often, between a well-kept lawn and its adjacent sidewalk and a well-paved street, you see a strip of unkempt stony and weed-grown ground? It mars the otherwise beautiful street, especially when a dead tree or two helps to add to the neglect of this ‘devil’s strip.’

This suggests why it was called a “devil’s strip.” The WordSense Dictionary definition of “devil strip” adds this insight:

devil + strip, from the area’s status as a no man’s land between private and public property, devil or devil’s in place names meaning “barren, unproductive and unused”.
Compare devil’s lane (“narrow area between two parallel fences”), devil’s footstep (“barren spot of land”).

Others have suggested that it is a strip of land that a property owner must maintain and pay taxes on but that the city can dig up or plant trees on. The “devil” in this case is the city or the tax collector. I can see how this explanation would appeal to a lot of Youngstowners.

So what else is the “devil strip” called? A Wikipedia article on “Road Verge” lists 46 terms and where they are used. Others used in Ohio include: berm, boulevard, curb lawn, park strip, street lawn, and the one we use where I now live, tree lawn.

Devil strips play an important role in separating pedestrians from vehicles. Curbs and trees provide at least some protection from vehicles straying from the road, and more separation of foot traffic from road traffic. It also puts one a bit further away from getting splashed by vehicles going through puddles in the rain. We have some areas lacking sidewalks and tree lawns and, sadly, I know of pedestrian-vehicle accidents along these areas.

As for bragging rights, I’d like to think that, like cookie tables, Youngstown was first. It just sounds like a term Youngstowners would think up. I’ve found no evidence for that, but I still like to think that it is a name that just fits Youngstown.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Mahoning National Bank

It was the one bank whose name showed its connection to the Youngstown area. Its main offices graced the southwest part of Central Square, designed by one of the distinguished architects of the day. A fiscally sound institution, it operated 132 years until it merged with another bank. It was my mother-in-law’s bank, and at the end of her life, we had professional and efficient dealings with them as we helped her manage her finances. The tellers at her branch were like family to her and a number had worked there for years. That was the Mahoning National Bank many of us knew.

The Mahoning National Bank was established in 1868 as the Youngstown Savings and Loan Association. The founding directors were a veritable who’s who of business leaders in Youngstown: David Tod, Chauncey Andrews, W. J. Hitchcock, F.O. Arms, T. K. Hall, Joseph G. Butler, Jr., T. H. Wells, John Stambaugh, David Theobald, Richard Brown, A. B. Cornell, B. F. Hoffman, and William Powers formed the board of directors. David Tod was elected president but died two months later to be succeeded by F. O. Arms.

They first operated on the northwest part of Central Square until moving to the southwest part in 1873 in a building connected with Andrews and Hitchcock. In 1877, the association adopted a national bank charter under the name Mahoning National Bank. Then in 1909, the bank bought out the Andrews & Hitchcock interest in the property and razed the old structure to erect a modern high rise building.

The building was designed by Alfred Kahn, known at the time as one America’s foremost industrial architects. He also designed the Stambaugh Building and North Side Hospital. He designed a number of industrial facilities in Detroit including Ford’s Highland Park plant where the Model T was assembled. The building was completed in 1910. You will note that the building above is only part of the present day complex. A four story addition was added on the site of the old Opera House, and the building was extended southward by 72 feet. This video, produced by Metro Monthly shows the stately lobby of the bank as well as giving information about its architect:

The bank grew with Youngstown, opening branches as the city expanded and people moved into the surrounding suburban community. In 1924 the bank had assets of $6.3 million. By 2000, its assets had grown to 818 million and it had twenty-one offices.

The end of the twentieth century was marked by numerous bank mergers. In June of 1999, it merged with Sky Bank, part of Sky Financial Services, an upstart company formed in 1998 in northwest Ohio that grew rapidly through mergers. At the end of 2001, it changed its name to Sky Bank. Then in 2007, Sky Bank was acquired by Huntington Bank, based in Columbus.

Huntington Bank had offices in the old Mahoning National Bank building but has moved to smaller offices in the Stambaugh building. In December 2022, The Business Journal reported the sale of the building for $2.3 million to a New York based investment group operating under the name 22 Market Street Ohio LLC. The company intends to use the bottom four stories for office space and convert the upper nine floors to residential units, preserving the historic character of the building.

It sounds wonderful if it unfolds as promoted. There do seem to be the beginnings of a downtown renaissance. But I wonder if the Youngstown economy can yet sustain it and whether there is sufficient “draw” to live downtown. I, for one, would love to see historic buildings like this and the Stambaugh buildings (both Kahn designed) preserved and used well.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Locks and Lockers

Remember these?

It all started with my morning walk yesterday. I locked up the house, enjoyed a pleasant walk and went to put the key in the front door and I couldn’t unlock the door. After various efforts were successful, it was time to replace this thirty-seven year old lockset from when our house was built, which led to getting some extra keys made and making sure some other locks worked smoothly–you know how it goes!

In the weird way my mind works, it took me back to junior high and high school and the days of putting padlocks on our lockers at the beginning of each school year. At West and Chaney, I remember being told that they had to be combination locks, not key locks. I guess they were afraid keys would get lost more easily than combinations. I know that when I would get a new lock, I’d practice opening it about a dozen times to get the combination ingrained in my head. After a few days, you didn’t really think but it was as if the dials turned themselves to your combination

Lockers. The one space at school we could call ours. Some did really fancy jobs decorating their lockers. I think the most I ever did was tack a poster from a record album inside the door of mine one year. Supposedly lockers weren’t actually that secure. It was said you could bust one of those locks open with a well-placed blow with the heel of a shoe. I never tried it and don’t ever recall getting my locker broken into. But I wasn’t exactly a fashion pacesetter and didn’t keep much in the locker but a jacket, a sack lunch, maybe a gym bag, and whatever books I didn’t need for that part of the day. As I think about it, I probably didn’t need to put a lock on the locker, but probably better safe than sorry.

It always seemed your locker was at the other end of the school from where your next class was, and so it was a dash to make it before the bell–a controlled dash that is because we couldn’t run in the hallways. There were those tales of kids getting stuffed in lockers. I was probably too big to stuff and I can’t think of anyone I knew who had this happen–of course, would they admit it?

Then there were gym lockers. These weren’t assigned, you just grabbed an empty one. I think they all smelled of sweaty socks! You stripped off street clothes, donned gym clothes (including those embarrassingly short shorts!), and locked up your things before lining up in front of Mr. Angelo. For me, the most precious thing I locked up was my glasses–we weren’t allowed to wear them during gym. That was fine when we had to run laps or do calisthenics. But then as now, I’m pretty near-sighted and that was a distinct disadvantage in any competition with a ball. Mostly, people learned pretty quickly that it was a disaster to pass to me, so I would just stay on the move, defending, looking busy–the trick was not to look like a slacker. When I went to shower and change, I had to get within a foot to see the combination–I wasn’t trying to keep others from seeing the combination so much as seeing it myself in my glassless state!

I’ve noticed that the lockers these days tend to be brighter colors (I recall ours being pretty drab) and they have locks built in. It makes me wonder, do the schools change the combination each year. I wonder how that works. It’s been a long time since I put a lock on a locker–I’m surprised we still had one around the house! It was my wife’s and she even remembered the combination. I can’t say that I remember any of the combinations of my locks.

It’s funny how memories are triggered. Now you are probably thinking back to getting a lock at the beginning of school for your locker. Maybe you can still see that locker in your head. Maybe, like my wife, you remember the combination of your lock. I’d love to hear your locker stories. They were so much a part of our school days but probably not the first thing you remember.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Bell-Bottoms

McKelvey’s ad, Youngstown Vindicator, March 4, 1973 via Google News Archive

I make a regular habit of looking at the Vindicators from fifty years ago. Boy, this one brought back memories. For one thing, I worked at McKelvey’s when this ad appeared. I might have hit that sale, using my store discount. And I remember wearing jeans that looked like that, complete with “patch” pockets. My most far out ones were maroon pants with orange patch pockets. I wore them with two-tone platform shoes. (I sincerely hope there is no photographic evidence of that outfit, which I often wore with a matching paisley shirt).

Some bell-bottoms just had a slight flare while others, “elephant bells,” were so wide they completely covered your shoes when you were standing still. Often, we wore them long, where they actually touched the ground and became frayed over time. That was part of the look. Some flares had a triangle patch of sewn-in material of a different color to make them bigger. I never figured out if they came that way from the store or were “homemade.” I suspect a bit of both. Girls’ were often low-waisted, hip hugging. The belt loops were big to accommodate the wide belts we often wore. At one points, they were combined with cuffs. I never liked them–too much fabric flopping around the bottom of your legs.

You probably know this, but bell-bottoms have been worn by sailors since the 17th century. The wide bottom legs were functional, easily rolled up for washing decks and other chores. One article suggests bell-bottoms could be pulled off over boots and inflated to serve as a kind of life preserver for sailors who fell overboard. Not certain about that one. They first became popular in Europe in the 1960’s and spread to the U.S. in the late 1960’s. Eric Clapton, singing with Derek and the Dominos, popularized bell-bottoms in “Bell-Bottom Blues,” performed here in a YouTube video from 1991:

Most “bell-bottom historians” consider The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour which ran from 1971 to 1974 as the time when bell-bottoms became popular, but I seem to remember wearing them earlier than that and that they were popular in the hippie culture from 1967 on. By the late 1970’s most of us wouldn’t be caught dead in them. They had a brief comeback in the 1990’s as “boot cut” jeans, but gave way to those skinny jeans and leggings.

What goes around comes around. According to Brunette From Wall Street, in answer to the question “Are bell bottoms back in style?” she writes, “Yes, bell bottoms are one of those fashion trends that came back in fashion for 2023 together with rave trend.” An online search yields scores of ads from a variety of well-known retailers for all sizes and shapes of bell-bottoms with prices from $30 to over $100, just a bit more than the $4.99 to $8.99 in the ad (that $8.99 would now be about $70 adjust for inflation).

Personally, there are some things that are best left in the past, along with that 32″ waistline! But it is fun to remember…

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Superintendent of Schools, George E. Roudebush

His name is one few of us may recognize today. But he was the superintendent of Youngstown City Schools from 1931 to 1937. That would have made him superintendent through most of the years my parents were in school. A mark of his success was that he went on from there to serve as superintendent of the Columbus Public Schools from 1937 until 1949.

George Edward Roudebush was born on September 3, 1892, at about the time children returned to school each year. He was the fourth of ten children born to John and Mary Roudebush of Goshen Township, a farming community in Clermont County southwest Ohio outside of Cincinnati. He graduated from Goshen High School in 1910 and went to The Ohio State University, graduating a year later with a teaching certificate. He returned to Goshen in 1911 and rose rapidly in this rural school district from assistant principle in 1912 to school superintendent in 1915. In 1918, he entered the Army Chemical Warfare Service, supporting the American war effort in World War One. When he returned from the war, he completed a BS degree at Ohio State and an MA from Columbia in 1923. He went from an assistant principal in Middletown, Ohio to principal of a high school in Lima to the superintendent of Grandview Heights schools outside Columbus from 1924 to 1927, then assuming the position of assistant superintendent for the much larger Columbus schools in 1927.

The last years of N. H. Chaney and the successive terms of O. R. Reid and J.J. Richeson were marked by bitterness and dissension in the school system. George E. Roudebush came into the superintendent’s office in 1931 after years of conflict and in the throes of the Great Depression. Under his leadership, he restored harmony within the school system and mobilized voters to support the schools amid straitened financial circumstances. Even so, revenues declined and he was able to reduce costs to balance budgets when revenues dropped by $700,000 between 1931 and 1933. Howard C. Aley recounts once incident when he had to deal with complaints from one well know area resident who demanded action because he was a tax payer. Roudebush responded, “I’ll listen to you when you can show me your tax receipt. You haven’t paid your taxes.”

Roudebush expanded vocational training and support for those with disabilities. While he supported athletics, always important in Youngstown, he also made sure there was support for journalism, music, drama and other school activities. He advocated the importance of religious training in the context of the family, for both adults and children. He believed parents should know the Bible to set an example for children. There is evidence that he had reservations about the New Deal. He emphasized that “schools have built up much of their program in the past around the maxims of burning the midnight oil, the dignity of labor, the habit of saving a penny, etc.” and saw those emphases being reversed under the New Deal. Certainly his own school leadership had emphasized hard work and austerity, while enjoying the support of Youngstown’s residents.

Others also recognized his excellence and when the opportunity came to lead the Columbus schools in the fall of 1937, he took it. Having led one school system through the Great Depression, he led another through the Second World War and the explosive growth in Columbus that followed the war. He worked with Columbus civic leaders to reshape the schools to reflect post-war realities. He retired in 1949 and was living in Upper Arlington, a Columbus suburb, when he died on July 4, 1959. His wife, Mabel Haight, who he married in 1920 lived until 1972. Both are buried in their birthplace of Goshen Township.

It seems that from early on, people recognized Roudebush as a capable leader. In both Youngstown and Columbus, he gave vigorous leadership that built public confidence. In the case of Youngstown, he healed a decade-long time of dissension in the middle of trying financial circumstances. It seems his life would be a good one to study for qualities of an exemplary school leader. He was that for Youngstown.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Fredonia Manufacturing Company

Many of us think the Mahoning Valley’s history of automobile manufacturing began in the 1960’s at GM’s Lordstown Assembly Plant. Actually, the history of automobile manufacturing in Youngstown goes back to the beginning of the twentieth century–and maybe a little before.

The Fredonia Carriage and Manufacturing Company was a carriage builder with a factory just east of the Market Street bridge near the present location of the Covelli Center. In 1895, Dr. Carlos Booth, a local physician, commissioned the company to build him an automobile that he had designed. They helped him become the world’s first doctor to use an automobile to make house calls–a Youngstown first. He eventually gave it up, claiming it made “a commotion among the horses.”

In 1902, the company changed its name to The Fredonia Manufacturing Company and started making automobiles. In their first year, Fredonia automobiles came in “neck and neck” claiming the top two spots in a 500 mile reliability run from New York to Boston. A Packard was also among the top finishers. Then in 1903, a Fredonia set an unofficial speed record on a run between Youngstown and Tyrell Hill, covering the 36 mile distance in 35 minutes, nearly 62 miles per hour or 100 kilometers per hour. Pretty fast in 1903!

The reliability and speed of the cars reflected the work of the company’s engineer, Charles T. Gaither, who also worked as a pressman for The Vindicator, where he invented a process for photo engraving pictures for printing. The engine he designed was a single cylinder 5 inch piston with a 5 inch stroke. The engine was flat mounted, water-cooled, and set up as a mid-engine design, just in front of the rear axle, with a two speed planetary gear transmission.

The company manufactured both a two seat touring car and a five seat tonneau. In all they built about 200 cars between 1902 and 1904 when the company went bankrupt. The factory where they were built was destroyed in a fire in 1907.

Howard C. Aley, in A Heritage to Share, records that Charles Stewart, who was known for many years as “Youngstown’s safest driver” bought his first car in 1904, a five seat Fredonia. He sold it a year later, but it continued to appear in parades, running under its own power for 75 years.

We may think that Detroit was a good place to build cars, but Youngstown has a century-plus history of building cars. Now it is electric vehicles and batteries at Lordstown. We’ll see if the Mahoning Valley will become a new “Motor City.”

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Why I Don’t Write About Organized Crime

Youngstown Mob Talk Podcast episode produced by Johnny Chechitelli

A friend of ours asked me if I had heard of The Crooked City: Youngstown, Ohio podcast. A friend of his from Youngstown was talking about it. In short order, I noticed several articles about it and realized, “this is a big deal.” In a Business Journal article this past Thursday, I learned that it was one of the top ten podcasts nationally for a number of weeks last year. Turns out I’m not much of a podcast guy, although I’ve been listening to episodes of Crooked City as I write. It’s pretty good stuff. National crime podcaster Mark Smerling puts these podcasts together, but local WKBN producer Johnny Chechitelli, who also produces a local podcast, “Youngstown Mob Talk,” contributed from his archives of research to the project. I also learned that there is a “Youngstown Mob” Facebook group with 28,000 members. On February 9, Johnny Chechitelli and Joseph Naples III are doing a live “Youngstown Mob Talk” at the Robins Theatre in Warren.

I’ve never focused on writing on organized crime in Youngstown, other than passing references. Hearing about all the interest in the mob, it occurs to me that if I wrote on it, there might be a lot of interest. But as interesting as it is, I’m not going to go there.

This is not to say that the history of organized crime in Youngstown is not a significant part of Youngstown history. Part of its history I grew up with. I saw the headlines of the latest mob hit or car-bombing or fire-bombed business. I knew that our politicians were enmeshed in mob influence. The Jim Traficant years, the focus of The Crooked City, which focuses on first person narratives, came after I moved away, though I heard him give one of his drug talks during college. He was riveting. I understood his appeal.

I’m impressed with the work Smerling and Chechitelli have done, and so many others have done and are doing to tell this story. Hopefully, it will inspire everyone in the Valley to say “never again.”

Here’s why I’m not joining them.

  • Whenever I tell someone I grew up in Youngstown, the first thing they bring up is “Crimetown” or “Bombtown” or “Youngstown tuneup.” Seems like everyone, whether from Youngstown or not, knows about this history. And I did as well. I’m not always that keen to re-live it.
  • There are already a number of good people who are in this lane, many who have spent years researching this stuff from Johnny Chechitelli, or James Naples III, a local mob historian and nephew of Joey Naples, or long-time Vindy reporter Bertram D’Souza. I want to drive in another lane. In their lane, I’d just be a wannabe.
  • I tell those who ask me about the mob scene in Youngstown that despite all this, Youngstown was a great, good place to grow up in the 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1970’s. My articles, in part are an explanation of why Youngstown was a great, good place. So many of us who came of age in those years feel the same way and that story also needs to be told.
  • I write about the people and institutions that made Youngstown a good place. I often hear back, “I never knew this about Youngstown. Why didn’t we learn this in school?” I wonder about that as well. I think we need to hear these stories as well. It is one thing to purge corruption. The question is, what do we put in its place? There are some amazing models from William Rayen to P. Ross Berry to Volney Rogers to Mayor Charles Henderson.

Because of work, I don’t live in Youngstown, but as the saying goes, “you can take the boy out of Youngstown, but you can’t take Youngstown out of the boy.” I not only love what Youngstown was, but also what it can become. There are people in education, in health care, in the arts, in the religious community, in the professions who are doing good work. There are people investing in neighborhoods and starting businesses. I loved the library as a kid and love the new library on the Westside and the renovation of the main library. I know there are serious problems as well. But one of the basic principles of building good places is not to focus on the problems or look to some outside “sugar daddy” but to build on the assets inherent in the community. The people of Youngstown, past and present, who have invested in Youngstown are a big part of those assets. Those are the stories I want to tell.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Street and Trolley Cars

Mahoning & Shenango Railway and Light car #314 in Youngstown, Public Domain. They are boarding downtown passengers headed to Idora Park.

Do you know that there was a time when Youngstown had streetcars, and later on trolley cars, much like buses, running on tires rather than rails, but powered from overhead wires? Actually, the last trolleys were retired in 1959, within my lifetime. I do not have a memory of these, but I can’t help but believe I saw them.

The earliest streetcars in Youngstown were horse-drawn, the first dating to 1875 traveling along rails laid between Jefferson Street in Brier Hill and E. Federal Street in downtown Youngstown. It was operated by the Youngstown Street Railroad Company. Fares were less than 6 cents a ride. Later, the same company inaugurated the first electric streetcars in 1891 with routes from Brier Hill to Haselton, out Elm Street to Broadway, and on Mahoning Avenue to Belle Vista.

Several other companies formed in the 1890’s extending lines to other parts of Youngstown and surrounding areas. The Mahoning Valley Railway Company extended lines through East Youngstown and Struthers in 1899, and Lowellville in 1900. The Youngstown & Southern Railway Company ran a route from downtown to Columbiana and Leetonia. The South Side was rapidly growing and The Youngstown Park & Falls Street Railway was franchised to provide service from downtown to Terminal Park (which became Idora Park), beginning service May 30, 1899. It rapidly became the most traveled route in the area.

In 1906, all these companies except Youngstown & Southern merged to form the Mahoning & Shenango Railway & Light Company. In 1920, it became the Penn-Ohio Electric System. In 1921, there were 59 miles of streetcar lines in Youngstown and going between Youngstown and Girard, Niles and Warren (Ohio), and New Castle and Sharon and there were connections to interurban railroads to Cleveland and west to Chicago and other major cities. This map reflects the routes at that time:

Youngstown Streetcar and Interurban Map. The Youngstown & Southern route is in brown.

The next year, 1922, marked the introduction of the trolley car by the Youngstown Municipal Railway Co. They were enclosed rather than open and had leather seats rather than wooden benches and ran on tires rather than rails, still powered by overhead electric lines. By 1923 the Williamson street car line was terminated, and more and more lines were abandoned during the Depression. By 1940, trolleys had replaced the last streetcar. In 1942, the old tracks were torn up and sold for scrap. But this was also the zenith of the growth of trolley car lines. Expansion slowed during the war and post-war years. Between 1957 and 1959 buses replaced trolleys and the last trolley run was on June 10, 1959. Reflecting the change, the company changed its name to the Youngstown Transit Company in 1957 until it became the publicly owned Western Reserve Transit Authority in 1971.

If you want to take a walk down memory lane or see what the old trolleys were like, the Mahoning Valley Historical Society has uploaded a great video to YouTube that also features 1950’s downtown Youngstown. Take a few minutes and enjoy!

One wonders if we’ll see a new version of electric trolleys or light rail used once more in public transportation as we shift from carbon-based fuels. The big thing that has changed is the rise of the car, and electric-powered cars are growing in popularity. The one thing that is clear is that there was once a robust interurban transportation network in the Mahoning Valley and in most of our nation’s towns and cities. I’m kind of sorry I more or less missed it.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — John A. Logan, Jr.

Major John A. Logan, Jr. Public Domain via Wikipedia

His Oriole farm was the site of some of the finest horses, especially Hackney horses, in the world. His father was a friend of Chauncey Andrews, Youngstown’s first millionaire, and he came to Youngstown to run Andrews’ Carbon Limestone Company in 1884. In 1887 he married Andrews’ daughter Edith. He led a National Guard Unit, formally Company H, 5th Infantry but informally known as “Logan’s Rifles.” He died in the Spanish-American War, in San Jacinto, the Philippines, receiving the Medal of Honor. Logan Avenue and Logan Way in Liberty Township, where Oriole Farm was located, bear his name.

John A. Logan, Jr. was born Manning Alexander Logan on July 24, 1865 in Carbondale, Illinois. His father was Major General John A. Logan who is most known for introducing a bill into Congress, at the suggestion of his wife, designating May 30 as Memorial Day, remembering America’s war dead, especially from the Civil War. John A. Logan was a candidate for Vice President in 1884, on the losing Republican ticket with James G. Blaine.

John A. Logan, Jr, already living in Youngstown, followed his father’s military footsteps, attending West Point in the class of 1887. In 1887, he married Edith Andrews at the Andrews estate, the location of the present Ursuline High School, in a gala wedding. The Logans acquired the Oriole farm and three others, Oakhill, Vienna, and Austintown. But Oriole farm was the center of their life and the breeding of Hackney horses, which won top honors at some of the major horse shows in the country. They built a 10,000 square foot mansion on this site.

Oriole Farm, from a 1908 postcard. Public Domain

Besides his work with the Carbon Limestone Company and his horse breeding, Logan formed a militia group that became known as Logan’s Rifles. For a time, its armory was at Phelps and Front Streets, at different times being used by a couple churches and as a dance hall. Later, Vahey Oil Company purchased the building for $80,000.

When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, fighting occurred on two fronts, Cuba and the Philippines. Logan’s Rifles, a group of 82 men, served as part of the Ohio National Guard, departing from the Erie Station to be sworn in, in Cleveland. Further training occurred at Camp Bushnell, in Columbus, from which they departed May 21, 1898 for Tampa, and then on to Camp Fernandina, in Cuba. It is unclear what action they saw, and it appears their only casualties occurred due to typhoid fever, attributed to the unsanitary conditions that characterized this war. They returned to the U.S. on September 8 and mustered out in Cleveland, November 5.

That was not to be the end of Major Logan’s service. He went on as a battalion commander in the 33d United States Volunteer Infantry, during the revolution in the Philippines in 1899. His battalion faced a much larger force in the Battle of San Jacinto on November 11, 1899 and he was fatally wounded. Howard C. Aley writes, “The military funeral marking the occasion of Major Logan’s death was a local event long to be remembered. In the line of march was the Major’s mount, Bonfire, in whose saddle were the Major’s empty boots reversed.”

Since it had taken several months to return his body to the States, he was buried on February 7, 1900 in Oakhill Cemetery. The Congressional Medal of Honor was awarded May 3, 1902, its citation reading: “For most distinguished gallantry in leading his battalion upon the entrenchments of the enemy, on which occasion he fell mortally wounded.”

Major Logan did not live to see 35. The language of “the crowded hour” is often associated with Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, who fought in the same war. While Logan was not part of this group, his life, in a sense, was a crowded hour: West Point, leadership of a nascent Youngstown industry, marrying a wealthy tycoon’s daughter, establishing a premiere horse breeding farm, fathering three children with Edith, forming and leading a volunteer militia, fighting in two different parts of the world, and making the ultimate sacrifice.

The Logan name lives on, and the estate, later known as the Sampson estate, is beginning a new life as a winery, according to a recent Business Journal article. Edward J. Stieglitz said, “And in the end it’s not the years in your life that count; it’s the life in your years.” There are few for whom this could be more true than Major John A. Logan, Jr.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Western Flyer Bicycles

I was looking at old Western Auto ads from The Vindicator and was reminded that my first bicycle was a Western Flyer, which was sold by Western Auto. It was actually older than the one in this ad from 1959. The bike had been my brother’s, which he probably acquired in the early 1950’s. It was painted Maroon with some cream colored detailing. It had huge fenders to accommodate the 26″ balloon tires. There was even a hole in the back fender I could use to attach my Youngstown bike license. It had a carrier on the back with slots that allowed you to tie things to it. It also had a “tank” between the seat and the handle bars. The handlebars were much more wide swept than handle bars today, and because it was old, the chrome was worn off. It had a coaster brake in the back. Like the bike in the picture, it had a wide, padded seat with springs underneath. In one article I read, they said these bikes weighed about 76 pounds. I can believe it! That thing was heavy, and it only had one speed.

Of course, I added to the weight with various accessories: a headlight, mirrors, a speedometer, a horn and a rear tail light. Most of that I bought in the bike aisle at the Western Auto in the Mahoning Plaza. That bike took a lot of energy to get up hills and with some, you just ended up walking. But it could haul downhill–30 miles per hour on my speedometer. That actually got scary one time when the bike started shaking when I tried to put on the brake. Somehow I got it stopped. Because it was so old and clunky, even though I lovingly polished it up, I never had to worry about it being stolen–not with all the spiffy English racers and other cool bikes other kids had. Little did they know that these retro bikes would eventually fetch high prices. I saw one on Etsy selling for $4750! It was from 1950 and looked to be in mint condition.

Eventually, I used some paper route money and bought a 5-speed Schwinn Collegiate second hand (which I still own). I don’t know what happened to the old Western Flyer. At one point, I think my dad turned it into a stationary bike for some exercise. I remember that those old handlebars developed a crack. I suspect it might have been trashed–it wasn’t around when we cleaned out the house.

Western Flyers were first sold by Western Auto in 1931 and the brand continued to be sold until 1998. Other companies actually manufactured the bicycles including Murray and Huffy, the Cleveland Welding Company and the Shelby Cycle Company. Some of the most iconic bikes were sold between the 1930’s and the 1950’s. The Speedline Airflo, built in the late 1930’s, was one of the most popular, and was built by Shelby Cycle. The X-53 series from the 1950’s was also popular and included a frame made of hydrogen-braised seamless steel. There is even a Facebook group for Western Flyer X-53 Bicycles! Even though these things were heavy, they looked sleek, a lot like some of our cars from the Fifties.

I don’t think today’s “retro” bikes are quite as heavy. The thing that was great about these old bikes was that they were comfortable to ride and solid enough to deal with the rough use we gave them as kids. It was a time when we put streamers and baskets and lights and mirrors and lots of other stuff on our bikes and these were big enough that there was room for it all. I think some of us were imagining the motorcycles or the cars we would own in a few years and how we would customize them,

It would be fun to hear about your bike memories. Anyone else have a Western Flyer? What was your first bike? Anyone still have a bike from their youth?

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