Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Old Fashioned Christmas at Lanterman’s Mill

Charles Dwyer, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Do you remember going to Lanterman’s Mill for the Old Fashioned Christmas when you were young? I don’t. Our memories are of taking our son there some time probably around the early 1990’s, during a visit back to Youngstown over Thanksgiving weekend. We were there during one of the early years of what became a Youngstown tradition, dating back to 1988. It began as a craft fair and became the “Old Fashioned Christmas” in the early 1990’s.

We walked from the parking lot and our first sight of the Mill as we walked under the bridge was of a big wreath on the front of the building and smaller wreathes in all the windows. The Mill looked like a scene out of Currier & Ives, particularly with the falls next to the Mill and the covered bridge in the distance.

One memory that stands out was discovering what chestnuts roasted over an open fire actually tasted like. Tastes are all different, but that one time was enough for me. Indoors there were tasty foods you could buy, Christmas crafts and artisan crafts persons, and a beautiful Christmas tree decorated as it might have looked when the mill was in operation. Of course you could also look at all the other exhibits as well as the machinery of the Mill.

There was entertainment including a hammered dulcimer player. We thought the sound of the dulcimer was so cool that we bought a cassette of hammered dulcimer music (remember cassettes?) that is still one of our favorite collections of Christmas music. We also bought a Christmas ornament of Lanterman’s Mill. I found the cassette but the ornament is buried somewhere in our house.

Old Time Country Christmas” (which you can still find at Amazon), a wonderful memory of our visit to Lanterman’s Mill.

The highlight for the kids was a chance to meet Santa and receive treats from him. It was a magical day for all of us, recalling both the wonder of Christmas celebrations through a child’s eyes, and reminding us of one of the scenic treasures of Youngstown.

The Old Fashioned Christmas at Lanterman’s Mill, as I write in 2022, is now in its 35th year, and all the things that we loved about it when we went are still there (I don’t know what kind of entertainment they will have this year). It is Saturday and Sunday, November 26 and 27, 2022 (the Saturday and Sunday of Thanksgiving Weekend each year), 11 am to 4 pm. And because it is a giving season, visitors are invite to bring a new hat, scarf or a pair of mittens to decorate the “Giving Tree” for children in need in the Valley. If you have questions, you can call the Ford Nsture Center at 330-740-7116. And the best part. It’s FREE!

Our visit to the Old Fashioned Christmas at Lanterman’s Mill is one of our treasured memories, brought back every time we listen to that cassette. If you’ve been there, what are your favorite memories? And if not and you are in Youngstown, maybe this is the year to make some memories, maybe with the kids or grandkids, or maybe just with someone special.

By the way, as an extra treat, I thought I’d share this video of Joshua Messick playing “Carol of the Bells” on a hammered dulcimer in a setting not unlike Lanterman’s Mill. Takes me back…

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Emily L. Wick

Emily L. Wick, Screen capture of photo in The Youngstown Vindicator, “Mount Holyoke Honors Dr. Emily L. Wick,” November 19, 1972 via Google News Archive

I have one memory of Dr. Emily L. Wick. She was the Spring Commencement speaker at Youngstown State University in June 1976. Both my wife and I were among the graduates who heard her speak. All either of us can remember was a story she told about aardvarks! I suspect our minds were on other things than commencement words of wisdom–mostly getting our diplomas and getting out of those sticky robes.

That story hardly does justice to the life of this amazing woman. After completing undergraduate and masters degrees at Mount Holyoke College, she enrolled in 1946 as a chemistry Ph.D. candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where her father had attended. She was an avid sailor although there was no sailing team at the time for women. She was one of only 19 women to graduate from MIT in 1951. After graduation, she worked for A.D. Little, doing the chemical research that resulted in Miracle Whip and many Campbell soups.

In 1959 she was hired as an assistant professor at MIT in the Department of Nutrition and Food Science. In 1963, she became the first woman to achieve tenure at MIT. During this time, she developed food systems for the newly established astronaut program of NASA. She became an associate dean of student affairs in 1965, co-founding the Women’s Forum to advocate for the equal treatment of women on faculty, in student admissions, and in every aspect of life on campus. She also became a staunch supporter of the women’s sailing team, which became a varsity sport in 1969. In honor of her work, alumni organized the Emily Wick Regatta. The Intercollegiate Women’s Sailing Championship trophy is named the Emily L. Wick trophy.

On November 19, 1972. The Youngstown Vindicator ran a story about Dr. Wick receiving an honorary degree from nearby Mount Holyoke College. David B. Truman, president of the college said of her:

“You have also won the respect of colleagues and the gratitude of students for your skilled championship of women at MIT, for your unfailing and persuasive sense of humor, and above all for your fundamental integrity — qualities rare in any era but especially valued for their scarcity in these times.”

One wonders if they were preparing the way for her appointment as dean of the faculty in 1973, marking her return to Mount Holyoke twenty-seven years after her graduation. Later, she was an assistant to the president for long range planning before her retirement in 1986.

Why focus on this east coast scientist and academic? You guessed it! She was a native of Youngstown. Her 1947-1948 I.D. card for the MIT Sailing Pavilion lists her home address on South Belle Vista Avenue in Youngstown, Ohio. Her father was James L. Wick, Jr., after whom the James L. Wick Recreation Area is named. She was born December 9, 1921.

Her love of sailing began young, when her family summered in Rockport, Massachusetts, on the coast. When she retired, she returned to Rockport and in 1988 was named the first woman Commodore of the Sandy Bay Yacht Club. In 2012, the club named its Race Committee boat the Emily Wick. She worked to keep memberships affordable for everyone, including teenagers. She was an avid hiker and bird watcher.

Active until her last years, she passed away at age 91 on March 21, 2013. She was a pathbreaker for women in science, gave us Miracle Whip, fed our astronauts, and pursued a love of sailing all her life. And it all began on the West Side of 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 — The Underground Railroad

Strock Stone House, a reputed stop on the underground railroad. Photo courtesy of the Austintown Historical Society.

Last week, I re-posted an article on Jared Potter Kirtland, an early resident of Poland, Ohio. His home was a stop on the Underground Railroad. I mentioned that a post on the Underground Railroad would be a good idea for another time. Re-reading that article and a few requests led me to the conclusion that it is time to write that article.

The Underground Railroad was the clandestine effort of a abolitionists in Northern States to help fugitive slaves escaping the South find refuge and make their way to Canada, where they were not subject to capture by fugitive slave hunters. It was illegal to hide or aid fugitive slaves to escape, and so precautions were taken including keeping no records and partitioning the routes so that no one could reveal the whole network of escape routes. The terminology reflected the Underground Railroad analogy.

  • Fugitive slaves were “passengers.”
  • Those who helped escaping slaves find the railroad were “agents.”
  • Guides along the way were known as “conductors.”
  • Hiding places were “stations” and those who hid slaves were “station masters.”

Because Ohio was separated from the slaveholding South by the Ohio River, many slaves escaped across the Ohio River at various points from Cincinnati to Ripley, to Southpoint, Portsmouth, Gallipolis, and Marietta, and to Steubenville. One of the most famous stations was the home of Reverend John Rankin in Ripley, on a hill above the river. The Rankins were the first stop for 2200 fugitive slaves and the likely source of a story of a slave woman and her infant child who escaped across the ice floes on the Ohio River, captured memorably in Uncle Tom’s Cabin by their friend, Harriet Beecher Stowe. The state is crisscrossed with Underground Railroad routes running from the Ohio River to the Lake Erie port cities of the north where people could get boats to Canada: Toledo, Sandusky, Cleveland, Painesville, and Ashtabula among them. There are several markers on the Ohio State campus tracing the route through the campus. In recognition of this, the southeast corner of the new Ohio Union is configured architecturally in the form of a lantern, a sign of a “station,” recognizing the Underground Railroad history associated with the campus.

Compiled from “The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom” by Wilbur H. Siebert, Public Domain

You will notice that several of the Underground Railroad routes ran from the river up the eastern border of Ohio. One of the most famous of these that ran up through Mahoning County began at Wellsville, following what is present day Route 45 up through Salem, Ellsworth, just west of what is now Meander Reservoir up to Warren, on to North Bloomfield and up to Ashtabula. Another branched further east through Canfield, into Youngstown, up to Brookfield and Hartford and then up to Ashtabula. Some may have connected with this by crossing over from Pennsylvania by Poland (the Kirtland House), and then headed north.

In Salem, The Daniel Howell Hise home was one of the stations along the Route 45 line. The Hises were Quakers (as were many abolitionists and those involved in the Underground Railroad). Salem at that time had a high percentage of Quakers and hosted many national events. In the 1850’s, the Hises bought a Gothic Revival Farmhouse that included many hidden rooms under the house and in a nearby barn. Slaves could stay in hiding, rest, and eat until a conductor would take them to the next station.

That next station may have been in Ellsworth, a center of abolitionist activity, or in Canfield, the home of Chauncey Fowler. Fowler was a physician who provided food, clothing, and no doubt, medical care to slaves on the way to Canada. On the way home from an abolitionist meeting in Ellsworth, Fowler narrowly escaped an attack by a band of pro-slavery men. Being an abolitionist and a station master were dangerous activities.

The Strock Stone House, a bit south of Mahoning Avenue was also not far from Route 45. Francis Henry lived in the house from 1851 to 1863, and this was the likely time it was used as a station. The house was isolated and allowed fugitives and their conductor to approach unseen.

One of the conductors, from Bazetta Township, was Levi Sutliff, who possibly brought slaves to the house of Judge Leicester King whose house was along Route 45 by the Mahoning River in Warren. King was a statewide leader in anti-slavery efforts. From there, they went north to North Bloomfield, the site of slave rescue in 1823, when slaves were hidden by the residents and then protected in a hideout in Rome, about 12 miles away. The slave hunters were put up in the Tavern, where a variety of stalling tactics from “sleeping late” to the horses of the slave hunters some how turning up with a shoe missing, requiring the attentions of a blacksmith, allowing the slaves to make good their escape.

From Rome, slaves found another station in Austinburg, and then made their way to Ashtabula where they were put on boats to Canada and freedom. One interesting connection to the Youngstown area was that three nephews of Nehemiah Hubbard, Jr. (after whom Hubbard is named) settled in Ashtabula: William, Matthew, and Henry. All were heavily involved in abolitionist efforts and William’s house was the final station for many on the Underground Railroad. The house survives and is now Hubbard House Underground Railroad Museum.

The other route, from Poland, conducted slaves on to Youngstown where there was a station managed by John Loughridge, the leader of the abolitionist movement there. Slaves may have been conducted from there to Brookfield and Hartford, where Dudley Tracy was a station master and radical abolitionist.

As I noted, because this was dangerous activity, many of the “stations” were kept quiet, with no records. My hunch is that this is only a representative sample of many who were involved in the Mahoning Valley and other parts of eastern Ohio in rescuing fugitive slaves. If you know of other stations and conductors or can add to the stories here, I’d love for you to do so in the comments. There was a strong abolitionist movement throughout eastern Ohio and the Western Reserve, with many prominent people who took great risks because they believed in human equality and freedom. There is an inspiring story to be told of which this is just a small part.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Paul J. Ricciuti

Paul J. Ricciuti. Photo courtesy of Paul J. Ricciuti

Good cities are places where the natural and built environment complement each other. In Youngstown, the Wick Avenue corridor running through the university district is one of the showplaces of the city. St. John’s Episcopal Church. the Reuben MacMillan Library. Maag Library. The McDonough Museum of Art. The Butler Museum of Art. The Wick-Pollock Inn. The Arms Museum Carriage House. One man and the architecture firm he headed was involved in the design, preservation, restoration, or enlargement of each of these buildings. Paul J. Ricciuti.

I first became acquainted with Mr. Ricciuti when I wrote an article about my childhood pediatrician, beloved throughout Youngstown, Dr. James B. Birch. If you visit that post and scroll through the comments, you will see one from Mr, Ricciuti:

Good morning,
Thank you for the wonderful story about my wife’s (Katie Birch Ricciuti) father, Dr Birch. After he retired, he lived with us for three years in Liberty where he enjoyed his last years with his faithful dog Chico. He was a remarkable man and it gives Katie great pleasure that he is still thought of by his patients. We still have the famous “black bag”, which will be donated to the Mahoning Valley Historical Society.

We became Facebook friends around that time. As I continued to write about Youngstown, his name kept turning up, whether in connection with the design of Maag Library (where I spent many hours studying my last years of college) or the exterior restoration of the Mahoning County Court House (as a design consultant) or the Tod Cemetery Office and Chapel or the Tyler History Center. This summer, I happened to note on Facebook that Mr. Ricciuti had celebrated his 87th birthday and thought that maybe I ought to write an article about this man that has had such an influence on the built environment of Youngstown. Shortly after, a note from one of his children suggesting an article confirmed my instinct.

Paul Ricciuti is a Youngstown native, a first generation American of parents who immigrated from Italy. He grew up in Brownlee Woods and graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in 1953. His interest in architecture traces back to his drawing teacher at Wilson who “started me drawing house plans and I loved the idea of creating a building on paper.” He went on to Kent State, studying architecture with Joseph Morbitto, who introduced him to Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan, two major American architects. During the summer, he worked with Walter Damon, a Youngstown architect who taught him the value of historic preservation and restoration, which would become a major part of his career.

Maag Library, a contemporary design by Paul Ricciuti built in 1975. Notice how well it fits into the natural landscape. Photo by Robert C. Trube

He finished his work at Kent State in 1959 after taking a year out to work in Washington, DC. It was through a dinner invitation from a friend in the art department at Kent that he met Katherine Birch. After a tour of duty with the Air Force and passing his state boards in 1962, he was married to Katherine in 1963. Three children and eight grandchildren followed. They were married for 59 years until Katherine’s recent passing in October of 2022.

He joined the firm of Smith, Buchanan, & Smith, which later became Buchanan Ricciuti and Partners and later, Ricciuti Balog, and Partners. A major focus of his work has been education and the arts. A number of his projects were at Youngstown State: Maag Library, DeBartolo Hall, Cafaro and Lyden Houses, the McDonough Museum and the Wick Avenue Pedestrian Bridge. Other education-related projects included both the Mahoning County and Trumbull County Career and Technical Centers, a restoration project at McDonald High School, and projects at Geneva Ohio Schools, Kent City Schools, Wooster City Schools, Columbus City Schools, Alliance City Schools, Lake Local, Plain Local, Sebring Local and West Branch Local School Districts.

In his later career and in retirement, Ricciuti focused on historic preservation and adaptive reuse projects. A good example locally is the Tyler Center of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, as well as the Carriage House of the Arms Museum. In Youngstown, he also did restoration and adaptive reuse work on the Strouss’ building, the McCrory Building, the Tod Cemetery Office and Chapel, the Ursuline Motherhouse, the Youngstown YWCA and the McKinley Memorial Library.

Perhaps his favorite project, his pride and joy, was the Lackawanna Station Building in Scranton, Pennsylvania, now the Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel. I’m going to let pictures tell the story of this grand structure, restored to its former glory

Highsmith, C. M., photographer. (2019) The massive Lackawanna Station building in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Scranton Pennsylvania Lackawanna County United States, 2019. -06-01. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

From Maag Library to the Tyler to the Lackawanna Station, and so much in between, Paul Ricciuti has produced an impressive body of work. A measure of this was his investiture in 1996 in the College of Fellows in the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the first architect from Youngstown to receive this honor. He had previously been awarded a Gold Medal in 1994 from the AIA Eastern Ohio and the Charles Marr Award in 1993 from the AIA Ohio Foundation. In addition, he received the Directors Award of Achievement (2007) from the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, the Preservation Merit Award (2008) from the Ohio Historic Preservation Office for his work on the Adaptive Reuse of Historic Buildings, the Woodrow Wilson Hall of Fame (2015) and the Tod Homestead Cemetery Trustee Award (2022).

He remains actively involved not only with his church, St. John’s Episcopal, but also in a number of community causes that reflect his interests. His community involvement includes being the President of the Youngstown Symphony Society, Youngstown Hearing & Speech Center, and the Liberty Rotary Club; a Trustee or Director of the Tod Homestead Cemetery, YSU McDonough Museum of Art, Mahoning Valley Historical Society and Stambaugh Auditorium Association.

I asked Mr. Ricciuti why he stayed in Youngstown when someone with his talents could well have worked in a major city. He wrote back to me:

While still in college, I was offered a position with a national firm in Chicago, but I decided after completing my service with the U.S. Air Force to stay in Youngstown. My roots, family and friends were here and having worked the summers with a local architectural firm, I understood the opportunities here in the early 1960’s. I’m glad I stayed!

Mr. Ricciuti, I’m glad you stayed as well. Thank you for all you have contributed to Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley. Well done, sir!

[A special thanks to Paul J. Ricciuti who provided in writing much of the background information in this article, the photograph of himself, and gave me an informal phone interview.]

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Touch Football

Borts Field in 2019. This is where I played many pickup touch football games as a kid.  © 2019, Robert C Trube

On a walk late yesterday afternoon, the slight autumn chill in the air, the light, and the changing leaves brought back memories of fall touch football games. Sometimes, we’d just play in the street, but often I would join my friends at Borts Field, two blocks from where I lived. In the fall, there were amateur leagues that played on the weekends and so we even had yard lines marked out.

We’d usually play for an hour or so after school, until it was time to get cleaned up for dinner. And even though it was “touch,” that didn’t mean you didn’t have to clean up, particularly if the field was muddy, which often meant you might slip when you were trying to “cut.”

With touch football, all you needed was a football. The person running or receiving the football was “down” when someone touched them. We usually played “two hand” which was a bit tougher. You could get a bit banged up if two people collided going for a ball, or maybe turn an ankle. But I never remember anyone really getting hurt.

Usually our teams were five or six to a side. On offense, everyone except the quarterback was a receiver. On defense, everyone covered receivers except for one player who “rushed the passer.” There was usually a “count to five” rule before the rusher could touch the quarterback. You could approach, try to block the pass, but they had a “five count” to get the pass off before you went after them. On defense, because I was not the fastest, I usually was the designated rusher.

Offense was more fun. Mostly I blocked for another receiver–hands but no holding–or sometimes got a lateral when someone was about to be touched.

Occasionally we kicked the ball of or punted when someone could do that well, but more often, I recall the kick really being a pass that the other team received. Usually you punted only if three attempts to move the ball from scrimmage failed. In my recall, that didn’t happen very often. If you didn’t score, it usually was the result of a lost fumble or an interception.

We didn’t do penalties. There were no officials. If a play was disputed, we’d usually declare a do-over–no loss of down. Most of the time, most of us wanted to play rather than stand around and argue.

Usually we finished when the first kids had to leave for dinner. By then we’d all worked off that energy that was bottled up while sitting in classes all day. And on those cool autumn days after an hour or so of touch football, we were hungry and dinner always smelled good and tasted better.

Good memories!

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — McGuffey Mall

McGuffey Mall at the time of its Grand Opening in 1972. Screen capture from Youngstown Vindicator, October 22, 1972 via Google News Archive.

It seems that I have been writing a lot about the East side of Youngstown of late. I’m back there this week because it was fifty years ago this week that the McGuffey Mall had its grand opening. There was no big fanfare but simply a sparkling new shopping mall covering over one of the first plazas in the Youngstown area and adding 10,000 square feet of retail space.

In 1954, William Cafaro built one of his first shopping centers at the intersection of McGuffey Road and North Garland. It was a location that was special to Cafaro, who grew up on the East side. They added the Garland Plaza in 1960. For many years the plazas were a thriving shopping location but by the early 1970’s, a number of tenants were leaving at the end of their leases for the new malls. Eastwood Mall, another Cafaro property, opened in 1969 and Southern Park Mall, operated by the DeBartolo Corporation, opened in 1970.

The Cafaro firm took an unusual step that reflected their ties to the area. They admitted that they could have signed a few leases and sold off the property. Instead, they made a major investment, enclosing the old retail space and adding additional retail space. They worked with the community to gain their buy-in and in the fall of 1972 opened a glittering new space at the site of the nearly 20 year-old plaza.

This move certainly extended the life of shopping in this area. Over the years shops, banks, drug stores, supermarkets, a bowling alley, and a post office occupied the site. But by the early 2000’s, the site was clearly struggling. In a 2007 video of low video quality, it shows only four open businesses that I can see, anchored by a Family Dollar and a National City Bank. Much of the retailed space was closed off.

2007 Video of McGuffey Mall

The Garland Plaza was occupied by Mahoning County Department of Job & Family Services from 1988 until 2007. In 2012, the Cafaro firm decided to sell both the mall and the plaza. On October 25, 2013, it was acquired by Highway Contracting of Boardman, a demolition contractor, who proceeded with demolition beginning in December, completing it in 2014.

The site has been idle since, but 2022 brought news that the Western Reserve Port Authority (WRPA) planned to acquire the site for $162,250. They had no immediate plans for the property but Anthony Trevena, representing WRPA, observes that the nearby freeway access makes it a desirable location for redevelopment. Viewing the site on Google street view reveals a significant amount of workers and vehicles on the site, suggesting the first steps of preparing the location for redevelopment.

Nothing is firm yet, but this would be a shot in the arm for the area, recalling the years where this was a center of bustling commercial activity. That might be the best news this area has had in fifty years.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Charles N. Crandall

Charles N. Crandall

“He was the mildest man I ever knew, with always a kind word for everyone” -a friend of Charles N. Crandall.

Crandall Avenue and Crandall Park in Youngstown are named after his family, which donated much of the land for both Crandall and Wick Park. Crandall lived across the street from Wick Park in a big stone house on Broadway, a well built three story home that is still standing.

He was a quiet man, often seen walking the streets around his home, smoking a long stogie, or attending events at Stambaugh Auditorium, described in his Vindicator obituary as “a lone bystander on the fringe of the crowd.” This lone bystander never married but devoted himself to civic affairs throughout the city of Youngstown. He was devoted to his church, Trinity Methodist Church, giving liberal sums to the remodeling of its building and a gift of $110,000 to Mt. Union College, affiliated with the Methodist Church and for which he was a trustee. He also gave $100,000 to an endowment fund of what was then Youngstown College. Upon his death the bulk of his remaining estate was left to the Youngstown Hospital Association.

He was one of Esther Hamilton’s candy butchers and a member of the Optimists, the Chamber of Commerce, and a number of fraternal organizations. He was active with the YMCA from its beginnings in Youngstown, serving as secretary for its southern camps. He avidly supported the work of the League of Women Voters.

He was able to do all this as an independently wealthy bachelor. His father, Nelson Crandall married Sarah Stambaugh, daughter of pioneer John Stambaugh, the father of Henry H. Stambaugh, after whom Stambaugh Auditorium is named. Nelson Crandall made his fortune working for David Tod‘s Brier Hill Iron and Coal Company. He acquired farm land encompassing much of the North Side of Youngstown, and it was from these lands that Charles Crandall and family donated the land as well as developing the residential neighborhoods around the park.

Born in 1870, Charles Crandall found himself heir to a fortune. It allowed him to pursue a quiet life of civic service, painting, and horticulture. He did all the work on the well-tended gardens around his home. A salesman, mistaking him for a hired gardener, scolded him for not calling “the lady of the house.” He was known as an amateur naturalist who could identify any flower or weed presented to him. One of the few luxuries he allowed himself was summer vacations at Lake Chautauqua, enjoying the concerts and lectures offered there each year.

Nelson Crandall devoted his life to acquiring a fortune as part of one of Youngstown’s early industrial enterprises. His son, Charles N. Crandell spent his life disposing of it in charitable work. He had no heirs. As it turned out, much of Youngstown was heir to his fortune. He died just shy of his 81st birthday after a 20 month battle with cancer. I like to think that the quiet beauty of Wick Park and Crandall Park and the remnants of stately beauty in the built environment of the areas around these parks reflect the character of this quiet man who loved beauty.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Insurance Man

Cover of an insurance policy taken out on me the year I was born. Photo by Robert C. Trube

Both my grandfather Trube and my father worked as insurance men for The Prudential for a time, my grandfather until he retired, and my father early in his working life. The policy pictured above is one I own that my dad took out on me the year I was born. He made annual payments on it for 20 years of $22.79 and then gave it to me. I took a loan on the cash value to buy my first car because the interest rate was so much lower than car loans. True confession time–I just paid off that loan this year. I had paid a yearly interest fee for many years of $17 and just decided, probably more in the interest of tidiness than anything, to pay it off.

It reminded me of a job that, for the most part, no longer exists, that of the debit insurance man. That’s what both my dad and grandfather did. Debit insurance is life insurance under which the payment is made weekly, biweekly, or monthly. It was a way that lower income families were able to purchase life insurance. My father sold insurance and collected debit insurance payments for an area that covered much of Youngstown’s lower West side. Many of his policyholders worked in the mills. Given the risks of working in the mills, life insurance was an important protection. I remember my father speaking of insurance payments to widows of men who died in mill accidents. It could not lessen the grief, but it was something.

My dad called the territory he covered “the debit.” Much of his work was to visit each of the policyholders and collect their payments. There were no automatic deductions or online payments back then. Many didn’t have checking accounts and so sending money to an office through the mail was risky. In the insurance business back then, the office came to them, and my father made his living on a tiny commission he received on each payment.

You can imagine that it wasn’t an easy life. My dad only did it for a few years. But I remember how much he enjoyed the people he visited, especially around the holidays, when he was invited in for a drink, or to have a bite of the holiday spread, or walked away with a plate of cookies. The rapport and trust he built led to referrals, allowing him to serve others on the lower West side.

Debit insurance is not the most cost effective form of insurance. Home collection and commissions added to the cost. Not all insurance agents were reputable. But it was the way many lower income people could buy life insurance. My father and grandfather felt they represented a reputable company (which still pays me dividends on that little policy) and that they provided an important service to their policyholders, celebrating with them when life was good, and grieving when it wasn’t. It was personal, dealing with things we don’t like to but must think about.

That policy? It now costs me nothing but isn’t worth very much in today’s dollars. As much as anything, it is a reminder of my father, who made this provision many years ago. It reminds me of one piece of my family history. And it reminds me of how much our world has changed.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Scienceville

The second Scienceville High School

I wrote last week about The Sharonline neighborhood on Youngstown’s East Side. The name Scienceville came up and piqued my curiosity as well. The Scienceville neighborhood is just west of the Sharonline neighborhood, defined by the neighborhoods on either side of McGuffey Road west of Liberty toward Lansdowne, and those along Liberty, that were originally part of Coitsville Township until it was annexed into Youngstown in 1928. In some sources I looked at Scienceville, The Sharonline and McGuffey Heights are lumped together, but I also found evidence of each being distinctive neighborhoods.

But what about that name? Originally, the area was called Science Hill. As early as 1840, there was a Science Hill schoolhouse. Supposedly the name reflected an interest in science of the residents. The name was changed because there was another location in Ohio named Science Hill. So it became Scienceville. In 1906, the first Scienceville High School was built on the west side of Liberty Road between Cornwall and Fairfax, replacing the schoolhouse. In 1922, the second Scienceville High School was built across the street, with the first becoming an elementary school.

In 1945, Scienceville High School became North High School. Students thought the name Scienceville was unrecognizable in other parts of town, and eventually persuaded the Board of Education to change the name to North High School (odd because it is located on the East Side). In 1956, a new North High School opened on Mariner Avenue with the old building becoming a middle school, named Science Hill Junior High.

The “new” North High School, opened in 1956.

North High School was closed after the 1979-1980 class. The building has since been razed and is now the site of Martin Luther King Elementary. The sites of the first and second high schools are now vacant land. East Middle School is located just to the northeast of the elementary on Bryn Mawr and feeds into East High School.

The neighborhood consists of older 3 to 4 bedroom homes built between 1940 and 1969 with along with apartments. According to Neighborhood Scout, the neighborhood has one of the highest percentages of those of African ancestry (7.8 percent) and Puerto Rican ancestry (9.2 percent) of any neighborhood in the country.

There was always a group of Scienceville alumni who thought it a mistake to change the name to North. I won’t weigh in on that one, but I do think it does seem unfortunate that none of the schools bear this name. Community identity is powerful in uniting a neighborhood, and the history of Science Hill and the schools that occupied the area around Liberty Road seems worth recapturing.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Sharonline

Sign erected in 2015 at intersection of McGuffey and Jacobs Roads

I was asked a question yesterday about The Sharonline neighborhood on Youngstown’s East side. Until a few years ago, I was unaware of this neighborhood. I first learned of it when I wrote a post on sides of town and the different neighborhoods on each side of town. But I still didn’t know much about it, which is how I end up writing many of these articles.

So where is The Sharonline? The Sharonline Page demarcates the area as bounded on the north by Hubbard, on the south by McKelvey Lake, on the west by Lansdowne Boulevard and on the east by State Route 616. The Youngstown Neighborhood Development map below sets the west boundary further east following Early, McGuffey, and Jacobs Road.

Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation “East Side Planning District

So why is this neighborhood called “The Sharonline”? In the early twentieth century, there were street car connections between many cities.  The Youngstown-Sharon Railway and Light Co. operated a street car or trolley line between Youngstown and Sharon that ran along Jacobs Road. It was known as the Sharonline, and so was the neighborhood that was growing up around this street car line. Youngstown, Campbell, and Sharon were rapidly growing steel towns and The Sharonline was well-located between these industrial centers.

The earliest residents were Irish immigrants. Soon, though, the Italian community became and remained dominant for many years. Later the neighborhood became predominantly Black and Latino. City planners thought that this more rural area of Youngstown would develop with a growing population. Instead, the population moved to the suburbs, with decline accelerating after the closure of the steel mills.

There was a lot of pride among the residents of the neighborhood, even though it was materially poor for many years. The McGuffey Centre was, and to a certain extent, still is the community center. The Centre opened in 1939 and moved into its new building in 1960. In its heyday, it offered an array of recreation programs for youth while also serving parents and seniors (with COVID, the center has lacked the staff for youth programming, focusing more on the adult and senior population).

But gatherings were hardly limited to the McGuffey Centre. It was not uncommon for someone with a large basement to host “five cent socials,” where everyone chipped in a nickel for pop, hot dogs, and burgers. When television came on the scene, the first in the neighborhood would have everyone in the neighborhood in their living room. And like many Youngstown neighborhoods, the discipline of children was a neighborhood, Two former residents recalled in a Vindicator story:

When an adult saw you doing something wrong, they got after you right there and it was guaranteed that your parents knew whatever you had done before you made it home. It was one large, extended family.

Since 1989, even though residents had moved away, they come together with current residents for a tri-annual Sharonline reunion. The most recent was this past August.

Beyond the McGuffey Centre, local congregations, the East Side Library, and the schools host and offer a number of community programs.

Around 4,000 people currently live in The Sharonline neighborhood. The Northeast Homeowners and Concerned Citizens Association (NHCCA) functions both as an information hub through their Facebook page and community organization working with homeowners to improve the neighborhood.

Because of its shrinking population and problems with people coming into the area and dumping garbage, the city has worked with community to “decommission” abandoned areas by razing homes and allowing the reversion to nature of these areas. The NHCCA has created two pocket parks and four other corner landscaped lots along McGuffey Road. Taking advantage of what was once farmland, Master Gardeners train community members in growing their own food.

It strikes me that the area has the potential to be a second recreation area, beside Mill Creek MetroPark after the city’s acquisition of McKelvey Lake. With the nearby McGuffey Wildlife Preserve, Bailey Park and other rural land, it seems that the area has natural assets that could draw people into the area. So much seems to hinge on continuing to cultivate the community pride that has characterized The Sharonline to address neighborhood renewal, reducing crime, and creating successful local businesses.

There are many people who thought The Sharonline neighborhood a great place to grow up. It appears there is a good network of people who are working to make it a good place. I have enjoyed learning about The Sharonline neighborhood and hope I hear more good things about it!

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