Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Welsh in Youngstown

Welsh_Congregational_Church

Welsh Congregational Church building. Photo by Nyttend. Public Domain via Wikimedia

When I was a student at Youngstown State, I would often finish classes in the afternoon and walk down to McKelvey’s, either to work on Monday and Thursday evenings when they were open, or to catch a ride home on other days, with my father, who also worked there. My route would take me past the magnificent St. Columba’s, but also past a much plainer church building on the other side of Elm St., the Welsh Congregational Church. The church had wood siding painted white, similar to many churches one sees in rural towns, but with a cruciform shape with the two arms toward the front of the building. Dormer windows had crosses above them, and a steeple topped the entry facade.

I knew Youngstown was a mix of many ethnic communities, but I knew absolutely nothing about the Welsh community in Youngstown. In writing about Youngstown over the last several years, I discovered that the Welsh played an important role in the development of the coal, iron, and steel industry in the city. David Tod, who opened one of the first coal mines in Brier Hill, employed John Davis to run his mining operation. Davis played a crucial role in recruiting a number of other Welsh immigrants to come to the Mahoning Valley. Welshman William Philpot built the Eagle Furnace in Brier Hill and William Richards, another Welshman managed the operation. By the 1840’s, there was a sizable community living in Brier Hill and elsewhere. 

The Welsh are known for their singing.  Music festivals known as eisteddfods were major occasions with various choirs competing for top honors. Given the robust Welsh community in Youngstown, it was the home for the first eisteddfod in Ohio in 1860, and the first annual state competition in 1885. St. David is the patron saint of Wales, and Saint David’s Day, March 1, is another time when the Welsh gathered for food and song. The St. David’s Society was formed in 1891 in Youngstown, hosting banquets complete with music and storytelling down to this day. At one time, in the early 1900’s, up to 15,000 Welsh from Youngstown and surrounding areas gathered for annual picnics at Idora Park.

In 1845, a group of Welsh formed a Congregational Church in Brier Hill. The name reflected their history as churches independent of the Church of England in England and Wales. Thomas Evans was their first pastor.  In 1861, Thomas W. Davis became the church’s pastor and they built the church I walked past 110 or so years later. It quickly became a center of Welsh community activities. In 1887, the building underwent major reconstruction, essentially in the form it survives in to this day.

The church worshiped at this site for over 100 years. In 1976, the building was sold to the Messiah Holiness Church of God in Christ, who worshiped there until 1997, when a fire resulted in the building being permanently closed. This would spell the end of most buildings, but in 1986, the building was registered in the National Register of Historic Places because of its architecture and community history. It is the oldest church building in Youngstown.

The Youngstown Catholic Diocese now owns the property, wants to preserve the building while re-purposing the space, and has asked Youngstown CityScape, a non-profit involved in beautification and redevelopment efforts in the greater downtown, to move the building. Youngstown CityScape has funds to move the building, which has been deemed architecturally sound for such a move, and are seeking funds to renovate the building, at an estimated cost of $700,000. The problem has been finding a suitable site nearby. Originally, there were plans to move the church building to Wick Park, where CityScape has been engaged in a number of improvement projects. That move has been nixed, and other sites have been proposed from land in the Youngstown Land Bank, to the “Wedge” greenspace near the Steel Museum, to the site of St. Anthony’s on the River on Oak Hill. A major issue for any location is that the city not be saddled with ongoing costs.

It is not clear at this time what the solution is. One clearly needs to be found soon to avoid further deterioration of the building, necessitating razing the structure. It is a significant part of Youngstown history, representing a community that contributed significantly to the building of the city, and the oldest house of worship in the city. Perhaps it is time for an appeal to St. David…

Sources for this article:

Howard C. Aley, A Heritage to Share: The Bicentennial History of Youngstown and Mahoning County (Youngstown: The Bicentennial Commission of Youngstown and Mahoning County, Ohio, 1975), pp. 45-46.

Welsh Congregational Church,” Wikipedia

William Osborn, Music in Ohio (Kent: Kent State University Press, 2004), p. 363.

Linda Linonis, “St. David’s Society Preserves Welsh Heritage,” The Vindicator, February 19, 2014.

The Old Welsh Congregational Church,” Y-Town is My Town, Monday April 10, 2006.

CityScape shares plans to move Welsh church to Wick Park,” The Vindicator, July 20, 2018.

Graig Graziosi, “Welsh Congregational Church may stay put for the moment,” The Vindicator, September 16, 2018.

Wick Park no longer site for relocating Youngstown’s oldest church,”  WKBN.com,  September 27, 2018.

Preserve Wick Park,” Facebook.

Jordyn Grzelewski, “Oak Hill Collaborative announces sale of former Anthony’s On the River,” The Vindicator, November 29, 2018.

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — George J. Renner Jr.

George J Renner JrHe built the largest brewery in Youngstown. He made failing businesses profitable and suffered several reverses from which he re-built each time. He built one of the most beautiful homes bordering Wick Park, now on the National Register of Historic Places. He was George J. Renner Jr.

A big man at six foot three inches with broad shoulders, he could lift a full barrel of beer onto a wagon by himself. A professional wrestler once persisted in challenging him to a match at a bar, the loser buying a round of drinks. Renner refused, was repeatedly badgered, until they finally came to grips, at which Renner threw the other man over his head and walked out.

Renner came from a brewing family. His father ran breweries in Cincinnati, Mansfield, and Akron. After learning the trade from his father, he ran breweries in Zanesville and Wooster, making losing operations profitable. Learning of an idle brewing plant on Pike Street on the south side of Youngstown, off Oak Hill, overlooking the Mahoning River (and what is now I-680), he purchased the plant for $4800 in 1885. The plant had an onsite water source, an artesian well. 

Renner’s first home was next to the plant at 209 Pike Street. He refurbished the plant and began operating it more or less as a solo operation at first, brewing, selling, delivering, and collecting payments. By January of 1889, he had a small core of employees including plant engineer, George Richter. A plant boiler exploded, killing Richter, and resulting in a fire destroying the plant, now valued at $75,000. Parts of the boiler were found on the other side of the Mahoning River.

Obtaining loans and an inadequate insurance payment, Renner built a state of the art brewery from the ground up in 1890, adding a bottling operation in 1895. The new plant had an 18,000 barrel annual capacity and this was further enlarged in 1913. He had stables for 52 horses for the delivery wagons. In 1907, he had sixty employees and the largest brewing operation in the city.

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George J. Renner Jr. Mansion, 277 Park Avenue. Photo by Nyttend, Public Domain via Wikipedia

In the same year, he began construction of his home on Park Avenue by Wick Park. It is a three-story, Georgian Revival brick mansion. The two story portico on the front is support by four pairs of columns with ionic capitals. It has a tiled roof. The interior walls between rooms are 18 inches thick with many of the rooms having pocket doors. The construction cost was projected at $40,000 but eventually soared to $75,000 by the time the home was complete.

The brewery explosion was not the last setback Renner faced. The beginning of Prohibition in 1919 led to shutting down the plant after an unprofitable attempt to sell a non-alcoholic beer (Reno). After 1921, they bottled soft drinks and stayed afloat due to real estate holdings. Most of the plant lay dormant. When Prohibition ended in 1933, Renner spent $250,000 renovating and expanding the plant, employing 200 men at the height of the Depression. The renovated plant had a capacity of 100,000 barrels annual production, later raised to 175,000. They produced a number of lines of beers and ales, serving Youngstown and neighboring counties. At this time, close to Renner’s death on December 1, 1935, the company’s stock was valued at $600,000, quite a significant increase from Renner’s initial investment of $4800 in 1885.

The family sold the home in 1939, at which time it was broken up into apartments. As for the brewery, Renner’s son Emil became chairman of the board for the remainder of the company’s history. His son Robert became president in 1948, at a time when national companies increasingly challenged its position in local markets. Efforts to modernize and compete kept them afloat for a time but the brewery shut down in November of 1962. An investment group purchased the buildings in 1963 but they remained vacant until a fire on the site in 1978, after which most of the buildings were razed.

The Renner House was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. All this does is state that the home has historic and architectural value that is worth preserving. Currently, it is a rental property listed as having fifteen apartments. Hopefully it will remain as the one visible mark of Youngstown’s greatest brewers. And the next time you pour yourself a tall, cold one, raise a glass to George J. Renner, Jr., Youngstown’s greatest brewer.

Sources:

George J. Renner Jr. (1856-1935)“, Riverside Cemetery Journal.

Renner Brewing Company, Youngstown, Ohio” Ohio Breweriana.com

George J. Renner Jr. House” Wikipedia.

George J. Renner Jr. Mansion” All Things Youngstown

277 Park Avenue – Youngstown, Ohio” ApartmentFinder

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Wilford P. and Olive Freeman Arms

Greystones

“Greystones,” The Home of the Arms Family Museum of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, Photo courtesy of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society

When I was a student at Youngstown State, we regular walked by the Arms Museum, but I don’t think we ever visited. I did not realize that the name of the museum referred to the family who had at one time lived in the home. We thought it was a collection of “arms” or weapons, and in the anti-war times of the early 1970’s, that didn’t hold much appeal. If we had paid closer attention, we would have realized that it was the home of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society (MVHS)–a home with a history of its own.

Before the house at 648 Wick Avenue was taken over by MVHS, it was the residence of Wilford P. and Olive Freeman Arms, who were distant cousins. Wilford’s grandfather, Daniel Arms, was Olive’s great-grandfather, making them half first cousins, once removed. They also are related to various Youngstown “royalty”–the Wicks, Baldwins, Booths, and Bonnells among them.

The Arms family goes back to early American New England stock. William Arms settled in the colonies in 1677. Wilford Paddock Arms was born in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1861 to Mr. and Mrs. Lawson Arms, who after ten years returned to their native Sodus, New York. He went to the Sodus Academy, then worked on his parents farm until 1881, when he went to work for Powers, Brown, and Company, a Youngstown coal company that operated a mine in Reynoldsville, Pennsylvania. After a few years there, he worked with a company quarrying marble near Knoxville, Tennessee until moving to Youngstown in 1888. Apart from two years in Pittsburgh working with the Pittsburgh Coal Company, he lived in Youngstown the rest of his life.

Wilford P. Arms

Photo source: Find-A-Grave

He worked with several different Youngstown area firms: The Brier Hill Iron and Coal Co., The Falcon Iron and Nail Co. in Niles, The Warren Rolling Mill in Warren, and the Trumbull Iron Co. of Girard. During the latter part of his work he worked with the Realty Trust Company and was chairman of the board of Palace Realty Co. in Youngstown and McCaskey Register Co. in Alliance. He was also a director of the Central Store Co. in Youngstown.

He held a federal appointment, a position of trust, as central fuel administrator for Mahoning County during World War I. Joseph G. Butler paid this tribute in describing his work as “a position entailing a vast amount of work and responsibility, and [he] discharged his duties in a manner that earned him the commendation of all who knew of his work in that relation.”

Olive Freeman Arms

Olive Freeman Arms. Photo courtesy of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society

Wilford P. Arms married Olive Freeman Arms in 1899. Olive was born to Charles Dayton and Hannah Wick Arms in 1865. A biographical entry for her appears in Artists in Ohio, 1787-1900: A Biographical Dictionary and she is described as a watercolorist and designer. She had studied at the Bradford and Peebles schools in New York as well as spending time in art studies in Europe. In 1904, a building permit was issued to built a home at 648 Wick Avenue, next to Olive’s parent’s home. The construction was completed in 1905 and the home, which Olive helped design, was named “Greystones,” after the stone exterior of this Arts and Crafts style English residence.

Mr. Arms could regularly be seen walking to and from his office in the Realty Building on Central Square until the year before his death, when he suffered a fall in his home from which he never fully recovered. At the time of his death, he and Olive had begun to develop a property on Logan Avenue Extension, that later became a residential development.

Wilford P. Arms was described in a Vindicator article on April 28, 1947 as follows:

“Mr. Arms was a gentleman of the old school, the soul of courtesy and consideration for others. In this day of free and easy manners there was something refreshing and uplifting in his lifelong predilection for formality and the proprieties. It was good to have him remind us that careful attention to the graces and amenities of life adds much to one’s own and others’ enjoyment of it.”

Olive Arms continued to reside in Greystones the rest of her life. She was the source of a wealth of information about Youngstown’s early history and families, particularly given her connections to so many of them. She worked closely with then-president of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, James L. Wick, Jr. at a time that the Society had no home for its archives, many of which Wick stored at his own residence. On Mrs. Arms death in 1960 at 95, she left Greystones and its furnishings to the Society along with an endowment for its maintenance, augmented by Wick’s fundraising efforts. She specified that the facility be named after her parents, hence the name The Arms Museum (now The Arms Family Museum, a name change perhaps motivated by the confusion of many like me as to the nature of the museum!).

The Arms Family Museum is now one of two facilities operated by the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, the other being the Tyler History Center. Wilford P. Arms and Olive Freeman Arms not only contributed to the commerce and arts of Youngstown but to the preservation of our history. It only makes sense that their family name should adorn the home of the organization preserving that history!

Article Sources:

“The Arms Family History,” Mahoning Valley History.

“The Arms Family Museum — Celebrating 50 Years!” Mahoning Valley History

“Olive Freeman Arms Arms,” Find-A-Grave

“Wilford Paddock Arms,” Find-A-Grave

Howard C. Aley, A Heritage to Share: The Bicentennial History of Youngstown and Mahoning County, Ohio.

Joseph Green Butler, History of  Youngstown and Mahoning Valley, “Wilford P. Arms,” p. 2. Accessed on Google Books.

Jeffrey Weidman, Artists in Ohio, 1797-1900: A Biographical Dictionary, “Arms, Olive Freeman,” pp. 23-24. Accessed on Google Books.

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Dr. Timothy Woodbridge

old log cabin

Old Log Cabin, Photo by James D’Angelo, [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr

I walked, biked, and drove by here many times. In college, we had picnics and planning retreats here for a student group I was part of. Little did I realize that the Old Log Cabin served as the home and office of Dr. Timothy Woodbridge, the first doctor born in Youngstown, who was recognized for his distinction as a physician by local peers, Governor David Tod, and even President Rutherford B. Hayes.

His father, John E. Woodbridge, a native of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, settled in Youngstown in 1807, just eleven years after John Young surveyed the town. One of John’s grandfathers was the great American preacher and theologian, Jonathan Edwards. John established a tannery on the west end of the small town, near the Mahoning River. Timothy, one of ten children, was born in Youngstown in 1810. When he and his brother John were young, they were swimming in the Mahoning River and got into deep water. Timothy barely survived; John drowned. No one knows but perhaps that was part of what informed his decision to study and practice medicine. As in many professions, he began his training with a local doctor, Dr. Henry Manning, one of the first doctors in Youngstown. Subsequently, he continued his medical training at the Jefferson Medical School in Philadelphia, probably the center of medical training in the U.S. at the time, graduating with his M.D. in 1833.

Woodbridge returned to the area, living briefly in North Lima before settling in Youngstown. In 1847, when fellow Youngstown resident David Tod (later governor) was appointed by President James K. Polk as minister to Brazil, Woodbridge was asked to come along as the family’s physician. He returned to his Youngstown practice in 1848. In 1861, at the beginning of the Civil War, he was appointed as a surgeon with the Army and was stationed at Johnson’s Island on Lake Erie, where he served until the end of the war. Johnson Island eventually served as a prisoner of war camp for Confederate soldiers.

He had a second stint with the Army, being appointed in 1879 by fellow Ohioan, President Rutherford B. Hayes, as surgeon at Fort Peck, Montana, where he served for three years. He returned to Youngstown and continued to practice until he suffered a stroke in 1892, dying in the city hospital in 1893, the first area doctor to die in the hospital. He is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.

It was during the Civil War, in 1862 that Dr. Woodbridge purchased what we call the Old Log Cabin and moved it to its current location beside Mill Creek near present day Lake Glacier (the lake had not yet been dammed and created). The cabin had been built in 1816 in the Bears Den area and was disassembled and move to its current location by Dr. Woodbridge.

Howard C. Aley, citing John C. Melnick, M.D.’s A History of Medicine in Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley notes that Woodbridge had his own eccentricities when it came to business practices. In his day books, he would often list patients as “the fat woman in Brier Hill,” the “man on Coitsville Road,” or “the old man at Crab Creek.” When patients came to settle fees, he often told them that 75% or even 50% would settle their accounts (in a day when an office visit cost 25 cents and a house call 50 cents). He preferred a mule to a horse, and a rig to a buggy, often binding loose tires to the rims with strands of wire.

He and a group of Mahoning County physicians organized the Mahoning County Medical Society in 1872 and he served as its first president for seven years. Governor David Tod, and other physicians around the state had high regard for his skills. Tod recognized his efforts with a gift of beautiful surgical instruments which soon showed the signs of extensive use. In the 1880’s, he tested the water of the sulphur spring and recommended it to his patients for rheumatism as “spa water.”

He was know for his study of medicine throughout his life and tireless efforts, going on four to six hours of sleep most nights. The History of Trumbull and Mahoning Counties, published during his life in 1882, paid this tribute to him:

“He is eminent, both as a physician and a surgeon. He is noted not only for his professional skill but for his kindness and benevolence, never refusing to attend a professional call on account of the poverty of the patient, and many a poor sufferer on a bed of sickness has had occasion to be grateful to him for other than professional aid.”

He represented what is noblest in the medical profession and set high standards for his peers in the area. The Old Log Cabin is an enduring tribute to his contribution to the health of Youngstown area residents during the early years of the city’s history.

Sources:

Howard C. Aley, A Heritage to Share. Youngstown: The Bicentennial Commission of Youngstown and Mahoning County, pp. 39-40.

Online Sources:

Medicine in a Log Cabin,” Blog of the Melnick Medical (History) Museum.

Old Log Cabin,” Ohio Memory Collection, Ohio History Connection.

History of Trumbull and Mahoning Counties, pp. 406-407, via Google Digital Archives.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Chauncey H. Andrews

Chauncey H. Andrews

Chauncey H. Andrews

He was the first millionaire in Youngstown. He developed vertically integrated business concerns in the connected industries of coal mining, iron making, and rail transport. He played a critical role in moving the county seat of Mahoning County from Canfield to Youngstown. His estate at 750 Wick Avenue is now the home of Ursuline High School.

Chauncey H. (either Humason or Hunn, depending on the account) Andrews was born in Vienna, Ohio on December 2, 1823 to Norman and Julia (Humason) Andrews. Norman moved in 1818 from Hartford, Connecticut to Vienna. His father, who had been in the mercantile business, opened a hotel, the Mansion House on West Federal Street in 1842. He worked at his father’s hotel, and for a time after his father’s death, went into the mercantile business, which appears to be his only failure, going bankrupt in 1853. For a time he returned to manage the Mansion House.

The year 1857 marked the beginning of his ascent in life and business. In that year, he married Louisa Baldwin. He opened up the Thorn Hill coal bank on the northeast side near Hubbard Township (a portion of the mine runs under present day Lansdowne Airport) and located on the Baldwin family farm. Over the next nine years the mine produced a half million tons of coal. In 1858, he formed a partnership, Andrews & Hitchcock, with William J. Hitchcock. They opened mines throughout the Mahoning and Shenango Valleys, including the Oak Hill and Coal Run mines in Mercer County. He purchased a large interest in the Westerman Iron Company in Sharon, which included a blast furnace, rolling mill, and interests in the Brookfield Coal Company. Andrews and his brothers W.C. and Lawrence formed the Andrews Bros. Co. and purchased more coal mines and built two blast furnaces known as the Haselton furnaces.

These ventures reflected the expansion of railroads into the east side of Youngstown and were located near the terminus of the Lawrence Railroad where it joined the C & M Railroad. He became involved in expanding rail connections between Niles and Lisbon, and then opened up new coal fields in southern Columbiana County along the rail lines. He also invested in subsidiary lines of the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroads and was on the Board of Directors of the Hocking Valley Railroad. He became president of William A. Wood Mower and Reaper Manufacturing Co. in 1880 and the Malleable Iron Works. During all this time, he continued to expand his coal holdings, as well as rebuilding and expanding the Haselton furnaces after an explosion in 1871. He also was involved in several banking concerns in Youngstown, as president of the Commercial National Bank, vice president of the Second National Bank, and a director of the Savings Bank, which eventually became the Mahoning National Bank.

Andrews’ success in business translated into civic influence as well. He served on city council. In 1874, the Ohio legislature approved the move of the county seat to Youngstown, subject to the approval of county voters, and the provision of land and a new court house. Andrews played a crucial role on the latter part of this, raising the money necessary for building the first court house building, county jail, and sheriff’s residence. He personally signed the contracts underwriting the expenses of the construction and assuming responsibility for these obligations.

He had two daughters, Edith and Julia. Edith married John A. Logan, Jr (a “merger” reflected in a similar merge of Andrews and Logan Avenues!). Julia married L.C. Bruce of New York.

Andrews’ talent was managing widespread business interests profitably, something not always achieved by some of the other early coal and iron interests. He was also a significant philanthropist. The Ohio Mining Journal includes this account of his personal generosity:

He gave largely to charity and none deserving were ever turned away empty handed. At one time he said to an employe there are a number of poor families in this city who are poor and have not the means to buy coal. I want a list of them. In a few days the list was furnished. Looking them over he said : ” Send a half car load of coal to each family, but if you let them know that I sent it or give any information where it came from, I’ll discharge you at once.”

Chauncey Andrews died on December 25, 1893. William McKinley, then governor of Ohio, was one of his honorary pall-bearers. He was survived by Louisa who continued to reside in the family mansion at 750 Wick Avenue. In 1919 the Ursuline Academy, which had outgrown its nearby Rayen Avenue convent building, purchased the estate. In 1924, they broke ground on a school that would accommodate 400 students.

Chauncey H. Andrews was one of the builders of Youngstown who stands side by side in importance with David Tod, Joseph Butler, the Wicks, and Henry Stambaugh. Somehow, it seems we hear less of him, and yet he was one of the most successful. Sooner or later, the county seat probably would have moved to Youngstown. He made it happen at once, as he did in bringing or launching many businesses into the Valley.

Sources:

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

Clayton J. Ruminski, Iron Valley: The Transformation of the Iron Industry in Ohio’s Mahoning Valley, 1802-1913.

Online sources:

Biography of Chauncey H. Andrews.”

Ohio Mining Journal, no. 23, Necrological

Andrews, Chauncey Hunn,” Viennapedia.

Chauncey H. Andrews,” (obituary), Iron Age, no. 53. p. 65.

Andrews, Chauncey Hunn,” The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, pp. 191-192.

Historic Lansdowne Airport/Youngstown’s Hidden Secret,” MahoningValley.Info.

Ursuline High School (Youngstown, Ohio),” Wikipedia.

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

kitchencornermarinertv21 (1)

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.

Youngstown Vindicator Google News Archive Search (5)

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.

Billboard Google Books

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

68-41-1 P Ross Berry sepia

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)