by Sarah A. Cart
Before it became the City of Campbell in 1926, the town on the Mahoning
River between the City of Youngstown and the then-Village of Struthers
was known as "East Youngstown." It came into being in
the wake of the 1900-founding of the Youngstown Sheet & Tube
Company, a steel-making venture, along the banks of the Mahoning.
Until then, the area had consisted of river bottom, wooded hillsides
To serve the new labor-intensive industry, foreigners seeking economic
opportunity (and later, fellow Americans, white and black) moved
here by the thousands. Laborers for the new company needed places
to live. Without means to afford transportation, they settled on
the neighboring hillside within walking distance of the mills and
devoted their lives to the 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week all-consuming
venture of steel-making.
The town that rose up to man the mills grew at a geometric rate;
its structures, political and physical, fell together in tumultuous
fashion. A myriad of different languages was spoken; grocery stores
were neighborhood "Ma & Pa" concerns, and taking the
interurban line west into Youngstown counted as a major excursion.
Within 20 years this community that had begun as a boom town had
the second largest population in Mahoning County.
From its beginnings, the existence of what became Campbell was dependent
upon the steel industry, and the steel industry was dependent upon
the flood of immigration. The driving purpose of the people and
the sole function of the river were to keep the mills running.
How they got where they are
Campbell's fortunes rose and fell with those of the steel industry.
As the 20th century progressed and the city's permanence became
assured, organized neighborhoods with respectable residential housing
materialized in the open relatively flat land well above the river,
apart from the mills' noise and smoke.
Over time, the city center and commercial development migrated up
the hill as well. By the end of World War II decay had begun in
the city's historic downtown along Wilson Avenue. In the 1960s a
small portion became a terraced urban renewal project. Then in the
late 1970s Campbell's economy was devastated by the close of the
steel mills. Before 1977 the city could count on over $100 million
in personal property tax valuation; by 2000, that valuation had
fallen below $10 million.
When the mills closed, those who needed to follow the jobs left;
many of those who had already retired and those who couldn't afford
to leave, stayed. The result was an aging population base.
Projects, concepts, & ideas
The Mahoning Valley's topography as it gradually levels off from
the Alleghenies of western Pennsylvania encourages a natural alliance
between Campbell and its downstream neighbors, Struthers and Lowellville.
Originally, Campbell's downtown sat on Wilson Avenue just above
the mills, paralleling the river; today, Wilson Avenue appears abandoned.
This could be remedied if the city were to reclaim as an historic
quarter a few of the structures of the original downtown and restore
and beautify a Depression-era WPA stone wall at the northwestern
end of the avenue. As the little remaining hillside housing disappears,
the hillside could be cleaned up and allowed to return to a pristine
natural state; it would then serve as a natural buffer between Wilson
Avenue and the quality residential housing above.
Also, three intersections along Wilson could be enhanced to direct
visitors more easily to Campbell's present commercial district,
high school complex and recreational centers. At the first, with
Coitsville Road, a scenic entrance to the city could be developed
with a bit of landscaping and the addition of "Welcome to Campbell"
signage. Similarly, a face lift and signage where First Street heads
up into Sanderson Avenue could enhance the approach to the high
school complex and make it easier to find. Finally, an upgraded
Warhurst Road, with its old sycamore trees neatly trimmed, would
make an impressive thoroughfare from Wilson to the heart of the
There, ideally visitors would come upon a renovated Tenney Avenue/12th
Street intersection and find City Hall and the center of the commercial
district that runs north-south along 12th Street between Robinson
Road and Penhale Avenue. While the district already boasts retail
operations, banks, a new post office, a housing complex for the
elderly, and many churches, the addition of a variety of shops and
eateries reflecting the City's remarkable ethnic diversity would
be charming. Signage here could direct visitors north to Sanderson
Avenue, the address of the high school complex and the public library.
Because of the location and nature of its brownfields Campbell's
potential for public riverfront access is limited. It possesses
a myriad of existing and potential recreational settings, however,
from the high school complex at Sanderson and Sixth streets, to
Roosevelt Park in the northeast corner of the city, to the underutilized
Jackson Park in the city's southeast corner. A community center
located just north of Jackson Park already has some recreational
programs in place. The buildings that housed the Reed and Penhale
schools could become community centers or senior citizens housing
if they're not razed.
A beautiful natural setting that would need only minimal reclamation
is Godward Run, a small natural ravine, near Jackson Park and just
beyond the city limits in Coitsville Township. Along the river the
concern will be to preserve the riparian zone, but public recreational
space can be incorporated into the acreage near the S.R. 616 bridge
(similar to Struthers' baseball fields). Historic use would only
restrict recreational development on a few small parcels.
Campbell's brownfields and their tremendous potential as sites
for industrial development will be key to the city's future, but
the city is also already blessed by the viable industry conducted
at Calex Corporation and Cold Metal Products Co. If it could be
arranged, two other areas with potential for light industry include
the CSXT corridor and a parcel on the north side of Wilson Avenue
between Robinson Road and Jackson Street.
With the future in mind, Campbell is an active player on the Mahoning
River Corridor of Opportunity (MRCO) team. Founded in 1995 to facilitate
the reclamation, redevelopment and promotion of 1,470 acres of industrial
brownfield along the river, the MRCO has worked to address environmental
concerns, funding, more immediate accessibility via roadway, restoration
of on-site infrastructure, economic development, marketability and
gaining the support and cooperation of private landowners and the
general public through education and communication. The MRCO is
assisting in the planning for a new$3 million Walton Avenue bridge
to improve access to the site's interior and serve Campbell's Casey
Industrial Park and other under-utilized former mill and rail property
in the city.
Under a U.S. EPA Sustainable Development Challenge Grant entitled
"A Revitalization Strategy for the Mahoning River," energies
throughout the Mahoning Valley are able to focus on the responsible
reuse of brownfield property, establishing sustainable business
ventures, and the creation of an integrated system of riparian zones,
recreational areas and green space.
Currently the Mahoning River Education Project (MREP) is being introduced
in several schools in the valley; within a few years, it is hoped
the program will be a part of the curricula in every school district
in the river's watershed. A partnership between various public and
private entities, MREP extends the classroom to the banks of the
river, feeding into science, history, language arts, social studies,
arts and math curricula, educating area youth about this resource
in their midst and linking them with community leaders. Through
enabling young people to understand what a healthy river can mean
for their future, MREP hopes to ensure that within a generation
the Mahoning will be restored and its watershed communities, revitalized.
Similarly, just as the City of Campbell's origins were nurtured
by the river at the dawn of the 20th century, an approach to the
future that nurtures the river will result in sustainable renewal
of life for this former company town.