|Since the beginning of European settlement in what are now Mahoning and Trumbull Counties,
the Mahoning River watershed has been the life’s blood for the communities lining its shores. At first a source of drinking water and means of transportation, the Mahoning River and its tributaries later became major players in the burgeoning iron and steel industry. The water from the Mahoning River and its tributaries supplied the mills with water for cooling and a source for depositing run-off from the iron and steel making process. With no environmental controls in place until the late twentieth century, pollution of the Mahoning River watershed was inevitable. Beginning in 1977, Youngstown’s steel mills closed one by one, until the industry was a mere shadow of its former self. Only one fully integrated steel mill operates along the Mahoning River, WCI Steel in Warren, Ohio. There are a few mini-mills scattered along the river’s edge, but the massive facilities that saw the United States through two World Wars and other crises, are gone. With the demise of the steel industry, the Mahoning River and its tributaries lost their major source of pollution. In the last twenty years, the watershed has become cleaner, but there is still much work to do. The Army Corps of Engineers is planning to conduct a massive clean-up of the Mahoning River Watershed within the next few years.
The Mahoning River Watershed has clearly played an important—even pivotal—role in the life of the communities that it serves. Certainly, the river directly impacted the lives of the men and women who worked in the steel mills and related industries. Without the river, there would not have been mills; without the mills, there would not have been jobs. As the ferrous industries grew and spread along the banks of the Mahoning River, jobs to make these industries run attracted new people to the Mahoning River Valley. At first, these newcomers came from the older states (mainly New England). They were soon joined by immigrants from the British Isles, the German states and Ireland. By the beginning of the twentieth century, about the time that the Youngstown mills began producing Bessemer process and open hearth steel, newcomers from southern and eastern Europe flooded into the Valley. African-Americans from the South and Hispanics mainly from Puerto Rico, also migrated to the Mahoning Valley in search of work. The growth of the Mahoning Valley and the ethnic make-up of the population that characterize its communities, would have been impossible without the Mahoning River and its tributaries.