by Sarah A. Cart
The picturesque Village of Lowellville sits deeply nestled on the
banks of the Mahoning River in the foothills of the Alleghenies.
Although settlers from the eastern United States arrived here as
early as 1800, the village was not platted until the 1830s, when
talk of a canal in the Mahoning Valley inspired action. The Pennsylvania
& Ohio Canal didn't arrive until the 1840s, but it was modern
transportation for its day and Lowellville was in place to make
use of it.
Early settlers found here rich limestone deposits, an important
ingredient for foundry work. In the 1850s, limestone from Lowellville
quarries was being used extensively throughout the Mahoning Valley
thanks to the canal, and later to the railroad. The last barge to
run on the canal, in 1872, was carrying limestone from Lowellville
upstream to Brier Hill.
Coal and iron ore were also abundant in the Lowellville hills and
in the 1840s a blast furnace arrived from Pittsburgh, the first
stack in the valley to burn bituminous coal as fuel. By 1880, foundry
iron was being produced and that became Lowellville's leading economic
activity in the late 19th century.
By 1900 the local supplies of coal and iron ore were fairly well
depleted, but now Lowellville, which wasn't incorporated until 1890,
could import the raw materials necessary for making iron via the
railroad. After 1900, the village's population grew markedly due
both to the influx of immigrants to man the new Youngstown Sheet
& Tube steel-making operation upstream in East Youngstown and
to the new interurban electric line from Youngstown, thus connecting
the village's industries with those of the rest of the valley's
growing industrial district.
How they got where they are
Lowellville serves as a visual gateway to Ohio's portion of the
Mahoning River. As the valley gradually opens up and flattens out,
the last of the Allegheny foothills serve to create a natural alliance
between Lowellville and its next-door neighbors upstream, the communities
of Struthers and Campbell. That alliance was further strengthened
in the 20th century by the communities' shared experience as the
American steel industry rose, and then collapsed.
Yet the steepness of the valley at Lowellville set it apart from
its neighbors as well and engendered a measure of self-reliance.
Its topography limited what large steel companies could do here
and fostered more compact operations locally. In general, the village's
residents worked for the steel mills upstream, or for the railroads,
or in small local businesses, with a good-sized farming contingent
just above the valley.
Near the end of World War I Sharon Steel Hoop (SSH, of Sharon,
PA) pushed into the Mahoning Valley, buying two small Lowellville
concerns, Youngstown Iron & Steel (YIS) and Ohio Iron &
Steel (OIS). YIS owned a three-furnace open-hearth plant and OIS
owned a small, old-fashioned blast furnace named "Mary."
SSH set out to integrate the whole property. Using iron from Mary,
it enlarged the former YIS plant to six furnaces, then shipped steel
from Lowellville to Sharon for rolling. The economies of that arrangement
were reversed by the mid-1960s, however, and the operation closed.
The late 1970s were a desperately challenging time for those valley
communities whose welfare were tied to the metals industries, and
Lowellville was not exempted. Somehow some of its smaller firms,
like Falcon Foundry, which opened at the east end of the village
in 1953, managed to survive but the times were tough for everyone
who called the Mahoning Valley home.
Despite many difficult years, however, Lowellville's original small-town
character and flavor, self-contained, with everything one might
need close by and within walking distance, remain intact today;
its residents live in older stable residential neighborhoods with
older, decent housing. Successful sustainable development here will
take into account what Lowellville once was and enhance it, while
maintaining its charm.
The village's unique setting apart from other communities has also
fostered a depth of loyalty evidenced in the popularity of long-established
local restaurants and the annual Mt. Carmel Society summer festival.
Projects, concepts, & ideas in progress
The floor of the valley limits room for expansion, but that may
be a blessing in disguise; those limits minimize the possibility
that existing community amenities (the school system, utilities,
etc.) will be overtaxed. While its well-defined commercial downtown
is probably underutilized and it could accommodate some additional
development along the river, the village's physical characteristics
dictate that any such project would have to be done with moderation.
Two existing school buildings, a small elementary one south of the
river and the high school on the north hill, will become vacant
in the near future. Both structures can be re-used, perhaps as community
centers; the high school could be transformed into senior citizen
housing. And the building that for over 100 years housed the First
Presbyterian Church was recently sold; hopefully, its charm will
inspire someone to do something wonderful and sustainable with it.
Lowellville's steep slopes and elevation differences are striking
features that enchant visitors. From a setting on the south side
of the river just southwest of the village center is a striking
view to the east as the river winds through the steep valley toward
Pennsylvania; with minimal effort, this ideal vista spot could blossom
as a destination. Lowellville has tremendous potential for additional
bike trails and greenways, and the village would also benefit from
improved means for visitors to get in and out of downtown.
An abandoned railroad right-of-way on the south side of the Village
could be transformed fairly easily into a bike/hiking trail that
could originate at U.S. Rt. 224 in Poland Township and link, via
First Street, with the seven-mile-long Stavich Bike Trail.
That trail follows the river's edge from New Castle, PA, west through
Lowellville and Struthers and provides an attractive means for a
visual tour of the valley. Were the Stavich Trail to extend even
further west, through Campbell and Youngstown to Mill Creek Park
and up the Mahoning River and Niles, it could eventually evolve
into the Mahoning River Scenic Byway and link with the Great Ohio
Two important regional district designations, Ohio Scenic Byway
and National Heritage Corridor, would be beneficial to the pursuit
of such a possibility. At the eastern end, such a hike-and-bike
trail could hook into similar byways that already extend from New
Castle down the Beaver Valley to the Ohio River, from which one
route then extends farther east from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C.,
and another extends west through East Liverpool where it ties into
the Ohio River Scenic By-way all the way to Cincinnati.
Other recreational possibilities for the community include scenic
Lowellville Road, which travels along the south bank of the river,
as the axis for a nature trail; the natural setting of Gray's Run,
a tributary of the Mahoning River that flows from north to south
on the north side of the Village; and on the river itself, which
would be accessed from a point along Water Street.
Several locations in Lowellville hold tremendous potential as areas
that can be recycled into economically viable and sustainable locations
One such possibility is the SSH brownfield on Lowellville's western
edge. Environmental analysis and probable environmental clean-up
would be necessary, but then the terraced lower level could be home
to light industries; a well-considered plan for development would
Another possibility is the abandoned Pennsylvania & Lake Erie
Railroad right-of-way that runs on the north side of the river roughly
from the northwest uphill to the southeastern-most corner of the
village. The potential exists, were utilities and a service road
extended here, for various one-acre lots to be made available for
Several smaller industries that blend well into their surroundings
sit at the village's east end, including Rex Machine, Falcon Foundry,
and Aluminum Color Industries. Additional sites for light industry
sit east of Falcon.
The SSH site on Lowellville's western edge would be a logical extension
of the Mahoning River Corridor of Opportunity (MRCO), a pro-active
public/private partnership formed in 1995 to facilitate the reclamation,
redevelopment and promotion of 1,470 acres of industrial brownfield
along the river in Struthers, Campbell and Youngstown.
The MRCO's integrated model for redevelopment relies on a variety
of enterprises along the way; industries that are smaller, more
sustainable and less hazardous to the surrounding residents and
natural habitat; as well as businesses that blend their missions
responsibly with the Mahoning River's recreational attributes.
Another undertaking from which Lowellville can benefit is a U.S.
EPA Sustainable Development Challenge Grant entitled "A Revitalization
Strategy for the Mahoning River." Through this effort, energies
throughout the Mahoning Valley are being focused 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.
And 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,
Because Lowellville's downtown sits right along the Mahoning, this
education program and the ecological restoration of the river, will
benefit this community in ways other communities can only dream