Located in the extreme southwest corner of Trumbull County, Newton Township was incorporated in 1808. Originally, the township formed three distinct settlements: Deer Creek, the 'River', and the 'Falls'; only the Falls was incorporated into a town. The Falls added the name 'Newton' in honor of a favored teacher, Eben Newton.
Early accounts tell of the trepidation settlers experienced in getting to their destination. "It took an entire day, according to the Gillmer family records, to make the journey of nine miles from Warren to the new home in the wilderness. Leaving Warren they at once plunged into the unbroken forest, with not even a wagon trail, nothing to guide their journey but the blazed trees.... Fording bridgeless streams, bounding over roots and decaying trunks, beguiled by the cheerful notes of the lark and mocking bird, occasionally startled by the fierce bark of the gray wolf, enamored by the graceful whisk of innumerable squirrels, or frequently by the fleet vanish of a doe or a pair of antlers, the party pursued their tiresome but hopeful journey...." (Tribune, 4/29/32)
Eventually, bridges were built over the Mahoning and its many tributaries. In Newton Falls, the bridge has a special significance: it is known for its covered bridge. The east bridge, which was built in 1831, is one of the oldest in the state still in use - a remarkable feat given that it has survived floods, ice jams, tornadoes and truck damage. It was entered into the U.S. Register of Historic Places in 1974.
One of the township's founders, Samuel Oviatt, erected the town's first dam on the Mahoning River in 1823 and then built the first sawmill. The next type of mill was the gristmill, attracting farmers from all over the area. (In 1968, the Western Reserve Historical Society rescued a 150-year-old gristmill and moved it to the Hale Homestead in Hudson, Ohio.)
The last type of mill built in Newton Falls was a woolen mill, "Eagle Mills". It developed into a highly successful venture, boasting "hand cassimere cloths, blankets, sheeting and stocking yarn; wool make into cloth and flannel; carding and spinning done on short notice....' (One source - Our Living History, Newton Falls - suggests that the "products were of such a superior quality that it's very possible that some may still be in the possession of local residents.")
While it is on the Mahoning River, Newton Falls was once a 'port' town on the Pennsylvania and Ohio Canal. The river had such a low and unpredictable flow that it had proved unreliable as a form of transport. Furthermore, dams had been constructed for the mills - making transport impossible. The canal was built to ease the task of transporting merchandise (lumber, grain and other products) to market. The Falls was the midpoint on the 82-mile canal that originated in Akron, Ohio and ended in New Castle, Pennsylvania. So busy was this commercial center that 3 warehouses were built. [A point of interest: One of the many mule drivers on the canal was a man who became the 20th U.S. president: James A. Garfield.]
Other industries existed in the Falls, including a basket factory and seed-growing company. But the mills and the canal were the real story of industry in the early days of Newton Falls.
The first store opened in 1813 and was a wonderful addition to the lovely village. For the first time, settlers could see the merchandise and take it home (without the 3-week wait for goods ordered from Pittsburgh!) The proprietor's first customers bought out the whole supply of salt in the first day of business. So important was salt that the townsmen who had purchased it offered to go to Cleveland and replenish the stock. Days later, reporting a difficult crossing at Eagle Creek, the men brought two barrels of salt to the store. (Read about the Salt Springs, from which the Mahoning River got its name.)
Schools were important throughout the Western Reserve - even in the early days before education was compulsory. In Newton Falls, the first log schoolhouse was built in 1812. As was the custom, women teachers were dismissed when they married, because no married woman could be employed; teachers were paid $10 per month - in wheat, rye and corn. Despite public school availability, in 1857 more progressive citizens formed "Union Schools." Eventually, all the schools merged into one building and the first commencement was held in 1878, with two students graduating. One local author shared quotes from her favorite teacher, Miss Beil: "Not for School, but for Life we learn" and "There's Grace and Beauty in everyday things." No wonder the author, Lima Lyman, was inspired to become a teacher for Newton Falls' schools.
Over time, new industries opened in Newton Falls. Like other Mahoning
River towns, plants in Newton Falls faced moves, name-changes, closings
and buy-outs, for example:
The U.S. Government also impacted the growth and change in Newton Falls. In 1940, the government bought 24,000 acres of land west of the city just over the Portage County line for the purpose of building an arsenal, the Ravenna Ordinance Plant. It was located on two railroads (Erie and B&O) and between Akron, Warren and Youngstown - making it easy to find skilled labor. It was a manufacturing site for fuse, artillery and detonator parts, as well as an assembly site for ammunition. The early history of the "Arsenal" left two legacies: pollution and built structures. The building constructed for the USO has been converted into the Newton Falls Community Center. The pollution (including PCBs) has prompted Congress to allocate $27M to research and cleanup the various chemicals on the ground and in the water at the arsenal.
Most visible is the water tower with the town's name and zip code (44444) listed on the face. In front of the water tower on the banks of the West Branch of the Mahoning River is a set of parks that feature a large gazebo and a memorial monument.
The oldest feature of Newton Falls is on the East Branch of the Mahoning River: the covered bridge. It's still in use (one lane and one car at a time) forming a pass over the water from Bridge Street to Arlington Street.
Still recovering from two calamities - the collapse of the steel industry in 1983 and the tornado of 1985 - Newton Falls is in a transitional state. The major employers are gone and the arsenal is no longer a generator of revenue and employment. The change from industrial plants has resulted in fewer jobs and also a much cleaner environment. There is recognition of the fact that recreation has economic potential and that this region of Trumbull County is a 'mecca' for fishing, boating and swimming. There is easy access by way of the Ohio Turnpike (Rt. 80), the interstate (I76) and state highways (Rts. 534 and 5).
Plans and Potential
Cleaning up has been a step toward developing a new atmosphere. In the past, a part-time police officer issued code violations. Now, a newly hired urban planner works to explain the code and assist property owners in finding ways to comply. The code used is simply the International Property Maintenance Code, which means: keep the property clean, free of rubbish, painted, grass mowed, and bare surfaces painted - and manage water runoff.
Parks and playgrounds are also receiving some attention, including:
maintenance and upkeep, new playground equipment, tables and grills
for picnics in the groves as well as trash receptacles.
Newton Falls is in good shape, financially, and is prudent about its plans and investments. The revenue sources (i.e.: enterprises such as the water treatment plant, the wastewater treatment facility, and the municipal electric utility) are managed with a "watchful eye." While there are plans to make capital improvements, these plans are set over a period of time, mindful of target goals from rates (charged for services from enterprises) and interest (return on investments) that serve the town's need for revenue.
Coming in the next few years will be a face-lift to the downtown
business district, called a "streetscape." This will include
new sidewalks, curbs and street paving; new lighting; new water-sewer
lines; new street furniture and planters.
Visitors since February 2003