In his 1921 History of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, Ohio, Joseph G. Butler Jr. opined that "modern Struthers" was "purely a 20th century municipality" even though it had been settled for more than 100 years at that point and been well situated to enjoy relative prosperity for more than 75.
John Struthers had opened a blast furnace on the banks of Yellow Creek, a tributary of the Mahoning River, in 1806. The furnace operated until the War of 1812 robbed it of the manpower necessary to keep it running. In 1802, the first blast furnace, the Hopewell Furnace, was built just upstream in Poland Township. Together, they presaged the iron and steel industry that would dominate the 20th century.
In the 1840s the Pennsylvania & Ohio Canal (sometimes called the Mahoning Canal) arrived. It flowed from Akron via the Cuyahoga and Mahoning valleys to join the Beaver Valley system south of New Castle, from whence barges could continue on to Pittsburgh, the Ohio River and the world beyond. Struthers was fortunate to be on the canal, the most modern transportation system of the day. Then in 1856 Struthers welcomed the next new means of transportation, the railroad. And during the latter half of the 19th century, iron-making, the leading economic activity of the time, thrived at C.H.Andrews furnace and the Struthers Iron Company's Anna Furnace.
Yet Struthers remained a village of less than 1,000 with a strong agricultural bent until after 1900, when, due to its proximity to the new Youngstown Sheet & Tube (YS&T) plant in East Youngstown, the village's population boomed. Foreigners seeking the American Dream arrived by the thousands.
In many ways, Struthers grew into a company town, "home" for laborers working 72-hour work weeks and for various merchant mills of YS&T. In 1911 the Republic Iron & Steel Company built a 2,000-foot bridge across the Mahoning River so employees from its $3,000,000 tube and finishing mill could live in Struthers, and after 1916, the Buckeye Land Company provided multiple levels of company housing in Struthers and elsewhere to accommodate everyone from unmarried common laborers to growing families to management.
Not formally incorporated until 1902, the community grew so rapidly once the steel industry settled on the banks of the Mahoning, that Struthers became a city in 1920.
How they got where they are
When the American steel industry. came to its sudden and dramatic death in October 1977 it bequeathed to Struthers and its next-door neighbors Campbell and Lowellville tremendous social and economic challenges. Fairly quickly, Struthers recognized that it could have a future without steel; its roots had been planted before steel arrived, and that deep and abiding sense of community helped to pull it through some challenging times.
After an ecumenical coalition determined that reopening the mills was not feasible, the CASTLO Community Improvement Corporation was formed in 1978, crafting its name as an acronym of the first two letters of CAmpbell, STruthers and LOwellville; its stated purposed was to encourage economic development in those communities. In October 1979 with monies from the Ohio Department of Development the non-profit CASTLO CIC acquired the 120-acre parcel and I 1 buildings that had formerly housed YS&T's Struthers Works. Over the course of 1981 and 1982, the corporation's all-volunteer board of trustees developed a master plan which included converting the buildings from their roles as part of the former steel complex to facilities able to accommodate light industry, manufacturing, assembly, and/or distribution as well as making space available for new construction and improving the property's infrastructure through upgraded rail and road systems, modern utilities, street lighting, signage, fencing and landscaping.
In the years that followed, through the granting of federal and state monies, significant improvements were made not only to the buildings but also to the roadways and utilities. Charged with attracting prospective employers to the area, CASTLO received (and continues to do so) support fat all levels of government and private business, enabling it to leverage the
economies of its non-profit status and those realized from its use of existing structures to induce business to move into the Mahoning Valley. By 1992, 16 tenants called CASTLO home; by 1995, the industrial park was economically self-sufficient, thus realizing a goal that naysayers had predicted years earlier would never be achieved.
Working steadily and deliberately, CASTLO had transformed the remains of an industrial ghost town into a community innovation that honored the past while persistently pushing toward
a better future. The industrial park resembles a college campus more than a place of business and its tenants manage their operations in 3,000- to 100,000-square-foot spaces that once accommodated the manufacturing of rod, wire, railroad spikes and conduit pipe. Its accomplishments elevate "recycling" to an economic development art; today CASTLO Industrial Park is one of the most successful reclaimed brownfield sites in the state of Ohio, and one of Struthers' major employers, along with AstroShapes, founded in 19--.
As a consequence, 25 years after the fall of steel, Struthers is financially stable and running well. A new elementary school is under construction on Elm Street and the city's several business districts (the central business district downtown by the river, and up on the ridge south of the
river, Youngstown-Poland Road (State Route 170), lined with commercial enterprises, and Fifth Street, location of an older plaza development), are bustling.
Because of the several levels of housing made available to the steel workers when that industry was thriving, the neighborhoods of Struthers are highly livable; it is a community in which walking is a comfortable and useful pastime. Many streets feature home after home with a front porch from which to call out "Hello!" to a passing neighbor. In Struthers one could go for days, weeks or months and never have to leave in search of anything; most everything is here.
Projects, concepts, & ideas in progress
Struthers is a living demonstration of what a community can do when it takes advantage of regional resources and thinks 50 to 100 years down the road instead of one to five years. Rather than seeking quick and dirty solutions to the myriad of problems that arose when the steel giants collapsed, the city has worked steadily and deliberately to recover.
In particular, Struthers persists by encouraging the development of a variety of projects that harmonize with one another so that industry and recreational opportunities are not at cross purposes, projects that honor the community's history and its dependence on the Mahoning River, projects that ensure the river's intact riparian zone will remain protected.
When the Ohio State Route 616 bridge over the Mahoning came due for replacement, local officials worked long and hard to ensure that the new bridge would be a testament to the future rather than a repeat of the past. Where its predecessor had an on-grade railroad crossing that directly impacted the whole of downtown Struthers whenever a train went through, the new
span arches over not only the river but also the railroad tracks. Its design, and the design of the approaches to it and its intersection with State Route 289, are better able as well to accommodate trucks and traffic than could the previous arrangement.
Important to the city's development of sustainable industrial sites as well as maintaining the sustainability of its neighborhoods will be to ensure that trucks can be accommodated on well-designed roadways that keep them out of the residential areas. At present local officials are working to determine the best means to handle truck traffic approaching the downtown from U. S. Route 224 to the southeast; the logical route appears to be via Arrel-Smith Road.
Also in the works is the city's replacement of the Walton Street Bridge to provide an alternate route into the industrial area along the southside river corridor.
Struthers' downtown is the city's primary commercial center, located not far from the river at the center of a 12,000-person community with an additional 12,000 more passing through daily (many of those from neighboring Campbell and Lowellville), is making a comeback. At
home and well established here are Struthers City Hall, the post office, the public library, several churches including vibrant Presbyterian and Methodist congregations, two strong banks, a restaurant, a bowling alley, antique stores, a billiards room and night club, and multiple unique recreational opportunities for a relatively small area including Yellow Creek Park and the Cene Baseball Complex. Plans are being generated as well to expand leisure-time activities for young people with disposable income.
Other facets of life in Struthers include a fresh appreciation of its heritage. An active historical society has preserved and transformed into its headquarters, Frankfort House on the periphery of the central business district; a picturesque trail winds uphill alongside scenic Yellow Creek to the first furnace (built in 1802) to produce iron in the Youngstown area; and under consideration is commemorating, perhaps as an historic district, some of the former company housing south of the river on the city's north side.
Struthers has multiple recreational facilities and opportunities in place. Mickler Park sits
up on the hill on the north side of the river; Tri-County Sports Complex, an always busy indoor/outdoor soccer/sports facility, sits on a one-time slag dump on the southwest hill above the city; and another popular place and local success story is the Cene Park baseball complex adjacent to the central business district. Mauthe Park, another active recreation area located on Smithfield
Avenue, has been restored and offers the community multiple uses from picnicking and baseball, bocce, volleyball, an indoor facility, and concerts in the park.
Sites that could be gently developed for additional passive recreation are Hines (Panther) Run just to the east of the Little League fields south of the river at the city's east end and Godward Run, which comes down to the river through Coitsville Township to the north, as well as the- undeveloped corridor between Struthers and Campbell on the north side of State Route 289, which runs above the river's northern bank. And while the potential for public riverfront access is small, one possibility is a small triangular piece of land just west of the new Bridge Street Bridge, and when the area near the bridge has been restored, it could be the setting for small parks from which to take in the views up and down the river valley.
At present, the finest natural jewel in Struthers is the protected and beautiful Yellow Creek Park. The park, bisected by a tributary of the Mahoning, is a part of the Mill Creek MetroParks system. At its lower elevations, it features Yellow Creek Lodge and the Capt. John Struthers Pavilion, tennis courts and play areas. Yellow Creek Trail leads from hereto the historic Hopewell Furnace in Poland Township (the Mahoning Valley's first blast furnace, built in 1802), mentioned earlier. This trail holds wonderful possibilities. It could be enhanced with the incorporation of educational opportunities about the area's history, and then extended up Yellow Creek to Poland Township's Lake Hamilton and Poland Village beyond. Notably, AWARE, an environmental group, is working on plans to clean up the watershed of Yellow Creek.
With a little ingenuity Yellow Creek Trail could also extend in the other direction, through downtown Struthers and across the Bridge Street Bridge to the Stavich Bike Trail on the other side of the river, a possibility that carries enormous potential for a recreational coup.
The seven-mile-long Stavich Bike Trail currently ends in Struthers. Its other end is in New Castle, PA, from which it travels, west along the floor of the Mahoning River valley through Lowellville. An attractive means for a visual tour of the valley, were the Stavich Trail to be extended upstream beyond Struthers 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 Lake-to-River Greenway, and is incorporated into the Mahoning River Corridor of Opportunity (MRCO) master plan.
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.
In a way, such a development would link 21 st-century Struthers with its 19th century roots when first a canal and then the railroad connected it with the world beyond the Mahoning Valley.
In the interests of a sustainable future for Struthers and the Steel Valley, in June 1995 Struthers Mayor Dan Mamula championed the creation of the Mahoning River Corridor of Opportunity (MRCO). A public/private partnership, it was organized to facilitate the reclamation, redevelopment and promotion of 1,470 acres of industrial brownfield along the river. The site is anchored at its eastern end by CASTLO Industrial Park; at its western end, by Youngstown Performance Park.
With relentless and persistent determination and teamwork, the MRCO has progressed a step at a time, steadily transforming the devastation left by the fall of the steel industry. Its integrated model for redevelopment has three essential elements: a variety of enterprises along the way; industries that are smaller, more sustainable and less hazardous to the surrounding residents and natural habitat; and businesses that blend their missions responsibly with the Mahoning River's recreational attributes.
Remediation and redevelopment of these brownfields and others in the area will restore elements o^ sustainability and harmony to the corridor and its communities, with residential, industrial, commercial and recreational activities in a concentrated area.
For the MRCO the issues requiring attention have included 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, including the completion, with the assistance of the URS Corporation of Cleveland and incorporating public input, of a master plan for the entire 1,470-acre
The master plan recommends various possibilities for providing access and transportation
into the central portion of the corridor. Currently, to that end, the MRCO has been playing an instrumental role in the planning of a new $3 million extension of Walton Avenue to bridge the Mahoning.
As already illustrated, CASTLO demonstrates the type of positive redevelopment the MRCO advocates. Forty acres at the east end of the industrial park are available for new construction, with the weight of the MRCO, grant monies are being pursued to complete Phase 11 environmental analysis there; and Clean Ohio funds are available to remediate and extend infrastructure to enhance that acreage. Clean Ohio funds will also enable remediation of the P&LE Railroad (now CSXT) site on the north side of the river at the city's eastern edge.
Additional brownfields in Struthers with potential for redevelopment include the site of the YS&T office, which could support light industry (the new Walton Avenue Bridge will further enhance the site's appeal); the slag quarry just south of the city line from Hines Run, which could accommodate a business park; and an old abandoned railroad yard on the river's north bank, which could be a starting point for new development along the Mahoning. Additionally, the tower on this railroad site could be renovated, an elevated location from which to observe downtown Struthers and the river valley, a point of interest along the Stavich Bike Trail.
Struthers' approach to the future is a holistic one that embraces partnership, cooperation
and thorough communication and education; it blends the goals of the community with the future
of the Mahoning.
Coordinating with Youngstown State University (Y. S .U.), local political bodies, and
various government agencies, Mayor Mamula and the MRCO have worked closely with the Mahoning River Stream Team (MRST) to assist as Y. S.U. spearheads the administration of a
U.S. EPA Sustainable Development Challenge Grant.
The SDCG monies are enabling the coordination of sustainable development efforts by cities and townships throughout the river corridor. To do this they are helping to develop and maintain an integrated system of streamside forests, recreational areas and green space along the river's banks; promote the development of brownfield property in the MRCO and elsewhere along the river for use by businesses and industries with a strong commitment to environmental
protection and sustainability; and create a positive attitude about the Mahoning River.
To that end, Struthers Middle School pioneered Mahoning River education by creating a two-week intensive study of their river system that past two school years (2002 and 2003). An initiative from the YSU Center for Urban & Regional Studies, this enterprise works to raise awareness and knowledge of students about the major issues facing the river, its corridor, and its watershed-and about how the condition of those major assets affects economic vitality and quality of life throughout the Mahoning Valley.
Partners in the Mahoning River Education Project include the Mahoning River Consortium, Mill Creek MetroParks (which includes Struthers' Yellow Creek Park), local county
soil & water conservation districts, Earth Force & General Motors Lordstown, Trumbull County Health Dept., and local historical societies. Thematic community-oriented subject matter across a variety of disciplines encourages problem-based learning and critical thinking as well as community service by extending the classroom to the banks of the river, feeding into science, history, language arts, social studies, arts and math curricula. By linking the youth of Struthers and other communities with the community's leaders, the program engenders cross-generational commitment to the river's, and the community's, future. Through thus educating Struthers' area youth (and, vicariously, their families) about this resource in their midst, MREP hopes to help restore the river, protect the land and streams, and revitalize communities throughout its watershed.
The fit between MREP and the Struthers community has been a natural one, especially as MREP expands on the many sustainable development elements that the city has been promoting over the past two decades in its quest for complete and sustainable economic viability.