Two young men who worked with Young's surveyor discovered the falls
at Mill Creek. They quickly realized the potential of this find
and attempted to buy the rights to the land - prompting John Young
to investigate. The contract for purchase included a provision that
guaranteed the construction of a sawmill and a gristmill in the
following 18 months. So, Youngstown became the site of the first
mills in the Western Reserve and, those were the first industries
No story of Youngstown could be told without telling of David Tod. David Tod, US Minister to Brazil and governor of Ohio, was the man who "imprinted on Youngstown the industrial pattern" that it retained for almost 100 years. He bought back his family farm in Brier Hill - where he could sit on his front porch and view the stacks of furnaces he operated. He had opened the local coal veins; shipped the coal to Cleveland and promoted its value. He had pressed for the construction of the Cleveland and Mahoning Railroad (of which he was president.) He encouraged iron and steel manufacture, opening three blast furnaces at Brier Hill.
From 1846 to 1851, over 20 blast furnaces were constructed in the immediate area and at the beginning of the 20th century, Youngstown and vicinity was producing a seventh of the pig iron and steel in the nation. The fact that one of the raw materials (coal) was all around - including under the foundations of its mills - coupled with easy transportation to the markets and the lake, made it possible for the region to grow quickly.
Even as it grew, the city's streets were unpaved. Despite organized
resistance of the citizens, the city paved Federal and Market streets
and put in some sewer pipes. By 1872, gas was manufactured at a
plant across the river and was piped to some houses. By 1888, there
were electric lights and electric trams. As industrialization continued,
coke replaced coal and more plants rose. Besides manufacture of
the iron and steel, there were companies that made nuts and bolts,
steam boilers, iron fencing, tinware, wagons and buggies, engines,
stoves, scales, lumber, doors, flour, and ale. Railroads grew also
- four east-west systems and several regional roads served Youngstown.
Weathering the cycles of declines in the 1870s and 1890s that had
devastating economic impacts on other areas in the country, Youngstown
emerged in a strong position at the turn of the 20th century.
From the early structures built of logs to the "Rayen School" (a four-room brick building in the Greek Revival style of architecture) early schools reflected the backgrounds of the population groups. Male teachers were paid twice as much as female; tuition was paid by parents who also contributed wood for fuel. The Township launched a unified school system in 1851 and hired a superintendent, Reuben McMillan. The system progressed under his firm, public-minded leadership - which included the development of Youngstown's first high school. Meanwhile, private (parochial) systems developed, starting with Catholic education by the Ursuline Sisters, and later included Evangelical Lutheran, Hebrew and a non-sectarian school.
The real story of Youngstown is steel. And, no story of Youngstown is complete without the mention of Youngstown Sheet and Tube. It was organized in 1900 and placed on a 300-acre site on the Mahoning River. Over the years, it established plants at Brier Hill, Campbell, Struthers, Girard and Hubbard; it acquired mining properties; owned its shipping company; and formed subsidiaries. It became the largest steel mill in the area and employed over 7,500. It fostered a zealous local pride; why not? After all, it had been formed with the intention of making a locally-owned, steel-producing powerhouse. The "sheet and tube" as locals called it, was the measure of Youngstown prosperity; it was one of the chief contributors to hospitals, libraries and Youngstown College.
The Great Depression came to Youngstown and brought a period of labor unrest. The worst moment of this was the "Homestead Strike", marked by extreme bitterness and bloodshed. In the midst of all the hunger, loss, and despair, one civic-minded man "conceived the idea of relieving the idleness and at the same time conferring upon the needy city a benefit of lasting magnitude." His name was Volney Rogers.
He had seen the need for a park to provide fresh air and recreation. Just across the river to the southwest of the city - and in the opposite direction from the smoke and fumes - was the Mill Creek Valley, long known as a beauty spot in the Western Reserve. It was in danger of being engulfed by the 'spreading tentacles of steel.' He pushed for the necessary legislation and bonds to purchase it. By the time it opened in 1893, Mill Creek Park had become the first park district in Ohio, even pre-dating the state park system.
During the Great Depression in the 1930s, hundreds of men were given work clearing brush and building roads and paths. From this difficult and bitter time came a beauty that rescued this city from industrial ugliness. In gratitude for his efforts, the citizens of Youngstown erected a bronze statue of Volney Rogers at the park entrance.
One retreat from the pain of the Depression was the opening of the Warner Theatre in 1931. The Warner Brothers were from Youngstown and constructed the beautiful theatre in honor of a brother. The Hollywood premier of the Warner film, "The Millionaire, " provided the public with a grand spectacle at a time when such diversion was sorely needed.
In the late 1940s, as the post-war boom proceeded and the population moved to the suburbs and by the late 1950s and 1960s, the downtown area lost business. The mills stayed close to the river but Sheet and Tube moved its offices to Boardman. The area's steel production of the national share dropped from 13.2% in 1947 to 8.2% in 1968. Some companies left; downtown buildings were razed. (One institution that stayed and grew was Youngstown College. Thanks to the GI bill, many people were given access to higher education. It became a university in 1966.) When any steel company expanded, it did so elsewhere. In 1972, the president of Sheet and Tube predicted that Youngstown would "eventually become a light industry community." Only Republic Steel had the money and the space to upgrade old facilities -- and that was in Warren.
"Black Monday, September 19, 1977, was a day to be remembered." The Sheet and Tube president announced that most of the Campbell Works would close. Without any warning, over 4,100 workers lost their jobs. It meant the end of a way of life. Over the coming years, coalitions were formed and lost. Plants closed in Youngstown; most were phased out by 1982. The steel industry, the mainstay of the local economy, had collapsed.
One of the volunteer and civic-minded groups that have formed is the Mahoning River Consortium (MRC). In 1996, citizens who believed that the river warranted an advocacy group formed the MRC. The complexity of cleaning up the Mahoning River isn't just money and sediment - two significant factors are scope and technology. (See: River Cleanup, Costs) The cleanup is not the only objective of the MRC. An educational program was launched in Mahoning Valley schools in 2002 to inform students of the need for the restoration of the Mahoning River corridor and the protection of the watershed - and how the condition of the river corridor and watershed affect our lives.
The use of these Brownfields for so much industry has its critics. The importance of riverfront development that includes recreational and residential plans is under development.
IN PROCESS, is a 'comprehensive' plan that will incorporate existing and stand-alone plans into a vision for the city, its neighborhoods, parks, and businesses/industries. This includes deciding how to utilize the river for entertainment and recreation and, ultimately, how to improve the quality of life in Youngstown. The list of participating volunteer and civic-minded groups who have been invited by the City of Youngstown to participate in this process includes groups that have a plan (completed or being established) for economic development, neighborhood revitalization or infrastructure improvement.
The Mahoning River is now viewed as an asset to Youngstown and
a major component of the comprehensive plan. To regain access to
the river through riverwalks, bike trails, a scenic byway, and other
sustainable development will enhance the design of the city, offer
more recreation and leisure options, strengthen the downtown, generate
tourism, and add to the economic vitality and quality of life of
Visitors since February 2003