John Young was a native New Yorker who purchased 15,560 acres of land from the Western Reserve Land Company for a little more than a dollar an acre in 1797. He surveyed the area and laid out a village and was gone by 1803. Young got immortalized by the town name but James and Daniel Heaton set the course for Youngstown’s future in 1802 when they set up a crude smelter on Yellow Creek, reducing the native bog ores with furnaces stoked by the endless hardwoods in the virgin forests.
By the mid-19th century the Mahoning Valley was speckled with several iron foundries and Youngstown was its metropolis. With the coming of the 1900s steel was king and the Mahoning River was lined with Bessemer converters, open-hearth furnaces, strip and rolling mills, pipe plants and manufactories of steel accessories. If you weren’t making steel in Youngstown your business was not far removed from the industry in Steel Valley.
The result was there was not the diversification in the local economy that was found in larger industrial cities such as Pittsburgh or Cleveland. And when the steel industry declined the “rust belt” tightened more securely on Youngstown than elsewhere. From a population peak of 170,000 in 1930 the town has lost more than 100,000 citizens and is learning to adjust to life as a small city where the major employer is a university.
The impact on the Youngstown streetscape is a time warp of sorts where the skyline is unaffected by modernization. Some blocks have been cleared and some buildings have been re-adapted but there is much a time-traveler from 75 years ago would recognize today, especially where we will start our walking tour in the heart of downtown...
Plans to honor the town’s Civil War dead were hatched as early as 1864 but the 47-foot granite shaft, surmounted by a Union infantryman, was not unveiled until July 4, 1870. The monument was originally to have been funded by popular subscription with each citizen of Youngstown donating a dollar but the sum raised would have fallen far short of the required $15,000. Local benefactors made up the shortfall but there was still a dispute over the transportation costs of the shaft from the railroad station to the Public Square, then known as the “Diamond.” The contractor wound up owning the shaft for 22 years before money was raised to transfer title to the city. Three United States Presidents had a hand in raising the Soldiers Monument. Rutherford B. Hayes presided over the ceremonial laying of the cornerstone while still Governor of Ohio; Hayes and James Garfield delivered orations at the dedication; and William McKinley got the ball rolling to secure rights to the shaft.
STAND AT THE WIDE PART OF THE TRIANGULAR GROUND CONTAINING THE MONUMENT. WITH YOUR BACK TO THE MONUMENT LOOK TO YOUR LEFT AT 9:00 O’CLOCK TO SEE...
First National Tower
1 Federal Plaza West at southwest corner of Market Street
First National Tower began life as the Central Tower when it was built in 1929 for the Central Savings and Loan. For many years beginning in the 1970s it was known as the Metropolitan Tower when owned by the Metropolitan Savings and Loan. By any name it stands as the town’s finest example of Art Deco architecture. Youngstown architect Morris Scheibel outfitted the 224-foot tower with Egyptian-themed decorations, including a lavish interior lobby. The building boasts setbacks and the top is decorated with chevron-patterned tiles. It has stood as the tallest building in Youngstown for over 80 years.
ACROSS THE STREET, STILL TO YOUR LEFT, AT 11:00 IS...
Union National Bank Building
6 Federal Plaza West at northwest corner of Market Street
The architectural firm of Frank Ray Walker and Harry F. Weeks worked out of Cleveland for several decades in the early 20th century with Walker doing the design work and Weeks handling the business end. Walker designed this building in 1926 for the First National Bank Building in a minimalist Classical Revival style. First National organized in 1850 as the Mahoning County Bank and merged with Commercial Bank in 1931 to survive the Depression as the Union National Bank. Union was absorbed by Bank One in the 1980s.
TO YOUR RIGHT AT 2:00 IS...
44 Federal Plaza East at northeast corner of Market Street
If this building looks like two structures stacked upon one another it is because after Detroit architect Alfred Kahn designed the first eight stories in 1907 he came back seven years later to add four more. Kahn used the same Classical Revival style for the new construction, repeating the fenestration above the original cornice and added a more prominent topping to his confection. The terra-cotta office building was constructed for industrialist Henry H. Stambaugh.
TO YOUR RIGHT AT 3:00 IS...
47 Federal Plaza East at southeast corner of Market Street
Local architects Morris Scheibel and Edgar Stanley tabbed the Renaissance Revival style for this office tower in 1924. The structure is unique in that it presents an exposed elevation on all four sides, not just one or two as seen on most downtown structures. The light brown brick is augmented by intricately patterned terra-cotta decoration. The real estate in the Realty Building is no longer office but residential living space.
CONTINUE WALKING CLOCKWISE AROUND THE SQUARE AND WALK SOUTH ON MARKET STREET, PAST THE POINT OF THE TRIANGLE AND TOWARDS THE MAHONING RIVER.
Mahoning National Bank Building
23 Federal Plaza West
Albert Kahn was known as “the Builder of Detroit” but when he wasn’t busy lining the Motor City with skyscrapers and factories he took time out in 1909 to design this headquarters for the Mahoning National Bank which organized in 1868. The building doubled in size in the 1920s while retaining its classical appearance.
TURN LEFT ON BOARDMAN STREET.
Ohio One Building
25 East Boardman Street
This six-story structure was built in 1930 for the Ohio Edison Company, which was incorporated that year by the Commonwealth and Southern Corporation to consolidate five Ohio public utility companies. Despite the Depression the company grew steadily, in part by aggressively promoting and selling electric appliances. The brick building trimmed in stone still displays some of the classical elements from its design, including a rooftop balustrade on the U-shaped tower.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO MARKET STREET AND TURN LEFT, CONTINUING SOUTH TOWARDS THE RIVER.
Mahoning County Courthouse
Market Street between Boardman and Front streets
The first court house building in Youngstown was designed by famed local architect Charles H. Owsley at the corner of Wick Avenue and Wood Street in the High Victorian Gothic style. Thirty-two years later his son Charles F. Owsley designed the current structure with the mandate to“build the finest courthouse between Chicago and New York.” Owsley used Vermont granite and terra-cotta on the outside and marble and Honduran mahogany on the inside to craft the monumental Italian Renaissance courthouse. The central portico boasts six Ionic columns surmounted by an heroic Statue of Justice. The final price tag when the building was completed in 1910 was $2 million; in the 1980s a complete renovation cost $8 million.
TURN RIGHT ON FRONT STREET.
U.S. Post Office
9 West Front Street
This Depression-era government temple from 1932 stands in contrast to County Courthouse constructed twenty years earlier when Youngstown and the country were booming. Here you can see the comparative lack of ornamentation that the firm of Cook & Canfield used on the new post office across the street from its classical cousin.
Trinity United Methodist Church
30 West Front Street
This congregation formed in 1803 in Deerfield, 25 miles west of Youngstown. The original church was a log school house, and later services were held in a log home near the site of the current church, which dates to 1883. Iron magnate Richard Brown, the great early patron of the Methodist Church in Youngstown provided the financing for the grey stone church.
TURN RIGHT ON PHELPS STREET.
26 South Phelps Street at northwest corner of Boardman Street
Charles F. Owsley, who was busy with several civic projects in Youngstown in the early 1900s, designed City Hall in 1912. The six-story Neoclassical brick building opened in 1914.
CONTINUE TO FEDERAL PLAZA.
34 Federal Plaza West at northeast corner of Phelps Street
Youngstown got its first modern skyscraper from the hands of Daniel Burnham who built some of the world’s first high-rises in Chicago. The 13-story, 184-foot tall red brick and terra-cotta structure was completed in 1906, designed in a Renaissance Revival style that survives intact above the first floor. The money man for the tower was George Dennick Wick who was born in 1854 into a Youngstown real estate and banking family and built a fortune in iron and steel. In 1912 Wick went down with the RMS Titanic in the north Atlantic, his wife and daughter survived.
18 North Phelps Street at northwest corner of Federal Plaza
Across the street, Daniel Burnham worked on a smaller scale for this downtown landmark in 1899. The four-story brick structure shows the emerging Chicago style pioneered by Burnham that emphasizes clean, orderly lines with windows set into a grid. The commercial building was raised for Youngstown Sheet and Tube, one of the nation’s largest regional steel-manufacturing firms, and later housed professional offices, including the Federal Savings and Loan Bank.
TURN LEFT ON FEDERAL PLAZA.
111 Federal Plaza West
Samuel Kress founded S.H. Kress & Co. in 1896 and developed five-and-dime stores nationwide. An avid art collector, Kress took as much pride in the artistic appearance of his five-and-dime stores as he did in the profits they churned out in the early 1900s. He considered his stores to be pieces of public art and kept a bevy of architects on staff. The white terra-cotta Kress store in Youngstown came along in 1920. Look up to see the “Kress” badge that was the chain trademark.
142 Federal Plaza West
C. Howard Crane, a busy Detroit architect with over 250 theaters to his credit, designed the classically-flavored Liberty Theatre in 1918, clad in white terra-cotta and awash in decorative swags. When it morphed into the all-movie Paramount Theatre in the 1930s it received an Art Deco makeover. The diminutive movie palace went dark in the 1970s and occasional attempts at resurrection have been unsuccessful to date.
201 Federal Plaza West
This four-story Neoclassical building, clad in white terra-cotta, appeared on the Youngstown streetscape in 1917. Look up to see a still intact ornate cornice at the roofline.
213 Federal Plaza West
The curtain went up for the first time in 1927 with a screening of the John Gilbert and Greta Garbo starrer Flesh and the Devil. The State closed in the 1970s and did duty as a nightclub for a time but was demolished in 2008, leaving only the front wall standing. You can still see most of the classical facade designed by Charles W. Bates with a prominent recessed arch above the entrance that is framed by fluted Ionic columns.
260 Federal Plaza West
Designed by the prominent theater architects, the Rapp brothers of Chicago, this movie palace as the Warner Theatre on May 14, 1931, part of the massive chain of theaters operated by the Warner Brothers film company. The structure was built as a memorial to the late Sam Warner, who along with his brothers, resided in Youngstown before embarking on a career in film production. The Warner shuttered in 1968 and dodged the wrecking ball before Edward W. Powers donated $250,000 to preserve the structure which was renovated in 1969.
Home Savings and Loan Building
275 Federal Plaza West
The Home Building and Loan took its first deposits in 1889 on Central Square with James McKay at the helm. Go-to Youngstown architect Charles F. Owlsey created this home for the bank in 1919, crafted in a Colonial Revival style and capped with the signature clock tower at the top. The bank is a rare financial institution that has weathered financial downturns and consolidations to continue to operate into the 21st century.
TURN RIGHT ON CHESTNUT STREET. TURN RIGHT ON COMMERCE STREET.
Erie Terminal Building
112 West Commerce Street at northeast corner of Hazel Street
Youngstown’s rich railroading heritage has all but disappeared from downtown but this building, that served as the town’s passenger depot for over fifty years, lives on. Paul Boucherle, whose fingerprints are on many of the town’s large projects, created this classically-flavored rectangle in 1922 as a station and office building. Boucherle moved his own offices here. The project was developed for the Erie Railroad.
TURN LEFT ON HAZEL STREET. TURN LEFT ON WOOD STREET.
Youngstown Historical Center
151 West Wood Street
The Youngstown Historical Center of Industry & Labor tells the story of the impact of the iron and steel industry on Youngstown and other Mahoning Valley communities. The building, designed by celebrated architect Michael Graves in 1986, is reminiscent of a steel mill, complete with stylized smoke stacks.
TURN RIGHT ON ELM STREET.
Welsh Congregational Church
220 North Elm Street
Immigrants from Wales were among the pioneering settlers in the Mahoning Valley, toiling in the region’s coal mines and stoking the blast furnaces in the mill. This congregation organized in 1845 and moved into this meetinghouse in 1861. The original Greek Revival styling was updated with a Queen Anne makeover in 1887. Today the Welsh Congregational Church is the oldest extant church in downtown Youngstown and the only unaltered frame church in town.
TURN RIGHT ON LINCOLN AVENUE. THE SQUARE TOWER YOU SEE ON YOUR RIGHT IS...
Phelps Street near Rayen Avenue
In 2009, in a collaboration between AT&T and Youngstown State University the 180-foot tower was painted white and topped with lighted “YSU” letters 8-feet by 20-feet which can be seen in all directions across the city.
CONTINUE TO WICK AVENUE AND TURN LEFT.
Youngstown State University
Wick Avenue at Lincoln Avenue
The university’s origins trace back to 1908, when the local branch of the YMCA established a school of law within the Youngstown Association School. In 1921, the school became known as the Youngstown Institute of Technology and offered its first evening courses. In 1928, a year after establishing the College of Arts and Sciences, the institute once again changed its name to Youngstown College. Jones Hall, constructed in 1931 in the Gothic Collegiate style, is one of the school’s oldest buildings. Named in honor of Dr. Howard Jones, the college’s first president, nowadays Jones Hall houses the university’s administration offices.
Butler Institute of American Art
524 Wick Avenue
William Butler, Jr.’s family had been operating blast furnaces as far back as the 1700s. His grandfather set up the first iron manufactory in central Pennsylvania. Butler eventually settled in Youngstown where he formed the Ohio Steel Company with Henry Wick. In 1901, when he was 61, the company was sold to U.S. Steel and afterwards Butler sated his business interests as a director on the boards of a dozen companies. But his real passion was art and in 1919 he established the country’s first museum devoted to American art. He retained the fabled New York architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White to create an Italian Renaissance home for his collection, fashioned from gleaming white Georgia marble. Butler left the bulk of his $1,500,000 estate to the museum, which anchored the town’s cultural corner.
TURN AND RETRACE YOUR STEPS ON WICK AVENUE, BACK DOWN THE HILL TOWARDS THE CENTER OF TOWN.
St. John’s Episcopal Church
323 Wick Avenue
The congregation, founded in 1859, is housed in a large and imposing English, Arts and Crafts Jacobethan Style church, constructed between 1897 and 1901. William Halsey Wood, who made his career designing buildings for the Episcopal Church across the county, contributed the sketches for the Youngstown church. It was one of his final projects. In the rear is a 3-1/2-story Tudor Revival parish house, finished in 1929. An elevated Tudor Revival Style bridge connects the two buildings.
Youngstown Public Library
305 Wick Avenue
The first stirrings of a public library in Youngstown took place in the 1840s, through the local schools. The Youngstown Library Association formed in 1880 with the first true public library association coming along in 1891. A grant of $50,000 from industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who funded some 2,500 libraries around the world, helped make this building a reality in 1907. Charles F. Owsley won the commission and delivered a Neoclassical depository for the collection. The historic building underwent extensive remodeling in 1954, losing the front entry stairs and skylights, and a major renovation and expansion in 1994-96.
25 West Rayan Street at southwest corner of Wick Avenue
This Classical Revival brick high-rise was constructed in 1911 for members of the Young Women’s Christian Association and is still serving that purpose a century later. Like many YWCAs of the time, the Youngstown YWCA provided rooms for single women to rent in addition to providing recreational and social activities.
223 Wick Avenue
Freemasonry is the oldest, largest and most widely recognized fraternal organization in the world. Founded in London, England in 1717, its current worldwide membership totals 3.6 million members, 1.6 million of which are in North America. With 120,000 Masons and 530 local Lodges, Ohio has one of the largest Masonic memberships of any state in the country. The Youngstown lodge was completed in 1910 on plans drawn by A.L. Thayer in a Colonial Revival style.
222 Wick Avenue
Rayen High School opened its doors to 40 students in September 1866. Provisions for the school were made through a legacy of Colonel William Rayen, a judge and former military officer who fought in the War of 1812. Rayen, who died in 1854, left a residual estate of $31,000, which he set aside for the establishment and maintenance of a secondary school. Rayen specified that the school should be free and open to students of all backgrounds. The original school building was built in the Greek Revival style and stands today little changed in appearance although the school moved to more spacious quarters in 1922.
First Presbyterian Church of Youngstown
201 Wick Avenue
The First Presbyterian Church of Youngstown, Ohio ― the oldest church in the Western Reserve ― was founded September 1, 1799, under the leadership of the Reverend William Wick. The present sanctuary was dedicated September 20, 1960.
CONTINUE DOWNHILL ON WICK AVENUE TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT IN PUBLIC SQUARE.