Mahoning River Archaeology

Steel Valley, O. - The Mahoning River forms in Columbiana County and merges with the Shenango river just south of New Castle, PA to form the Beaver River.

This river served as the main artery for the miles and miles of steel mills that once lined the Mahoning. The mills used huge amounts of water for various purposes which was pumped in from the river, and eventually returned. Industrial waste and super heated water poured into the river for a century. The river did not freeze, even in the frigid north east Ohio winters, for decades. When the local steel industry began to collapse in the 70s and 80s the Mahoning finally began to freeze again, but even with the mills closed the river still showed the scars from the area's industrial past. The levels of heavy metals, PCBs and other contaminants made the Mahoning one of the most polluted in the United States.

There has always been a stigma around the river, people would say that there were three eyed fish that lived in it and that you would be poisoned if you swam in it. The river is cleaner now, it's safe to eat small amounts of the fish even, but people still made those comments when I told them I was going to 'yak the riv as they say.

Pollution or no pollution, I still wanted to explore the river to see the Steel Valley's industry from a vantage point that most people never have or will. Years ago, my cousin suggested we make a raft from 55 gallon drums and scrap lumber to float down the river, so I started doing a little research. I really wanted to float from Newton Falls, all down through Warren (WCI Steel was still in business then, it would have been something to pass between the blast fce. and BOF sides of the active mill), Niles, McDonald, Girard, Youngstown, Campbell, Struthers, Lowellville and New Castle through the remains of industry. I found a few river maps online, and saw that there were dams and obstructions that seemed like they could kill us all along the river so we tabled that idea.

Earlier this year I was contacted by Chuck Miller from the Mahoning River Paddling & Restoration Group who saw the story WFMJ TV21 did on this site. He was familiar with the river, how to kayak it safely, and offered to loan me a boat and take me from Youngstown to Lowellville. I let him know that hell yes I wanted to go.

We started just south of the abandoned steel truss bridge that was West Avenue when it still crossed the river. We paddled down past the B&O station, under the Peanut bridge and then the Marshall Street bridge. There were stretches of the Mahoning near that point that looked nothing like Youngstown, it was like being out in Cook's Forest. Very quiet, very beautiful. Peaceful. It's a shame the river has never been dredged and the dams have been left behind. If that happened it could be a terrific recreation area. I was there to see the dams though, there is something to be said about all of that industry being overtaken by nature.

 

The first industrial relic we came across was just past where the William Tod Co. / Wean United stood, south of the Market Street bridge. (No traces of the Tod Co. remained.) The Covelli Centre replaced Republic Steel, but the water intake still exisits. The same intake is pictured on this postcard and appears on this map dated 1884. Built to last in Youngstown.

Compare the postcard above to the modern photo below. The trees along the riverbank have really bounced back, not just here but all along the river; it was amazong kayaking throguh that tree canopy. 

Across from where the Republic mill was I noticed what looked like a boxcar on the hill just down from the active railroad tracks. That is definitely a boxcar, or at least a mangled part of one. A CSX freight train happened to pass by as I was photographing this wreck and wondering how the hell it got there.

The next two photos are the remaining pier for what was Cedar Street when it used to cross the river, and a piece of 2" threaded rod that was growing out of the hillside just before the next Republic Steel mill we came across: the Hazelton works. 

This pipe jutting out of the man made stacked stone retaining wall was the first indication that we were back in an industrial area. A bird was hanging around inside of that pipe, it flew out and startled the hell out of me. I missed the shot.

We were entering what was a a highly industrialized stretch of river, see the image from Youngstown, Ohio: Steel Valley Artifacts below. From this point down to Lowellville we passed places that employed relatives of mine. Youngstown Sheet & Tube (John D. Grilli, Dominick Grilli, Don Meenachan, Bob Grilli, John W. Grilli [via Industrial Mill Service]), J&L Steel/Cold Metal Products (Albert Grilli) who also drew water from the river all the way from the other side of YS&T, but I couldn't find their intake. Further down would have been Sharon Steel's Lowellville works (Mario Grilli and possibly Freddie Retort). These men that spent years here were on my mind the entire time.

 

Courtesy Youngstown, Ohio: Steel Valley Artifacts

Two monolithic Republic shed buildings, visible in the photo above, peek through the heavy tree cover on the banks of the river.

The bridge piers {L} and abutment {R} below. Per Rick Rowlands of Youngstown Steel Heritage: "Since it would connect the Republic track from Brown Bonnell to the operations at the other side of the river I would say that it was a Republic Steel bridge.  Possibly the route by which hot metal got to the open hearth from the blast furnaces."

Below: A Republic Steel shed and a sand tower that I would say is 100' tall.

Below: Republic Steel Corp. intake. The river was a bit low that day so you were able to see the intake grates exposed at the bottom of this structure.

Below: A section of brick wall that I assume was pushed into the river during the demolition of the Republic Steel Hazelton works.

Below: Another Republic Steel rail bridge which is abandoned, and in the background standes the still active Norfolk Southern (formerly Pennsylvania Railroad) Youngstown line and yard office. 

The next images are from the Youngstown Sheet & Tube Company's Campbell works, beginning with this image of a tree that has grown around several lengths of pipe. There were rail lines at the top of this bank that ran through the Sheet & Tube propoerty, I wonder if pipe spilled off of a train that was moving it around in the mill.

The photo below was taken from underneath of the shiny new Walton Street bridge, with a Sheet & Tube bridge in the background. The remaining bridge is very industrial in it's design, it features an expanded metal deck and large diameter pipes that ran across it. The really interesting item here is the abandoned bridge pier in the foreground. 

This pier supported the original Walton Street bridge, which was the main entrance to Youngstown Sheet & Tube. There is a very Youngstown story behind the reason that bridge had to be replaced, one that involves a shot and a beer bar that steelworkers used to frequent right up Walton St.

I will leave names out of this, but here is the story of the Walton Street bridge and the Bloom Butt Inn as it was told to me: "When they cut the ends of a slab (bloom) off to get the right length for the order , it's called a bloom butt. Three guys on midnight shift pulled a scam where one guy ran a locomotive crane, one drove truck and the third guy did the hooking and unhooking. They would sell the butts as scrap in Pittsburgh. After a while they got lazy and started taking the butts to New Castle to sell as scrap. YS&T would periodically check scrap yards to see if anything came from them. YS&T found about $180,000.00 worth of receipts from just New Castle. They fired the three guys. One eventually bought the Walton bar and named it The Bloom Butt Inn. Don't know about one of the guys, but the locomotive driver got his job back after about a year. One day on day shift he was running late at the end of his shift and was rushing back to the shop in the loco crane and forgot to put the boom down. He hit the bridge that went to Walton street knocking it out of whack. The bridge was never able to be used after that. Men going into the mill from Walton street had to go down steps to ground level and take a round about way to get into the plant." 

Below is a photo of the aformentioned bridge in the 80's when they were tearing down the Campbell works. She looks a little bit out of plumb.

Courtesy Sean Posey

 

I could not find any information on this Bloom Butt Inn online, but with today being the 40th anniversary of Black Monday (learn more about that here, and the impact it had on my family here and here  ) there has been a lot of talk about Youngstown's steel industry in the media. I was watching a segment on the shutdowns on WKBN and sure as shit they cut from a shot of the mill to interviews of people at "a mill bar" they called it. The Bloom Butt Inn.

Courtesy WFMJ

I don't think stealing all that scrap was an ethical decision, but skimming off the top is as Youngstown as pierogies and homemade cavatels. Anyhow, enough with story time. The next image was the main water intake for Youngstown Sheet & Tube, located just southeast of where the blast furnaces once stood.

The remains of a massive dam that sat between the coke plant and blast furnaces. Per Rick Rowlands: "Dam to create cooling water pool for Campbell Works.  A tramway that hauled coke in self propelled transfer cars ran over a trestle built on top of this dam."

Intake and pump house for the Youngstown Sheet & Tube Struthers works. The water pulled from this location was needed for the 9" and 12" bar mills (where my grandpa was a craneman) as well as the conduit plant and powerhouse.

Below are photos of the former Sharon Steel Corp.'s pump houses that served their Lowellville works. "Sharon Steel Lowellville Works pump house.  Actually there are two pump houses.  This one is the oldest of the two.  It was replaced by the larger one next to it. This one might date back to the Ohio Iron & Steel Co. days"

The newer of the two (but still long forgotten) Sharon Steel pumphouse.

A nine mile trip down the Mahoning River revealed another side of our industrial heritage that needed to be documented, and I feel lucky to have been able to do that. These buildings will likely stand for years and years, there is more concrete than steel scrap, plus you would never know they were down there. Out of sight out of mind. I like to think I changed that.

 

 

Unless otherwise noted, all photos copyright Paul Grilli - The Rust Jungle 2017

Republic Steel Corp.

Youngstown, O. - These photos were submitted to the site by Eugene K., of Hermitage PA. Gene was kind enough to mail me actual prints of the decommissioned blast furnaces at Republic Steel's Hazelton furnaces that he developed in the 80's. These were taken sometime between shut down and demolition. I have not seen photos from these angles before and couldn't be more pleased to share them with you all. Posterity baby. 

Here is a bit more about Gene's connection to the steel industry in his words: "I grew up in Boardman in the late seventies/early eighties. My father was a steelworker. He worked for a short time at the Edgar Thompson USS works in Braddock, PA out of high school, then he moved to Youngstown after WWII and worked at GF (General Fireproofing) for 42 years. I sort of grew up around the mills since my maternal Grandmother lived in Strudders and my paternal Grandmother lived on Campbell. I do remember the smells of quenching coke, watching slag trucks go down Lowellville Rd with red hot loads or crossing Center St. bridge at night and seeing the molten iron flowing out of the blast furnace and the workers dressed in their fire suits!"

What great photos, and a quintessential Steel Valley story to go along with them. Thanks again for submitting Gene! 

Carnegie Steel Co.

Youngstown, O. - This photo appears to show the dedication of the new company owned playground near Carnegie's Upper and Lower Union Mills. I am not sure of the location, but with the mill so close in the background I'll guess it was in the Crescent Street/West Federal area somewhere. 

Grandpa

Youngstown, O. - John D. Grilli was so much more than a Sheet & Tube retiree. He was my grandpa. He was a loving husband to my grandma. He was the person that raised my dad right. He was the guy that tanned my hide, so to speak, when I stepped out of line. He was a kind man of few words. He worked 35 years down the mill after he saw unspeakable things in the Philippines during the war. He grew grapes and made wine on North Bon Air behind the house he built from that steel mill money. He had enough time in to retire after Black Monday and bought a truck, and put my dad to work hauling steel with his pension. He was a fucking man's man. He is the man I strive to be. 

IMG_1193.JPG

Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co.

No location given - A Bessemer Converter blow lighting up the mill at Youngstown Sheet & Tube. Not to be confused with Bessemer Street on the Westside, or Bessemer, PA., this was the method for turning iron to steel prior to the open hearth process. They would blow oxygen through the hot iron and the impurities would puke out of the top and rain down like hell fire and brimstone. That's what you're seeing here. 

If you want to see one of these beasts in person they have preserved one at Station Square in Pittsburgh. That converter was built by the Pennsylvania Engineering Corp. on the south side of New Castle which was demolished recently. The converter is cold now, but it originally worked at Ambridge, PA. 

Ambridge is an odd name right? It was a company town, full of employees of the US Steel subsidiary American Bridge Co. Get it, Am Bridge?  

Stop 5 Riot

Youngstown, O. - Today, 6/19/2017, marks the 80 year anniversary of the Stop 5 Riot at the gates of Republic Steel on Poland Avenue. This event is one that should never be forgotten. 

Below is an eyewitness account of the bloodshed that took place that day, which was called ladies day where the picket lines were manned by wives of the striking workers. There are other accounts out there, from the police and the chairman of the board of Repbulic at that time, but we should start here. 

 Courtesy of Ohio Memory Connection. 

Courtesy of Ohio Memory Connection. 

The most important passage from this account, in my opinion, is this: "Soon thereafter, the sky was lit up with flares fired from the plant and was followed with a fusillade of machine gun fire from the overhead cranes in the old tube mill". Jesus Criminelli. 

The Vindicator reported that over 160,000 rounds of ammunition were purchased for the strike between Youngstown Sheet & Tube and Republic Steel. Let that sink in. 

The photos of National Guard machine gunners below were taken in Warren not long after the Stop 5 incident. 

 Machine gunners on hot metal bridge in Warren. Trumbull Cliffs furnace in background. Courtesy of Ohio Memory Connection. 

Machine gunners on hot metal bridge in Warren. Trumbull Cliffs furnace in background. Courtesy of Ohio Memory Connection. 

 Machine gunners on Pine Avenue in Warren. Courtesy of Ohio Memory Connection. 

Machine gunners on Pine Avenue in Warren. Courtesy of Ohio Memory Connection. 

The strikers were not innocent in all of this, at least some of them were waging warfare against the company. I'm not saying this should have given the company a license to kill, but they used it as justification. Photos of sabotage below.

 Derailed box cars on Pine Avenue in Warren. Courtesy of Ohio Memory Connection. 

Derailed box cars on Pine Avenue in Warren. Courtesy of Ohio Memory Connection. 

 Pennsylvania Rail Road cars with hoppers opened up. Looks like they were hauling in limestone for the Blast Fce. Courtesy of Ohio Memory Connection. 

Pennsylvania Rail Road cars with hoppers opened up. Looks like they were hauling in limestone for the Blast Fce. Courtesy of Ohio Memory Connection. 

There was so much tension at the Republic mills becuase they refused to close them, and still had employees working inside that didn't support the union. See below for telegraphs that were sent to holdouts in the Warren works.

 Courtesy of Ohio Memory Connection. 

Courtesy of Ohio Memory Connection. 

 Courtesy of Ohio Memory Connection. 

Courtesy of Ohio Memory Connection. 

Segregated religious services were held for the holdouts in the mills, who were forced to live in the plants for fear of reprisal as they left the gates. 

 Employee housing near the stainless mill. Courtesy of Ohio Memory Connection. 

Employee housing near the stainless mill. Courtesy of Ohio Memory Connection. 

 Courtesy of Ohio Memory Connection. 

Courtesy of Ohio Memory Connection. 

 Courtesy of Ohio Memory Connection. 

Courtesy of Ohio Memory Connection. 

Images below show how strong the tensions were between both sides. The holdouts in the mill hung an effigy of a CIO striker at the No. 1 hot strip mill, the strikers prepared a gate ramming car to breach the line.

 Courtesy of Ohio Memory Connection. 

Courtesy of Ohio Memory Connection. 

 Courtesy of Ohio Memory Connection. 

Courtesy of Ohio Memory Connection. 

All of this fighting and bloodshed was all for naught. The union still was unable to organize, and after the murders at Stop 5 the National Guard was deployed and put the strike down for good. The union may have gained some ground, but 80 years later these mills are either demolished, in the process of being demo'd, or sitting there rusting. The photo below was taken days after the killings in Youngstown. They repealed the beer ban that was in place during the strike, and it was back to business as usual. 

 Courtesy of Ohio Memory Connection. 

Courtesy of Ohio Memory Connection. 

 Courtesy of Ohio Memory Connection. 

Courtesy of Ohio Memory Connection. 

Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co.

Youngstown, O. - Photos of "Americanization Classes" at a community hall owned and operated by the Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. There is not a date or location called out, but I am guessing this was from the early 1900's and located somewhere along Wilson Avenue. The location is a guess, but an educated one, based on the tin ceilings shown in the photos that are similar to one's I have seen at buildings down there that sat across from the Campbell works. I'm assuming this would have been located near the mill so the employees could walk to it. 

In the full size version of the image above, you can make out the lettering on the window, that states "Free Night School and Reading Room For Foreign Speaking Men and Women - Community Hall - Reading Writing Spelling". Sheet & Tube didn't have a problem hiring immigrants, or segregating them by department, but you better get your ass assimilated pronto. This may have been in response to the riots during the steel strike in 1919, when the company decided to do more for the employees to ensure that East Youngstown (later renamed Campbell for the president of the company) was not burned again. 

I've seen the framed photos on the wall before, I'm pretty sure some images from this series hang in my Westside breakfast spot The Donut Oven, I mean Landmark. 

The William B. Pollock Co.

Youngstown, O. - A ladle ready to ship out from the William B. Pollock Co. in the 1970s, destined for the Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co.'s Indiana Harbor works. Although Pollock and Sheet & Tube are out of business, the Indiana Harbor mill still makes steel, operated by Arcelor Mittal. 

Republic Steel Corp. - Little Steel Strike

Warren, O. - As the Little Steel Strike heated up, many Republic Steel Corp. mills closed due to the pickets, but others remained operating with a skeleton crew of employees loyal to the company. The Warren works was one of these mills. The pickets were preventing food and supplies from being brought into the mills for the (scabs) men that stayed on, so the company improvised. 

Republic management initially used one biplane to drop supplies into the Niles mill. After a few failed attempts where the packages fell outside of the gates and were taken by pickets, they were eventually successful. Republic's president bought four more planes that day, and the fleet evenutally numbered 9 planes. A makeshift airfield was set up at the Warren works. 

It didn't take long for the strikers to realize the flights were effective. The planes launched from a secret airfield, and were reported to have altered their identification numbers. The strikers took matters into their own hands, and started hunting for the airfield and allegedly attempting to shoot down the planes as they flew into the mill. This was war, right in the middle of the Steel Valley. See the Vindicator headlines from 80 years ago today below. 

6/1/1937

6/2/1937 -  This plane was rumored to have been shot down.

5/31/1937

Even with the supposed anti-aircraft fire, the airdrops kept the mills running. The illustration on the envelope sent to the Trumbull Cliff Furnace (Republic Warren works) seems to indicate the S.W.O.C/C.I.O. was losing the battle, judging by the plane and the smoke still coming from the stacks. 

Press photos below, coutesy of the Ohio Memory Collection, that show the airfield at Warren and the urgency they unloaded the planes with. They say the men on the ground were under fire as well. 

The strike continued to rage on, and would evenutally escalate to more bloodshed and the loss of life on the steelworker's side at a Republic mill in Youngstown. More to come on that, don't change that dial.

Automatic Sprinkler Co. of America

Youngstown, O. - The remains of the Automatic Sprinkler Co. of America. This firm was incorporated in 1919, and the headquarters was moved to Youngstown in 1936, which was the location of their main plant. Automatic was sold to Harry Figgie, Jr in 1963 and continued to manufacture fire suppression equipment in Youngstown up until 1967. There was an ongoing strike, and a decision was made by  Figgie to move the production out of state with no warning to the employees. According to the Vindicator photo below, they were informed by the newspaper's photographer that they were out of a job. This decision was touted in his biography as a shrewd business move, but I say it was a good reason to get punched in the mouth. He did go on to be successful, but so did Art Model. This was the beginning of major companies being sold off to out of town interests that had little to no concern for the workers in the Valley. 

1/16/1967

I don't know if the water was off or what, but the reason this place is in such bad shape is that it burned repeatedly in 2012. The sprinklers did't appear to do their job.

 Sprinkler Head.

Sprinkler Head.

I was aware of this building for some years, but never made it over to shoot it before the fires. While looking at a Sanborn Fire Insurance map of the area, I noticed this factory and the fact that it was noted to have wood block floors (see below). That is what peaked my interest. Also of note is the fact that there are three houses left on Brittain Street, one of which is burned out.

Below are photos of the nearly 100 year old wood block floor. They are really bricks that are made from some type of treated lumber instead of clay. It looks like the floor buckled a bit during the fire here, but was surprisingly in tact other than that. Especially for the fact that the building that used to shelter it was long gone, and the floor was exposed to the elements. 

Found the names written below in the concrete that butted up against the block floor. 

Bubba

Bill

Larry

There was a vault onsite that had seen better days. Not sure what they stored in here, but I live in a 105 year old factory, and 3' from my front door is a similar vault marked Tools & Dies. I keep my rolling cooler in there. 

Exterior of Door

Inside Vault

Lock Exterior

Lock Interior

Below are images of the results of the fires/partial demolition. Think about the people that live in the house in the background. How would you like to wake up to this view every day?

Structural Issues - See Below.

Below are some detail shots that I thought were interesting, beginning with the oldest UL sticker I have ever seen in the wild.

Underwriters Laboratories 

Blinds

 Hot seat

Hot seat

Made in China

 Fish Eyes

Fish Eyes

End of Turn

Handwriting No. 1

Handwriting No. 2

All photos copyright Paul Grilli 2017

William Tod Co.

Youngstown, O. - The works of the William Tod Co., which became United Engineering & Foundry Co., and most recently Wean United. They manufactured steel mill equipment (see attached), including some of the worlds most powerful rolling mill engines, which at one time could be found throughout the world. Two examples that I know of still exist. One is rusting away on the grounds of Weirton Steel, and has been since they tore the blooming mill building down around it. I actually had the opportunity to photograph it before it was left outside to rust, I'll post those photos eventually. IN THE MEANTIME, if you want to see the only preserved and restored example of the engines that came out of this plant, check out todengine.org or go see it at the museum on Hubbard Rd.

This facility that helped build America's infrastructure was torn down a few years ago to make way for a brownfield. My buddy Trillions, aka Squirrley Dan, used to work here as part of the OWE program (or work release as I called it) at Chaney High School. They would let you out of school early to go work; it was some occupational program I guess. A company called OH&R, or something to that effect, used part of the buildings to fab or sort or store steel bar. Or something, this was a long time ago, pardon the foggy details. Anyhow, I used to go pick this kid up from work at the main gates at the end of Phleps and he would come out to the car completely covered in soot, grease and grime. Everybody else that would walk out looked relatively clean, so I ask was he running a tow motor like he told me he was or working in a damn coal mine? He tells me that he really spent most of his time sleeping or looking for places to sleep on top of the stacks of bar haha. 

I think these photos are ten years old, give or take. I didn't care to photograph it when it was coming down like every Tom Dick and Harry with a camera, I was pretty unhappy with the fact that they were demolishing it. I want to say the downtown resident crowd was pushing to replace our heritage with a dog park at that time. 

I am almost positive I took these the day we met Spaceman. Trillions and I walked from downtown to Himrod on the railroad tracks that follow the river, with a pack of smokes and what appears to be a plastic camera based on the quality of these images. We come across this older guy that had built a deck that cantilevered out over the Mahoning down under the Market Street bridge. This guy was cool as hell. A little out there, but cool. Introduced himself as Spaceman and goes on to tell us he built the deck by hand using material he scavenged. I thought he had a pretty nice set up. The city was kicking him out and knocking down the deck as they were getting ready to build the Chevy Center. I hope they end up doing something with this land and build that amphitheater. It's either that, or Spaceman and I are going down there and building a new deck. 

Youngstown Car Manufacturing Co.

Youngstown, O. - This is a company you don't hear much about. Youngstown Car Mfg Co. manufactured the carts shown in this advertisement. With the amount of money run of the mill industrial carts go for today you would be sitting on a fortune if you had one of these to sell. I'd buy it. 

Below is a photo of their plant on Wilson Avenue, with Republic Steel's number 2, 3, and 4 blast furnaces in the background. This was part of the William Pollock Co. collection on Ohio Memory, so I assume they built the furnaces. The Youngstown Car Manufacturing Co. plant still stands today, and is now used by Industrial Mill Maintenance. 

I was working for an HVAC company in the early 2000s, and was on the roof of the church that sits across the street. I forget the name of the church but it was between Gladstone and Jackson Street . The maintenance man was telling me he went to school there as a kid, and remembered not being able to see across to Poland Ave. because of all the smoke from Republic. I remember trying to imagine what that scene looked like. Imagine no more, this would have been the exact same view I saw 80 years later when the furnaces were gone. 

Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co.

Youngstown, O. - *Edit* Although the photo was marked "Hot saws in YS&T blooming mill", I am told by multiple former employees of Sheet & Tube as well as the Director of the Youngstown Steel Heritage Foundation that this was the billet mill at the Campbell works. What a photo!!!!!!!!!!!!

Republic Steel Corp.

Youngstown, O. - We are coming up on the 100 year anniversary of the date this beautiful photograph was taken - 7/31/1917. This is a now demolished blast furnace at Republic Steel, in the Hazelton area. Think Poland Ave. and Center Street.

I was wandering around down there and found a brick marked Niles No. 1. Niles Firebrick was a manufacturer of refractory brick, so that piece of masonry I carried home may well have been used to line this furnace.

I wonder if this was taken by a company photographer or who? They made a gorgeous large format film photo I know that. Damn I was born 100 years too late. Wish that would have been me getting paid to take this. 

Photo courtesy of Ohio Memory collection. 

US Steel Ohio Works

Youngstown, O. Today marks the the 35th anniversary of not only my first memory as a child, but the end of one hell of an era in Youngstown history. The day the four remaining blast furnaces in Youngstown fell. 

Lookit these damn vultures

I vividly remember the day it happened. If you looked out of our front window, across the street you could see the tops of these monolithic structures peeking up over Jimmy Sebena's roof. Jimmy was awesome. His daughter saved my brother's life. Jimmy told me after they landed at Normandy they confiscated all this French money. Said he won so much in the dice games he came home damn near rich, but it was like Monopoly money over there. He called me Pauley and enjoyed sitting on his front porch and spitting. All night in the summer, between the sounds of the Harleys roaring up Hazelwood and the tube rounds clanging around down the former Sheet & Tube Brier Hill works, you would hear Jimmy hawker. But that's neither here nor there. 

Back to April 28th, 1982. My mom brought me to our picture window, and opened the front door so we could hear the explosion. I remember looking over the roof of the Sebena's and watching "the smokestacks" as I called them start to lean. You felt the house shake, and then you heard the explosion. It blew my young mind that the sound came later. I didn't know much about physics at just shy of 3 years old. I also didn't know much about the steel industry and how the fact they abandoned my hometown would effect the economy and my life in general either, but that would change.

I attended an old timers reunion at the Youngstown Historical Center of Labor and Industry last year, and got to sit down with one of the last US Steel employees in the Steel Valley. Tom was named Project Engineer, and was tasked with selling off the remaining USS properties, and oversaw the demolition of the Ohio Works. The demo company provided him a stack of photos of the demo, which was meant to be used as a flip book. Below is a video of him flipping through the shots at that event. 

Tom was nice enough to give me a copy of a transcript of a speech he had recently given, which details the fate of every damn US Steel property in the Valley. Definitly worth a read if you're into that subject. Which I sure as hell am. 

Location/Company Unknown

These photos appears to be from the early 1900's, judging by the use of steam power on the job site. These were sent in by Dave H., who's grandfather took these photos. He was born in Hillsville, PA, in 1895 and lived in Lowellville later in life, working in the mills until a fall broke both of his legs. I am told that he had a passion for photography, and shot and developed many photos of steel mill construction. I am looking for any input as to what mill is featured in these photos. It is possible that this is Youngstown Sheet & Tube Campell works or Sharon Steel Lowellville works. Lil help?

The William B. Pollock Co.

Youngstown, O. - This image from the early 1900s shows an employee of the William B. Pollock Co. posing with a new hot metal handling rail car that looks ready to ship. These cars were designed/engineered/built in Youngstown. Hopefully the man next to the car gives you an idea of the scale, and the amount of molten iron each of these cars moved around the mills.

Image courtesy of Ohio History Connection

Republic Steel Corp.

Youngstown, O. - Dated 1941, this photo shows the men that worked the "skull cracker" yard at Republic Steel. Skull cracking was the process of dropping essentially a wrecking ball on steel that had solidified in a ladle, and needed to be reclaimed. 

Photo courtesy of Ohio Memory Collection

Republic Steel Corp

Youngstown, O. - The former Republic Steel Co. pattern storage building, just across Poland Avenue from their Youngstown plant near Center Street. I have been past this building before and wondered what company once occupied it, as it looked like a mill shed. I was looking through Sanborn fire insurance maps from the 1920s researching another manufacturer in the area, and noticed this was Republic Steel property.             

The one-time pattern storage building is not completely abandoned, it appears it is still used for storage of some sort by the modern business that sits on the property. I wandered around on Powersdale to see if I could find a better place to shoot from. I didn't find another way in, but I like the photo I made so it worked out.

As I was walking around looking for a hole in the fence, I noticed a discarded hypodermic needle on the sidewalk. It really drove home the reality and severity of the heroin epidemic in Youngstown. I say this having known way too many people that have died from an overdose, and plenty more that have lost their will to live because of it, but the needle sitting there affected me. Was someone running from the police and toss it? Did they use it and throw it out the window like a cigarette butt? 

Last year I was discussing the heroin problem with two guys that have documented the Youngstown area since the downfall of the steel industry in the 80s and they made a very interesting point. They suggested that once the jobs suddenly disappeared, that people were in such shock, and felt such a sense of despair that they began to self medicate. It could have been liquor, or coke, or crack or heroin, but the point remains that if you have nothing to live for you turn to things like that.

 

I had a conversation recently with a man who's father was a psychologist in Youngstown in the 70s and 80s. He was there for the mass shutdowns and recalls the stress it caused the people of the valley. He states that depression, suicide and psychosis were so rampant in the Steel Valley that he could not keep up, business was booming and not in a good way. I would assume that substance abuse was not far behind these other issues.

 

I am not blaming the closure of the mills for the heroin crisis, there are plenty of other factors, I get it.  The poor decisions and lack of willpower that lead a person to stick a needle in themselves, the pharmaceutical companies that pushed Oxys, the FDA that let them, and the pill mill doctors all helped to create this perfect storm. But don't you think that if there were more opportunities, more high paying jobs that were easy to get into, and not such a sense of "this is a dead town" among the youth that people would be less likely to start using heroin? 

Just a thought.