Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co.

GIrard, O. - A track walk and some photos of a now demolished steel mill in 2005 would lead to my extremely short lived employment in the steel industry and an interesting connection to my father.

We parked near the former Pennsylvania RR coaling tower in Girard and started hiking down the tracks. It is now falling over, but the coal tower still stands - you can see it from Route 80.  Passing under 80 and heading further south we came upon the former Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. Brier Hill works.

The building to the left was in use, occupied by Syro Steel, but there wasn't much going on in the building to the right so we went in to take a look and some photos. Good thing we did because this giant structure is now gone. It was built during WWI and housed an 84 inch and 132 inch plate mill, and later an experimental hot strip mill per Rick Rowlands. The first time I saw the Tod Engine, which he eventually restored and built a museum around, was down here but I seem to have lost those photos. It was stored here prior to moving it to Hubbard Rd.

The photos in the next set got me hired into this same mill. I had the image below as a screen saver on my work computer - it was the most "artistic" looking photo I had ever taken, even though I didn't know what I was doing.

A customer of mine saw that and I wound up showing him the whole series. He says you're a steel man? I say no but my whole family was, why? It turned out he was the owner of the company that had the contract to staff V&M Star Steel and he needed a foreman. For whatever reason he offers me the job. I ran a die line in a plastic extrusion factory for a while, but had no steel experience and was currently selling cell phones for a living. But he needed a foreman and I figured it was my birthright so we started negotiating. He agreed to pay me $18 an hour so I was ready to quit my current job. It was a pay cut but I figured I'd work my way back up.

My employment lasted a shift. I got to ride around and take a tour of the mill with the superintendent and then he took me to my job. They were going to have me cutting tube rounds as my training, which was cool with me (tube rounds meaning solid steel logs that had not been pierced to make seamless pipe).

I just sat in an elevated office, and when the rounds came down the table I would stop them and press a button that made the plasma cutter come down and cut it to length. This took me back to my childhood. I lived 5 minutes from this mill and in the summer with the windows open I would lay in bed and hear steel clanging around all night. When the rounds were cut they dropped from the table to the floor; I think this is the sound I grew up hearing.

The superintendent came back at the end of the day to have me sign the paperwork. He hands it to me and it says $11.00 an hour. I say what's this? I'm making forty some thousand a year to stand in the air conditioning and talk to pretty girls at the cell phone shop, what happened to the $18 an hour? He stuck to the $11 an hour offer, something about policy or some bullshit, I told him to stick it. 

Alright, one more personal story then I'll show yins the rest of the photos. I was showing these images to my pops and he sees this overhead crane that was laying out in the yard. He says wait is that Brier Hill, I say yeah why? Turns out he hauled this crane here from what was J&L Steel Aliquippa works when they were demolishing that mill. 

Ok I lied, one more personal connection. My cousin was an Ironworker on the V&M expansion project. Part of the plans for the expansion, which is right next to where this building was, was to strip the building to the beams and then re-sheet and reuse it. Once they spent the man hours stripping it down, they realized the structure was out of plumb and could not be used. Photo of the skeleton below. They eventually tore the whole thing down and the foundation is now an exterior pipe yard. 

Click to enlarge the photos in the gallery below. 

All images copyright Paul Grilli / The Rust Jungle 2018

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

Sharon Steel Corp.

Farrell, Penna - The still standing Cowper stoves that held the super heated hot blast, or wind as it was called, for the long demolished blast furnaces at the former Sharon Steel works in Farrell, PA. This mill is now owned by NLMK, a Russian outfit. They still operate finishing mills here, but there's no need for a blast fce. when your basic steel is shipped in as slabs from mother Russia.

This photo was taken in 2008, the furnaces fell in 1995. See below for a heart breaking article from the Sharon Herald.

Copyright Paul Grilli 2017

At 6 p.m. Friday, “Judy” died.

Cause of death: Nobody wanted to pay to keep her alive.

Standing nearly 110 feet tall and dressed in blackened steel, she was hardly the most attractive gal in town. Yet, when she belched out smoke, she was beloved.

Sharon Steel Corp.'s No 2 blast furnace, nicknamed Judy, met its fate with explosives and crashed to the earth with a “kathump.” The No.3 furnace, which stood next to No. 2, was felled at the same time. An old No. 1 furnace housed at the mill was dismantled about 70 years ago.

Accompanied by a flash of yellow light, the explosion could be heard for miles around the Farrell steel mill.

Steel from both furnaces will be picked apart and sold for scarp.

The Schoonover Co. paid $1.65 million for the right to scrap parts of the Farrell mill. The Ecorse, Mich., company began its estimated 10-month project in December. Sharon Steel owns land on the section of the mill Schoonover is scrapping.

Ray Schoonover, owner of the company, estimated that both furnaces combined will yield 15, 000 tons of steel.

One hundred pounds of plastic explosive was needed to blow up the furnaces, said Doug Loizeaux, vice president of Controlled Demolition Inc. Schoonover hired the Phoenix. Md., company to demolish both furnaces.

An hour before pushing the button that set off the explosive, Loizaaux briefly explained that each furnace was supported by eight cast steel legs. Schoonover tore out two legs in each furnace before Friday. CDI thought the legs were made of cast iron, which is more brittle and easier to explode than cast steel.

“We had to use twice as much explosive than we thought, ” Loizeaux said.

Success or failure in a demolition project is immediately known.

“It's fun,” he said of his work. “You get to meet a lot of people. ”

Judy received much attention during the 1960's when the aging No. 1 furnace needed to be replaced. At the time, Sharon Steel said it needed No. 2 repaired to survive.

When the repaired No. 2 furnace was dedicated in 1968, it was named after then-Farrell resident Judy Nath. She and her husband, Charles, had owned a consulting firm that helped secure a $5.2 million federal Urban Development Action Grant for the project. Nath, who died in 1987, had been city manager and redevelopment director in Farrell.

His widow has since remarried and now lives in Pullman, Wash.

A blast furnace produces molten iron ore that is used to make steel. When operating, the No. 2 furnace could produce about 60,000 tons of iron ore a month. Sharon Steel idled the furnace when it closed the mill in November 1992. Later that month, Sharon Steel filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company is now selling all its assets to pay its creditors.

Caparo Inc., which bought much of the mill from Sharon Steel in December, didn't want the blast furnaces. Instead, Caparo will use the two electric furnaces at the mill to produce steel.

Immediately after the blast and the crash of the furnaces, an excited Schoonover employee could be heard congratulating Loizeaux over two-way radio.

“Great job. You're the best in the world,” the worker said.

Loizeaux tried to calm him down.

“Don't tell me what a great job I did, just give me my paycheck,” Loizeaux joked.


Here are some thoughts on the demise of “Judy” from those who were involved with Sharon Steel Corp:

  • Judith Breedlove,for whom the No. 2 furnace was named. She and her husband, the late Charles Nath, operated a consulting firm that helped secure federal funding for the No. 2 furnace that resulted in the furnace being repaired for reuse in 1988. She's now a teacher in Pullman, Wash. What I'll remember the most about the furnace is the hours we spent on the phone with Sharon Steel officials about what was needed to get the funding. We tried to take the middle-or-the-road approach to make everyone happy and get the project approved. ”
  • Henry Evans,former vice chairman at Sharon Steel who worked at the mill since 1933. He now is a consultant with Caparo Steel Co., which bought much of the Farrell mill. “If they would have gotten a continuous caster, Sharon Steel would still be there with the blast furnace producing steel. If there was a caster in there now, that place would be booming.”
  • Phillip A. Smalley,former senior vice president of human resources at Sharon Steel, He now is a managed health care and employment relations consultant. “I don't look at it with a sense of saddness. It signals the plant has changed from an integrated mill to a mini-mill, and that's long overdue. The man who uses yesterday's methods in today's work won't be in busninss tomorrow. ”
  • Eugene C. Pacsi, mayor of Farrell, “ I think when Caparo (Steel) came in, we knew at the time they weren't going to use the blast furnace. Time goes by, and there's a different way to run a steel mill. In a way, I'm glad we'll still have a steel mill … but there are a lot of memories there though. ”
  • Howard Clark, former president of United Steelworkers Local 1197, which represented 2,200 production and maintenance workers at Sharon Steel. Clark is now retired. “It's a sad day, and it's a sad situation - but that's the way it is. I know one thing, it's sure a shame that all those people who worked there all those years lost their retirement health care benefits. ”

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. 


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. 




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 


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 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. 

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. 

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. 

P&LE RR Gateway Yard

Struthers, O. - When it opened in 1957 the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Gateway Yard was considered a major milestone in the timeline of the P&LE. The yard was over 5 miles long, stretching from from Center St. to Lowellville, and handling freight for many of the area's heavy industrial concerns. They didn't call this railroad The Little Giant for nothing, the P&LE moved more tonnage than average for such a short railroad. It only operated between Youngstown and Pittsburgh, but think how many steel mills they serviced.

Here are some photos I took down there, mostly from 03/04, so excuse the low resolution/poor quality. I feel fortunate to have taken photos of the footbridge into the yard before it was demolished, and of the rooftop sign before some white rappers from Poland turned it into a billboard for suburban struggle music.

All images copyright Paul Grilli 2017

The P&LE's history in the Youngstown area goes back much further than 1957, they actually owned and operated a dining hall and a YMCA on Wilson Avenue, directly across from the Campbell water plant. Check out this Sanborn map from 1928. 

The P&LE was completely absorbed into CSX in 1993. The photos below were taken 10 years later when the footbridge from Wilson Avenue into the yard still stood. I was always fascinated by this bridge. Think about how many hardworking people walked to work, or took a bus from Youngstown/Campbell/Struthers/Lowelville, and crossed this bridge every day. 

Footbridge on left. Hump center. Car barn and now demolished building that housed locker rooms/med station center right.

I'm assuming the workers that crossed that bridge walked directly through this man tunnel that went under the hump. There wasn't much light at the end of it when I was down there. 

The photo below is one of my favorites I took down there, a long forgotten employee directory. I love seeing the writing that was left on the walls by guys that were laid off years ago. Who are these guys, where are they now? Why did Blackie suck? Were Sam, Frank, Natale and Al the kind of guys you would want to drink a beer with after work on Friday, at the same bar on Wilson Avenue you cashed your check at?

Below - Clockwise from top: Sink - Medical Station - Union sticker - Missing control panel in hump yard tower - locker detail - car barn grease bay

Jacket found in basement of main hump yard tower.

Below - Clockwise from top: Main hump yard tower and the hump - PSA - Demolished - RR propaganda

Car barn interior

Below - Clockwise from top: Hump yard tower - Open manhole - Remnants of last crew - Rain lockers - Another yard tower - Locker room

This yard tower was located down in Lowellville at the far end of the yard. It was re-purposed by kids that rode the rails. I wish I had more photos, but you can see some hobo graffiti above the window in the second image. There was a notebook where different freight train riders signed in with where they were from and where they were going. Remarks about the weather and which trains you had to wait on for hours to pull out. There was a track map scrawled on the wall, with arrows pointing to Cleveland, Pittsburgh etc. It was fascinating. 

Youngstown Sheet & Tube Brier Hill works

Girard, O. - Was down here photographing the signs that were left on the building, and wandered over to poke around the old truck scales. I hear this static coming from the area near the phone, where I'm assuming the driver would call into get weighed. The loudspeaker was still active and making noise. This place isn't totally abandoned, I think Vallourec or Trinity Industries still use it, but I was surprised that the speaker was still speaking. The phone was dead though. 

Identification Badges - Copperweld Steel Co.

Warren, O. - I found my way into a Facebook group for Copperweld Steel retirees, where my grandpa worked for 33 years. He was hired in 1946, not long after he came home from fighting in Europe with a theater medal with five bronze campaign stars on it (fought in Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland and two other major battles) and a beautiful Scottish war bride, who was a nurse in the British Army when they met. 

I posted a photo of his original ID badge in the group, and other people began to post their father's or grandfather's badges. Several of these guys worked at Copperweld also, they had followed their fathers into the mill much like my uncle did with my grandpa. There is some great history in the photos below. 

The first two digits on the badge represent the department. In my grandpa's case, 17 means the 35" mill department. The second series of digits is your hire number, meaning my gramps was the 4,610th person hired on.

Mr. Desantis also worked in the 35" mill complex. I am told he knew my grandpa well. He was hired much earlier, and actually rolled the first heat of steel in 1939. He and a man named Vic Masio were the only local boys, the rest of the crew was from Canton or Massilon, and were brought down to start up the mill. 

Mr. Ware

Mr. Hodgkiss

Mr. Miller

The Republic Rubber Co.

Youngstown, O. - I don't know what it is about this place. It's been photographed to death, it's pretty much empty, and it's not a steelmill so it shouldn't really concern me that much. Still, I've grown to have a connection to it. The first photo I took of my city decaying around me was down here. Was interviewed by a PBS film crew here. Three times. The third trip they brought two Pulitzer Prize winners with them.


I'm not going to go into the whole history of the place, but you can read a detailed write up here.

My dad's buddy/distant relative John-o used to work here. I'd say he's the reason my parents got together. How else would a guy from the Westside of Youngstown meet a girl from the Westside of Warren? My mom said she thought John-o worked at Youngstown Steel Door when she and my dad met, but he was an employee of Republic at one point. John-o's girl worked with my mom making light bulbs at General Electric. After they got transferred from Ohio Lamp in Warren to Austintown Coil, they used to hang out at Tee Mar's on Meridian where she met John-o's friends, my dad included. Both couples are still happily married, and here I am typing this. 

My cousin Chris took me here the first time I went. He had taken some amazing photos next door at Republic Steel's old Truscon plant. One in particular made me want to pick up a camera, a black and white of the locked gate at Truscon. I think we came across the rubber plant on accident. Can't recall, this was damn near 20 years ago. There was a lot more of the plant standing at that time, I've watched it decay over the years. 

The rotten wooden steps that went up the side of a structure (that no longer stands) were decayed when our dumb asses decided to climb up it. Really glad we didn't die. Million dollar view though. Gallery below.


Photos from that first trip in gallery below. Most of this stuff is gone now. I was armed with some little bullshit point and shoot camera, which I really didn't know how to use. The photos are pretty terrible in quality, and I didn't know the first thing about photography, but I feel like I captured the way I saw it. And the way I want you to see it. 

This stack is long gone.

Scrappers hard at work.

Images below are from the mid 2000s maybe? Not sure, but I had a real camera at that point. Caught a different cousin of mine looking over the ruins in the fourth image.

In late 2015 I get a private message on Facebook from a guy that says he is a documentary film maker with PBS. My initial thought was this is some kind of scam, but I check out his page and he seems legit. Says he saw my photos on my old blog, and that Nick Serra told him to contact me. Turns out they were producing a documentary about three US cities that have fallen on hard times: Memphis, Stockton CA., and Youngstown. 


I spent the morning we were supposed to meet up tearing up floors at the Soap Gallery, which was yet to open. Left there sweaty and probably stinking, walked over to this coffee shop downtown and see Nick Serra and Sean Posey sitting outside. Now I didn't know these guys, but we were friends on the internet, and all had similar interests in our photography so I say whats up to them. They were these to meet these PBS guys too I came to find out. Keith and Chris from the Documentary Foundation show up and we skipped the coffee and went straight down Albert St. to film at Republic Rubber. Photos from that trip below. They interviewed us individually, I guess they wanted to touch on people that photograph their deteriorating cities. They seemed interested in the fact that my whole damn family was steelworkers. We went to the Krakusy Hall on the south side from there, which was torn down not long after. I had been there when I was younger and it was an active social club, so I had some stories for them too. After that, we all went down the Golden Dawn, had some schooners of Genesee, talked a little more and parted ways. Photos from that trip below.

I got a call from the Documentary Foundation guys the next day, saying they like the personal connection I have to the city, my passion for it, and they want to film with me again. We went back to the plant and did a longer interview. I didn't really shoot much, but I got to ramble on about Youngstown, which is fine by me. 

Since the day I first went to this place I've been finding shoes in the oddest places.

Climbed the rungs of the interior ladder in the remaining smokestack and shot this from the hip.

It was a couple months later and they call again saying they want to film some more. They also say they are bringing these big time authors with them. I wasn't sure who it was, I just hoped they wouldn't be some stuffy academic types. I was pleasantly surprised, these guys were cool as hell. 

I'm waiting for them at the plant, and Dale Maharidge and Michael S. Williamson show up. I forget how it came up, but one of the first things Michael tells me is that he took the photo of the steelworker holding his kid in the taphouse of the Jeanette furnace at the Brier Hill works. I was woefully ignorant to these guys and their body of work, but I had seen that photo. I replied something like "Holy shit man, that was you?! That is like the most iconic Youngstown photo I ever seen!" 

We spent the next few hours photographing the plant, and talking about the downfall of Youngstown and other steel towns like ours. These guys covered the situation here when the bottom was dropping out, and saw a side of Youngstown that people in my generation never will. And documented it well. Their book Journey to Nowhere: The Saga of the New Underclass was what inspired Bruce Springsteen to write the song Youngstown (The line "now the yard's just scrap and rubble, guess them big boys did what Hitler couldn't do" is a reference to their interiew with Joe Marshall Sr and Jr down the Ohio works after the furnaces came down.). They sneaked the Boss into the Brier Hill works to photograph in front of the Jeanette furnace. When he played the song Youngstown in Youngstown at Stambaugh Auditorium in the 90's they accompanied him there, the lucky SOBs. 

The photos below are courtesy of Dale Maharidge, who posted them on Facebook about thier trip and the visit to Republic. I was telling them I had the Youngstown Sheet & Tube logo tatted on my arm, as well as an image of the Jeanette furnace. We came to the conclusion that Michael probably took the photo I found on the web when they had Springsteen down there. You can see the goosebumps on my arm in Dale's photo below (fig. 3).

Michael S. Williamson and Paul Grilli.

Paul Grilli, Chris Rufo and Keith Ochwat.

Tattoo work by Joe Thomas 

This was easily the most humbling and inspirational experiences of my life. Blood was shed (fig. 1), tales were told, photos were graphed. Once we wrapped up there, I convinced them to go to Nicolinni's and got them to try the greens, which you should do with every out of towner. We talked some more, where I received encouragement to write a book and put my experiences growing up in Youngstown out there. Sit tight for that. I had to leave right after, I was living in Columbus and had to work the next morning. They wound up at the Vista, a little neighborhood bar down the end of my cousins old street. I should have called off and went damn it. Son of a bitch. They interviewed other people there, former steelworkers that were hurt by the shut downs, and my buddy Dub who just happened to be there shooting pool. I really should have stayed, they could've seen that Westside kids order a shot and a beer just like the oldtimer steelworkers before them that drank at that same bar. We just don't have the good paying jobs they used to.

Blood on Brick


Natural light.

Plazma cutter?


Industrial themed sculptures in the Steel Valley.

I really wish I had a photo of the sculpture of the two guys in hardhats carrying a length of pipe that stood in front of what is now the LB Foster plant on Salt Springs in Mineral Ridge. It is gone now, why they tore it out is beyond me. The sculpture used to scare the hell out of me as a kid as we drove from Youngstown to my grandparents in Warren. I remember thinking they were going to throw the pipe into the car as we drove by. We would drive past there to Main Avenue, under the three ancient stone railroad trestles (gotta beep under each one!) and then ride up Main between the hot and cold ends of the former Republic Steel Warren Works, which was running at that time. The sights/sounds/smells you would experience on that ride were fascinating for a little kid. To an adult too if were being honest. 



Warren, O. - Steelworker sculpted from steel in front of the United Steel Workers Local 1375 union hall. I don't know much about this one except it stands in front of the local that represented the former Republic Steel Warren Works. The sculpture has a a strange texture to it, almost like it is rusting away.

Detail of the sculpture's feet. He is standing on scattered expanded metal, which is all that remains of portions of the mill where the men who were represented by this local used to work.


The 20' sculpture of a steelworker that stands in front of Niles Iron and Metal, which is a scrapyard. This piece was crafted by Sidney Rackoff.

Youngstown, O. "THE STEEL MAKERS" 

This sculpture of two steelworkers stands in front of the Youngstown Historical Center of Labor and Industry. The men stand in front of what I am told is an actual portion of an Open Hearth furnace from US Steel's Ohio Works. The men depicted were part of the USWA Local 1462, which may have been a Youngstown Sheet and Tube local, but I have not found confirmation on that. Inscription text below.

*UPDATE* Per Rick Rowlands, of, "The sculpture in front of the YHCIL is made of components from Brier Hill's open hearth and the two workers are actual YS&T steelworkers. An interesting note. Originally both had bronzed hard hats. A few years ago someone pried one of the bronze hardhats off, so I grabbed a real hardhat out of my collection and glued it on the guy's head."

By George Segal (1924 - 2000)
By United Steelworkers of America, District 1
Model Steelworkers:
Peter Kolby, Jr. (right) - Wayman Paramore (left)
Members of Local 1462

Youngstown, O. - A relief detailing an industrial scene on the wall of Saint Anthony's Church, in Brier Hill. Saint Joe is helping a steelworker sample hot metal, to the left of a detail of a Blast Furnace and what looks like Open Hearths. This church, which still has a congregation of mostly Italians, was located right up the hill from the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Brier Hill works. 

Youngstown, O. - The Peanut Bridge, as it is locally known. They say the Ironworkers that built this bridge welded a steel sculpture of Mr. Peanut up on the struts. Took this some years ago when the bridge was green and rusty. They have since refinished the bridge, and painted Mr. Peanut in his familiar yellow and black. 

*Updated 12/13/2016*

Youngstown, O. - Almost forgot this guy, out front of Youngstown Bolt. I'm sure it is a sculpture of a dapper screw, but it looks like a piece of pizza to me. Maybe that's my Youngstown talking. This place had an awesome shop dog. I would go there and pick up materials when I was a helper/gopher for a mechanical contractor in Youngstown, and the dog would just be lounging by the counter. I think all shops like this should have a chill dog that lays around in the shop all day.

*Updated 3/11/2017*

New Castle, PA - Sculpture of a ladle pouring metal in front of the former Pennsylvania Engineering Corporation (PECor) on Moravia Street in south New Castle. I took this photo a decade ago. The sculpture is gone, the rollers behind it are gone, the entire plant is gone.  This company built hot metal carrying equipment: ladles, hot metal rail cars, the Bessemer converter that still stands at Station Square in Pittsburgh. 

Sunday Creek Coal Company

Millfield, O.  - I found this place completely by accident. My buddy had to go somewhere in southern Ohio, and it was a beautiful day, so I grabbed my camera and called it a road trip. We were somewhere down near Athens and we see a sign that just says “Mine Disaster ->”. We turn and follow the signs through these back roads and see a smokestack peeking up over the trees. There was a historical marker right near the stack so I hop out and tell my buddy ill call him in a while.

Turns out this is a place where 82 men died. Four executives that made big news, four of their guests, and 73 miners. In the group of 73 working men there were lots of fathers and sons, I read the obituaries. There was a huge rescue attempt, including self contained breathing apparatuses, but I suspect they wouldn't have pulled out all of the stops if the owner of the company wasn't down in that hole. The coal companies historically didn't give a fuck about the miners; it is said that if you killed a man you kept your job, if you killed a mule you were fired. Mules were expensive, men were expendable.

It was kind of disturbing being down there by myself, knowing I was standing on top of the mine that took all those lives. I've been in some haunting places, but this one made me feel uneasy the entire time. After I photographed what was left of the mine, I walked through the town of Millfield. You could tell it died when they closed the mine. The homes that still stood were original coal camp houses the company built long before they mined out the area. People live there still; it reminded me of walking down Steel Street, just more poverty.

Here is a very detailed account of the disaster, along with a full list of the men killed. The amount of people with the same last name kind of makes me want to throw up.


Republic Steel Warren Works

Warren, O. - I spent Labor Day in a freshly shuttered steel mill where 1,400 people labored until a month ago.


Weirton Steel


Weirton, West Virginia - Dead 15 and 50 town overhead cranes in the rolling mill engine shop.

I shot this shortly before this building came down; was there to document the Tod Engine that ran this mill. As far as I know then engine still sits in the yard rusting away where the rolling mill shed was. 

US Steel Ohio Works

Youngstown, O. - My cousin Chris was telling me about this tunnel on the West Side that went under Midwest Steel & Alloy from Salt Springs so we decided to check it out. When I went to his house in the Steelton neighborhood he crawled out the coal chute to greet me. Photos below. We walked down to the mouth of the tunnel with my new $600 camera and started into the tunnel. At first the water was ankle or knee deep but towards the end it was up to our nipples.

Before the company above was Midwest Steel it was Carnegie Illinois Steel's skull cracker yard. I wonder if this tunnel was built by ol Andy Carnegie; it certainly looked like old enough construction to be the case. 

At the other end of the tunnel was the Mahoning River, where we skipped rocks with the former Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co.'s Brier Hill works in the background. We then climbed up the steep bank to check out the long abandoned pump house that was on the scrapyard's property. I can't seem to find those photos but it was very interesting also, take my word for it. We walked down to Cherol's market from there, like so many USS employees before us, bought a couple Stewart's lime pops and officially called the start of summer.