By Robert Stranger
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Youngstown’s celebrated Mill Creek Park covers some 2,400 acres as it wends its way for eight miles from the creek’s mouth at the Mahoning River in Youngstown and into Boardman Township.
This urban park, which is one of the area’s stellar attributes, is unique for a number of reasons. One might mention its many miles of hiking trails, its three lakes (kayaking is enjoyed on two), a 36-hole golf course and a road system popular with bicyclists that makes all sections of the park accessible.
But to me, one of the park’s most notable qualities is its heavy use of stone in the construction of some of its most outstanding features.
The northern section of the park, where I often take walks as a less-than-athletic retiree, is home to a good number of these structures.
Perhaps the most outstanding of these is what is called the Parapet Bridge, which spans a ravine on East Glacier Drive above Lake Glacier.
This bridge, with its rows of teeth-like rocks along its top railings above its arched body of yellow stone, is often photographed from the lake’s west side. In the fall, it is surrounded by the changing foliage; in the spring, it is flanked by several flowering dogwood trees.
In his 430-page book about the park, “The Green Cathedral,” Dr. John C. Melnick writes that Bruce Rogers, the brother of park founder Volney Rogers, had the bridge built as a replica of one he had admired in Italy.
“It is considered by bridge authorities to be one of the best of its type in America,” writes Melnick.
Across from the Parapet Bridge on the west side of two of the park’s lakes, Glacier and Cohasset, there are no fewer than six arched stone bridges of various dimensions built over small streams that feed the two lakes. The bridges span the main park road or are close to it on intersecting roads.
All have railings made of heavy stone.
It must have taken a great deal of skill and hard labor to construct these bridges, which appear to be unique to Mill Creek Park. I have seen nothing like them elsewhere.
Perhaps they were constructed by immigrants with stone working skills who came to the Mahoning Valley from Eastern Europe and Italy to work in the steel mills.
Melnick credits a “master stone cutter” named Joseph Bojo for having cut much of the stone used for the Parapet Bridge.
Lakes Cohasset and Glacier date to 1897 and 1906, respectively, or not long after the park was founded in 1891 through state legislation sponsored by Volney Rogers, who is known as “The Father of Mill Creek Park.”
A statue of Rogers stands at the main entrance to the park off Glenwood Avenue.
Another stone feature that is a prime attraction at the northern end of the park is the Rock Garden, which rises above the road that runs along the portion of the creek that connects lakes Glacier and Cohasset.
The rocks, reportedly quarried from within the park itself, form a terraced sloping wall over 300 feet long and more than 50 feet high. Niches among the rocks support plants that cover the wall with yellow blossoms in the late spring.
Along the park road that runs along the eastern side of the creek south of Lake Glacier is the Slippery Rock Pavilion, which – like the park’s similar picnic pavilions – has a tiled roof and an open picnic area supported by stone pillars.
The pillars, on which rest heavy wooden beams that support the roof, are composed of thick slabs of yellow rock. Raising them to the height that the pillars attain must have been no easy task. There are five of these stout pillars on each side of the pavilion.
In addition to the structures mentioned above, there are impressive retaining walls made of quarried stone that run along trails that border the creek in the lower section of the park.
A short section known as the Artist’s Trail has a stone retaining wall above it and is kept from being eroded into the stream below by another retaining wall on its other side.
A retaining wall at least 15 feet high composed of massive blocks of stone runs for hundreds of feet along a trail above the southern end of Lake Cohasset.
Placing these huge blocks and securing them was obviously a feat of engineering, particularly given that the work was part of park projects carried out years ago. Some of the work in the park was done in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration.
Park users today certainly benefit from the skilled efforts of workers who labored generations ago.
But what is probably the park’s most renowned structure, the Silver Bridge, dates to the park’s earliest days. It was constructed in 1895 by the American Bridge Company.
The picturesque suspension bridge, which crosses the creek between lakes Newport and Cohasset, is the site of many post-wedding photography outings.
No mention of bridges in the park could be complete without citing the covered bridge, which provides vehicle access to Lanterman’s Mill. The former grist mill is open in the warm months as a tourist attraction.
Rock quarried in the park was also used on the construction of the dams that create the park’s three lakes. The southernmost lake, Newport, constructed in 1928, is the largest, covering some 100 acres, while Glacier and Cohasset cover about 43 and 28 acres respectively.
The quarried rock on the downstream faces of the dams form terraced slopes over which the creek’s waters flow.
There are just modest trickles in dry weather, but impressive cascades after periods of heavy precipitation or when snow melts in the spring.
The levels of all three lakes can be controlled through valves operated from platforms that rise above the inshore edges of the dams. The lakes can thus be lowered to remove accumulated silt.
The author, 90-year-old Robert Stanger, is a retired journalist.
Pictured at top: The Parapet Bridge with its distinctive rows of teeth-like rocks along its top, crosses a ravine along East Glacier Drive above Lake Glacier. It was designed by Bruce Rogers, brother of Mill Creek Park founder Volney Rogers.