Commentary: Remembering History Helps Us Move Forward

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – At the bottom of Oak Hill Avenue near the B&O complex and the “Mr. Peanut” Bridge is a monument to John Young, featuring a bust of the city’s founder and a small park. 

Very near this spot, we are told by local historians, is where John Young and his party of adventurers first landed as they travelled down the Mahoning River. Little did he know that the city that bears his name would become a world source for steel. Little did he know that the demise of that industry would throw the city and the Mahoning Valley into a downward spiral that still haunts us and drives many folks to leave the area.

I have always been a great fan of history. History gives us context and perspective and can be a great tool for our current lives as well as a jumping-off point for the future. We can build on the successes of history and learn from the mistakes of the past. It is part of our personal experience as well as our community experience. History becomes the puzzle pieces that give us a sense of purpose and encourages initiative. How often do we hear another’s story which helps us understand our own growth and struggles culminating into what we call our personal history, hopes and dreams.

How blessed we are with landmarks, leaders and organizations that remind us of just how important “years past” are!  The exhibits, the art, the dates, the events, the lectures, the concerts, the books and all the rest that happened before today gives us time to ponder what has brought us to the present moment and how to deal with it as we move forward.

With this in mind, I was saddened by the emergency demolition of the former Anthony’s On The River restaurant near the John Young Memorial. Before it became a restaurant, it was the site of community outreach by the St. Vincent de Paul Society. The building was 110 years old. It was part of our history and so near where John Young first stepped on ground.

I was also saddened to hear that the iconic bank building at the corner of Market Street and Midlothian Boulevard. will be coming down and replaced by a new project that will be announced in a few weeks. The building, which was designed to resemble a boat, was a classic piece of architecture from 1957. From the beginning, it was considered to be a real gem of period design and construction.                                                                                     

Amidst all the strife and struggle that has happened since mid-March of this year, the world’s population has been thrown into a cauldron of disease and social unrest. There are those who espouse that this may be THE END. More of us, however, believe that the events leading to the new normal are giving us a chance to see and ponder what is really important in our personal and communal lives. 

As we look back to similar challenges in the early 20th century, history will collect our stories of this pandemic and social unrest and hopefully include the chapters of how we rose to the occasion for the betterment of all of our sisters and brothers on many levels. Generations ahead will look back and learn from us.

Recently, some proposals and projects have surfaced in a new way to look back at where we have come from.  Interestingly enough, they are all very near our Mahoning River (originally called the Big Beaver) where Youngstown began.

Fundraising the Jackie Robinson/George Shuba memorial has been gaining momentum since the project was first announced in December. The sculpture, to be built near the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre, will commemorate local resident and Major League player George Shuba whose spontaneous congratulatory handshake to fellow player Jackie Robinson was quite controversial when it happened in 1946.

The Welsh Congregational Church adjacent to Saint Columba Cathedral on Elm Street has been in the news for the past few years as several groups plan to move the worship site to a new home. Why is it important? Well, it is the oldest church building in the city.

The State Theater on West Federal Street closed in 1988. The lonely façade remains mostly intact but quite battered by weather and neglect. A recent estimate suggested that it could be carefully taken down and reassembled for under $50,000. Architect and developer Gregg Strollo recently commented that the property where the façade is may be part of an apartment development by his company. The façade does not figure in his plans and he would love to see it find a permanent home. 

Bob Barko and Youngstown CityScape are in the process of raising money to install a 32-foot long mural that will cover the gap created by the demolished theater. The mural is a kaleidoscope of the area’s past and there will be an explanatory grid that will guide people along the way.

The Rescue Mission of the Mahoning Valley is in the midst of a building/relocation project that has been in the  planning stage for years. The current mission on West Federal Street will eventually be empty. That site was the YMCA for African Americans in years past and now there are those who would like to see it developed into a museum of local African American history.

Our library’s main branch is scheduled to rebuild and restore the original main entrance of the facility as it makes improvements and expand the technology capability of the site.

These proposals are in various stages of dreaming and planning and they have different timetables. They are so important to our community’s personality.

Our applause and support of such efforts will help to insure that future generations will know what brought our founder here and those who followed him, our ancestors and us. It is good to be reminded where we have come from as we continue the journey to making the Mahoning Valley a home for all of us.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.