It Was a Company Town. Now It’s a Confident Town.
MCDONALD, Ohio –The village of McDonald began as a company town. Early residents lived in wood frame houses and then the brick and stucco structures they rented from the Conneaut Land Company, landlord for U.S. Steel Corp.
While most of the former McDonald Works is long gone, most of the original “worker homes” still stand.
David Martin, president of the McDonald Historical Society, lived in one of three houses built for U.S. Steel superintendents. “They are four-bedrooms house, where the other homes only have three bedrooms,” he says. The history society recently acquired one of the original company-built homes, which it plans to convert to a museum.
In this dense block of houses live slightly more than 3,000 residents of McDonald, a village that occupies 1.69 square miles in southern Trumbull County. Bicyclists and walkers are a common sight, and everyone seems to know everyone else.
In 1928, McDonald became the smallest community in the country to have a YMCA. The first-floor of the building today houses its community center where seniors gather to play cards and locals can engage in yoga and take exercise classes.
It’s all part of what characterizes McDonald today: a vibrant, small-town life. “If Andy Griffith were here, this would be Mayberry,” Martin says.
For most of the 20th century, the village was known for making steel. The McDonald Works employed 3,500 in a sprawling plant at the end of Ohio Avenue, a main thoroughfare. In late 1979, U.S. Steel officials announced the closing of the mill. It seemed the plant would go the way of its counterparts in Youngstown and Warren. Instead, part of the aging McDonald Works survived and became a Mahoning Valley success story.
In the early 1980s, David Houck, a former U.S. Steel superintendent, and a group of investors reopened a section as McDonald Steel. Three decades later, the company occupies 52 acres and employs around 100.
“McDonald Steel became kind of the darling of the Mahoning Valley because this little company defied the odds,” says Tim Egnot, president of the company. “And here we are in 2016, still going strong.”
McDonald Steel started out producing over-the-road truck rim stock for tire companies such as Firestone and Goodyear. “What we wanted do was position ourselves as the leading hot-rolled special shape producer in the world,” Engot says.
McDonald Steel has since diversified with products in several markets. Among other things, it produces automobile door hinges, expansion joints for bridges and connectors for the reinforced concrete pipe used in the water and sewage transmission industries. The railroad industry is another large market.
“We try to be diversified in maybe eight or nine different markets,” Engot says. “So when one market tanks, another is doing well, and we never take too big of a hit.”
While Houck struggled against the odds to open McDonald Steel, another local entrepreneur also gambled on opening a business in McDonald in the wake of the steel shutdowns.
Ianazone’s Pizza, now with 13 stores in the Mahoning Valley, opened in 1984. In that first year, owner James Ianazone greeted many guests who loved his pizza but feared his pizzeria would be short-lived. Many of the storied bars and restaurants within the village had closed, and pizza shops come and go. Ianazone’s, however, survived and prospered.
“I think it was meant to be,” Ianazone says. “We were meant to open up in McDonald, Ohio.”
Around 11 o’clock on a December morning, a steady stream of high schools students come in to place their orders. Carryout customers mingle with the patrons sharing pizza seated at the tables. Employees engage in an easy banter with customers, many of whom they know on sight.
“We’ve gotten a lot of people who have ordered pizza two or three times a week for the last 32 years,” Ianazone says.
Pizzas topped with meatballs, extra cheese and hot peppers are the best sellers. Dough is made fresh daily and all of the sauce for the other l2 stores is produced at the original store.
“If I opened up somewhere else, I wouldn’t be able to do the things that we do because this community is very, very good,” Ianazone says. “The people are very loyal.”
Protecting the community is central to the police department that consists of four part-time and three full-time officers.
“It’s community-oriented. We preach that to our officers,” says its chief, Lou Rhonghi.
Residents place 2,000 calls on average each year to Trumbull County 911 and make 350 formal complaints. “The luxury of living in a small town is that we get to be a lot more one-on-one with folks,” Rhonghi says.
Patrolman Walter Jones has come to know McDonald well during his short time on the police force. “It’s basically just a big square,” he says of the village perimeters. He responds to all types of calls.
“You can see how close all the houses are. If people are trying to have a couple of people over – even if it’s in the backyard – it’s right next door to someone. And we’ll get called in the middle of the night because people are having a little fire and just talking,” he says.
Residents’ focus on their children and their appreciation for history are both on display at the high school. The building, opened in 1928, fulfilled the demand for quality education at a time when the mill sought to attract more young families to the area, the history society’s Martin says.
Over the years, residents and Village Council fought to preserve the school. The building, which has had several additions, is a classically inspired structure. The Gamertsfelder Auditorium still has the original seating, and medallions, swags and Corinthian pilasters are among the decorative motifs featured throughout.
“Another aspect of the village is that we protect what we have from days gone by: the buildings, the homes and especially the school,” Martin emphasizes.
The district graduates between 60 and 75 students a year. “Most kids know every other kid in the district,” the high school principal, Gary Carkido, says. He describes McDonald High School as a “public school with a private school feel.”
After surviving the exodus of the steel industry in the Mahoning Valley, McDonald Steel sought to give back to the young people of the village that bears its name. Company management established a $100,000 endowment that favors McDonald graduates who enroll in the STEM College at Youngstown State University.
“We give the first shot to a student who is a descendant of a McDonald Steel employee,” Egnot explains. “If we don’t have anyone like that here, we look at a student who is a McDonald Village resident.”
Civic pride runs deep in McDonald. “It’s a great place to be, and not a lot of people know about it,” Carkido says. “And when you come here on a particular day, a nice summer evening, you might want to move here.”
Pictured, top: This landmark in the village of McDonald memorializes its origin as a steel town.
Pictured, middle: Jim Ianazone opened Ianazone’s Pizza in 1984 and today has 13 stores. “We were meant to open in McDonald, Ohio,” he says.
Pictured, bottom: Patrolman Walter Jones describes the village as “basically just a big square.”
Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.