Authors Write Little-Known Histories of Valley

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Tucked into the local-history section of area bookstores is a variety of titles intended to elicit nostalgia, pride, curiosity, even feelings of wonder, in Mahoning Valley residents.

Among the titles are Remembering Youngstown: Italian Americans of the Greater Mahoning Valley, and Historic Mill Creek Park, which invite readers to take a trip back into the Valley’s past. The sepia-toned covers and pages filled with photographs of long-vanished people and places provide a glimpse into how the Mahoning Valley came to be.

Not long ago, such books were “Somebody ought to write that story before it’s forgotten.”

“Until recently, the ‘go-to book’ on local history was a book that came out at the time of the bicentennial,” says public historian and author Thomas Welsh.

Over the past 13 years, a partnership of local historians, the History Press and Arcadia Publishing has resulted in the publication of a score of books that focus on specific aspects of local history.

“It seems that in the last five, seven or more years we’ve seen books that are fantastic. Because while some provide a general overview, most seem to provide a specific section and tell specific stories about certain things in Youngstown history,” says Phil Kidd, associate director of CityScape and former proprietor of Youngstown Nation.

Arcadia Publishing is known mostly for its lengthy series, “Images of America,” which consists of slim books of local history across the United States. They are heavily illustrated with old photographs taken by ordinary citizens for their own use. By contrast, the History Press publishes books with lengths of 40,000 to 50,000 words. They too reproduce vintage and more recent photographs.

Arcadia acquired the History Press in 2014, thereby creating the largest company dedicated to publishing books about local history with regional titles. The History Press continues as a separate publishing house within Arcadia.

In 2003, Arcadia released its first book of local-history about the Mahoning Valley, Youngstown: Postcards from the Steel City. Nineteen followed in the Images of America series from Arcadia and History Press about places and people in the Mahoning Valley. Remembering Youngstown, Classic Restaurants of Youngstown, Slovaks of the Greater Mahoning Valley and Struthers are among the best sellers.

Arcadia and History Press books are available at the Boardman Barnes & Noble Booksellers outlet in Boardman and at Books-A-Million in the Eastwood Mall. They can also be found at Fellows Riverside Gardens, the Butler Institute of American Art, Flutterby Books in Hubbard, and the Tyler History Center.

Mark Peyko, local historian and publisher of Metro Monthly, edited the first local History Press book, Remembering Youngstown, released in 2009.

“One of the people from the company told me that my book was the first book in this whole region,” Peyko says.

The History Press recruited Peyko in 2008 to write his book. The company routinely seeks potential authors.

“It’s partially word of mouth, but our editors actively go out and look for authors, too,” says Katie Parry, publicity director for Arcadia Publishing and History the Press.

Editors are “territorially driven” and usually familiar with the regions they work in, she says.

“We do look for people who have that knowledge of the area, Parry says. “It’s really important to us.”

Finding authors and book ideas about the Mahoning Valley has proven fruitful. “The sales response has been great,” she says. “We’ve definitely had more and more titles in recent years.”

Thomas Welsh is at work on his third book for the History Press. While writing a book of local history can be intellectually rewarding, Welsh says, the material rewards not as much.

“In some ways, being a public historian is a public service. Certainly in terms of how much you make and in terms of royalties, especially if your subject is local or regional,” Welsh says.

Authors have the option of buying books at a discounted rate directly from Arcadia to sell on their own.

“It’s really through events, selling books at events, that you tend to make more money,” Welsh has found. “And there are also intangible benefits related to becoming well known in the community. That can open other doors.”

Kidd, now a regular vendor at the Youngstown Flea, has noticed a large interest in local-history books. Both of Welsh’s were “great sellers” at his former Youngstown Nation store, and he’s noticed an uptick in younger readers looking to buy titles through him.

“A lot of younger people are buying these books because they’re becoming interested in Youngstown in general again,” he says. “Because of some of the revitalization.”

Many of the images in local-history books come from the archives of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society.

“We actually co-published with Tom [Welsh] and his co-authors, Classic Restaurants of Youngstown,” says Mahoning Valley Historical Society Executive Director Bill Lawson.

“Right now, we are working on a book that’s going to be released next spring on the Jewish community in the Mahoning Valley,” he says, “and Tom Welsh and two other authors are doing that.”

The project marks a new phase of involvement for the history society.

“We are more directly involved with that publication than we have been in the past, in terms of not only giving access to the MVHS archives,” Lawson says, “but being directly involved in the business aspect of it, in terms of the publishing agreement and distribution and everything that goes with publishing and promoting a book.”
The explosion of titles published by Arcadia has benefited not only the company and local authors, it’s directly benefited the local community, Peyko says.

“It gives people an understanding of why our culture is the way it is,” Peyko says, “of why the community is the way it is, and it also helps people understand that there are linkages from the past to the present that can be sustained and built on.”

Full disclosure: Sean Posey, a senior reporter with The Business Journal, is the author of Lost Youngstown (History Press, 2016) and Historic Theaters of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley (History Press, 2017).

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.