Kaleidoscope: Structures' demise shows how the world is changing

by KEN LAHMERS | EDITOR Published:

"Them smokestacks reachin' like the arms of God

Into a beautiful sky of soot and clay

Here in Youngstown, here in Youngstown

Sweet Jenny I'm sinkin' down, here darlin' in Youngstown."

Those lyrics from Bruce Springsteen's "Youngstown" lament the fall of industrialism in the United States, and specifically of the steel mills in Youngstown. The song came out in 1995.

Sweet Jenny refers to the Jeanette blast furnace at the Brier Hill plant of the former Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co., which was lighted Sept. 20, 1918, went out of blast in September 1977 and came tumbling down Jan. 29, 1997.

The more places I visit around Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, the more I realize how many old, once famous landmarks are being lost every year -- factories, hotels, stadiums, arenas, railroad depots, schools and other structures.

In fact, during my travels in the harsh winter we've been enduring -- yes, I have been able to travel a little bit! -- I discovered a slew of structures which disappeared just in the last few months.

The most recent demolition was the former Republic Steel world headquarters office building in Massillon, which was standing when I passed it last fall, but was gone when I attended a high school tournament basketball game last week.

The 88,000-square-foot building was erected in 1902 when the company was called Central Steel. It became Republic Steel in 1930. The owner of the property reportedly donated stained-glass windows, signs and sets of building blueprints to the Massillon Museum.

The plant once was Massillon's biggest employer with about 6,000 workers. My uncle, Gerald R. Spring, whom I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, worked there in the 1940s.

The plant closed in 2002, and except for a couple of large factory buildings which are being used by another company, the area in the southwest part of town on the west side of the Tuscarawas River has been leveled.

On July 11, 1937 during a Steelworkers' labor uprising in Massillon called "the Little Steel Strike," police and National Guardsmen pumped tear gas and opened fire into a crowd gathered in front of the union hall, killing three and injuring dozens.

In Stark County in 2012, the nearly 100-year-old, nine-story high Canton downtown YMCA was demolished to make way for a new and more efficient YMCA.

On a recent visit to Dover -- again for high school basketball tourney action -- I discovered that the long-closed Bernhardt Brewery along the Tuscarawas River and the B&O Railroad depot on the west side of town had been razed in the last few months.

The old brewery operated in the late 1800s-early 1900s, and in 1905 became part of the Stark-Tuscarawas Brewing Co.

The old building had become dilapidated in recent years -- a 20-year-old man actually committed suicide by hanging there -- and it was razed in 2013 partly with funds from the Moving Ohio Forward program, which helps communities remove blighted buildings.

About three blocks away from the Bernhardt site and across the river, the former Tuscarawas Valley Brewing Co. building still stands. When it was operating in the early 1900s, it stood six stories tall, but now is just two. Wills Machine Corp. has operated there for many years.

The old B&O depot had been used in recent years by the R.J. Corman Group railway, but became unstable and was demolished last April. It was one of only a few surviving depots in Tuscarawas County.

A fourth structure with which I am very familiar was knocked over last year -- the old water tower in Sugarcreek (western Tuscarawas County). It stood beside a home, and was the focus of a favorite photo that I've taken.

OTHER DEMOLITIONS,

ABANDONED BUILDINGS

The city of Kent has seen its share of industrial demolitions in the last five years, including the Gougler factory on Lake Street and the RB&W plant on Mogadore Road. The Ametek Lamb Electric plant likely will face the wrecking ball this spring.

The former Jaite Paper Mill in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park region was another structure demolished a few years ago. I've explored the site of that mill.

Several old school buildings have been torn down in the area in recent years, including in Bainbridge Township, Hudson, Ravenna and Akron, plus Brimfield, Suffield and Randolph townships. Two school buildings in Kent are in danger of closing at the end of this school year because of declining enrollment.

Many other industrial facilities have closed and are either vacant or have been razed over the years in areas of Ohio and surrounding states that I've visited, leading to the region being called "the Rust Belt."

In addition to Youngstown, a number of steel mills in Trumbull County, Sharon, Pa., Steubenville, Mingo Junction and Weirton and Wheeling, W.Va. are closed and abandoned. Whether they will be redeveloped for other purposes or will succumb to the wrecking ball is anybody's guess.

With the push to cut pollution, coal-fired power plants are being shut down, too. FirstEnergy closed the Burger plant at Moundsville, W.Va., a couple of years ago and American Electric Power is talking about closing its Beverly plant, which once used coal uncovered by the Big Muskie dragline.

Other once-thriving plants I've encountered also have closed.

Some notable ones are Marion Power Shovel in Marion, Reeves Manufacturing Co. in Dover, the Hoover Co. in North Canton, Cleveland Worsted Mills and Oak Rubber in Ravenna, U.S. Ceramic Tile Co. in East Sparta, Seiberling Tire & Rubber Co. in Barberton, and dozens of other rubber, brick and clay plants.

And Ravenna and Warren soon will add General Electric lamp plants to the list, with the loss of about 164 and 198 jobs, respectively.

I just learned over the weekend that the Howden Buffalo fan plant in my native New Philadelphia is closing at the end of June, with 120 jobs to be lost. The facility has existed for more than 100 years. It first was Ladel Conveyor & Manufacturing and for many years Joy Manufacturing. I had a handful of friends who worked at the latter.

Depending on how old they are, the plants either may be reoccupied in the future, or will join the long list of facilities which have been wiped out and replaced by shopping malls, drug stores and convenience stores.

As an avid history buff, I hate to see any once productive building leveled, but I realize they can't last forever and the land must be used for something which will benefit today's society. It's called change, and it's inevitable.

Email:klahmers@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189

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