In Youngstown we made steel... (1977-today)
By: "KJP" on forum

Consider playing Bruce Springsteen's YOUNGSTOWN (Live from the Stambaugh Theatre in Youngstown 1996) as you scroll through the pictures...

Those of us who were living in the Mahoning Valley and aware of the issues at that time always will remember what a traumatic and pivotal day was Monday, September 19, 1977. Thirty years later, our historical perspective tells us that day marked the beginning of the end of the region's iron and steel industry as it had been known in the community and throughout the world for several generations. But the impact and aftermath of Black Monday news meant so much more to Valley residents then and now.

The notification by The Youngstown Sheet & Tube Company of shutdowns and massive layoffs at their Campbell Works on that day was followed by similar announcements at Sheet & Tube's Brier Hill Works, all of U.S. Steel Corporation's District operations and the Republic Steel Corporation in Youngstown between 1979 and 1981. In all, more than 10,000 good paying jobs were lost in the local steel industry. Thousands more jobs were lost in supporting and related businesses such as construction, trucking, railroading, foundries and steel fabrication. Large portions of the real estate and income tax base for local governments in McDonald, Youngstown, Campbell and Struthers evaporated in a matter of months.

H. William Lawson, Executive Director The Mahoning Valley Historical Society from:    Who killed Youngstown's steel industry? Quite frankly, it killed itself through suicidal self interest. Steelmakers treated workers poorly and gave rise to combative unionism and a loss of corporate self-determination. The companies then failed to invest in modernizing their facilities. Steelmakers and city officials also fought to prevent other materials industries, such as manufacturers of aluminum and plastic, from coming to Youngstown. They would have diversified the city's steel-dependent economy.The United Steelworkers, buoyed by victories over working conditions and decent pay, continued their demands and strikes until they were paid better, on average, than other industrial laborers. Meanwhile railroads fought Congressman Michael J. Kirwan's lake-to-river canal that would have given Youngstown's mills lower-cost transportation of coal, iron ore and limestone.

When such an industrial juggernaut falls, it truly takes a team effort to kill it. These photographs document the fall of the industrial powerhouse that was Youngstown.......

In 1974, as this Pittsburgh & Lake Erie railroad switcher moved a cut of cars across the Mahoning River in Campbell, few could have predicted Youngstown's collapse. In the background is Youngstown Sheet & Tube's Campbell Works, which was pouring out molten steel and prosperity:

It is winter 1977, months before the city hears that Youngstown Sheet & Tube will close its Campbell Works, laying off 5,000. But it was just the beginning:

Not everyone assumed the good times would last. Some workers speculated the opposite, especially following the 1969 purchase of Youngstown Sheet & Tube by the Lykes Corp. Suddenly, improvements were no longer being made to the mills. Workers remarked that steel was being made in Youngstown in the same archaic manner as it had for a century, despite the advent of modern processes like electric arc furnaces and continuous casters. None of that was evident amongst scenes like this which gave rise to the term "Rust Belt" (though much of the rust was due to iron ore dust):

More rust, as a switcher moves an empty hot metal car, or "bottle car" which shipped molten metal to rolling and stamping mills throughout the Mahoning Valley. These trains were EVERYWHERE! But they would soon disappear:

Can't you just smell the "rotten eggs"? That's a sure sign that high-sulphur coal is being used for the blast furnaces. Barring the installation of costly scrubbers, high-sulphur coal could no longer be burned in steel mills and power plants. Most of that coal came from Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Plant owners weren't willing to install the multi-million-dollar scrubbers, considering all the other high-cost features of Youngstown's mills:

The Sept. 19, 1977 "Black Monday" shutdown of Youngstown Sheet & Tube's Campbell Works started the house of cards falling. Locked doors on steel mills and supportive industries became commonplace:

Youngstown didn't take the closing of the Campbell works lying down. Their resolve intensified in early 1979 when the Lykes Corp. announced it would close the Brier Hill Works. The year before community and workers, under the leadership of an ecumenical coalition, sought to buy the Campbell Works and reopen it. Much of the financing depended on $100 million in federal loan guarantees which President Carter nixed. The fate of the loan (and the mill) was evidently known on March 17, 1979 when this somber procession carried a cross from the south gate of the YS&T's Campbell Works:

The United Steelworkers held a Save Our Steel jobs rally on St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 1979 on Federal Plaza in downtown Youngstown (note the sign accurately predicting the fate of US Steel's Ohio Works -- photos of it are coming):

Shortly before demolition, the four blast furnaces at the massive Campbell Works stood silent, seeing their "active light brown rust" give way to "inactive dark rust" suggesting imminent death. Locals awaited their next sounds -- a series of explosions followed by cutting torches and machinery to haul away the steel corpse:

In 1986, portions of the YS&T Campbell Works still stood. By the end of the next year, nearly all traces of it would be gone:

In 1990, no remnant of the blast furnaces and coke plants of the YS&T Campbell Works remained. Several rolling/stamping mill buildings still stood, however:

Compare that photo with the first view in this Part Two:

Youngstown Sheet & Tube's other plant in the Mahoning Valley was its Brier Hill Works. It was phased out of operations throughout 1979, 135 years after Brier Hill Black coal was found nearby and gave birth to the local iron and steel industry. Nature was reclaiming the mill in 1990. It was dynamited in 1997:

By the mid-1990s, much of Youngstown's Mahoning River valley, once lined with 20 miles of bustling steel mills, supportive industries and other places where 40,000 worked, was returning to nature. A Conrail train on the former Pennsylvania Railroad headed westbound in 1995 past YS&T's Brier Hill Works and briefly shattered the silence. This place housed the Jeanette Furnace or simply "Sweet Jenny" that Bruce Springsteen sang about in his song "Youngstown." Preservationists tried to save Jenny, but she was dynamited in 1997:

This was a part of the Jenny that was dynamited 15 years earlier, shortly after the Brier Hill Works was shuttered in 1979. "My Sweet Jenny is coming down, way down in Youngstown":

Not everything was demolished. Mother Nature did that in lieu of many absentee industrial landlords in Youngstown:

Next to close was U.S. Steel in 1980, including its Ohio Works and MacDonald plant. The Ohio Works is shown below in 1981, as a steam excursion train rolls past the silenced plant where 4,000 had labored:

While a portion of the MacDonald plant reopened under new owners (as the MacDonald Steel Corp.), USS's much larger Ohio Works never saw activity again. That is, until Aug. 7, 1984 when dynamite shattered the silence and brought down the three massive blast furnaces while brawny men watched and openly wept:

In fact, all three blast furnaces at the Ohio Works were felled at the same time, officially ending the plant's 90-year history, yet more demolitions were coming:

In 1990, only the Ohio Works' gantry crane and coke plant still stood:

Compare the above with the 1964 photo-accurate Fogg painting from Part One:

Or compare the photo with the steam excursion passing U.S. Steel's Ohio Works in 1981 with how the scene looked in 2000:

Railroads also began to rust away in the Mahoning Valley. This is the former Lake Erie & Eastern, once a very busy "bypass" railroad run by the P&LE "over" the city's other busy railroads. Here it is next to the long gone Ohio Works -- though its coke plant is still active in the distance. In 1990, it was only a couple years before the LE&E would be ripped up:

This former Pennsylvania Railroad yard near the Ohio Works was devoid of tracks since the mill that fed it, and vice versa, was gone:

Photographer George Bennett captured the sadness of the Youngstown steelworker in 1980. A ray of light shines down on worker Carroll Megginson while the fires of a mill furnace still glow nearby, but not for long:

Organized crime only strengthened its grip on Youngstown when the mills closed. Other crimes also increased including murders, domestic violence, drug use, giving the city the reputation of "Murdertown USA." That reputation was displayed on the cover of the New Republic magazine in this way:

Small portions of much larger steel mill complexes survived under new owners, including this former Republic rolling mill just east of downtown in 1986:

P&LE's Gateway Yard officially closed in 1993 after just 36 years of operation when the railroad was acquired by CSX Corp. But little traffic was being handled by the yard near its end. In 2005, the yard's tower was a window-less, shattered shell:

We conclude Youngstown's industrial story by showing the fall of the Republic Steel Haselton Furnace, starting in 1972 when it was still active. In good times, Youngstown's mills were active 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This was one of those good times:

The Republic furnace closed in 1981, but portions of the plant were occasionally active until 1984. These two pictures are from Center Street in 1981:

I took this photo of the mill and the Center Street bridge in 1987. Ten years earlier, I rode across this bridge on a cold night while steam and flames shot up all around our car. It was like taking a drive through hell, but without any of the guilt or regrets. My only regret is that I wish I had visited more often and taken more pictures:

Also in 1987:

Republic Steel's Haselton Furnace is coming down in May 1989:

With the Republic mill gone, there was no reason for CSX's mainline to snake around it anymore. The maze of tracks was no longer there either with the loss of most other steel plants, too. So the railroad simplified its Center Street junction and straightened its tracks through the former Republic mill property:

Steadily, evidence of the city's dominant steel industry disappears piece by piece until soon it may be all gone. Without photographs from the past, you might never know what stood here for more than a century and helped build a nation:

Without the steel mills, much of Youngstown has become a rural area, especially in the valley. Even the half-mile-long steel truss Center Street bridge has been replaced by concrete spans and earthen fills where tracks and pipes and conveyers and other steel facilities once ran:

But that was then (1968)....

This is now (same exact angle and location in 2008).....

Dear Youngstown, thank you for your incredible industrial service to our country and the world. You taught us how to make amends and treat workers responsibly, win world wars and cold wars, and make us feel so small like children in watching your immense steel production facilities hiss and roar like something only Mother Nature could create. But it was the will of men who created you Youngstown, and it was the will of men who destroyed you. In Youngstown, we made steel.

And you died too soon.

Found lots more photos and took some of my own on Sept. 16, three days before the 31st anniversary of Black Friday (the announcement of the first mill shutdown in Youngstown).

Today,without some guidance, it's hard to tell what was what. So I've included some then-and-now scenes which demonstrate how dramatic the changes have been in such a short period of time:

First, some historical reference. This is a view typical of many along the Mahoning River from the 1800s until the 1980s. The truss bridge in the background is the Center Street viaduct, with Republic Steel's Haselton Works on both sides of the barely moving and probably stinky river:

The same area today, but obviously not along the river. This is Poland Avenue which is next to where the above shot was taken, between downtown Youngstown and Struthers/Campbell. Today it's virtually rural:

The same stretch of Poland Avenue (at lower left of this photo) but in the 1950s:

Where did the steel mills go? I found pieces of one of them at a scrap yard. See the kink in Poland Avenue in the photo above? These photos were taken looking toward the river at that location:

On the Struthers side of Youngstown Sheet & Tube's massive Campbell Works (the first mill to shut down in Youngstown), the view of the plant must have been awe-inspiring:

Today,the view is less impressive (note the steel truss railroad bridge is still standing today, as is a former YS&T rolling mill building in the trees):

Yep, some YS&T buildings still stand. This was taken from the roadway that used to be the Struthers-side plant entrance to the Campbell Works. This road and bridge was removed some 20 years ago but recently put back to make the former YS&T site more marketable as a development site. This was taken from Walton Road hill:

This is what the same area looked like in 1937 during the Little Steel Strike. The bus is on Poland Avenue and Walton Road hill is to the left, just out of view and heading behind the photographer:

This plot of green is the former YS&T Campbell Works, though some rolling mill buildings still stand in the background. Some 80-90 percent of the mill was demolished 20 years ago however:

The only remaining portion of what was Pennsylvania Railroad's huge Haselton Yards, now owned by Norfolk Southern. This is westward view is from the Walton bridge (former YS&T plant entrance). The track at the far left is the former Lake Erie & Eastern, which was one of the last railroads built in the valley to bypass heavily congested steel-oriented freight traffic on existing lines. Today the LE&E is the property of an Ohio Central subsidiary:

Heading back toward Youngstown, I stop at Center Street.

This what the eastward view looked like from the bridge in 1968. This is part of Republic's Haselton Works:

Here is the same view from the EXACT same location today:

During World War II, more railroad freight cars passed under this half-mile long bridge (when it was a steel truss) than under any other bridge in the world. This is in 1968, the year after I was born:

Today,crickets are the dominant sound, with occasional passing cars and wild dogs chasing rodents through the underbrush. Not only is this the same location as above, but taken at the EXACT same angle as above (yes, the tracks were dramatically realigned in the 1990s):

About 50 times per day, a freight train passes this location. Back in the day, more than 300 trains daily passed this location:


I'll end this update on a positive note. This appears to be new industrial construction along Poland Avenue, near its intersection with Center Street. It appears as if construction has stopped or slowed, based on another forumer's post in this thread. Hopefully that's not the case. This appears to be a mini-mill or similar structure under construction: