Transportation talk highlights history

WARREN – Remnants of some of Mahoning Valley’s great transportation systems still remain for those wanting to get a taste of history, according to Bob Smith of the Trumbull County Historical Society.

“There is still parts of the old Pennsylvania and Ohio Canal in the Leavittsburg area, you can see it if there is a heavy rain, and the water starts backing up,” Smith told a small gathering during the historical society’s speaker series.

Meghan Reed, director of the historic John Stark Edwards House that was the site of Sunday’s free event, said the series has been bringing various topics to history buffs this year on the first Sunday of each month.

Smith gave highlights of the major transportation modes here, beginning with the dusty roads that followed American Indian trails and were settled by the first Europeans who made the Valley their home.

“By the 1840s, most main county roads were dedicated by commissioners and funded by property taxes,” he said.

The road transportation system eventually connected big cities and states, Smith said, with a nationalized route system approved by the federal government in the 1920s. U.S. routes 224, 422 and 62 traversed the area.

“Most people don’t realize that the U.S. stands for Unified System,” Smith said about the highway designations.

Before roads, however, Smith said, canals were the dominant transportation mode here during the early 1800s. In 1825, the Ohio Erie Canal linked Cleveland and Portsmouth, but the canal that brought Warren and Youngstown into the system was the 83-mile long Pennsylvania-Ohio Canal that opened in 1840 and linked most of the larger northeastern Ohio communities, he said.

“The canal tied into the Beaver River to the east and made its way to Cleveland. There were 54 locks along the route, but only one partially exists today in downtown Kent,” Smith said.

The canals were 40 feet wide at minimum, enough to allow two flat-bottom boats to pass side by side, Smith said. The depth of the canal was about 4 feet.

“The canal boats could carry up to eighty tons of cargo while today’s semi trucks can only legally carry forty tons,” he said.

The last boat went down the canal in 1872, as the railroads entered the picture around the Civil War era, Smith said.

The Mahoning Valley was serviced by four major railroads plus one regional, the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie. Smith said he had worked six years for the Erie railroad. Today, only the then-B&O railroad (currently CSX) operates in the Valley.

“Some of the main railroad stations in downtown Youngstown has turned into modern uses, the B&O terminal is a restaurant and events center, while the old Erie terminal has been turned into private apartments,” he said.

During its heyday, Smith said the railroads had control of the time zones. The Mahoning Valley operated on central standard time, Smith said, but by 1914, people got tired of the early evenings and voted to switch to Eastern time.

By the early 20th century, street cars and trolleys had made their appearance, Smith said. However, their existence was short-lived, with the last Warren trolley ending Dec. 31, 1931.

Attendee Richard Ellers of Warren said the gifts the trolley companies gave the communities were the many small amusement parks that popped up at the turn of the 20th century, like Idora Park in Youngstown and Kennywood in Pittsburgh.

Smith said the trolleys were replaced by bus companies, with the Warren Transportation Co. operating 10 routes at its height of activity as it served local riders from 1932 to 1969.

“The city had to shut it down because it couldn’t subsidize it any longer,” he said.

Today, the Warren Reserve Transit Authority operates 15 fixed bus routes, including one to Warren.

“We are seeing a re-emergence of light rail lines in the big cities, especially coming from airports to the city center,” Smith said.

gvogrin@tribtoday.com