By Bob Jackson

Mill Creek holiday event draws people back home

YOUNGSTOWN — JoAnn Gray walks by Lanterman’s Mill in Mill Creek Park countless times during the year because she lives nearby, but her visit to the historic structure on Sunday was extra special.

Not just because walkways around the mill were lined with pine boughs and red bows for the holidays, but because her sister, Donna McElroy, was visiting from Nevada, and they decided to visit the mill together.

They were among the thousands of people who thronged to the park over the weekend to take in the sights, sounds and smells of the Olde Fashioned Christmas at the Mill. It’s an annual event that organizers say draws people home each year from far and wide.

The event took place Saturday and Sunday.

“Most of the people we’ve talked with today said they’ve been doing this for years,” said Ginny Elser, special events programs manager for Mill Creek MetroParks. “They’re coming from all over the country to little ol’ Youngstown because it’s home.”

“It’s a tradition,” said Arlene Lanz, visitor services manager for the park district’s Fellows Riverside Gardens. “I think the mill is such a sentimental place for people to go.”

Gray, 58, said she lives only a few blocks away from the mill, so she and McElroy, 68, walked to Lanterman’s Mill rather than having to fight the traffic streaming in and out of the park Sunday.

McElroy grew up here but moved away some 30 years ago. She came back a couple of weeks ago to help Gray tend to some family business and to spend the holidays among local kin.

On Sunday, they sought refuge from a cold, driving rain inside a covered bridge behind Lanterman’s Mill. They each broke open and ate a freshly roasted chestnut, savoring the flavor that McElroy said she hadn’t tasted in years.

“Not since I was very young,” she said. “It’s delicious.”

Inside the mill, the smell of mulled cider and the sound of old-time music filled the air as visitors took their time looking at the wares displayed by many artisans and craft vendors.

“This is such a wonderful way to open the holiday season,” said Bob Barko Jr., owner of Steel Town Studios in Youngstown. He was there to sell his photographs and artwork, much of which depicts the histories of Youngstown and Mill Creek Park.

He said crowds for the two-day event are always strong, and it’s fun to watch people as they catch up and reminisce with old friends.

As he spoke, Ginger Taft of Austintown was strolling by with her longtime friend Sandra Douglas, a former Austintown resident who now lives in Tennessee.

“It’s really something, how we have so much in and around Youngstown, like [Mill Creek] park and the Butler [Institute of American Art], but we don’t take advantage of it like we should,” said Taft, 67.

She and Douglas, 65, said they came to the Olde Fashioned Christmas at the Mill after reading about it in The Vindicator. They wanted to deliver some clothing to the Giving Tree, and decided to stay and check out the other activities.

“It’s really pretty neat,” Taft said.

The Giving Tree was located just outside the mill’s main entrance and was a collection spot for people to drop off new winter hats, gloves and scarves. Elser said the items will be donated to the Mahoning County Educational Service Center, which will distribute them to needy children throughout the county.

“The idea was to help children all over the county, not just right here in Youngstown,” Elser said.

Lanz said another holiday-themed event at the park will be Dec. 14, when Fellows Riverside Gardens hosts “Gardens By Candlelight” from 5:30 to 8 p.m.

That event will feature walks through the gardens, which will be lighted with twinkling lights and luminaries. Carolers will sing in the gardens, and hot chocolate and cookies will be served indoors.

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