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Historic Campbell steel-era home to become museum

Published: Sun, January 12, 2014 @ 12:01 a.m.




By next spring, a step through the doorway of 50 Chambers St. will be like a step back in time to 1918.

That’s the same year the two-story unit, made of prefabricated, rebar-reinforced concrete slabs assembled with cranes and topped with a tile roof, was built by the Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. for a steelworker and his family.

Like all other original units in the 6-acre complex of row houses, 50 Chambers St. offered its residents a host of amenities — hot and cold running water, gas, electric — that very few American working-class families had access to at the time.

But unlike the 200-some other original units, many of which have fallen into disrepair in recent years, this residence survived intact, looking much as it did on the day its first tenant moved in.

It was the perfect choice, then, to house a museum operated by the nonprofit Iron Soup Historical Preservation Co., which owns more than 20 of the 179 remaining units, has renovated and rents out four of them; it works to preserve and revitalize the national historic site.

“We want people to get a feel for how incredible it was to live there in 1918,” said Tim Sokoloff, the president and chairman of Iron Soup. “It was an unprecedented level of living for the average worker.”

With the museum, Iron Soup — which is based a few doors down from the proposed museum site, at 40 Chambers St. — intends to help visitors understand what life was like in the world’s first modern apartment complex, back when immigrants flocked to the city to work in its bustling steel mills.

The unit, which retains many of its original fixtures, will be fully restored, down to the installation of authentic windows and doors. It also will be filled with period furnishings and appliances, while artifacts — like a hard hat used by a Campbell Works employee, or a framed black-and-white photograph snapped years ago by a resident — will be scattered throughout, as well.

“You’ll get a little bit of an idea what the guy coming home from work and sitting in his living room was looking at, or what a lady married to a mill worker might have in her kitchen,” Sokoloff said. “We want to keep as close to the period as we can.”

April Caruso-Richards, an Iron Soup volunteer who has a master’s degree in history with a concentration in museum studies, said exhibits contained within the unit will explore the 1916 workers’ strike that spurred creation of the complex, the revolutionary construction of the row houses, and the daily lives of those who resided in the company homes in their heyday, among other topics.

In addition, a portion of the upstairs could serve as a reference library, stocked with resources about the company homes and steel production in the Mahoning Valley — the latter of which Caruso-Richards said many Youngstown residents have all but forgotten about, as “a lot of bad memories of the mills closing down” have overshadowed past contributions to the area.

“It’s important that we remember,” she said. “It’s time to put the past behind us, in terms of them shutting down, and time to start honoring all the things they did to build this Valley.”

Caruso-Richards added that the museum — which she estimated costing between $20,000 and $25,000, including full restoration and exhibit setup — would not only help people realize how historically significant the Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. housing complex is, but also show them what it could be in the future.

For example, Iron Soup is at work turning the site into a self-sustaining community, powered primarily by a combination of solar panels and wind turbines.

Sokoloff added, too, that by the time the museum opens in spring 2015, Iron Soup likely will have all units it owns up and running, and also will have acquired numerous others — perhaps even the row it wants to one day fill with a gift shop and various small businesses.

Linda Gens, the executive director of Iron Soup, said the idea of building this type of community isn’t all that far-fetched, especially as the economic downtown has triggered an interest in local historical tourism.

Plus, Iron Soup had already been receiving an influx of interested visitors to the former company homes, many of them family members of former steelworkers or history students from area universities, and soon realized it lacked a central location in which to receive them and display related artifacts, Gens explained.

She added that she hopes the Iron Soup museum is just the start of a network of local “things to see,” or reasons “why people would come here,” which might include the Youngstown Steel Heritage Museum and the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor. And though Iron Soup still has a fair amount of work to do before its full vision is a reality, people have taken notice, Gens said.

“They’re coming,” she said. “They’re interested in history, whatever condition it is in, and they want to come and see it anyway.”

Iron Soup is accepting volunteers for the museum and other projects. For more information about Iron Soup, or to donate to its cause, visit www.ironsoup.com.


1rickking123(331 comments)posted 2 years, 6 months ago

Well maybe they should be commended for their work, but that area may not be the safest part of Campbell.

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2ironsouphistorical(15 comments)posted 2 years, 6 months ago

rickking123, Thanks for your comment, to address safety, thanks to our Camera Systems, and a steady growth of residents who look out for one another the amount of crime committed in our neighborhood has dropped .

@ohioption, I am glad to see you know LITTLE bit about concrete construction, but unfortunately it is only a LITTLE. The failure of concrete construction in the early 20th century had nothing to do with the method. A lack of proper design including but not limited to a lack of indoor plumbing was one of many reasons for their problems.

In the end however Herding and Boyd, (the architects that designed the Company Homes, built a structure that set the stage for modern living as we know it. Those homes served the families of mill workers VERY WELL for 59 years until the mills closed and are still today the soundest most sturdy structures in the city.

Most of the tile roofs still do not leak and they are almost 100 years old. Get that guaranteed from Owens Corning. Also, although we know that the R value for concrete is low, what most people don't know is that is only good up to about 3 inches. After you get past three inches thick, concrete homes are the easiest to heat and cool bar none. It would be like living in a home built into the side of a mountain.

Since there is NO SURFACE AT ALL in the company homes that is less than 4 inches thick, and from our own experiences at heating and cooling units I assure you this complex is well worth revitalizing, especially considering the soon to be coming onslaught of oil and gas workers that will need housing, and the fact that the City of Campbell could desperately use all those city tax dollars those workers would be paying. Not to mention the boost in the economy for local business.

It is easy to dismiss something when you have no experience with it, have never examined it, studied it, or asked the people who are living it in their day to day lives.

This is a monumental piece of American History, it was our people that built this first modern apartment complex, unprecedented in design with all the amenities that only the wealthy could afford in 1918. It set the stage for the Modern Apartment Complex that is used world wide and WE BUILT IT.

But hey to hell with American History right, I mean we are giving our country away any way. We send our jobs away, we send our manufacturing away, we send our money away, and we respect the belief's and customs of every foreign person here while hiding our customs and values in the closet so as not to offend anyone, so why not tear down and destroy the history that should remind us what a great Nation we were. Sounds like the American way to me.

With Regards
Tim Sokoloff
Iron Soup Historical Preservation Company
Remembering when America was Great

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3dontbeafool(2092 comments)posted 2 years, 6 months ago

Always have to be negative comments. It is their property, let them do what they want with it. It is also this area's rich history. You don't here the residents of Gettysburg saying level out the battlefields and put a housing complex or an industrial park. Good job Iron Soup.

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4RoslynT(2 comments)posted 2 years, 6 months ago

Bravo Iron Soup! I think what you are doing is wonderful!

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5rickking123(331 comments)posted 2 years, 6 months ago

My comment was not negative it was a plain statement of fact. See the story about the Christmas Eve robbery in the parking lot of the nearby Dollar General store. Hopefully Iron Soup has reviewed its surveillance footage to see if the criminal was caught on tape as he made his getaway on Blackburn Street.

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6ironsouphistorical(15 comments)posted 2 years, 6 months ago

@rickking123 I don't think the negative comment remark was directed at you I am sure it was in reference to the not quite accurate comment regarding concrete homes. But since you jumped in the pool lets address it. First off there is NO Dollar General near us, the nearest Dollar General is on 422 in Lincoln Knolls Plaza, besides, shouldn't these giant corporate entities have their OWN camera systems. Our cameras protect our core are, not the whole city. Someday in the future, provided we have the funding and work force, we would love to have our entire site under surveillance, sad we live in a world where this is necessary though.

So while the big bad corporation sells out the American Economy, you are saying it is on the back of a struggling non profit run by struggling American Workers giving it their all to protect their parking lots ? Not really getting how that works out.

FYI it was actually family dollar and if I am correct someone filled up a basket with cell phones and ran out of the store and although they ran in the direction of Blackburn street they did not hide out in the Company Homes as CPD did a complete and extensive search and we DID review our camera feeds to see if anyone was in our core area.

Trust and believe that the company homes will no longer be a place for criminals to hide out in but thanks for your concern.

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7southsidedave(5199 comments)posted 2 years, 6 months ago

Preserving a part of the Valley's history, a great achievement.

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8rickking123(331 comments)posted 2 years, 6 months ago

Sorry about getting the store name wrong. Maybe I should have referred to it as the former Valu King parking lot, not too far from where Mary's pizza used to be and generally across the street from where Dr. Oles practiced dentistry. The story in The Vindicator said a revolver was pulled on the victim in the parking lot. And see I do know the area.

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9JoeFromHubbard(1806 comments)posted 2 years, 6 months ago

I wish the very best to the Iron Soup group in preserving one of the most intimate parts of Youngstown steel history.

I often think and dream about the families and lives of the men who spent the better part of their youth making the steel that built this great nation.

You can imagine the stories that those houses would tell if they could speak.

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10DSquared(1788 comments)posted 2 years, 6 months ago

Tim, Good luck and God Bless your endeavors! I had many relatives and great memories of the Company Houses. Your effort and perseverance is applauded and admirable! God knows we can use some positive vibes in this valley for a change!

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11ACarusoRichards(2 comments)posted 2 years, 6 months ago

@rickking123 - I understand where you are coming from. I live only a few blocks across from the Family Dollar. That incident has scared people in the area, but it's important to remember that crime happens everywhere.

I've been to the company homes at all hours of the day and night and I've felt perfectly safe. Mainly, it is because of the relationship that Iron Soup board members have been able to build within the community that I feel this level of safety.

Either way, I just wanted to thank everyone for their comments. I think we are doing great work and am looking forward to getting the museum up and running!

April Caruso-Richards, M.A.,
Board Secretary, ISHPC

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12Roger_Thornhill(1068 comments)posted 2 years, 6 months ago

As long as they are using zero tax dollars, sounds like a cool deal.

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13walter_sobchak(2713 comments)posted 2 years, 6 months ago

I, too, wish this group good luck with their endeavor. I have some basic knowledge about these concrete homes that were built by YS&T but I didn't realize that they were prefabricated structures. I had always assumed they were cast-in-place. As a structural engineer, I can tell you that these homes from 1918 were well-ahead of the curve in concrete technology. I agree with JoefromHubbard; if the walls could only talk! They would speak of a vibrant area of all types of people that made the steel that built this nation and won wars. Unfortunately, now that the steel industry is almost gone locally, save for Vallourec, the valley is forgotten. IMHO, the federal govt should at least pony up the funds to clean the sediment from the Mahoning River so that it can be used to its fullest capability. It would be a small payment back to this area for all the taxes sent to Washington.

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14JoeFromHubbard(1806 comments)posted 2 years, 6 months ago

@ walter:

I was never a proponent of spending the money to clean up the Mahoning River in this area. Mother Nature will do that job by herself if the people have enough patience, about 30 more years worth.

But you mention the tax dollars from Youngstown industry that made a one way trip to Washington and have a good point.

The river water will never again cool hot steel so it would be nice to have it returned to a useable, recreational status.

I just returned from a quick tour of the housing area in this story. I am thoroughly amazed by the extent of that housing project and the work that will be required to revitalize it. That can happen if the conservation fever catches.

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15iBuck(231 comments)posted 2 years, 6 months ago

Sounds good.

I was reading about poured-on-site, foam form, re-inforced concrete buildings recently. The foam on both sides insulates and is a moisture seal; the concrete is a heat-sink, stabilizing temperature. And they can be finished with a wood, aluminum, or brick skin. You can even do re-inforced concrete roofs, or wood-frame roof.

The trickiest part seems to be making sure all of the bigger bubbles are worked out as it is poured.

They're a little more expensive up front than stick-built or even brick, but probably less than stone.

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