Students uncover import of city’s ‘hidden treasure’
A stately Federal-style residential home on Youngs-town’s West Side finds itself in great company these days among the Mahoning Valley’s finest historic gems.
It joins dozens of acclaimed sites such as the DeYor Performing Arts Center, the Canfield Fairgrounds and St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital to be formally recognized by the Ohio History Connection, formerly the Ohio Historical Society, with an official state historical marker.
One look at the expansive well-maintained property on 5 acres at the end of McCollum Road in the backyard of Mill Creek Park justifies its marking for generations to come.
But what makes this marker even more remarkable is the path that the Kyle-McCollum House took to land its rightful and prestigious spot among the state of Ohio’s 1,600 official historic sites.
The effort to recognize the house started about 13 years ago and was led by students of Penny Wells, a former Youngstown teacher, leader of the Sojourn to the Past student history program and director of the Youngstown Underground Railroad Research Team – a group of high-school students and historians dedicated to uncovering potential sites used to offer safe haven to escaped slaves in the 19th century.
The students’ research, however, could not turn up any solid evidence that the house was indeed used as a station in the Underground Railroad. Their passionate, painstaking and highly detailed inquiry, however, did lead to documentation that revealed it was the oldest continously habitated house in the city, providing the foundation for the state marker.
“It’s very important to the history of the city,” Wells said last week at a ceremony unveiling the historic marker. “We’re interested in preserving our history for future generations and the marker helps people identify this house’s place in history.”
The house is steeped in history, having been built by War of 1812 veteran Joshua Kyle and his wife, Mary, in 1813. The Kyles moved from Westmoreland County in Pennsylvania to the Mahoning Valley around 1800 and purchased about 1,300 acres on a hill above Mill Creek to construct the 21/2-story estate.
The home gains additional architectural significance because an addition to it in the late 1930s was designed by renowned English-born architect Charles Owsley, whose portfolio also includes landmark structures such as the Mahoning County Courthouse, the Columbiana County Courthouse and the Mercer County (Pa.) Courthouse.
Fortunately, Philip and Sylvia J. Imler, the current owners of the home who have lived it it for about 25 years, have maintained the quintessential architectural characteristics of the home and recognize their important roles as stewards of local history.
“We’re greatly privileged to live here and to be the caretakers of this home and these grounds,” Philip Imler said at last week’s marker ceremony.
We commend all others involved, most notably the young students whose research uncovered its historic status, in bringing deserved recognition to the home.
After all, in the words of Youngstown City Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th, “it’s one of Youngstown’s hidden treasures.”