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Youngstown's Idora Park: Creating a Fantasyland in an Industrial Landscape

From: Ohio History
Volume 117, 2010
pp. 74-92 | 10.1353/ohh.2010.0011

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On Memorial Day 1899, the residents of Youngstown, the burgeoning northeastern Ohio steel center, had a new place to spend their leisure time, when the Park and Falls Street Railway Company opened a new pleasure park at the end of its line. Originally Terminal Park, the amusement park was soon renamed Idora Park and grew into one of the area's most popular attractions. Like other such parks springing up around the country in the early twentieth century, Idora represented one of the new forms of mass culture, attracting people of all classes and ethnic backgrounds. At the same time, these new parks transformed the landscapes in which they were built, offering residents of the community an escape from everyday reality. The use of electricity, thrilling mechanical rides, death-defying performances, and fantastic architecture were hallmarks of the modern amusement park. Not only did visitors experience the human-designed delights of the park, they often enjoyed more bucolic delights as well. Idora was adjacent to Mill Creek Park, Youngstown's large metropolitan park, thus the natural and mechanical coexisted in one place. At the same time, the machines that transported people to the park (first, the trolley and later, the automobile) as well as the rides themselves were products of industry. Idora's owners thus created a fantastic environment where, in theory, people could release their frustrations—in other words, the tensions caused by hard work could be relieved at play in this new amusement park. In an area where steel mills dominated the cityscape, Idora provided a different landscape, both figuratively and literally.

Youngstown, located in northeastern Ohio's Mahoning River Valley, was a rapidly growing steel center at the turn of the twentieth century. Youngstown's population increased from 45,000 in 1900 to 120,000 twenty years later. Iron production started early in the Mahoning Valley, when brothers James and Daniel Heaton erected what is believed to be the first blast furnace west of the Alleghenies, on Yellow Creek, outside of Youngstown, in 1803. Local deposits of iron ore, coal, and limestone fueled the Mahoning Valley's ferrous industries in the early nineteenth century. The needs of the industrial revolution kept the area's iron factories in business long after local resources were exhausted.

Youngstown was a latecomer to the steel industry, with the first Bessemer process steel poured in the Mahoning Valley by the Ohio Steel Company in 1895, twenty years after Andrew Carnegie founded his Edgar Thompson steel mill in Pittsburgh. By the onset of World War I, there were several large plants in the area, including the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company, Republic Iron and Steel, Brier Hill Steel (absorbed by Youngstown Sheet and Tube in 1923), and Carnegie-Illinois Steel (U.S. Steel). Despite its late start, Youngstown became one of the world's leading steel manufacturers, earning the Mahoning Valley the sobriquet "America's Ruhr Valley." By the 1920s, Youngstown was second only to Pittsburgh in total annual tonnage of pig iron. The massive steel mills altered the Mahoning Valley's skyline, with the blast furnaces silhouetted at night against the orange, sulfurous emissions of the steel industry.

The tremendous expansion of industrial urban areas (even in smaller communities like Youngstown) in the early twentieth century meant that the built environment was greatly altered. Along with housing, industrial and commercial structures, and public buildings, edifices dedicated solely to entertainment also appeared. Amusement parks, with their often over-the-top architecture, were a new venue for mass entertainment that changed not only the built environment but social and cultural mores as well. The inspiration for the enclosed amusement park was the Midway Plaisance section of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, with its centerpiece, George Washington Gale Ferris's gigantic wheel, powered by two one-thousand-horsepower electric engines. Paul Boyton, who attended the fair, fell in love with the Midway Plaisance, and, upon his return to Brooklyn, in 1895 opened Sea Lion Park at Coney Island, where he grouped together a number of amusements, including the Flip-Flap coaster (a loop-the-loop) and a Shoot the Chutes ride. Boyton's success inspired George C. Tilyou to open his own amusement park...



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