Hidden History: Keeping the legacy of the McGuffey Centre alive

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – Imagine having to walk miles just to get basic necessities like bread and eggs.

That’s exactly what people who lived in Youngstown’s McGuffey Heights neighborhood had to do in the late 1930s. But, that all changed when one woman decided to bring those resources to the people

Now, leaders of the McGuffey Centre are trying to make sure that tradition lives on.

When you walk into the McGuffey Centre on Youngstown’s east side, one of the first things you see is a board filled with black and white photographs.

Vernon Massengile, the first vice president of the McGuffey Centre, is in one of them.

The photos represent a small part of the Centre’s nearly 80-year history, first established as a house in 1940 by Mrs. Charles Welcher.

It was born out of a desperate need for social services for this predominately black neighborhood — called the Sharon Line. It’s named after the Youngstown to Sharon streetcar that ran along Jacobs Road in the early 1900s.

The needs of the Centre soon outgrew the confines of that house though, so in 1961 it was demolished and the building that sits there now took its place.

Historian Timothy Butler Jr. says he remembers his days in the house fondly.

“It was truly a family. It was a neighborhood family institution that we valued highly,” he said.

Massengile basically grew up at the Centre during the ’60s and ’70s, spending every day in its multipurpose room. After doing his homework and eating some snacks, he would go to play basketball and tag.

“Then summer, summer camp, you had that, you had the football, you had the arts and crafts as we knew it back then,” Massengile explained. “We had it all. This was the place to be.”

But, the Centre was more than an after-school hangout for kids, it also addressed the needs of the entire community.

“I was a public health nurse for the city of Youngstown. We had clinics here,” said Wayna Hightower, now a board member of the Centre.

For many on the Sharon Line, those clinics were the sole source of comprehensive medical care.

“No charge. These were free clinics, and how well our children were protected,” Hightower said.

Time proved to be unkind to Youngstown. The 1970s saw a rise in manufacturer out-sourcing and globalization, which brought steel and iron production throughout the Rust Belt to a screeching halt.

The populations of neighborhoods like the Sharon Line were decimated.

“When the mills closed, people had to move. I mean there was no means of sustainable income,” Hightower said.

Today, the Sharon Line is merely a shadow of its former glory.

Massengile said you used to be able to hear the Centre before you could see it. But now, aside from the occasional event, the silence is deafening.

“All these houses, houses everywhere. Full of kids, kids everywhere, and now what? There are no kids here, most of the families gone,” Massengile said.

But, he’s not giving up, and neither are his fellow board members. They agree that they have to breathe life back into the Centre, because too much history, too many memories are at stake.

“This is something we need to hold onto. We need to hold onto it, not to let it go,” Butler said.

The board plans on increasing the amount of events and activities held at the McGuffey Centre. Before that can happen though, a few things need to be fixed first — a leaky roof, the multipurpose room and the gym.

“Stuff wasn’t maintained, that’s just how it was. But we gettin’ that back because that’s our bread and butter,” Massengile said.

The board wants people to know that the McGuffey Centre isn’t a thing of the past, but actually something that has its best years to come.

Massengile wants people to stop criticizing the Centre and just go and see what’s going on.

People can participate in the “raise the roof” campaign — the biggest need the Centre has right now. Leaders are accepting donations to help fix the problem.