James Hillman had been trading in this region for 10 years prior to the first survey Moses Cleaveland made in 1796. Initially, he had worked as a pack-horse man for a Pittsburgh firm that shipped goods from Pittsburgh to Detroit; then, he went into business for himself trading with the Native Americans. Coming down the Mahoning one evening in 1796, he saw a wisp of smoke and landed to investigate. He found John Young and a companion, Alfred Wolcott, who had come to inspect the land that Young wanted to purchase. John Young persuaded Hillman to accept 6 acres of land in exchange for his efforts toward settling the township. Hillman, who has been call 'Jim Bowie, Kit Carson and Davy Crockett all in one' was the right man for the job. Young stayed in the township for about six years and returned to Whitestown, New York; Hillman remained. While the town was named for Young, it was settled by Hillman.
Two young men who worked with Young's surveyor discovered the falls at Mill Creek. They quickly realized the potential of this find and attempted to buy the rights to the land - prompting John Young to investigate. The contract for purchase included a provision that guaranteed the construction of a sawmill and a gristmill in the following 18 months. So, Youngstown became the site of the first mills in the Western Reserve and, those were the first industries of Youngstown.
The secret of this area's early prosperity was its proximity to Pittsburgh and Ohio River traffic. Because of Youngstown's location on the Mahoning River - with easy access to the Ohio River - it was more closely geared to Pittsburgh and the iron ore of western Pennsylvania than to the Western Reserve. Indeed, for many years, it was the most difficult of the Ohio cities to reach from the center of the state. Then, surveys showed that the Mahoning Valley could be readily joined to the Ohio-Erie Canal by digging a canal from Akron, to Newton Falls, Leavittsburg, Warren, Niles and Youngstown. This canal was the Pennsylvania-Ohio Canal. Its effect on the nation's economy was the introduction of coal to households, shops and industries. In 1833, over 49,000 bushels of coal were transported via the canal to Cleveland; in 1844, there were over half a million bushels and over a million after the opening of the Brier Hill Mine (owned by David Tod).
No story of Youngstown could be told without telling of David Tod. David Tod, US Minister to Brazil and governor of Ohio, was the man who "imprinted on Youngstown the industrial pattern" that it retained for almost 100 years. He bought back his family farm in Brier Hill - where he could sit on his front porch and view the stacks of furnaces he operated. He had opened the local coal veins; shipped the coal to Cleveland and promoted its value. He had pressed for the construction of the Cleveland and Mahoning Railroad (of which he was president.) He encouraged iron and steel manufacture, opening three blast furnaces at Brier Hill.
From 1846 to 1851, over 20 blast furnaces were constructed in the immediate area and at the beginning of the 20th century, Youngstown and vicinity was producing a seventh of the pig iron and steel in the nation. The fact that one of the raw materials (coal) was all around - including under the foundations of its mills - coupled with easy transportation to the markets and the lake, made it possible for the region to grow quickly.
Even as it grew, the city's streets were unpaved. Despite organized resistance of the citizens, the city paved Federal and Market streets and put in some sewer pipes. By 1872, gas was manufactured at a plant across the river and was piped to some houses. By 1888, there were electric lights and electric trams. As industrialization continued, coke replaced coal and more plants rose. Besides manufacture of the iron and steel, there were companies that made nuts and bolts, steam boilers, iron fencing, tinware, wagons and buggies, engines, stoves, scales, lumber, doors, flour, and ale. Railroads grew also - four east-west systems and several regional roads served Youngstown. Weathering the cycles of declines in the 1870s and 1890s that had devastating economic impacts on other areas in the country, Youngstown emerged in a strong position at the turn of the 20th century.
Population grew as the Mahoning Valley developed. Early on, the settlers were from New England and western Pennsylvania. The 'English'(i.e.: New England) settlers were joined by Irish immigrants, both Ulster and Catholic, who were followed by the Welsh. Then, Europeans began to arrive; first, from Germany and, by the late 1880s, from nearly every southern and eastern Europe country. In the background, Native Americans had almost disappeared by intermarriage or relocation. African Americans numbered a count of 90 by the 1850 census.
From the early structures built of logs to the "Rayen School" (a four-room brick building in the Greek Revival style of architecture) early schools reflected the backgrounds of the population groups. Male teachers were paid twice as much as female; tuition was paid by parents who also contributed wood for fuel. The Township launched a unified school system in 1851 and hired a superintendent, Reuben McMillan. The system progressed under his firm, public-minded leadership - which included the development of Youngstown's first high school. Meanwhile, private (parochial) systems developed, starting with Catholic education by the Ursuline Sisters, and later included Evangelical Lutheran, Hebrew and a non-sectarian school.
The real story of Youngstown is steel. And, no story of Youngstown is complete without the mention of Youngstown Sheet and Tube. It was organized in 1900 and placed on a 300-acre site on the Mahoning River. Over the years, it established plants at Brier Hill, Campbell, Struthers, Girard and Hubbard; it acquired mining properties; owned its shipping company; and formed subsidiaries. It became the largest steel mill in the area and employed over 7,500. It fostered a zealous local pride; why not? After all, it had been formed with the intention of making a locally-owned, steel-producing powerhouse. The "sheet and tube" as locals called it, was the measure of Youngstown prosperity; it was one of the chief contributors to hospitals, libraries and Youngstown College.