Posts Tagged ‘150th history of Niles’

The Niles Daily Times (1923-1989), a Defunct Small Town Newspaper

March 12, 2020

The Georgia Bulldogs have been my favorite football team since 1975, but before then my favorite team was the Niles McKinley Red Dragons.  I rooted for this Ohio high school football team and went to most of their home games between 1969-1975 (until my family moved to Georgia). The Niles Red Dragons enjoyed a 48 game unbeaten streak from 1959-1964 and did not lose an home game from 1958 until 1968.  Within this time span they won 2 state championships and earned an additional undefeated season in 1966, though they finished ranked 2nd in the state that year.  The 1961 team was particularly strong, destroying every team they played by ridiculous scores.   By the time I started following them, Niles still fielded good winning teams but no longer contended for state championships.

Location of Niles, Ohio

Location of Niles, Ohio.  It’s between Youngstown and Warren and is the birth place of President William McKinley.


Headline announcing Niles Red Dragons as the 1963 Ohio state champions.

I occasionally suffer anxiety attacks that interfere with my sleep.  Alcohol or sex calms down my anxiety attacks, but I don’t want to drink more than once a week, and I don’t want to bother my wife at 3 am.  Memorizing old seasons of football scores and reciting them back in my head at night when I am trying to sleep is an alternate cure for my anxiety attacks.  It’s my substitute for counting sheep.  A football season is like a lifespan; there is a beginning, an end, and in between the results can be good, bad, or average–just like a person’s life.  I find this relaxing and the variations and number patterns in the scores also soothes me.  I live many lifespans thinking about these season’s of scores before I eventually relax and fall asleep.  After 1 recent sleep-deprived night I pulled up a library website that holds most of the past issues of the Niles Daily Times, a defunct newspaper published between 1923-1989, and I memorized old seasons of football scores in case I suffered another anxiety attack the next night.  I started turning the pages away from just sports and discovered interesting history in the little things that made up daily living during the middle of the 20th century.

Grocery store ads amused me.  Pork spare ribs advertised for 29 cents a pound, next to sour kraut for 10 cents a pound. Spare ribs and sour kraut (my late grandfather’s favorite)–now there is an old fashioned dish.  Cauliflower–15 cents a pound.  I’m not going to do the math but considering inflation how would that compare to today’s prices?  The local specialties interested me as well.  Winesap apples, then a popular variety, are rarely found in supermarkets today.  Lake Erie pike fillets are definitely not sold in Georgia.  My late grandmother made a great courtboullion with pike.


Farmer’s market ad circa 1960.  Note the prices.

The editorial pages were staunchly anti-communist during the middle of the 20th century.  One editorial justified the overthrow of a democratically elected President in Burma by a military coup because that leader was “playing footsie” with the communists…whatever that means.  A political cartoon suggested unions should rid themselves of communists.  The creator of that cartoon undoubtedly doesn’t understand how unionism is a communist concept.


The anti-communist hysteria of the 1950’s.  This edition was published in 1949.

The comic strips of the 1940’s were not at all funny.  At best they were puzzling–I just didn’t get the joke.  Others were sadistic and violent, kind of like The Three Stooges.  For example a Thimble Theater strip (characters from Popeye) depicted a mermaid slapping some goofball with her tail over some minor slight.  What?  Comic strips started improving during the 1950’s with the introduction of Peanuts, Beatle Bailey, Nancy, The Phantom, and Mark Trail. Radio and tv listings gave entertainment options for the day.  People could listen to Bob Hope, Red Skelton, and Al Jolson during the 1940’s.  Sunday was the best night of television during the early 1960’s with Ed Sullivan followed by Alfred Hitchcock.

I searched for articles about my dad and found 1 from 1963 announcing the opening of his private practice on Robbins Avenue.  My dad offered house calls for $5.  Try getting your doctor to drive to your house for $5 today. We lived in the apartment over my dad’s office until 1970 when my dad could afford to move us to a nicer newer house.  His office was built in 1909 and was a neat old house.  Another article noted a break-in at my dad’s office in 1974.  A drug addict searching for drugs broke into my dad’s office at night, but a bachelor renting the apartment upstairs heard the prowler and called the police.  I still remember the police calling my dad to fill out an arrest report in the middle of the night.


My dad opened his private practice in 1963.

During 1953 the Niles Daily Times reported upon the 150th anniversary of the founding of Niles.  Settlers began arriving in the area during 1803 to process salt at a nearby salt spring.  However, the concentration of salt was too low to make it a profitable enterprise.  Instead, the pioneers turned to farming the land and hunting the deer attracted to the salt lick.  Not long after, some settlers started mining local iron ore and with charcoal made from the abundant oak forests began manufacturing pig iron.  The original name of the town was Heaton’s Furnace named after 1 man’s operation, but was later changed to Niles, named after the publisher of a newspaper in Delaware.  Some of the descendants of the earliest settlers still lived in the town 150 years later.  The original settlers were English, German, and Irish; but as early as 1866 Italian immigrants began arriving to work in the steel mills.  By the time we moved to Niles it was a little Italy with Italians being by far the most common ethnic group.

Perhaps the most interesting historical event in Niles, besides the dominance of the local high school football team during the early 1960’s, was the KKK vs anti-KKK riots of 1924.  The KKK was extremely popular and mainstream during the 1920’s.  The KKK hated Catholics, Jews, and foreigners from Southern Europe, not unlike the way modern Trumpanzees hate Mexicans.  There was a cultural void between white Protestants and Catholics then as well.  The former wanted to enforce prohibition, while Italians wanted to drink wine and Irish wanted to drink whiskey.  The KKK marched through Niles during May of 1924.  The KKK planned to march through town again in June, and they threatened to destroy property and rape nuns.  The Catholics in Niles formed the Knights of the Flaming Circle to defend themselves.  They bombed the mayor’s house because he didn’t revoke the KKK’s permit to march. (Harvey Kistler, the mayor, was reported to be a member of the KKK.)  Niles turned into a war zone for 18 hours when the KKK attempted to march.  There were running gun battles between moving cars, stationary gun fights, and hand-to-hand knife and club fights.  Dozens of people were injured and a few died.  The Ohio governor called in the National Guard and declared martial law that lasted for 10 days.  Over 100 people were arrested, and the National Guard stopped a trainload of Klan reinforcements from West Virginia.

Ironically, the racial integration of Niles resulted from this incident.  The Italian and Irish Catholics asked African-Americans from nearby Youngstown for support in their battle with the KKK, and in return they lifted the ban on black people that had prevented them from moving into houses located in town.  Years later, many white Protestants who marched with the Klan in 1924 were embarrassed over their participation in the riot.  After living alongside Italians for many years they realized Italians were hard-working people just like they were.  Many admitted they joined the Klan to get better jobs and shifts within the mills owned by Klan members.  Most refused to talk about it, and the incident was swept under the rug for decades.

Steel mills in northeastern Ohio began closing down in 1977, decimating the local economy.  Newspapers operate on a fine line between profit and loss, and The Niles Daily Times failed to survive past 1989.  Youngstown still hasn’t regained population lost since 1980.  115,000 people lived there then, almost twice the present day number.  Just this year, even the Youngstown Vindicator went bankrupt and ceased publication.  One paper, The Warren Tribune, serves 2 counties–a population of over 429,000.  Across the country too many local newspapers are going bankrupt and shutting down.  This is a bad trend for democracy.  Without local journalists there are fewer watchdogs uncovering public and private corruption.  To make things worse, the insane President Trump is now suing newspapers and news networks for libel when they are simply reporting the truth.  Trump is suing The Washington Post, The New York Times, and CNN because they reported he asked Russia to interfere in our elections.  But he did–he’s been video recorded asking Russia, China, and the Ukraine to interfere in our elections.  These lawsuits will never hold up in court, but they are costing news organization money in legal fees, and they operate on narrow margins.  Trump is a wannabee dictator who wants to destroy the truth because he knows reality makes him look bad.

My blog is supposed to be nature-oriented, so I would be remiss not to mention an interesting tidbit I came across while researching the archives of The Niles Daily Times.  A nice natural stretch of land exists just west of Niles known as the Mosquito Creek Wilderness Area.  Apparently, before game laws were enacted, hunters from all over the Midwest would come to hunt woodcock along the Mosquito Creek bottomlands.  Some hunters would bag 300 a day–an astonishing number for this species of bird.  Today, 9000 acres of this area are protected and regulated.  Half is 2nd growth oak and maple forest and the rest is wetlands and managed grain fields for ducks and geese.  Hunters shoot waterfowl, deer, fox squirrels, and rabbit.  Mosquito Lake, created in 1944 for flood control and drinking water, was stocked with walleye and is also known for bass, flathead catfish, crappie, and perch.  When I was a boy, I caught the latter species the first time I ever went fishing.  Originally and perhaps still, bullhead catfish were abundant in the creek itself.