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|Butler Institute of Art, Youngstown, Ohio|
Photo by Matthew Caracciolo, Author & Travel Writer
A Day Trip to Youngstown, Ohio
by Matthew Caracciolo
Nestled halfway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, Youngstown, Ohio is often overlooked as a small, industrial city and rust belt sob story. While there’s no denying the city’s struggles after the decline of the steel industry, Youngstown and the general Mahoning County area maintains the strong bones of an older, established city: fine museums, beautiful parks, longstanding restaurants. If you’re passing through in need of an excuse to escape the highway or an Ohioan looking for a new adventure, Youngstown delivers on all fronts in terms of a day trip: inexpensive, nearby, and worthy of exploration. Better yet—some of the best things to do in Youngstown are free.
Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor
The Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor, affiliated with the Ohio History Connection, is a good place to get your bearings on what Youngstown is and used to be. Focusing on the steel industry that brought Youngstown to prominence, the museum explores the industry’s ascent, its part in shaping the city, the waves of immigrants that arrived for jobs, and the eventual decline. Exhibits interpret life as a steel worker, the process of making steel, and domestic and cultural life in Youngstown during the city’s height. There’s a small admission fee, and you don’t need more than an hour or two here.
Butler Institute of American Art
While museums in the early 20th century were busy collecting European art, local steel industrialist Joseph G. Butler Jr. sought after art from his fellow Americans, an idea not exactly in vogue at the time. His collection became the Butler Institute of American Art, the first museum dedicated exclusively to American art. Just about any American artist of note—Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Norman Rockwell, Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, etc.—is represented in the collection within the immaculate Renaissance Revival-style building. The galleries are laid out chronologically, beginning with the landscapes prevalent in early 19th century paintings and ending with contemporary art. Portraits of American Indians, special exhibitions, and folk art round out this most unusual and surprising of Ohio’s major art museums. Best of all, admission is free. This is truly one of Ohio’s best hidden gems.
Fellows Riverside Gardens
Another free attraction, Fellows Riverside Gardens is a small but stunning botanical garden within the woodsy Mill Creek Park corridor. Gazebos, rose gardens, fountains, and perennials mix and match in this landscaped paradise, which also has a café and a gift shop in the visitor center. Parking is easy and most of the paths are handicapped accessible, though some do wander into the woods for more natural displays. Also within Mill Creek Park a few miles away is Lanterman’s Mill, a working 19th century mill with a store inside. The building sits on a picturesque spot popular for autumn color pictures.
|Fellows Riverside Gardens|
Photo by Matthew Caracciolo
Youngstown has been home to a significant Italian community since the early 20th century. At one point, the city was known as a Mafia hotspot, with rival families from Cleveland and Pittsburgh stretching their muscles over this unclaimed territory. Though this reputation has somewhat diminished over the decades, a more savory aspect of the city’s rich Italian heritage lingers on: loads of Italian restaurants. Some are century-old neighborhood haunts. Others are more recent. All represent some of the best Italian food in Ohio. Near the Butler Institute of American Art is Cassese’s MVR, a lively family lunch and dinner spot with typical Italian entrees and bocce courts. Or, for a more a la carte experience, check out Jimmy’s Italian Specialties, an Italian market with a deli counter, bakery, and rows of imported goods. Sandwiches are large and cheap, or you can build your own pasta or salad. There is a dining room and patio to enjoy your choices, or you can always head to a nearby park.
All told, a day trip to Youngstown is an easy, affordable option that is often overlooked even by fellow Ohioans. What have you found in Youngstown that’s worth a stop?
Matthew Caracciolo is a freelance writer and author of The Waygook Book: A Foreigner’s Guide to South Korea from Monday Creek Publishing. He also maintains his own travel blog, Travel is Fatal, on his website. To find out more about The Waygook Book or Travel is Fatal, please visit matthewcaracciolo.com.
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