YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – You’ve probably passed the Rayen Building on Wick Avenue before.
But did you know it was one of several buildings across Youngstown designed by Black architect P. Ross Berry?
Many of Downtown Youngstown’s most well-known buildings are from the 20th century, but one of the most prolific local builders made his mark during the 19th century.
“In the later part of the 19th Century, P. Ross Berry had impacts on probably almost every important building here in Youngstown and in New Castle, Pennsylvania, where he got his start in masonry,” said Traci Manning, curator of education at the Mahoning Valley Historical Society.
P. Ross Berry designed dozens of public buildings and private homes in Youngstown, including the original county courthouse, several churches, and the old opera house. Some historians estimate he built around 65 buildings altogether.
The term architect has shifted quite a bit since the 19th century, so the Mahoning Valley Historical Society refers to Berry as a “practical architect.”
“More than likely, Berry was the first African American to actually receive any contracts from a county, local or state or federal government,” said Dreck Wilson, professor of architectural history at Howard University.
Berry was born free in Pennsylvania where he helped design the Lawrence County Courthouse.
He moved to Youngstown after getting the contract to build the Rayen building. And in addition to his buildings, Berry also trained newly freed Black men who came to the valley after the civil war and employed them at his own foundry.
“I’m confident that there are dozens of ex-employees of Berry who went on to follow in his footsteps and have built buildings that are attributed to them that they learned from their time with Berry,” Wilson said.
Berry’s influence spread past the valley and outlasted the buildings he designed through the men that he trained.