YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — The heart of a once-thriving North Side neighborhood in Youngstown is about to be carted off to a landfill.
Plans are underway to demolish the former Saint Augustine Episcopal Church on Parmalee Avenue, a building designed by famed local architect Charles Owsley that was erected in 1921.
The church is across the street from the emergency room at St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital. Mercy Health owns the building and plans to demolish it and use the space for “future growth,” Mercy Health said in a statement.
The church property is one of several that the hospital system purchased on Parmalee Avenue for added space should the need arise for further expansion, the release said. The release said the building itself is beyond repair.
There is no date set yet for demolition, but pictures last week on social media showed construction equipment on the site of the church. The equipment has since been moved.
The building was labeled a historical site in 2008 by the Ohio Historical Society because it was the oldest African American congregation still in its original building in Youngstown.
A former officer of the church, Robert Davis, said the church was damaged by a flood in the basement several years ago, which led to mold in the basement.
“We couldn’t have church mainly because of the mold,” Davis said.
In several years church membership has waned to only six or seven members, Davis said. He said most of those members attend Saint John’s Episcopal Church on Wick Avenue.
The church was started by Lenora Evans Berry in 1907 and her husband, Thomas D. Berry, who was the son of P. Ross Berry, the renowned mason and bricklayer who helped to build several of the city’s most well-known buildings, including the first Rayen School, Saint Columba Cathedral and the First Presbyterian Church.
The congregation met in another building as plans for a new church were made. In 1920, plans began in earnest, and on Sept. 11, 1921, the cornerstone was laid to begin construction as over 600 people were on hand.
In recent weeks, preparations for demolition can be seen as the windows have been removed from the church. Through the open windows, some of the church’s furniture can be seen piled up against the walls inside.
Bill Lawson, of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, said the building is one of the few left that bears the imprint of both Owsley and Berry.
He said the church membership was declining steadily over the last 70 years, propelled by the push by people moving out of the city which began in 1960.
“It’s significant that you have a connection between Owsley and Berry, and it was a vibrant part of the North Side and close to the center of the African American neighborhood on the North Side,” Lawson said.
Celia Mahone said she did not know of the impending demolishing of the church until she saw a post on social media about it.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Mahone said.
Mahone was not a member of the church but her grandmother, who used to live on Parmalee Avenue across the street from the emergency room, was. Mahone said she whenever she slept over her grandmother’s house on a Friday, she would join her grandmother and the church’s Altar Guild on Saturday mornings and help them polish the silver in the church. Her grandfather was also a janitor at the church, she said.
Davis said that while he is sad to see the building be torn down, he added that because of the mold damage, the building is no longer useful.
“I think it needs to be down,” Davis said. “The building is over 100 years old. It was a good building and served its purpose, but not built with the best products, and it was deteriorating very rapidly.”