Throwback Thursday: Mill Creek Park

Blog Author: Ellie Rafoth, Community Engagement Intern

This Thursday, let’s throw it back with naturalist Ray Novotny and learn about some of the history of Mill Creek Park!

Blast from the Past

ER: What is the history of Mill Creek Park?

image001RN: A positive vote by residents of the city of Youngstown on April 6, 1891 established Youngstown Township Park District (Mill Creek Park) as the first park district in the state of Ohio. So in early October we’ll be 123 and a half years old! Cleveland Metroparks became our state’s first metropolitan park district in 1917. Of course, through another vote, we converted our Ohio Revised Code park district status from township to metropolitan in 1989.

ER: What was Volney Rogers’ involvement in Mill Creek Park?

RN: He was born in 1846, the same year Mahoning County was created out of southern Trumbull and northern Columbiana counties and the Canfield Fair began. In the late 1880s, while working as an attorney here, his walks in the Mill Creek Gorge captivated and refreshed him. After he learned that logging and quarrying were on the horizon, he devoted his time to saving the area as a public park. And he spent the last three decades of his life caring and fighting for it. For many years, and especially recently, when I’m with visitors in the park, I like to say that if not for Volney Rogers, we wouldn’t be able to be in the park on that given day. We owe it all to him. What an honor indeed for me to stand in for him at his posthumous induction into the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Hall of Fame in Columbus on December 5, 2000. At the podium, I mentioned how appropriate for this recognition to occur the first week of the last month of the year: he came into this world on December 1st and left it 73 years later on December 3rd.

ER: What are some of the oldest places in the Park and their particular history?

image003RN: Well, our sandstone is millions of years older than dinosaurs, but let’s not go back quite so far. Two mills immediately come to mind. What is now Pioneer Pavilion began as a woolen mill in 1821. Later it served as a storage area for the early iron furnace nearby. We renovated it in 1893! And just a few years ago, the park updated the kitchen. Pioneer Pavilion is available to rent, and a wonderful place for up to 100 people. If readers haven’t been there, they should definitely put in on their bucket list. German Lanterman and Samuel Kimberly built the third mill in the gorge from 1845-46. It operated for 40-some years. The year after its establishment, the park acquired it “to preserve the relic.” Before the 1980s renovation, the structure served several purposes; my favorite being The Old Mill Museum, 1933-1982. I did extensive research on this facility for twenty years and could write many pages. I’ll sum it up by saying that, during its era, it was not only my favorite, but also many others’. At least a million and a quarter visitors viewed the nature and history exhibits displayed there.

ER: Any closing thoughts?

RN: In an article I wrote years ago, I referenced the list of “Mill Creeks” kept by the United States Board of Geographic Names. I just accessed it online: almost 1,700 Mill Creeks in our nation! I’m proud to say that the best one is right here!

Thank you Ray! Ray has worked at the MetroParks for many years and is very knowledgeable regarding the history of Mill Creek Park. To learn more about the history of Mill Creek Park, send us an email at!