Mineral Ridge, Ohio, was a small village of 22 streets in 1940. It straddled the border between Trumbull and Mahoning Counties. The less-than-mile long main street, unsurprisingly called Main Street, was a gentle, low-grade hill sloping from north to south. Side streets, most only one block long, extended east and west from Main Street.
Meandering through Mineral Ridge's 46 pages of the 1940 U.S. Census was like taking a little tour of the Ridge. Street by street, page by page, I could track the methodical walk of George L. Bell, the census taker. Going from house to house, one by one, he visited each of its 461 homes. He commenced his duties in Mineral Ridge on Tuesday, April 2, and reached the last house on Wednesday, May 1.
He began his route on Ohltown Road on the south end of the Ridge. He'd written "Old Town Road." He was right that it was an old town: an old coal mining town with the mines long since closed. He reached Main Street, traveled north, then went down one side of each side street and back up the other, returning again to Main Street. There were few side streets on the west side of Main. When he reached the last one toward the center of the village, he crossed over to the east side of Main Street and began his walk down one side of each side street and up the other.
As I followed Mr. Bell's circular route through the pages of the census, the street names were like old friends. I could imagine them all in my mind's eye. Depot Street was named for the railroad tracks which it crossed. My mother always said a train whistle was a lonely, haunting sound, the sound of a loved one being carried away from home. And there was Blunt Street. On the east side of Main Street, there were "Kelley" (correctly spelled Kelly), Harding, and Williamson Streets. There was Morris Street, where my great-grandparents, Edward Jesse and Mary Bickerstaff, had lived in the house that Grampa built.
Furnace Street, where my parents and grandparents lived, ran parallel to Morris Street. They say Furnace Street was named for the furnaces that stood at its end in the heyday of the Ridge's coal mining days. Down past our house on Furnace Street was a beautiful woods. As a child my parents told me I could not go into that woods. It came across to me almost as a penalty of death if I trespassed. The woods, with its tall trees, offered cooling shade and inviting places to investigate. But I resisted the temptation, reasoning that if I crashed through into one of the mines, I would die; if I escaped that death, I would die at the hands of my parents for disobeying (believing my parents would have stealthily found out that I'd been in the woods - my mother was like that!).
Other streets were Locust Street; Burnett Street, where my cousin lived; Prospect, Carver, and Warner Streets. Warner Street was in the country when I was young. It was all farmland then and a wonderful place to ride a bike. On to Salt Springs Road, then back to Ohltown Road again and on to Main Street.
Main Street, State Route 46, was a main thoroughfare and was the only paved road in Mineral Ridge. The side streets of the Ridge were covered with tar-bound Macadam: a layer of tar coated with small gravel which was pressed into the tar. There were no sidewalks. In the photo above you can see how rural the road looks -- 20 years after the 1940 census was taken. Mr. Bell must have had a dusty time of it.
With Mr. Bell I visited the Seiferts, Garlands, Keelings, Crofts, Ludwicks, Breezes, Morrises, and the Aults. None of the children I knew were in those homes. None of us were born yet. But families stayed in the Ridge for several generations. I went to school with grandchildren of some of some of those families. Grandchildren of other residents of the Ridge were already grown. There was Dr. Caskey and his wife, who sometimes substituted when I was in elementary school. She recommended that I read The Secret Garden. There were the Hiblers, the Michels (with a daughter who was my aunt's best friend), the Bakers, and the Frymans, all on Furnace Street. (Three of their homes are pictured in the photo above.) There were names I didn't recognize, too, of people who died or moved on before I was born.
I don't know how Mr. Bell felt about taking the 1940 census in Mineral Ridge but it was very satisfying following along behind him. I'm grateful for the impression I had to look through the pages of the census before it was indexed. By doing so I was able to learn who the neighbors of my family were and reminisce about little Mineral Ridge. I probably won't be around when the 1960 census comes out. Perhaps my grandchildren will find my classmates in many of the homes on its pages.
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