Welcome to the second installment of my journey to Minor League Sports Nirvana. This article will have more of a cultural bend. The little town of Niles, Ohio has lost much of its luster from being part of the Steel Valley to now being merely a stopover for turnpike drivers. There is more to be seen here though.
Niles is one of those towns that you see everywhere in the Midwest, more specifically, in the Rustbelt area. It is a town that grew to prominence with the emergence of the steel industry. But with progress came the end of that prosperity and Niles, along with most towns in the region fell on hard times. But it’s not all doom and gloom. There are still things that the area hangs its hat on. One of which is being the birthplace of Ohio’s favorite son, President William McKinley.
Situated along the main drag of Niles is the Niles McKinley Memorial and Library. What some have called a little slice of Washington DC is a granite pillared memorial to the late President. Even though it was cloudy with a little mist coming down, it was hard to overlook the beauty of the structure. At the center, surrounded by a flower bed, was a large marble statue of William McKinley. All around him were busts of some of the important men from Ohio including Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Warren G. Harding.
Along the road, there are certain things that catch your eye. For me, it’s neon signs and buildings that are clear to be from the 50’s and 60’s. Niles has its share of both. On the way to the game, I saw a sad little motel with a broken out neon sign called the “Villa Arms Motel”. One of those places that you wouldn’t want to be caught dead at but kinda cool to drive by. The same was with the interesting architecture of the Sunshine Buffet Chinese Restaurant with its high front roof and golden lions guarding the doorway.
When we got lost and turned around on our way to the Mahoning Valley Scrappers baseball game (see article #1 of series) we happened upon a giant man made of metal. It turned out that he was the mascot for a local scrap metal recycling company. It drove the point home of Niles being a former steel power. It was also a sad reminder of what this and many of the towns in the Rustbelt have turned into. But this is what I live to see when I come into a new town; rallying around something even though the jobs and prosperity have left long ago. Never count out human perseverance.
So join me next time when I’m in a new city exploring the wonders of minor league sports. Here is a hint of what’s to come.
And as always,
Tim Pawlak (aka 110isnotdead on LOMO) is a librarian, writer, photographer and amateur historian (gotta use that History Degree somewhere). Massillon, Ohio (about an hour south of Cleveland) is where he calls home. He loves to get the feel of every new town he comes to and capture it on film.