When I was a youth, I spent a great deal of time with my father and grandfather fishing on area lakes and streams, usually very early in the mornings, but on some evenings as well.
Lots of tall tales could be told about the one that got away from our experiences on the banks of the Shenango River in the portions that ran through Clark, Sharpsville and Sharon.
In addition, when we were going to fish for bass, my dad and I used a seine to net soft shell crabs under the Shenango Valley Freeway bridge spanning the river near Budd Street.
Because of my association with the river as a youth and working a stone’s throw from it at The Herald for nearly four decades, I have watched with interest how the river has evolved throughout the years.
Folks should be grateful for the good deeds of the Shenango River Watchers and for other attempts to keep it clean.
For many years, the river was a mess. Toxic contributions from the former River Road Landfill as well as the industry running along its banks almost killed it – posing ecological concerns as well as a danger to drinking water. With the cleanup of the landfill long ago and the sad closing of industry, much of the potentially poisonous burden was lifted.
Before the federal government built the dam (trivia time - it’s in Hermitage not Sharpsville) and created Shenango River Lake, generations will remember the river when it overflowed its banks during the spring thaw, causing lots of damage and anguish to the houses and businesses in the downtown Sharon area.
I was reminded of the river and its impact on the area in a front-page story on Nov. 3 about how the river can be used to draw residents to Downtown Sharon. A consulting firm from Rochester. N.Y., stressed the importance of the river as a community asset that could be the centerpiece of development.
The story evoked memories of one of the most fascinating stories that I had the privilege to write in my days as a rookie reporter at The Herald.
I was assigned to interview David Lewis, an architectural consultant with Urban Design Associates in Pittsburgh in the mid-1970s for a story for The Herald’s former weekly magazine, Spectrum. The cover featured a photo of the English-born Lewis gazing at the river from the State Street Bridge.
Lewis, who today is 90 years old and an emeritus principal of UDA, nearly four decades ago implored Sharon officials to use the river as its focal point in revitalizing a dying downtown business climate as shoppers were beginning to flee to plazas and malls. Lewis recognized the Shenango as a diamond in the rough, and said that most folks everywhere underestimate the value of having such a natural resource flowing through their town.
Through all of the pollution and factors contributing to the declining health of the Shenango, Lewis saw great potential in the river. However, as with so many studies concerning downtown Sharon, his recommendations were largely ignored.
I think he would be thrilled nearly 40 years later to hear about the River Watchers, preliminary discussions about the river waterfire project, and the use of the Shenango for events like the Lucky Duck Race and the Small Ships Revue.
He would be disappointed how Bicentennial Park has been ignored and fallen into deterioration, and maybe a bit dismayed that it has taken so long for others to act on his observations of many years ago.
I will never forget the afternoon that I spent with him, and how struck I was by his creative insight. He saw things about the dirty, polluted Shenango that most never could fathom. His observations, in retrospect, were way ahead of their time.
The development of the Shenango as an important marketing piece for Sharon I know would bring a smile to his face.
After all, he excitedly saw the river’s potential impact when most observed it as one of nuisances provided by nature.
Jim Raykie is the editor of The Herald and writes this column on Mondays. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org