Honoring Black Historical past: Youngstown architect leaves legacy in downtown buildings

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P. Ross Berry designed dozens of public and private homes in Youngstown

by: Samone Blair

Posted: Feb 3, 2021 / 7:00 PM EST
Updated: February 3, 2021 / 7:20 PM EST

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – You have probably passed the Rayen Building on Wick Avenue before.
But did you know that it is one of several buildings in Youngstown designed by the black architect P. Ross Berry?

Many of the most iconic buildings in downtown Youngstown date from the 20th century, but one of the most prolific local builders made a name for himself in the 19th century.

“In the later half of the 19th century, Fr. Ross Berry had an impact on probably almost every major building here in Youngstown and New Castle, Pennsylvania where he began his stonework,” said Traci Manning, curator of education at Mahoning Valley Historical Society.

P. Ross Berry designed dozens of public and private homes in Youngstown, including the original county court, several churches, and the old opera house. Some historians estimate that he built around 65 buildings in total.

The term architect has changed a lot since the 19th century, which is why the Mahoning Valley Historical Society calls Berry a “practical architect”.

“Most likely, Berry was the first African American to actually get contracts from a county, town, state, or federal government,” said Dreck Wilson, professor of architectural history at Howard University.

Berry was born free in Pennsylvania, where he helped design the Lawrence County Courthouse.
He moved to Youngstown after winning the contract to build the Rayen Building. In addition to his buildings, Berry also trained newly liberated blacks who came to the valley after the civil war and employed them in his own foundry.

“I’m confident that there are dozens of former Berry employees who have followed in his footsteps and built buildings that are attributed to them and that they have learned from their time with Berry,” said Wilson.

Berry’s influence spread across the valley, outlasting the buildings he had designed by the men he trained.