Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Judge William Rayen

Judge William Rayen

Judge William Rayen

The name Rayen is one I encountered often in Youngstown. There was Rayen Avenue. Chaney would play Rayen in City Series sports. When we attended Youngstown State, home games were still played at Rayen Stadium. The university has a Rayen School of Engineering, which at one time used classrooms in the original Rayen School building. We used to walk down Wick Avenue from Youngstown State to downtown past the original Rayen School, which serves as the home of the Youngstown Board of Education.

So who was Judge William Rayen? Born in Kent County, Maryland October 1, 1776, he and his wife, Margaret Caree Rayen operated a mercantile in Westmoreland, Pennsylvania from 1796-1799.  They moved to Youngstown by 1802 or earlier, and so qualify as early settlers. The first Youngstown township meeting to elect township officials was held in Rayen’s home on April 5, 1802. He operated a tavern and mercantile at Spring Common, near where the B & O Railroad station was eventually located.

He fought in the War of 1812 as a colonel in the First Regiment, Third Brigade of the Western Reserve. Returning to Youngstown, he filled various township positions including township clerk, postmaster (running the post office out of his store), and eventually an associate judge on the Trumbull County bench (before Mahoning County was a separate county). In 1840, the state legislature appointed him as president of the board of public works for the state. He was a director of the Pennsylvania and Ohio Canal Company, a stockholder in the Cleveland and Mahoning Railroad Company, the first in the valley, and first president of the Mahoning County Bank, the first bank in Youngstown. He owned extensive lands with stables, orchards, and livestock, including merino sheep.

Both of William and Margaret’s children died in infancy, and Margaret died in 1826. In later life, he was often seen sitting on a bench under a large tree in front of his home, hands folded on top of a gold-headed cane. He would talk to whoever came by and one account says he was often surrounded by young people who felt free to discuss their problems with him.

He regretted that he had not had more opportunities for education in his youth and was concerned about educational opportunities being available to the poorest youth. When he passed in 1854 it was learned that he had left a bequest that came to $31,390 to establish a public high school in Youngstown, the first in the city. In his will, he wrote:

“As this school is designed for the benefit of all youth of the township, without regard to religious denominations or differences, and none may be excluded for such or the like reasons or grounds, I hereby prohibit the teachings therein of the peculiars religions, tenets, or doctrine, of any denomination or sect whatever; at the same time I enjoin that no others be employed as teachers than persons of good moral character and habit who by precept and example will instill into the minds of those under their charge the importance of industry, morality, and integrity in all the relations of life.”

In an era where schools were sectarian, and excluded those who did not subscribe to a particular faith, Rayen was forward-looking in making educational opportunity open to all without distinction. Dying childless, he made the children of Youngstown his heirs.

Rayen School

The Rayen School as it appeared shortly after it opened.

In 1866, the vision behind his bequest was realized when The Rayen School opened at Wick and Wood Street. Over time, the building was added to but still stands today as a tribute to the vision of Judge William Rayen. The words “Industry, Morality, Integrity became the motto of Rayen High School. In 1923, the high school moved to Cora and Benita until it closed in 2007. The stadium lives on and has been renovated, with the field being named the Jack Antonucci Field, in honor of a Rayen alumnus. The name “Rayen” lives on throughout the city, reminding us of this city father and his vision for public education.

8 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Judge William Rayen

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