Have you ever looked at a map of Mahoning County? Have you ever wondered why the five townships that make up the southern part of the county are bigger than the townships in the northern part of the county (six instead of five miles square), destroying what would be a neat rectangle? Have you wondered why the southern county line jogs north, cutting out parts of Green and Goshen Townships? Why is the county fair of Mahoning County in Canfield? And did you know that “Mahoning” is the fourth county designation in our local history?
Originally, the Mahoning Valley was part of a huge Washington County that stretched from the Ohio River to Lake Erie at the time of the Northwest Ordinance in 1787. General Arthur St. Clair set up the county on July 27, 1788. Eventually, the county was subdivided into a smaller northern portion, named Jefferson County. Then with the creation of the Western Reserve, what were the two rows of five townships in the northernmost part of what is now Mahoning County, became the southernmost part of Trumbull County. From 1800 to 1846, Youngstown was one of the villages in Trumbull County, and involved from the beginning in a battle for the honor of being county seat, the honor going to Warren.
In the 1840’s the routing of canals and railroads through Youngstown led to a much more rapid industrial expansion than in Warren. Warren’s old frame courthouse at the time was somewhat unbecoming and too small. Also, the growing population in Youngstown, Canfield, and other southern townships had no voice in the state legislature while those from the northern parts of Trumbull County dominated. Finally with the election of Eben Newton from Canfield in 1842 to the State Senate and representatives in the lower house from Youngstown forces coalesced over the next several years to explore several proposals for a new county. Finally, a proposal creating Mahoning County passed in the state legislature on February 16, 1846.
To keep Warren roughly central in Trumbull County, it was decided to form the new county out of the two southern rows of five townships (Poland, Boardman, Canfield, Ellsworth and Berlin, in the south, and Coitsville, Youngstown, Austintown, Jackson, and Milton in the north). It was also proposed to make the northern tier of Columbiana County townships part of the new county (Springfield, Beaver, Green, Goshen, and Smith). The Western Reserve townships were surveyed on five mile squares, Columbiana townships on six mile squares. That accounts for the irregular shape of Mahoning County with the southern tier of townships extending further west. Also, the jog in the southern county line of the new Mahoning County kept Salem in Columbiana County.
While the creation of Mahoning County resolved the conflict between Youngstown and Warren, it created a new one between Youngstown and Canfield. If you look at a map of the county, Canfield is geographically central. As it turns out, Canfield officials also were on the ball. Eben Newton, now a judge, donated the land for a courthouse and the people subscribed $10,000 for its construction, beating out Youngstown at the time.
With the creation of the new county with its county seat in Canfield, the new county staged its first county fair in Canfield the following year in 1847, the first of these annual events. Canfield got the county seat and the county fair, but the war for the seat of government in Mahoning County was not over. In 1876, Youngstown finally won the county seat. But that’s a story for another time.
And that is the story of how Mahoning became a county.
Howard C. Aley, A Heritage to Share: The Bicentennial History of Youngstown and Mahoning County (Youngstown: The Bicentennial Commission of Youngstown and Mahoning County, Ohio, 1975), pp. 67-72.
Joseph G. Butler, History of Youngstown and Mahoning Valley, Ohio. Volume 1 (Chicago: American Historical Society, 1921), pp. 184-191.