Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Canfield, the First County Seat

Old Mahoning County Courthouse in Canfield, Ohio. Photo: Robert C. Trube, all rights reserved

Unless you grew up in Canfield, it is likely that your first visit to Canfield was to go to the Canfield Fair. That was true for me. It was a memorable night with my dad–the rides, the animal barns, footlong hotdogs, and to top it all off, while we waiting to turn left into our street coming home, a drunk rear-ended us! Nobody was hurt, but the rear end of my dad’s ’61 Ford Galaxie was crumpled.

The fair came nearly 50 years after the first settlers from Connecticut settled in what was then Township 1, Range 3, shortly after it was surveyed in 1798. Six people purchased shares in the 16,324 acres making up the township. The largest share, 6,171 acres, was purchased by Judson Canfield. After briefly calling the township Campfield, they early settlers saw sense and on April 15, 1800, they voted to call it Canfield in honor of the largest landowner.

The earliest settlers were all from Connecticut. They included Judson Canfield who was there in June of 1798, two of the surveyors, Samuel Gilson and Joseph Pangburn, and Champion Minor with his wife and two children, the youngest dying shortly after they arrived. The center of town was laid out, a log cabin and two homes were built and a barn. They also cut an east-west road, what is now Route 224. Groups from Connecticut added to the settlement each of the next several years.

In 1801, the first business, a sawmill, was built on the northeast part of the townshipThe first birth occurred June 22, 1802, Royal Canfield Chidester. Herman Canfield (Judson’s brother) and Zalmon Fitch operated a store. Fitch also opened a tavern. A small school was started in a combined school, community center and church building with Caleb Palmer as teacher. Samuel Gilson handled mail delivery, traveling back and forth to Pittsburgh to get the mail. By 1805, the little settlement had 17 homes, a store, a school and a sawmill. Immigrants from Germany came in 1805. A significant later immigration of Irish Catholics in 1852 augmented the population.

Canfield was originally on the southern edge of Trumbull County (along with Youngstown, Poland, Boardman, Austintown, and the all the Township 1s and 2s in the southern part of Trumbull County, the county seat of which was Warren. In the 1840’s communities like Youngstown and Canfield were growing because of routing of canals and railroads through the area, even while the county was represented by people from the Warren area in the state legislature. Finally, in 1842, Eben Newton, one of Canfield’s leading citizens was elected to the legislature. Working together with others, a proposal creating Mahoning County as Ohio’s 83rd county passed in the state legislature on February 16, 1846. The southern two tiers of townships from Trumbull County were combined with the northern tier of Columbiana County (surveyed as 6 x 6 mile squares as opposed to the 5 x 5 system used throughout the Western Reserve).

And Canfield? Because of its central location in the new county, it was designated county seat, with the courthouse in the photograph above being erected. The town underwent a boom as it became the center to transact legal business, with its hotel thriving. County seats are typically the sites of the annual county fair, and the first Canfield Fair was held October 5, 1847 as a one day event. In 1851 the Fair moved to its present location, which was expanded in 1867. The first superintendent of the fair was J.W. Canfield, grandson of Canfield’s founder.

Canfield was the agricultural heart of the county, so this made sense. But Youngstown had never been happy about the decision to site the county seat in Canfield. Youngstown was going through its first industrial boom, starting in the 1840’s, and especially in the 1860’s during the Civil War. In 1874, a bill to move the county seat to Youngstown passed in the state legislature. The bill was challenged in court, first argued in Canfield with James A. Garfield representing Canfield. The case eventually went to the Ohio Supreme Court, with the court upholding the bill.

The move of the county seat to Youngstown meant a different future for Canfield, combining the feel of a farming community with Classical Revival architecture, giving the community a sense of refinement–a community of schools and churches. In 1881, the Northeastern Ohio Normal School was established in Canfield to educate teachers for the community. It operated until 1910 when it closed for lack of funds.

For most of the year, Canfield is known as a quiet, relatively affluent city of good schools, a town square that retains its historic character, and a diverse mix of restaurants and local businesses. But for one week of every year, the rest of the county, as well as people from far and wide come to the largest county fair in Ohio. That’s how most of us growing up in Youngstown discovered Canfield.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

5 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Canfield, the First County Seat

  1. We did not just go to the Canfield Fair. We were driven through gorgeouse Canfield! My love and I desire to live there for 6 months year and 6 months in San Diego, CA

    • Gina, I’m also a Youngstown native living in San Diego. Not sure which six months of great SD weather I’d give up for six months of Youngstown weather, though.

      I’d have to say that my personal experiences with Canfield were pretty much summed up in the last two sentences of Bob’s informative piece.

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