Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Great County Seat Horse Race

Vintage European style engraving featuring horse racing with jockeys by Charles Simon Pascal Soullier (1861). Original from the British Library. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel. Licensed under CC0 1.0

One of the most fascinating stories in Joseph Green Butler’s History of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley is that of a horse race that occurred some time before 1810 on Federal Street. At stake? Whether Warren or Youngstown would be the county seat. You must remember that at this time, Warren had been designated the county seat ahead of the little village further down the Mahoning River.

The good people of Warren had a horse by the name of Dave that they thought could outrun anything. They even added a $500 wager, they were so sure of themselves.

The early founders of Youngstown were horse people. Judge George Tod, Judge William Rayen, James Hillman (who met John Young on his first surveying trip), and John Woodbridge. Judge Tod agreed to their bet and covered the $500 wager. He selected a bay mare owned by James Hillman and trained and curried the horse to perfection.

The race would begin at Judge Rayen’s home, located near Spring Common and run through the village on Federal Street ending at Crab Creek, a distance of about a mile. Everyone took off work that day. People from Youngstown lined up on the south side of the street. Those who came down from Warren were on the north side. A spectator observed that people “bet what money they had, bet watches, penknives, coats, hats, vests, and shoes.”

His account continues:

“Alexander Walker rode Fly, and under his tutelage the Youngstown horse forged ahead in passing Henry Wick’s store. At Hugh Bryson’s store Dave came alongside, but the spurt was unavailing as Walker plied his whip and gave a few Indian warwhoops and Fly shot ahead once more. Dave’s chance vanished then and there, for Fly reached Crab Creek six lengths ahead. In fact Fly had entered so thoroughly into the spirit of the affair by this time that she refused to stop at all and was brought up only at Daniel Sheehy’s cabin, a mile beyond the goal.”

Youngstown won the race and the $1000 purse. Youngstown bettors filled their pockets with winnings. But the county seat remained in Warren. It turns out that you can’t bet county seats and Youngstown wouldn’t even be the first county seat when Mahoning County was formed. Canfield held that honor from 1846 until 1876, when, after an Ohio Supreme Court decision, the county seat moved to Youngstown. It turn out that it takes more than a horse race to claim a county seat. But what a great story!

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

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