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!
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!
Map of Mahoning County showing original lots and farms from 1860. Image source: Library of Congress
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 as Ohio’s 83rd 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.
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