By Ashley Luthern
On a quiet side street that connects Southern Boulevard and Market Street sits a sometimes forgotten piece of Mahoning Valley history.
Although Austintown might be home to a new thoroughbred racetrack, Boardman attracted national attention a century ago for the Southern Park Trotting Track, and thanks to a generous donation, a portion of that local history will remain for generations.
Janie S. Jenkins purchased Southern Park Stables, 126 Washington Blvd., in 1946. The longtime Vindicator feature writer was an equestrian and kept horses at the property, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and received an Ohio Historical Marker in 2003.
Jenkins, 90, died April 18, but long before then she had committed to donating the 8.33-acre property to Boardman Park. Jenkins served on the board of park commissioners for nearly a decade.
The deed stipulates the park must preserve the property historically and use it only for park purposes, said Daniel N. Slagle Jr., Boardman Park executive director.
“Part of our mission is to preserve the history of Boardman, and Janie’s property being what it is, we’re, No. 1, glad to have it, and, No. 2, our mission is to preserve it as a landmark,” he said.
The racetrack has a storied history, beginning in the early 1900s with local leaders Henry H. Stambaugh, state Sen. David Tod and Atty. David Arrel funding much of the half-mile track. George Dietrich was chosen to manage the track, which sat on 55 acres.
A 1915 The Horse Review article also noted the excitement at a July 1915 race that drew “overflow crowds” and noted that “so many people came in autos that their passage across the track interfered somewhat with the racing.”
“A day at the Youngstown races, however, is bound to be pleasurable even to those who take little interest in the race horse,” said the 1915 article.
Equestrian novices were entertained because Southern Park didn’t just have the track, grandstand and stables, but also was home to a dance hall, picnic pavilions and baseball diamonds, according to the Ohio Historical Society.
Jenkins’ house and property were originally Arrel’s private training stables built about 1912 to house his standardbred horses. The stables are the last remaining structure of Southern Park.
After Jenkins purchased the property, she kept her horses there, riding into her 80s. She welcomed visitors expected and unexpected, such as township police officer Jack Neapolitan.
“One day about a year ago, I saw her walking down the long driveway to get her paper. After that I became her paperboy,” Neapolitan joked.
So began his daily ritual of bringing Jenkins’ copy of The Vindicator from its roadside box to her porch.
Slagle said the park board is still researching how best to use Southern Park Stables. The main considerations are the property’s remote location from the rest of the park grounds and budget limitations.
“We’d like to make good use of this stable, but I don’t think the park board wants to get into horses. If we could work with an established horse organization who wants to use the facility, that would probably be an ideal situation,” Slagle said.
He praised Jenkins for her meticulous attention to the property but said he wasn’t surprised given Jenkins’ love of horses.
During her 42-year career at The Vindicator, Jenkins covered the Canfield Fair for 17 years and wrote about a variety of subjects, including history and animals.
Boardman Trustee Thomas Costello said Jenkins was “a neat lady, just a wealth of information and a genuinely nice person.”
“She was capable of thinking way beyond, and she’s leaving that lasting legacy,” Costello said of the stables.
Costello said many people have forgotten or simply don’t know that the Southern Park Mall was named after the racetrack.
“I’ve been around long enough that I know it’s important for our next generation to be able to go someplace like Janie’s property,” Costello said.
He said that contributions from residents, such as Jenkins and Thomas Masters, who was instrumental in moving the St. James Meeting House to the park, are invaluable.
“It’s people like that who I believe make Boardman such a nice place to live,” he added.