By kalea hall
Jason Loree and Sarah Gartland stood at the end of Raupp Avenue imagining all they could create with Boardman Township’s recently obtained property from Clarence R. Smith Jr.
Among them are a museum, a place for parties, a place for community gatherings and, most of all, a place for everyone to remember.
They’re just some of the ideas the township administrator and zoning inspector, as well as Boardman Park leaders, have in store for the future Southern Park Historic District. To help realize their plans, they applied for a $1.8 million state grant and are waiting to find out if they received it.
“This was going to happen,” Loree said. “It was just a long-term project, with this grant it is now possible.”
Boardman Township purchased part of the 11.1 acres of Smith’s land this year. The purchase included a Diamond Steel equipment building and offices — a company created by the Smith family. After the township’s purchase, Smith decided to donate his home and barn. The main section of the home was built in the early 1900s and the barn, which was Henry Stambaugh’s, was built in 1912.
Smith also donated a collection of items to the township, which some hope will be part of a museum on the site.
Gwen Smith, Clarence Smith’s daughter, called the donation “a dream come true.” The property is her 85-year-old father’s life.
“He hated to see it torn down,” Gwen said. “He loves the community of Boardman and wanted to give back.”
For two weeks, township and park leaders worked on the grant application they submitted this month.
Dan Slagle, Boardman Park executive director, became involved because the park owns the Southern Park Stables.
In the early 1900s, the Southern Park Raceway was a place for well-off Youngstown leaders to gather for horse racing. The site was built by Stambaugh, Sen. David Tod and Atty. David Arrel, and it was originally 55 acres. The only original set of stables left are Arrel’s private training stables, which were maintained by the Jenkins family. Janie Jenkins, a long-time Vindicator features writer, gifted the stables to Boardman Park in 1993 with a lifetime estate clause until her death in 2012.
The stables are on the National Register of Historic Places, and the 4-H Club is using the little more than 8 acres given to the park.
“I think the whole idea, as far as how it is important, No. 1 is obviously the grant to make some huge improvements to both properties and also the formation of the Southern Park Historic District, which will hopefully maintain these properties,” Slagle said. Preserving the history of the Southern Park Raceway is an important part of the project, since it was considered “the sports center of the area.”
A search through The Vindicator archives provided this description and proved how popular this raceway was from 1908 until it closed in 1925. A picture believed to be from 1916 showed thousands surrounding the half-mile track. More than 500 thoroughbred horses, some that gained fame, were housed at the raceway.
The headline “Clarence R. Smith Jr. purchases historic Southern Park for estimated $45,000,” spread across the top of the page in the Feb. 23, 1950, Vindicator story.
Clarence Smith Sr. spoke for his son in the story and told The Vindicator the land would not be used for racing, but for building houses. At that point three homes were on the land, and only one barn was left.
The raceway was once known as Ohio’s most famous horse and harness racing plants. Outside of horse races, dog races and auto races also took place there. Area high schools also used it for track and field. Some of the thoroughbreds that died at the racetrack are still there. One horse died from what veterinarians said was exhaustion after covering a mile in 2 minutes, 10 seconds.
A quote from the Feb., 23, 1950, story reads: “A sylvan spot of rare beauty in its heyday, Southern Park, no doubt, brings back memories of many pleasant afternoons to the thousands of fans who patronized the races, danced and held parties.”
The goal is to preserve what is left of Southern Park for education and economic opportunities.
“I think this is one of those situations where if you don’t preserve it, it is a crime,” Loree said.
The project is not just between Boardman Township and Boardman Park. Also included is the Smith Family, Ohio State University Extension 4-H and other future partners.
The application for the Ohio Capital Grant submitted by the partners in the project lays out a future lot with classroom space, a nature museum, historical structure restoration, natural land preservation, formal gardens, community meeting space and rental space. A horse ring, nature trails and pastures are also a part of the plans.
The Smith residence is aligned with gardens that include redwood trees from California. The house itself is picturesque, especially with a wintry landscape. There are many uses for the house from reception halls to classrooms.
The barn was once used for dairy cows.
“As this progresses, we could utilize [the barn] for educational-presentation purposes,” Loree said.
The grounds eventually will serve as picnic areas and communal space. There may even be horse-drawn carriage rides along a red-brick road. But before any of the improvements happen, the township and its partners with the project need to hear if they won the grant.
In the meantime, they also are working on declaring the property a historic district, which will expand the possibilities to apply for more grants.
“We are excited and hopefully the grant gets approved so we can make these improvements and then we will be able to make this a community space,” Slagle said.