on the river was a royal sport during the early years of the 19th
century. It was a form of entertainment, social activities and recreation,
for there were no television, radios and all the things we have
today to entertain us.
Proficient drivers studied the winter conditions of the Mahoning
River and were pretty good judges as to when the ice would be in
perfect condition for racing; providing, of course, that the temperature
remained the same or grew colder. After the ice reached a 2”
thickness, members of the area sportsmen club, sent invitations
out to the river racing enthusiasts of the surrounding areas.
The gentlemen often made a trial run over the course between Youngstown
and Warren the day before the race, testing the smoothness of the
surface. High spirited sportsman would arrive in Youngstown in gay
colored sleighs or cutters to which were hitched with high-stepping
horses. The horses, well-groomed and wearing fancy harnesses, were
really something to see. The sleighs, with their glistening runners,
were equipped with warm woolen or buffalo robes to keep their drivers
and riders warm.
In Youngstown, the day of the big event, the two horse sleighs and
cutters would line up abreast and at the judge’s signal they
were off on a wild, dashing, fifteen-mile race to their Warren destination.
At each settlement along the river, everyone gathered on the river
bank to wait for or the high-spirited horses to come into sight,
flash by, and quickly disappear in the direction of the finish line.
It was customary that either the losers, or the men in the last
sleigh to reach the destination, were the paying hosts and a sumptuous
dinner was enjoyed by all, winners and losers.
During those early days, prominent pioneers such as Judge George
Tod, Judge William Rayen, John E. Woodbridge,
and Colonel James Hillman of Youngstown, General Elijiah
Wadsworth and Comfort Mygatt of Canfield, Simon
Perkins and Calvin Pease of Warren, and Robert
Montgomery and David Clendennen of Coitsville, were
members of the sportsmen’s club.
There’s a legend about one particular river race in which
those notable pioneers participated, and which had an interesting
end. As the starting time drew near for this particular race, Judge
Rayen shouted, “Get your horses on the starting line,,, Remember,
The last six contestants to cross the finish line buy dinner for
all twelve gentlemen…Are you ready?,, Then… let’s
For days before this particular race, most of the contestants had
driven and raced over the course, testing the smoothness of the
ice. But one man’s business reportedly kept him so busy that
he didn’t have time for a ‘trial’ run. But what
the other sportsmen didn’t know was that Henry Talbot
did his ‘trial’ running in the middle of the night,
at which time he placed a flock of turkeys in a very convenient
area along the course.
When the participants had covered about three-quarters of the course,
turkeys came flying and sliding across the ice in front of their
horses; consequently, it took the drivers at least five minutes
to get their horses under control and headed in the right direction.
Dr. Taylor crossed the finish line, excited that he had arrived
first; but, he soon learned that Henry Talbot had arrived five minutes
ahead of him. Colonel Hillman of Youngstown arrived next and he
was very upset to learn that he was the third, not the second one
to cross the finish line. Then the winner was asked where he had
been when the turkeys caused so much confusion on the river, Talbot
answered, “Why I followed the course on the other side of
the river; besides my horse is stone deaf so the commotion didn’t
Over the ensuing years the river has changed. Industrial development
along the river banks and use of the river water has become sizeable
enough that the water is too warm to freeze. The United States Corps
of Engineers is supposed to be dredging the Mahoning River to clean
it up, however we have not seen much evidence of this. Maybe some
day our great grandchildren can once again enjoy the Mahoning river
as residents used to at the turn of the century
Several years ago we were asked to furnish pictures to be placed
at the new O’Charley’s Restaurant by the Eastwood Mall.
There is a large copy of this picture there. ..
and now you know the rest of the story…