Boardman Township is a thriving community with more than 19,000 residences and more than 3,000 businesses. Over the years, the township has seen historic structures and properties disappear and fall by the wayside, but a recent grant application may help preserve one of Boardman's most historic areas by creating a district to preserve the history of the former Southern Park Raceway.
According to Township Administrator Jason Loree, the township found out about the grant funds with only three weeks to make the deadline of Nov. 8. The grant funds, set aside for economic development projects, are from the state and are managed though the Regional Chamber. Boardman Township is asking for $1.8 million.
When the township found out about it, Zoning Inspector Sarah Gartland and assistant zoning inspector Marilyn Kenner went to work and completed an application to help form a new historic district. On Nov. 14, they went before a committee made up of representatives of the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, Regional Chamber and Western Reserve Port Authority to present their case.
"I think the possibility of getting this grant is very good," said Loree. "We did our homework, and had a lot of community support."
If the grant comes through, it will help initiate phase one of the new Boardman Historic District. The district will include the former Southern Park Raceway stables that were gifted to Boardman Park by the late Janie Jenkins. That structure, located at Washington Boulevard and Raupp Road, has been returned from a private residence into a stable that is presently used under a partnership with Mahoning County 4-H.
The former stable is located on the north side of Washington Boulevard. On the south side, the township had purchased the former Diamond Steel cold storage building on Raupp Road. The remaining parts of the 11-acre Smith property was gifted to the township. It included the Smith Homestead that was originally built by Henry H. Stambaugh and improved on by Clarence R. Smith Sr., founder of Diamond Steel. Also included was a 100-plus-year-old barn.
Loree said the original home was built as part of the race track that brought hundreds to Boardman to enjoy the horse racing card 100 years ago. Loree said at that time, most of Boardman was rich farmland and commercial properties were minimal.
By combining the former Jenkins property with the Smith property, a 20-acre historic district could be formed. Loree said the possibilities are numerous.
"The house and barn can be converted into rental space and can serve as a history museum and nature preserve," he said.
In order to make both historic sites available for public use, the township would need to make repairs, put in parking and walkways, and make street crossings. What would be public restrooms would have to be made handicapped accessible. The project would also require a feasibility study for creating community and rental spaces and marketing methods.
Loree said the project would be a joint effort, under the grant, with the township, Boardman Park District, the Smith family, OSU Extension, 4-H and other partners as time goes on. Part of the grant required working with state-approved nonprofit groups.
"That's why we partnered with 4-H and OSU Extension," Loree said.
Included in the Smith gift was a huge rock and mineral collection. Smith was a big collector and was a lapidary, a person who works with rocks and minerals to change them into artistic creations and jewelry.
"We have been talking with some local lapidary clubs about the collection," Loree said. "We would also love to partner with the (Youngstown State University) geology department to help catalog the rocks."
He said the collection could be preserved and used as an educational exhibit for students for years to come.
While Boardman Township is going after the grant, the new historic district would be a joint ownership between the township and the park district.
Gartland wrote in the grant, "The area [the 20 acres] will continued to be owned by the cooperating partners (Boardman Township and Boardman Park District) and a committee of representatives of both to oversee the decision making and direction of this site into the future."
She also mentioned the Smith homestead and barn would serve as a natural history museum and would require a museum staff.
One other interesting note concerning the Smith property and a partial nature preserve lies in two special trees. Smith had planted two California Redwoods on the property and one presently stands 90 feet tall. Loree said they are the only Redwoods in the area.
Loree said the final outcome of the grant application won't be known until April of next year when the grants will be presented to the Ohio General Assembly for approval. The grants that are accepted will then see funds available by next July to begin work on the project.