1928- Children’s Hospital moved to the block on the north side of the park.
1940s- Perkins Square would fall into disrepair and actually become a public nuisance. Only because the block had been designated as public land was it not developed., in
1954- Mayor Berg wanted to pave the block and turn it into a parking lot, but the good people at the Summit County Historical Society protested, and saved Perkins Square.
1959- Seemingly overnight, the city cuts down most of the trees and builds an ice skating rink. This action is rebuked by nature and history lovers, but the people of Akron enjoy the winter activity for the next five years.
1970- The park is rebuilt, basketball and tennis courts, sidewalks, benches, are among many improvements.
1989- Akron Children’s Hospital expands across Buchtel Ave.
2008- Akron Children’s Hospital opens the “Children’s Garden of Hope and Healing.” Additions include gardens, a walkway, benches for reflection, water sculpture, playground, and gardens.
The mill was a tub wheel type with a single run of stones. For all of us non-millwrights, let me try to explain. The grist mill was not the overshot type of wheel that we think of as the classic waterwheel. Rather, it was a predecessor to the water turbine. A tub wheel is a waterwheel laid on its side, and enclosed in a wooden or stone tub. The water runs down a manmade channel called a race on the upper side and hits the paddles, forcing the wheel to turn, before falling out a hole in the bottom of the tub. A shaft ran from the wheel to the upper mill stone, while the bottom one remained stationary. It is the least efficient of all the types of waterwheels, but that was of little concern, as the Little Cuyahoga ran with as much as 3 times more water than it does today. A tub wheel is also the easiest to build and maintain.
The speculation is that Hart “knew much less about mill construction than he did about … the seven seas”. Enter Aaron Norton. Aaron Norton had come from Goshen, Conn. at the request of his brother-in-law David Hudson. Hudson had experienced the same problem Hart would have in not being able to finish a mill. Once Norton finished Hudson’s mill on Tinkers Creek, he stayed and helped build a distillery and a saw mill. Next he built a grist mill on Mud Brook near what would be State Rd.
Aaron Norton had mill experience and knowledge, and he’d been looking at the same section of river as Hart for a new mill of his own. Hart sold Norton half of his property, and half interest in the mill, and a partnership was born. The grist mill was built on the west side of the river just north of where Bank St. is now. While work on the mill continued Hart began work on a cabin on the hillside above, off what is now Kent Ct. The construction was finished just in time because baby Eliza was born to the Harts in August 1808.
The surrounding communities were all based on farming, while Middlebury became a industrial and commercial center. As soon as the grist mill was done, work began on a saw mill that was also completed that same year. The next year, 1809 lots were sold to Rial McAuthur for a distillery and to John and Samuel Preston for a Carding and Fulling Mill.
-The grist mill produced one of the finest corn meals in the state. People came from as far away as Medina (several day’s journey then) to have their corn and grains ground here.
-The still produced a whisky that was not quite as smooth. One consumer was quoted as saying that it “would melt the bristles off a hog”. In 1817 Mr. Gillett opened a larger still, capable of producing up to 8 gallons a day. His whisky sold for 15 to 25 cents a gallon. During those early days of Middlebury, most merchants kept a keg on the counter with a sign, “for the patron’s enjoyment”.
-The carding and fulling mill had to do with the processing of wool. Carding is the process of running the wool through mechanical rollers with wire teeth that clean, brush, and straighten the fibers. This can be done by hand, but it is a slow and labor-filled process. The wool was then taken back home, spun into yarn and woven into cloth. Then the yarn was taken back to the factory to be fulled. Fulling is the process of adding moisture, heat, and pressure until the wool shrinks, making it thicker and stronger.
-I have/will reference some of the buildings and people that are associated with the founding and settlement of Middlebury, but it is by no means all of them. Just the construction of the grist mill and dam has been estimated to involve over 20 men. Later 60 men were employed in one way or another in the operation of the blast furnace. No record has been kept as to where they lived. Most likely for the first few years they stayed in shacks, lean-tos, and shanties during the summer. Then all but the few who had permanent cabins would return to New England for the winter and come back in the spring.
Starting in the summer of 1809 school was held in the home of Capt. Hart; it was taught by 17 year old Miss Sophia Kilbourne. Then in 1811 construction of a wood frame schoolhouse was built on the site of the present #2 firehouse at the corner of East Exchange and East Market. But by 1814 Cynthia Clark who was then the teacher reports that “school is held in a temporary log building”. School consisted of grades 1-8. Grades 9-12 would be held at the academy in Tallmadge, and were considered “higher education”. In the year 1810 the settlement got another big boost. A road was cut from Tallmadge that connected Middlebury with the settlements of Hudson, Stow, Franklin Mills (Kent) and further east to Warren. Some early maps name this as Hill Street, and later Tallmadge Road. Today we call it Eastland Ave. By the fall of that year, the new state road was continued into the woods to the west. It led to the settlement of Medina, the Cleveland Wooster road and on into Wooster itself. It was first called Medina Rd., but is now known as Market St.
1810 also marked the year that a man bought and started clearing land just to the west of Middlebury. After leaving for the winter, Major Spicer returned in the spring with his wife, children, brother-in-law, cousin and their families. It wouldn’t be until 15 years later that a land developer named Gen. Perkins would enlist the help of Spicer’s cousin, Paul Williams, and start a town that they hoped would develop around the new canal.
With the completion of the new state road, farmers in the surrounding area had easier access to the mills. They would congregate and socialize while they waited for their goods to be processed. Many would come one day, spend the night in their wagons, and return home the following day. Several men saw their opportunity to capitalize on this and built stores, inns, taverns, and hotels. More industry came taking advantage of the power of the Little Cuyahoga including tanneries, a blast furnace, and a trip hammer mill, just to name a few. Two stage coach lines ran through the town at this time, and it was said that “all roads lead to Middlebury”.
In the year 1818 Capt. Hart died leaving his son William in charge of his enterprises. William, along with Norton tore down the old mill and built a new two story grist mill on the east side of the river (later known as the Black Mill). William also laid out a town plan. It was something that hadn’t been done up to that point, but for reasons unknown, the plat wasn’t filed in the county seat of Ravenna till 1820 (this area was not Summit County until 1840).
The 1820’s were some of Middlebury’s finest years. It bears repeating that by 1825 Middlebury matched Cleveland in census and Akron was only a idea on paper. Just to say that the town’s commerce and industry were booming, does not do it justice. Picture a town with 6 general stores, and several specialty shops including a tailor, 3 boot and shoe stores, and even a millinery (ladies hats). There were 5 hotels and several taverns to complement the 2 stage coach lines. Industry included; 2 grist mills, 2 saw mills, 2 distilleries, 2 tanneries, a soap and candle factory, 3 carpentry shops that made cabinets, chairs, and doors and windows, a blast furnace, a rolling mill that also produced nails, and the carding and fulling mill that was mentioned earlier. Just down the road on the outskirts of town was a forge. To support all these, there were 3 blacksmith/machine shops, 2 liveries, and a stockyard. With all this business the town also supported 3 attorneys. Middlebury also had 2 doctors (they also served as dentists and veterinarians), a school, and a cemetery. In all this there were 0 churches (if you wanted to go to church, you had to travel to Tallmadge). It is estimated that 400 to 800 bushels of charcoal were needed daily to operate the forge, furnace, and various other industries. It was a massive business in itself and as a result the land was denuded for miles around.
Though thriving, the entire region became deflated, and as a result, hard cash was difficult to come by. Most transactions, including wages, were paid in barter. Then came the economic boost that the area needed.
From the time that the Ohio River was explored by George Washington, thought had been given to linking the Great Lakes and the Ohio River with a canal. It finally happened in 1825 when the state legislators voted to build that canal using the Cuyahoga, and Tuscarawas river valleys. However the connecting path between the two was not immediately determined. Wherever it went prosperity was sure to follow. Middleburians started preparations to persuade the State to build the canal through their community. A committee was formed and that committee started a newspaper, “The Portage Beacon”. It’s purpose being to tout the advantages of a channel through Middlebury. While all these preparations were going on, a enterprising land developer from Warren, Gen. Simon Perkins in partnership with a local farmer donated to the State the needed land for the canal. It was a shrewd business move; much to the dismay of the townsfolk, the Ohio & Erie Canal passed to the west of Middlebury.
Initially the canal provided a boost to the Middlebury community. Provisions and supplies were bought in Middlebury stores. Contracts for canal work from Cleveland to Summit Lake were let from Chittenden’s Hotel. Canal commissioners, representatives from the state, bidders, contractors, and laborers stayed in the hotels and taverns. Even after the canal started operation, Akron was considered just a weigh point for goods coming and going to Middlebury. That lasted only a few years; then as Middlebury continued to grow, Akron began to mushroom. Within a few years buildings began to spring up around the basin and locks of the canal. Then in 1831, Dr. Ephraim Crosby diverted the water power of the Little Cuyahoga and started to draw away industry prospects.
Dr. Crosby had given up his medical practice for more lucrative concerns; he first secured several contracts to help build the canal. Next he bought the blast furnace, and began manufacturing plows and farm equipment. He also built a 2nd grist mill and saw mill. He dammed up the Little Cuyahoga above town which brought the wrath of the townsfolk. Middleburians developed a scheme to dam the river even further upstream. To counter, Crosby came up with a scheme that he kept secret, but promised would “make grass grow in your streets and a goose pasture out of your town”. In partnership with Gen. Perkins, who already owned a large part of the land needed, they purchased the remaining lots needed to build a large mill race that would devert the Little Cuyahoga river from just below Bank Street, along the side of the valley, and enter the Canal at Lock 5. Parts of this race later became the P&O canal. The story goes that so as not to draw attention or raise suspicion of the secret project, the surveying was done at night and a third partner, Seth Iredell was used to purchase some of the needed land. The water power supplied by “Crosby’s Ditch” was enough to run a dozen mills in its 100’ fall back to the valley floor.
Now three areas were competing for dominance: Middlebury, already well established; the new town of Akron, centered around Main and Exchange (later known as South Akron); and the new village of Cascade (a.k.a. North Akron), centered around Market and Howard.
At one point there was a sign posted at the intersection of Exchange and Market leaving Middlebury that stated “AKRON” and had a hand pointing down Exchange. One night some North Akronites knocked it down and replaced it with one that had a hand pointing down Market. This continued back and forth till one night a brawl broke out. Afterwards guards were posted. An agreement was finally reached, and 2 signs were put up, and 2 hands, one pointing to “SOUTH AKRON” and one to “NORTH AKRON”. Over time North and South combined to become simply Akron.
Middlebury held its own for a while, but soon even the diehards could see the writing on the wall. Akron would become the leading city in the area, while Middlebury’s future became more uncertain. Even the town founder’s son, William Hart, left for the more prosperous Akron. Many people did stay and continued to build their life and future.
In 1831 Middlebury finally got its first church. The Presbyterians organized and erected a wood frame church behind the schoolhouse and near the public square. The Methodists would follow suit a few years later.
Up until 1838 each man voted in the respective township that he lived in, Middlebury consisting of the corners of four townships. Then in early May of that year, voters agreed to incorporate the village and elected a mayor and a town council. Like any town council they set about to make improvements, and “make vigorous attack upon all nuisances”. One of their first acts was in July. A number of hooks and ladders were purchased “to be used in cases of fire and not otherwise”. Other acts included; 1843, permission granted to build a horse drawn railroad for the transportation of coal from Springfield, 1845, construction of a stone bridge over the Little Cuyahoga (cost $578.55), 1847, construction of a second stone bridge (cost $350, the loss being absorbed by the builder). Also in 1847 the issue of sanitation was addressed when 50 bushels of lime were purchased ($10 worth!), when that didn’t work, each member of council was to “ examine and report what is necessary for a through cleaning of this town”
Voting rights differed greatly than they do today. The restrictions narrowed the list of eligible voters down to a select few. You had to be white, male, age 21 or over, and a land owner.
The issue of slavery continued to be a hot topic till after the civil war. One night after a public meeting and debate, a mob of people came to blows over the issue of abolition in the street outside the schoolhouse/town hall.
Middlebury finally reached its ambition of becoming a “canal town” on May 9, 1839. That is the day that it opened its port on the Middlebury Branch of the Pennsylvania & Ohio canal. Construction of the first several miles of the P&O canal and the Middlebury Branch started in Aug. previous year, and consisted of little more than widening Crosby’s mill race. The rest of the canal ending in New Castle, PA., would be finished in 1840 despite a finical crises and a cholera epidemic. A basin and docks were built on the north side of Bank St. Just downstream of the basin was the only lock on the entire Middlebury branch.
At nearly the same time the rail roads came through and the beginning of the end for the canals. Tracks had been laid from Springfield to haul clay and from Tallmadge to haul coal. Cars were pulled by horse or mules till the beginning of
Trivial items that don’t fit in anywhere, but some may find interesting.
-Early settlers let their cattle roam free. They (the cattle) would roam through the woods and intermingle with each other. To identify which cattle, sheep, and pigs belonged to whom, they would cut off part of the animal’s ear, and/or notch, and/or slit it. A controversy arose when two settlers claimed ownership of the same cow. Both settlers employed the same mark; one used the left ear, the other, the right. The argument was which is the left? And which is the right ear? Do you look at it from the cow’s point of view? Or do you look at it straight on? The justice ruled that the cow was an object, not a person, so you would look at it as a thing, straight on.
-Letting the animals run free was an open invitation to the wild creatures that also roamed the woods. Bears, wolves, coyotes, rattlesnakes, and the occasional bobcat also claimed the forest as home. Charles Whittlesey writes, “One of these creatures (a bear) took a shoat (a young pig) from a drove belonging to Capt. J. Hart, of Middlebury, in his presence. The Capt. followed him closely, but the bear evidently gained in the race till it came to a brush fence, and not being able to climb it with sufficient expedition, dropped the dying pig in order to secure himself.” (I’m thinking, how mad or desperate do you have to be to chase after a bear?)
-Early accidental deaths; John Godfrey, killed Dec. 25, 1820 from a fall in barn of Aaron Norton; Steven Upson II, killed Dec. 4, 1822 in falling a tree; a child of Nicholas Welsh drowned at Middlebury Sash Factory Aug. 1837
-In the year 1816, settlers here, around the country, and people around the world complained of the coldest summer ever; in many places the crops failed, animals starved, and food prices soared. It is said that it snowed in June and that in the northern states temperatures didn’t rise above 50 degrees that whole summer. In just in the township of Tallmadge, 13 women and children died from complications of the cold. Not until modern day did we realize that the volcano Tambora, in Indonesia, erupted the winter before spewing an estimated 150 tons of dust into the upper atmosphere, causing a global temperature drop. Ohio land owners in the eastern states took advantage of the situation, claiming that the Western Reserve was the land of milk and honey, “An Earthly Paradise”. Unknowing masses made the treacherous journey to the Northwest Territory, some only to find greater hardship.
-Cynthia Clark-Preston writes, “I came to Springfield in the spring of 1814, taught a school near the line of Springfield and Tallmadge, in a temporary log building on the bank of the Little Cuyahoga, a few rods west of the bridge, to accommodate the inhabitants of both townships near that place. This in those days was a very (wooded) place, the house surrounded except the road on one side with the forest. I recollect an unpleasant circumstance; one morning on entering the house the scholars being seated, I looked around to see if all was right and in addition to my school a large rattle snake coiled up in one corner of the room. We soon left except two or three boys who remained to dispose of it which was soon done with a shovel and tongs.”
“The place was then and until several years afterwards without a name. It then contained about 20 families, a grist and saw mill, a carding machine and clothing works or fulling mill. A store was opened this season by Peleg Mason. I think in 1814 there was no frame building except the school house and the store.”
-Until 1805, by treaty, the eastern boundary of Indian Territory/Western boundary of the United States was the Portage Trail, less than 3 miles away from Middlebury. The Natives gave little trouble to the settlers around here, and in fact kept summer camps in and around the Cuyahoga Valley till 1813. Eliza-Hart Kent, in her later years, could remember Indians coming to visit and sit on the stoop of her house that was built in 1827, but again, most Indians had left this area after the war of 1812.
- The Middlebury neighborhood was unfortunately the site of the first murder that was tried in Akron. Walter Henry immigrated to America and settled in Middlebury where he met Bridget Doyle. They were married Jan. 21, 1878, and together started operating a saloon at 143 Water St. (Case Ave.), residing in the same building. Walter or “Watt” as his drinking buddies called him, became his own best customer. On the night of Dec. 18, 1884, after “getting his fill” at his own establishment, he then made usual the rounds of the other neighborhood saloons. He got home late that evening, and the assault began. Watt struck Bridget with his fist, knocking her to the floor, and then proceeded to kick her with his heavy boots. She sustained heavy contusions about her head, torso, arms, and legs. Her ear was nearly ripped off and a later autopsy would show that she received 3 broken ribs, and many internal injuries. He left her unconscious on the floor, locked her in their room, and spent the remainder of the night in the barn next door. The next morning a neighbor found Bridget lying in bed, her head and upper torso covered in clotted blood. Mrs. Barlow asked “who has done this to you”. Mrs. Henry was able to reply, “Watt has done it. I am pounded to death.” Bridget suffered for a week till she died on Christmas evening. Mr. Henry was arrested and placed in jail on charges of willful and premeditated murder. At the preliminary trial, so many people crowded the city building that an arch under the floor collapsed and people feared the building would fall in. Proceedings were moved to the county court house where Henry plead “not guilty”. The Grand Jury convened Monday March 2, 1885. The trial lasted 6 days. (It was a different era in 1892 when the book was written from which the synopsis of this trial is taken. The names and addresses of the jurors and witnesses are given.) To make a long story/trial short, the prosecution said that what Mr. Henry acted with malice and intent and that 1st degree murder could be the only possible verdict. The defense’s argument was that Mr. Henry was a loving husband and that since he was drunk and didn’t know what he was doing; manslaughter was the only possible verdict. The jury ruled for murder in the 2nd degree and “Watt” was sentenced to spend the remainder of his life in prison where away from “the drink”, he became a model inmate.