Archives: February 2012
If you are in a vehicle that is tall enough (truck, SUV,) to see over the edge of the high level, new 8 expressway bridge, going south toward downtown, you can see parts of the Middlebury Hydraulic/Cascade Race and the Pennsylvania & Ohio Canal. Best to be a passenger and let someone else do the driving and watch the traffic. I’d hate to lose a reader due to their love of history.
Much better, go to the Bing Map web page http://www.bing.com/maps/ and zoom down to that area. (search “Furnace Street, Akron, Ohio” then move a little to the east) They have a WONDERFUL feature that is called “Birdseye View” that lets you look at the area at a angle rather than straight down. Also, Bing has taken their satellite pictures in the early spring before the leaves on the trees block the view. There is another feature that will let you view from North, South, East, and West. Explore around a little and find the south bank of the Little Cuyahoga River Valley, just west of the Rt. 8 bridge. You will be able to see what looks like a large ditch full of standing water. That is what was the Middlebury/Cascade Race and the Pennsylvania & Ohio canal.
The Middlebury Hydraulic/Cascade Race
Dr. Ephraim Crosby moved to Middlebury in 1820. Middlebury was a town centered around the intersection of East Market and Case Ave. in what is now Akron, but back then there was no Akron. Akron consisted of farmland and what could not be plowed was virgin forest. Middlebury was the biggest industrial and commercial center for miles around with a population nearly equaling Cleveland.
Dr. Crosby gave up his medical practice for more lucrative concerns in 1825. He first secured several contracts to help build the O&E canal. Next he bought the blast furnace in Middlebury, and began manufacturing plows and farm equipment. He also built a two story grist mill and saw mill. He dammed up the Little Cuyahoga above town which brought the wrath of the townsfolk. Middleburians developed a plan 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, and Judge Leicester King, they purchased the remaining lots needed to build a large mill race that would divert the Little Cuyahoga river from just below Bank Street, along the side of the valley, and enter the O&E Canal at Lock 5 (now Cascade Plaza.) 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 forth partner, Seth Iredell was used to purchase some of the needed land. The water power supplied by “Crosby’s Ditch,” as the Middleburyians called it, was enough to run a dozen mills in its 100’ fall back to the valley floor. The race which opened in 1831, really was no more than a large ditch that dropped only 18” in its 1 1/2 mile trek. However, it was responsible for helping Akron grow to the city that it is today.
The area in the first picture is currently referred to as “tent city” by the area homeless. There is some kind of full circle thing going on, because Crosby hired Irish emigrants that had been working on the O&E Canal, to dig the race. They set up tents and shanties in the exact same area while working on the race. The area was known for years after as “Little Dublin.”
Pennsylvania & Ohio Canal
The Pennsylvania & Ohio Canal was first surveyed in 1823 by Alfred Kelly, State of Ohio Canal Commissioner, who deemed it would be possible to build a canal from Akron to Pittsburgh. His recommendation was that “Since the canal would go through 2 states, it should be built and operated by a private company,” rather than state owned. Over 10 years would be spent in planning and financing. One big change here in Akron was that the canal was rerouted from its original plan of leaving the O&E Canal just north of Lock 1 and going due east through Middlebury. The same men that built the Cascade Race realized the economic advantage of having the canal go through North Akron. Using their influence, the canal was rerouted to go north, down Main Street, and enter the Cascade Race at Mill Street. Advantages were that the race need only be widened, the canal entering at Old Forge would feed more water into the race, and trade would be further encouraged on the north end of town.
Work did not officially begin on the P&O till Sept. 17, 1835. Work was delayed in 1837 by an out break of Cholera that killed 29 workers in (what would be) Portage County alone. There was also a “Economic Panic” that year. Very little work was done till the State of Ohio bought a $420,000 stock subscription. The Pennsylvania & Ohio Canal from the lower basin to Old Forge, and the Middlebury Branch were both opened in May 1839. A $50,000 donation from the State of Pennsylvania was needed to finish the canal through to the Ohio River in that state. The first boat traveling the entire length from New Castle to Akron was on April 3, 1840. The P&O canal didn’t officially open till Aug. 4 when four packet boats started out from the eastern terminus full of Pennsylvania dignitaries. They were joined by several more Ohio VIPs along the way and greeted with much fan fair especially at the lower basin in Akron.
The life of the P&O was short lived. The canal was finished just prior to the railroads coming to this area. The first railroad came to Akron in 1852. That same year the Mahoning Railroad was formed. Many of the investors that bought stock in that railroad also held stock in the P&O canal. The Mahoning Railroad ran from Akron to New Castle nearly paralleling the the canal. These same investors gained controlling interest in the canal when they bought the state’s $420,000 stock subscription. They agreed to keep the canal open but found a loophole and raised the price of shipping on the canal so high that it became unpractical for goods to be transported that way. The result was that the canal from Old Forge here in Akron to New Castle in Pennsylvania became slack water and filled with plant life and trash. The stench and the fact that it became a breeding ground for mosquitoes was a constant irritation to the surrounding neighbors. The same thing happened to the portion of the P&O from Mill Street to the Lower Basin in what was the downtown section of the growing city of Akron.
The result was that many attempts were made to close the canal. Some of Akron’s most influential opponents of the dilapidated canal were George Crouse, John Buchtel, John Seiberling, John Hower, Lewis Miller and George Perkins. Others, led by Ferdinand Schumacher, wanted the canal to remain open so the additional water could be used, if needed, to fill and power the Cascade Race.
Another major setback for the P&O came in 1867 when the State Legislator authorized the filling in and leasing of, the land that the canal was built on. So started a game of sorts, between those that wanted the canal closed and those that wanted it to remain open. Several attempts were made to break the walls of the canal in Cuyahoga Falls and Kent. The final blow came on a cold and rainy night in 1874 when a flash mob (new name for an old idea) began dumping sand in the downtown section of the P&O. The result was that the Middlebury and Cascade Race was turned into a culvert in most areas and covered. The rest of the canal in populated areas was filled and most used as a bed for train tracks for the Atlantic & Great Western>Erie>CSX Railroad.
“Peace to the ashes of the Pennsylvania & Ohio Canal.” -Samuel Lane
Miscellaneous factoids and stories of the race and canal.
-The section of the canal that went through Franklin Mills (Kent) had to go through the the rocky gorge called the Cuyahoga Rapids. This is the spot where legend says Captain Brady made his famous leap to escape capture by pursuing Indians. The result of the new canal was that the gorge was widened and dammed to make a slack water pool that could be navigated by the canal boats. Some people look at the chasm today and say “There’s no way Brady could have jumped that far.” They’re right. His leap was measured by the surveyors for the canal at 21 feet before the gorge was widened. Quite a feat, but doable, especially if your life depended on it .
- The Cuyahoga Feeder was a race that ran from the Cuyahoga River in Portage County to the summit of the canal just west of Ravenna. Large parts of had to be cut through Blue Clay, a very, very hard and dense clay. Originally “blasting” was thought to be the only way to make the cut. Then a Ravenna merchant named Cyrus Prentess was contracted to use his 600 lb. “monster plow,” pulled by a team of 18 oxen to loosen the soil. The use of this plow was such a event that people came from miles around to see it.
Middlebury Branch- There is very little information about this section of the canal. The Middlebury branch, like the P&O canal west of its entrance, followed the Cascade race. The first boat traffic was the JOSEPH VANCE. It arrived at the “Port of Middlebury” May 9, 1839, with much celebration.
The branch was 1 1/4 mile long. According to the maps of that day, there were no locks on the Middlebury branch. But; most canal boat captains kept a log of their journeys and one such log refers to a shallow lock just below the Bank Street basin.
When I stated previously that there was much celebration when the P&O Canal opened, it was a gross understatement. The party was a blowout. VIPs that had ridden on the boats from Pennsylvania had been stopping at every town on their 3 day journey, for customary toasts and meals. Then the people of Akron greeted them with a celebration that lasted from afternoon, well into the night. The next morning Major General Seeley of Warren didn’t come out of his room. Friends investigated and found him dead from apoplexy (stroke.) He was 70 years old. Many of the guests, and his son, were still under the influence of the previous nights party. Seeley’s son broke out in uncontrollable weeping and when attempts were made to comfort him, he replied, “I always weep so when my father dies.” Another guest, also feeling melancholy from the night before declared, “Damned fine. Damned fine. He went out with his belly full of beefsteak and brandy.”
Several attempts were made to demolish the banks of the Pennsylvania & Ohio canal in Kent and Cuyahoga Falls after it had fulfilled its purposeful use. During one ferocious storm, several men set digging holes in the banks of the canal. A reporter for a Kent newspaper wrote, “I saw many men working very industriously at the point where the largest crevice was visible. The more the men worked, the wider the crevice became. Undoubtedly they were hunting for the muskrats. Strange to say, no muskrats were ever killed.”
This is yet another of Summit County’s best kept secrets. Not the statue, which is a great memorial, but the man. Glenn Davis.
Known as Summit County’s greatest athlete, “Jeep” moved to the city of Barberton when he was 15 years old after both his parents died. Barberton became his adopted hometown. While he was still in West Virginia, a basketball coach told him, ‘‘You’ll never be a good athlete.’’
Davis proved the coach wrong in the 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games when he won a total of 3 Gold Medals in the 440 meter hurdles and the 1600 meter relay. He held 5 World Records; 400 Meter Hurdles (49.2), 440 Yard Hurdles (49.9), 200 Meter Hurdles (22.5), 440 Yard Dash (45.7), 1600 Meter Relay (3:02.2) With those accomplishments you can imagine what “Jeep” did to high school, state, and college records. Check the memorial or “Google” Glenn Davis for a full list of his sports achievements. Besides his track and field accomplishments, Davis also coached the Cornell track team to a national title, and played football for the Detroit Lions.
“Jeep’s” influence on young people continued when he resettled in Barberton. There he took on the low profile role of high school teacher and coach. With his background he was a shoo-in for coach of the track and field team. Many up and coming hurdlers came from across the country to be coached by him, which he gladly did for free. Davis was assistant coach of the football team, and the mechanical drawing teacher, but the job he was best known for was drivers education. Besides teaching, he opened his own driving school, and was part owner of a pizza shop.
As an example of his moral character, in 1960, the year he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Davis was offered $125,000, (nearly a million dollars today,) for a cigarette endorsement. Smoking was beyond acceptable back then, it was a way of life for most Americans, even athletes. Davis still turned it down.
Every year a 5K and Kids Fun Run are held at Lake Anna in Davis’ honor and benefits the Jeep Davis Olympic Hopeful Fund.
Though Mr. Davis crossed his final hurdle in 2009, he is still remembered by his former students, friends, and fans as one of Summit County’s greatest athletes.
Some day I’m going to make a list of “Summit County’s Best Kept Secrets” as related to its history. It surprises me still that not everyone knows about The Signal Tree. I was recently looking for information on The Signal Tree and someone said “What’s that?”
How do you describe The Signal Tree? It is a Burr Oak tree that is between 300 and 400 years old, shaped in the form of a 3 tonged fork or candelabra. Figuring the first settlers came to this area approximately 200 years ago, means that its branch’s had to be shaped as a sapling by Native Americans. We can only speculate how and why it came to be and there are nearly as many theories as there are “experts.”
Some believe that the signal tree is a natural phenomenon. You only need look at the branches that are symmetrically bent at right angles to realize that this would truly be a most miraculous occurrence. That means, as stated before, that the tree had to be broken, bent, and formed into its unique shape. The question then becomes: why?
One of the lesser known theories is that it is a monument to a victory of a battle between warring parties. That same author says that it is actually the second marker, to replace a previous tree that had lived its life or been destroyed.
Another theory is that when the tree was a sapling, local tribes used the tree to stretch animal skins on for processing.
By far the most popular belief is that it was a marker to show the way to another area or trail, hence its name, The Signal Tree. Summit County is the intersection of many major routes that cross the state. It is true today and it was true 300-400 years ago. (I’m working on creating a map of the area that would be Summit County and all its trails, circa 1700.) One theory is that the Signal Tree was formed at the intersection of two main trials.
Most people agree that it marked the path to the Portage Trail from the Cuyahoga River. The river over centuries of time will wander form one side of the valley to the other (today it is being confined in some areas.) At the time the tree was formed, the Cuyahoga may have ran much closer, even next to, the Signal Tree.
What ever the reason, when you approach the tree you realize that you are in the percents of an object that if it could talk would be able to tell you of a time when there was no asphalt, and no motor vehicles. Yet hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people passed by it. What other stories could it tell.
Summit County’s oldest living landmark (?) is located off Cuyahoga Street in the Cascade Valley Metro Park. Not normally one of the places that you would pass on a “Sunday drive” through the valley, it is more a place that you have to search out. That makes finding it that much more exciting.
The book “The Cuyahoga” was first written in 1966, and Chapter 6 is titled The Signal Tree. When it written then, it was stated that the tree was near death and ready to fall down. The old girl is still hanging on. Several branches have fallen over the years, but the limbs that give it its characteristic candelabra shape are still there. For how much longer no one knows. We should all be (I know I am) very grateful to the park service for preserving it so well.
If you haven’t seen it, go soon!
It truly is one of Summit County’s best kept secrets.