AKRON & SUMMIT COUNTY
Karl H. Grismer,
Summit County Historical Society,
Akron, Ohio c. 1950 Chapter 5 p 157-159
The 1850s started off badly for Akron with the exodus of four
its best citizens to the gold fields of California.
That hurt, but by
no means as much as the fact that Akron manufacturing
enterprises were geared to a water power method of operation in a day when
steam power was gaining the ascendancy. Its flour mills,
its woolen mills, its blast furnaces,
were all becoming antiquated. Newer,
more efficient plants in other towns were giving crippling
That was not all. During the 1840s Akron manufacturers had a
slight advantage over rivals elsewhere because the town was located
junction of two canals. But with the coming of the 1850s, railroads
began penetrating into many sections of the state, giving scores of
towns better transportation facilities
than Akron had. The branch railroad
to Hudson helped some, but not enough. It was a sorry substitute
for a main line railroad.
Akron's economic plight was perhaps most plainly indicated by
of disastrous fires which destroyed large parts of the business
district and also many of the town's leading industrial plants.
these fires undoubtedly were started by
incendiarists who wanted to
convicted and sent to
penitentiary. Other fires got beyond
control and caused
property owners lacked the money to employ watchmen
and the city lacked the money to buy adequate fire fighting
fires which wiped out literally scores of buildings
occurred on February 17, 1851, on
April 20, 1855, and on December
29, 1856. Losses were estimated at $90,000. Most of the buildings
which burned were frame structures
built when Akron was just getting started.
From a long range viewpoint, their destruction helped the town. They
were eventually replaced by much better buildings.
Industrial plants which went up in smoke during the decade included
three stove factories and foundries, the town's largest blast
furnace, two flour mills, the largest planing mill and a modern barrel
were suspected of starting the barrel factory
conflagration which occurred on
October 7, 1858. The plant, owned
by the Akron Barrel Company, was
located on the Upper Basin. The
concern had just installed machinery and company officials said that
coopers who had been angered by
the introduction of labor-saving
devices set the works afire.
Coopers retorted that the company officials
had probably burned down the plant
to get insurance. The loss was
estimated at $12,000. No arrests were made.
A few of the plants destroyed by fire during the 1850s were rebuilt
as soon as the insurance money was received. Others were never replaced.
Consequently, many persons were thrown out of work.
To add to the calamity, the Perkins Woolen Mills on Canal Street
had been forced to close its doors in 1856 because of ruinous competition
from New England mills. Two smaller woolen factories suspended
operations at the same time. The Perkins Mill, which had employed
35 hands, was converted later by Jacob and Jesse Allen and Alexander
H. Commins into a flour mill. But that helped Akron little during the
The sad truth was that by the time the decade ended Akron had
fewer industrial concerns than it had had twenty years before. The
only large ones which remained were four flour mills—the Old Stone
Mill, the City Mill, the Cascade Mill and the Center Mill. And these
plants were no larger, and had no more employees, than in the early
Proof of Akron's decline industrially was furnished by the 1860
U. S. census
which showed that the town's population was only 3,520,
a gain of only 266 persons during the
entire preceding decade. That was a much smaller increase than should
have been shown by a normal birth rate.