by Hugh Allen, 1949, American Heritage
Series Vol. V.
Chapters 1-3 transcribed & edited by L.K. Ortmann
The Wrong Place to Build a City
By all the rules there should never have been even a settlement here. Most cities started as trading points at strategic locations, around land-locked harbors, or the junction of great rivers, where people could get in and out easily—and usually with important natural resources nearby. Akron lay back in the woods, on top of a series of hills and swamps with neither mineral wealth nor even good farm land at hand. No rivers ran through the town. It was only thirty-five miles from Lake Erie, but that in a day when men must travel on foot or horseback made it all but inaccessible, considering the topography along the way.
Looking back at it now, there seems no reason for people to settle here, and many reasons which all but for bade it. But a city of a third of a million people did grow up here, one which pioneered in canal boats, railroads, street cars, interurbans, truck lines, bus lines; which changed the breakfast habits of America, and drove the vine-covered backhouse out of the American scene; which grasped and held three-fourths of the billion-dollar rubber industry.
It is a city which saw the beginnings of price-fixing, mergers, big business, the sit-down strike and the ClO; which saw the beginnings of mass production and the evolution of a program under which America would pay the world’s highest wages, and become the greatest industrial nation of the world.
All of the principles of private enterprise can be traced by actual case examples in this one city—the risks and rewards of business, the character of competition and its effect on the competitors—and the public; the effect of financial success on the people who win it and the community; and finally the impermanent character of business fortunes.
Akron became the center of the rubber industry, the last place in the country one might expect that industry to locate. It had to go to Brazil or Africa, and later half way around the world, for its rubber; to Egypt’s Nile valley or the Sea Islands off the Georgia coast for its cotton— and no ocean vessel could get within 500 miles of it.
Rubber is a particularly thirsty industry and the city lies at almost the highest elevation in the state. What water falls on top of a hill runs away. Even today Akron has to go over to the next county for its drinking water.
Still people have been able to make a better-than- average living in Akron for a hundred years.
Why did a city ever grow up at this point?
The story of Akron, as of all cities, goes back to a million years B.C. The cooling of the earth’s crust left a great continent rising out of the ocean. As there was not room enough for all the land masses, writhing contortions threw up great mountain chains. In those mountains the mysterious chemistry of the universe left natural resources which would be useful to man if he had the wit and the will to uncover them—iron ore, coal and petroleum. Using those resources and the highways which the lakes and the rivers provided, men might create a Ruhr valley there, around the Great Lakes, with great cities at such strategically located points as Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and even at outposts like Chicago, Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
But Akron was not in a position to share in this. Not only was it away from any navigable stream, but it lay squarely astride the continental divide which separates the nation’s two great river systems, the Mississippi and the St. Lawrence. Two rivers swing up toward it, the Cuyahoga from the north and the Tuscarawas from the south, but both turn back before the barricade thrown up by the divide.
The only semblance of a natural highway Akron had was an Indian trail between the two rivers. The divide is only eight miles wide at this point, and Indians portaging canoes and household goods over it had worn a path which for twenty years served as the western boundary of the United States through a treaty with the Six Indian Nations in 1785.
George Rogers Clark, Arthur Lee and Richard Butler signed for the new United States Government at Ft. McIntosh near Beaver, Pa., with the chiefs of the Wyandots, Chippewas, Delawares and Ottawas, and any white man who crossed west of the portage, or any Indians who crossed east of it, was on his own, and neither tribe nor government took responsibility for what happened to them.
The boundary was confirmed by two later treaties, that of Ft. Harmar in 1787, and the treaty of Greenville in 1795, after Mad Anthony Wayne’s victory in the Battle of the Fallen Timbers. It was not until 1805 in the treaty of Ft. Industry (Toledo) that the Indians gave up title to all the Western Reserve lying west of the portage. Akron is still proud of the fact that Portage Path, its leading residential thoroughfare, was once the western boundary of the United States.
The divide where Akron lies was not a sharp ridgepole, with the rainfall draining north and south in orderly fashion. Rather it was a broad stretch of broken and irregular terrain, marked by escarpments of hills, valleys, swamps and outcroppings of rock.
Twenty lakes were trapped on top the watershed by holes in the ground, until one could well believe that Paul Bunyan’s blue ox, who was twenty-four ax-handles and a plug of tobacco wide between the eyes (some people say he was forty-two ax-handles wide and that Jim, the pet cow, got lost one winter flying across to his favorite roosting place on the left horn, but that probably is an exaggeration), had stamped around there a while, left his footprints, and went on.
The two rivers which come almost into Akron are in striking contrast to each other. The Tuscarawas to the south moves leisurely downhill for 300 miles across the state to the Ohio River, like most well-behaved streams.
But the Cuyahoga, meaning crooked in the Indian language, descends 400 feet in thirty-five miles. It had to smash through solid rock in the glacial en to carry the vast accumulation of ice to Lake Erie; created narrow gorges 200 feet deep in places, wide twisting valleys else where, difficult to traverse or to cultivate.
Akron’s topography is further complicated by an ambitous tributary, the Little Cuyahoga, which cut squarely across the present town to join the main river, less than a mile from the Portage Hotel. A mighty stream in its day, it created a valley ten times too wide and deep for it today, and for nearly a century sweating teams and groaning electric cars had to make a long dip and a toil some climb to go from North Hill to downtown. The viaduct which finally bridged it is more than 2,800 feet long.
Further to complicate the strange topography of Akron was a great gulley carved through the center of town a hundred thousand years ago by the advances and recessions of the ice caps—then filled up again with dirt, sand, gravel and glacial deposit.
This gulley, running north and south, was a mile wide, and more than twice as deep as the present Little Cuyahoga valley. One edge of the valley was in the center of downtown Main Street, the other edge was half way up West Hill. This accounts for the old stone quarry where the Ohio Building later went up, while just across the street the contractors on the Flatiron Building could excavate for the foundations with a mule and a dump truck.
The Merriman home, which is still standing on West Market Street, with the chain and bucket hoist along side, was at the other side of the valley. Doctor Merriman could get all the water he and his neighbors wanted by digging a well fifteen feet deep, but Doctor Weller, next door, went down 150 feet without striking water.
Scenically the country around Akron was superb. The gorges, cut through solid rock, hold dignity and majesty. The hills and valleys were kindly treated by wind and sun and rain, and were covered by great forests of oak, walnut, hickory, maple and chestnut, and occasional stands of elm, sycamore, beech, silver birch and sassafrass, willows along the creek bottoms, and here and there the buckeye which gave the state its name. Wild flowers and berry bushes grew tall and lush, dogwoods in the spring and the scarlet sumac in the fall contrasted with the green, orange and flaming reds of autumn leaves. There was game aplenty; bear and deer, wild geese, ducks and turkeys, even buffalos—a happy hunting ground for red man or white.
But the section was not particularly adapted to agriculture, manufacture or commerce. Early settlers seeking farm land took one look and continued on west where the land lay flat and fertile for a thousand miles.
So the question is asked. Why did anyone ever stop at Akron when he had all the country to choose from?
Any given city is merely a collection of people trying to get ahead in the world. The nation is the sum total of their energies, ambitions and resourcefulness. So the story of how difficulties were overcome at Akron may throw some light on the kind of people we are and the principles on which this nation was built.
A New-Born City Looks Around
IT WAS NOT IN THE American tradition that men must remain on the land where they were born, any more than they must follow their father’s trade. More than any people on the globe they were free to go where they chose, making their living in the way they chose. After the Revolutionary War, the nation was on the march with a great continent to occupy and rule.
Akron had two advantages, its founders and its neighbors, to balance against its unfavorable location. To a greater degree than any other state in the union, Ohio, first state carved out of the Northwest Territory, would bear the imprint of the two dominant strains of American life; the Cavaliers of Virginia and the Puritans of New England.
Akron was settled by men from Connecticut, who brought their traditions of manufacture with them, along with their Bibles and spinning wheels. It would grow up in an industrial atmosphere and could look south to a great trading territory where it might sell its goods, if it could make goods, and a great source of raw materials, if it could find some way to put those materials to use.
From its vantage point atop the continental divide it might become a link between the industrial North and the agricultural South. The mark of Virginia and Connecticut would long lie across the land and give the state a balanced economy and culture that made it one of the great states of the Union.
The Virginians brought their traditions of broad lands and gracious hospitality with them; of riding horses and hunting dogs, great brick and stone homes of Georgian and colonial architecture with broad halls and winding stairways which you may still find around Chillicothe and along the National Turnpike.
The New Englanders built their villages around town squares, with high-spired meeting houses and churches in the center, surrounded by white houses with green shutters and red roofs, such as you will find in Hudson, Tallmadge, Leroy, Streetsboro, Twinsburg—and for that matter, Marietta, another Connecticut settlement—which still look much like transplanted bits of New England.
A great Virginian of that day, Thomas Jefferson, might well express the hope that America would always be an agricultural nation, leaving the bickering of commerce and trade to whoever cared for it. Trade to him meant scheming and sharp practice, wooden nutmegs, and let the buyer beware. He might have held different views if he had had to make a living in the Connecticut valley or on the rocky hillsides of Vermont.
In any case, this narrative will point out how America came into a broader conception of trade, realized it could not become a great industrial nation by tricking the un suspecting; could make more money by producing things people needed and could use, that the seller rather than the buyer must beware if he was to build up a permanent business.
Because of its location and topography there could easily have been no Akron at all, or at best only a small canal town which would flourish briefly with its water- borne traffic and fall into obscurity once that passed. In the conquest of the West men by-passed other sections no less inviting and no harder to traverse, continued on, leaving them isolated.
But the New Englanders were the one group in all the country to whom such a terrain would be no deterrent.
They had lived in much the same kind of country, and finding the land not too well suited for farming, had fallen back on their ingenuity to make a living in other ways, with the result that New England had become the principal manufacturing section of the nation.
Such men would see possibilities in Northern Ohio. The hills and streams meant potential water power to them, and water power would turn mill wheels.
Historical facts as well as topography divided Ohio into a north and south. Immediately after achieving independence, the young republic set out on the task of settling the country beyond the Appalachians; the millions of rich acres which the fortunes of war had laid in its lap. The Indians had owned the country, the French had explored and occupied it, the British had defeated the French, and now with England in turn beaten, whatever tide there was to this area, beyond that of the real owners, the Indians, rested with the new nation.
In organizing the Northwest Territory, Congress ran into the fact that various British rulers had made grants to the colonies over the years, most of them extending to the Pacific, wherever that was. Charles II, in a generous impulse in 1662, had made the grant to Connecticut. Some of these grants were overlapping, and in any case did not mean too much, since they had not been made effective through settlement or occupancy. The land granted to Connecticut was not even contiguous with the home state.
There was considerable jealousy among the states after the Revolution, lest some grow too powerful, and several states which had no western holdings, notably Maryland, made quite a point of this, demanded that the lands be ceded back to the general government before they would join the Confederation.
Virginia and Connecticut did so with reservations. Virginia asked for enough land to carry out her promises to her Revolutionary soldiers, and Connecticut retained, as its “Western Reserve,” a strip of land along Lake Erie extending 120 miles west from the Pennsylvania line. It comprised 3,250,000 acres, including the present cities of Ashtabula, Painesville, Kent, Ravenna, Cleveland, Lo rain, Elyria, Oberlin, and as far south as Warren, Youngstown and Akron.
Virginia made a better bargain. Knowing the country through the surveying and soldiering done by her ad venturous sons, she picked the choicest section of the state, a wedge-shaped track along the Ohio between the Scioto and Little Miami Rivers, extending north to the watershed around Bellefontaine and St. Mary’s. It was a rolling country, well-drained by creeks and rivers, covered with timber, wild rye, blue grass and clover, and with game aplenty.
The land picked by Connecticut was much less inviting. South of the divide the land lay fairly level. In fact, six miles south of Akron at the head of navigation of the Tuscarawas, the rainfall seemed to hesitate whether to flow north or south, and at Young’s Hotel a stopping point for travellers for 100 years, they will still show you a point at the canal spillway where the water flows both ways, part of it north to the St. Lawrence and part south to the Gulf of Mexico.
But this favored section was small in area—the Western Reserve extended south only to the 41st parallel, a short distance from the watershed. Things were quite different to the north. The Cuyahoga cuts through the center of Cleveland a hundred feet below Euclid Avenue and the valleys of Rocky River and the Chagrin, bounding the city east and west, are fully as deep and rugged.
Small wonder Connecticut was in no great hurry to claim its inheritance and waited nearly a third of a century; the math tide of immigration not starting until after the War of 1812.
Virginia got to its task immediately after the Revolution. Cincinnati would be a great city before Cleveland or Toledo were ever heard of, and Marietta was thirty- seven years old when Akron was born.
There were reasons other than topography why the southern part of the state was settled first. Ohio lay al most in Virginia’s back yard. Once over the mountains, settlers would find easy transportation by water. The Ohio River ran along the full length of the state and had broad tributaries like the Muskingum, the Scioto and the Miami, reaching deep into the interior. The National Highway would soon be hewed across the state. Virginia had to battle the Indians, but would not encounter serious physical obstacles.
The adventurous Virginians, with land grants from the state in their saddle bags, handy with axe and rifle, familiar with the dangers of the frontier, wasted no time. The size of the grants varied with their Army rank. A private got 100 acres, a colonel 5,000, and Baron Von Steuben, drill master of the Revolution, received 15,000 acres.
They could pick out their land wherever they chose; blue grass bottom lands for farming, rolling hills and woodland for hunting, with no remote regard for parallels of latitude and longitude—a circumstance which would bring headaches to later surveyors, dragging their transits and chains along meander lines which ran all over the map, with such bench marks as a lone tree on a hilltop, a large boulder, the junction of two streams, or a monument sunk flush with the ground.
Baron Von Steuben selected a tract around Chillicothe, later the state capital. Colonel Alexander H. Spottswood, Washington’s aide-dc-camp, picked a rolling stretch in Fayette County near Washington Court House, a name symbolic of its Virginia origin. One wealthy planter gave his grant to his daughter on condition that she take her new husband, the stable master, off to Ohio with her, and stay there—which the young couple did, and lived happily and prosperously ever after.
Connecticut found Ohio much less accessible. It called for a 600-mile pilgrimage across the whole state of New York, which men must make on foot or horseback, or toilsomely by ox team, through unsettled country, with few highways and few settlements along the way. Some early settlers built boats at the head of Lake Ontario, paddled along the shore to Niagara, detoured around the falls, built new boats at Buffalo, and continued on along Lake Erie to their destination.
When the Western Reserve was awarded to Connecticut, the legislature was somewhat of a loss to know what to do with it. Finally it decided to sell off the whole tract to a syndicate of sixty men, the Connecticut Land Company, and let them struggle with the job of settling the country. The price was thirty-five cents an acre; the money going into the state school fund.
In meticulous New England fashion, the land company surveyed the land in a checkerboard pattern, quite different from Virginia’s plan. Sections called ranges were laid out a mile square, and thirty-six of these ranges, six miles each way, constituted a township. Then it held a drawing among its stockholders. Whether they drew good land or bad was a matter of chance.
But it was one thing to own a great tract of distant land and quite another to get people to live on it. Connecticut men were no timid stay-at-homes, as their exploration of the seven seas bears witness. But they were seafaring and commercial folk.
A few came out fairly early to the more accessible sections. Moses Cleaveland of Hartford (1754-1806), Yale graduate and one of the original stockholders of the land company, drew a broad stretch of land along Lake Erie just where the Cuyahoga River breaks the shore line to create a harbor. Being a surveyor, like many men of his day, including George Washington, he realized the value of the property.
Cleaveland organized a group of fifty-two men, followed the two lakes by boat until on July 4, 1796, he came to a river he assumed was the Cuyahoga, and went ashore to celebrate. He discovered a few days later that he had stopped at the wrong river, the Cuyahoga lying twenty miles further west. Naming the first river the Chagrin, in acknowledgment of his mistake, he went on to lay the foundation of the town which bears his name today. That done, he went back to Connecticut, and never lived in his town.
The legend is that a printer on an early newspaper changed the name of the town. It was one letter too long to fit a headline, so he left out the first “a”, which he thought was not necessary anyhow—and everyone decided that it was a good idea, so Cleaveland became Cleveland.
Ohio’s first city grew slowly. It was incorporated in 1814, but did not break into the census figures until 1830, when it showed a population of 1,076 people. John Young started the town of Youngstown in 1799, but it did not amount to anything until the first rolling mill and blast furnace was started in 1845-46. An Indian stockade was built on the site of Toledo in 1800 and a townsite laid out in 1807, but the town was not incorporated until 1843. By contrast, Dayton was incorporated in 1805, and Columbus became the state capital in 1812.
A few people went inland from Cleveland, picking out the better sections. Deacon David Hudson came out from Bradford, Connecticut, in 1799 to start the town of Hudson; Colonel Benjamin Talimadge from Litchifeld in 1806 to start the town bearing his name, and Jonathan Hale from Glastonbury in 1810 to start the town of Bath.
The oddly-named town of Twinsburg, just north of Hudson, honors Moses and Aaron Wilcox, (1771-1828), of Killingsworth, Connecticut, who were not only identical twins, but married sisters, had the same number of children, owned their property in common, fell ill of the same disease, died on the same day, and were buried in the same grave.
These twins were among several proprietors of the Twinsburg area, and when they came west in 1823, at the age of fifty-two, they found a little settlement already started. The first comer had named it Millsville, for him self. Moses and Aaron donated six acres of land for the town square which every Akron-Cleveland traveller remembers, and spent twenty dollars in cash to improve it, on condition that the settlement change its name.
Nobody came to Akron, though Captain Joseph Hart, a Revolutionary soldier, took up a tract in 1807 at Middlebury on the Little Cuyahoga two miles east, and Major Miner Spicer joined him three years later, took up a 260- acre section in the woods where Buchtel College was built afterwards. There were a few Indians still around, but they made no trouble and disappeared after the War of 1812. Using their New England training, the settlers built dams across the Cuyahoga River at Peninsula, Bath and one at Middlebury.
There were enough settlers around to rally to the colors during the second war with England. Legend has it that three of the vessels for Perry’s squadron, the Portage, the Porcupine and the Hornet, were built at Bath and floated down the Cuyahoga River to the lake. When Sam Lane came to town in 1835 he found many people who claimed they heard the cannonading in the battle of Lake Erie, and Bath would celebrate the anniversary of that engagement for many years.
Warren, near the Pennsylvania line, was an important town. It was the county seat of Trumbull County which comprised the entire Reserve, and was named for Governor Jonathan of Connecticut. Warren is of interest to Akron because it was there that Simon Perkins, a young surveyor from Litchfield, Connecticut, came in 1798 with his bride and stayed on as agent for the land company.
An aggressive personality, who won the rank of brigadier general in the War of 1812 with special commendation from William Henry Harrison for leadership and courage, Simon Perkins bought a considerable tract of land near Warren in 1804, and three years later picked up a thousand aces, fifty miles to the west, which was being sold for taxes.
General Perkins knew this tract because he had surveyed it. It was uneven, rough, swampy in places, and was crossed by two valleys. He had no special use for it, but the taxes amounted to only a little more than four dollars a year; something one could buy and forget about.
He would not know for another eighteen years how good a buy he had made.
It has been said that the easiest way to make money is to have your grandfather buy a farm in what later will be the business center of an important city. General Perkins did just this. The property picked up for taxes is today the heart of downtown Akron.
The Beginning of Akron
AKRON WAS BORN IN 1825 with the building of the Ohio Canal.
The surveyors found, as the Indians had before them, that the easiest way to get from Lake Erie to the Ohio River was to follow the two river valleys and cross over at the narrowest point. That was at Akron, where only eight miles separated them.
The red men left the Cuyahoga valley five miles from town, followed a ridge high enough to be safe from am bush, reached the summit at West Market Street and Portage Path, where the Indian statue now stands. The elevation there was 1,100 feet, the highest in Akron, and second highest point in Ohio. It was an exhausting climb however for men burdened with canoes and tepees.
The surveyors did not worry about a steep climb. They looked for the lowest elevation since that meant fewer locks. So the canal route followed the main Cuyahoga valley to the edge of town, then went several miles up the Little Cuyahoga to the edge of the downtown district. There it climbed the steep sides of the valley with a series of locks like stair steps, and reached the summit at Ex change Street, a stone's throw from the Mayflower Hotel and the Goodrich factory. The elevation there was only 960 feet, 150 feet lower than the Indian portage.
Once at the top, the canal could stop for breath. The seven-mile level lay ahead, and it would be that far before it would need another lock, out in the Portage Lakes district near the headwaters of the Tuscarawas.
This route took the canal directly through the present business district paralleling Main Street, the city's major business thoroughfare. Lock Nine is back of the Portage Hotel, Lock Five behind the big bank building. Lock One is at the summit at Exchange Street, the other locks being numbered north and south from there across the state.
Water will not run uphill, but the Ohio Canal, starting at an elevation of 575 feet above sea-level at Lake Erie, had to climb 395 feet in the first thirty miles. However, it made 200 feet of that climb in the two-mile stretch through Akron, using as many locks getting across the town as it did coming up from Cleveland.
It was the locks rather than the canal which really made Akron. Anything that stops the movement of transportation creates a business opportunity at that point. A canal boat stop is longer than others. A boat moves into the lock, waits while the sluice gates close behind it, waits again while the water rises to the elevation of the next section when the gates ahead are opened. Each lock stopped traffic, but twenty-one stops in two miles meant that it would take a canal boat at least six hours to pass through Akron.
A blind man could see that a town would grow up there. No passenger is going to sit on the deck all that time if there is anything to be done ashore. A town built there could collect a toll from every passenger who came through. Once the canals were in operation, horse-drawn carriages would meet the boats at Lock One and Lock Twenty-one, whisk the passengers to the Empire House or the Cascade, where they could spend half a day buying, selling, trading, eating, drinking, or having a game of cards in the back room before it was time to overtake the boat at the far side of town.
But there was no town. Settlers were pouring in from New England by this time, all but decimating some Connecticut towns, but they had not come to Akron. Middle- bury, two miles away, was a town of 400 people, had four grist mills, a blast furnace, two sawmills, several inns, half a dozen stores. It was on the stage coach line from Warren, which ran along the crest of the divide, continued down Exchange Street near Lock One and on up Perkins Hill, where a second tavern had gone up over looking the whole section where John Brown of Harper's Ferry lived later.
The rest of the present city was almost entirely wilderness. A few hardy pioneers, scattered over thousands of acres, lived in log cabins chinked with clay, cooked corn meal and hominy, johnnycake and wild game in big copper or cast iron kettles hanging in the fireplace, made their own clothes out of deerskin, planted corn, carried their grain in to the grist mills at Middlebury, where they bought calico at a dollar a yard, or could get whisky for a dollar a gallon though the storekeepers usually kept a bottle on the counter for their customers.
The canal would change all that; create a town in this unfavorable location. But a town had to be built. Three men started the town; a general, a judge and a doctor. All were born in Connecticut; General Simon Perkins at Lisbon in 1771, Dr. Eliakim Crosby at Litchfield in 1779 and Judge Leicester King near Hartford in 1789. They were men of great force and foresight.
Dr. Crosby had gone west as a young man, studied medicine in Buffalo, practiced in Canada, but returned to serve in the United States Army in the War of 1812, forfeiting his Canadian property by so doing. He was forty- one years old when he came to Middlebury in 1820. There he found things more interesting than dispensing pills and delivering babies. He put his little black bag away and went into business.
The town sawmill was not going too well, so he bought it and made money on it. Then he bought the blast furnace and started making plows. After that he moved three-quarters of a mile upstream, where the Goodyear plant now is, threw a bigger dam across the river and built a two-story grist mill, the largest in the section. Everything he touched prospered.
Judge King, who lived at Warren, had come west in 1817. A strong character and a natural leader, he would serve four years in the Ohio senate, seven years on the bench, be nominated for vice president of the United States on the anti-slavery ticket, though withdrawing in favor of Charles Francis Adams of Massachusetts. He sent his sons to college at Trinity and Harvard, saw one of them married to a grand-niece of George Washington. Another son married Dr. Crosby's third daughter, and curiously enough the Judge himself, later on in life as a widower, would marry her sister, Calista, widow of the Charles Howard for whom Howard Street was named.
General Perkins we have already met. He was forty-six at this time, the leading citizen of Warren and looked like a prosperous English country squire.
He mounted his hone one morning in 1825 for a fifty- mile ride west. Word had come in that the canal surveyors were driving their stakes squarely across his property, the despised 1,000 acres he had picked up eighteen years earlier for the taxes; for four dollars and one cent, to be exact.
He thought the situation through carefully on the way over. The canal would bring in settlers, homes, stores. Everyone who built a home on his land, every baby who was born there would enhance the value of the rest of his property. He could hold up the state for a fancy price for the right-of-way, or he could donate the land, persuade his neighbors to do likewise, give the undertaking every possible assistance.
On his arrival he looked up two men who also owned property along the route. Paul Williams, who had come out to Middlebury with Major Spicer in 1810, got the point quickly and agreed to donate his land, but Charles Brown, a carpenter from North Stonington, Connecticut, could not see it.
It's all right for you to give away your land, he said. You're a rich man and can afford it. I can't. The state will have to pay me a fair price for any property it gets from me. You'll get your money back, said Perkins. The canal will make the rest of your property that much more valuable. That could be a long time off, said the carpenter. If you feel so generous, why don't you buy my land? Then you can do whatever you want to with it.
I don't want to buy, but I might trade, he said. I own forty-five acres in the Little Cuyahoga valley, or I've got 100 acres farther out, or for that matter, there's a 300-acre tract over in the next county.
I'll take the forty-five acres close in, said Brown.
The next thing was to lay out the town. Not many men have had the experience of owning a large tract of land where circumstances make it certain that many people will soon want to live.
General Perkins laid out the town around Lock One, where the stage coach line crossed, planned a business section in the center, and 300 residential lots surrounding it. He included a town square a hundred yards away such as he was familiar with in New England.
The square is still there, a rather drab and smoky park, with a comfort station on it and Perkins School and the Children's Hospital facing it, but none of Akron's present citizens think of it as the center of the city. Later generations forgot all about city centers in the New England sense, but did have the grace to call this block Perkins Square.
General Perkins wondered about a name for the town he proposed to build. Remembering its topography he fell back on his Greek, and decided on Akron, meaning a high place.
Some years later when Akron found itself on the high road of the nation, and hard-drinking, smooth-talking gamblers, and light-fingered gentry in beaver hats and velvet breeches rode the canal boats, taking toll of the unwary, inspiring Sam'l Lane to start a newspaper to crusade against the scalawags, a friend twitted the General with a classical pun.
In naming your town Akron, he said, did you not mean Acheron, a river in Hell?
It was late in December, 1825, before General Perkins had completed his plans, filed the townsite plat at Rayenna, county seat of Portage County, in which Akron then lay.
A city was born.
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