Kent, Ohio History
More than two centuries ago, in 1805, an enterprising man named John Haymaker ventured westward to the newly formed state of Ohio and settled with his family on the banks of the Cuyahoga River. Taking advantage of the power offered by a narrow section of the river, Haymaker erected a small dam and gristmill operation, marking the beginning of many prosperous years for a village which would later become known as Kent. Soon after Haymaker's arrival, a village began to take shape known as Franklin Mills due to the numerous mills and factories which dotted the river's edge. The Cuyahoga River was the essential element in the growth and development of Franklin Mills, providing power for a variety of grist mills, wollen mills, cabinet shops, glass factories and tanneries, forming an industrial center which attracted many businesses from surrounding areas. By 1835 the population in Franklin Mills had grown to nearly 1,400 people.
During the early decades, George B. Depeyster and William H. Price paid $8,000 for
the grist mill erected by the Haymakers and 500 acres of land near Stow street. They immediately began to build houses and make improvements on the mill. Another man who saw a bright future on the banks of the Cuyahoga was Joshua Woodward. He entered partnership with Frederick Haymaker, John's son, and together they financed the building of a small woolen factory and dye house on the east side of the river near the Crain avenue bridge, and a cabinet shop on the west side. Houses and a store soon followed.
All the while, Depeyster and Price continued their activities in the Stow street section.
They built a small forge for making farm tools, a general store, and a hemp business. They sent to Kentucky for seed, persuaded local farmers to plant it, and built a mill where the hemp could be processed.
Though outsiders referred to our village as Franklin Mills, there were actually two
micro-villages developing: locally they were known as the "upper" and "lower" village.
A rivalry grew and became most intense when the stagecoaches started running in the early twenties. Both villages fought advertising battles...to lure travelers to their side of town. The stage lines were little more than country lanes, but they provided a web of well traveled routes throughout the county.
The Cuyahoga House
Built in 1827 at Mantua and Cuyahoga streets (today's Diggers) for use by a stage coach company. The Cuyahoga House gained its greatest fame as a canal tavern. The canal boats could safely tie up nearby and the crew could walk a short distance to the tavern. A young James Garfield was one of those canal men. Before and during the Civil War the tavern was reputed for secreting slaves from the south to Cleveland. There they escaped by boat to Canada. The building was razed in 1907 – the pillars were moved to a house on West Main St. in Ravenna, and can still be seen today.
Horse-drawn vehicles crisscrossed across the county on the established stage coach lines. These same trails later became our main roads. The percentage of of families that owned a horse and buggy was less than those who now own automobiles, and a two-buggy family was rare. Those who owned no outfit could rent a horse and buggy from one of the local livery stables. These stables also provided a place visitors could leave their horse and be assured that it was well cared for. The two principle livery stables proprietors were H. C. Echert, on E. Main, and Fred Newberry, on Columbus.
Pennsylvania & Ohio Canal
The completion of the P&O canal marked two decades of a unique lifestyle that linked villages and provided a inexpensive means of transportation. Pippen Lake and Brady Lake provided the power needed for the Northeastern Ohio section of canal. The canal prompted a great deal of land speculation and development on the river's east bank, forming the beginning of what is today's Central Business District.
The illustration to the left shows a canal boat utilizing the aqueduct that traversed Plum Creek. This significant remnant of the P&O canal remains intact today and owned by the City of Kent, Parks and Recreation Department. Development of this area is described in the River Edge Park Extension Master Plan. Plans include a boat ramp and dock facility at Kramer Field. The aqueduct is a short paddle down stream. The creation of another dock facility near the aqueduct will provide a means for the Historical Societies or School Groups to access the site. The towpath remains intact and with some clearing could provide a bike/hike trail that follows the bath of the historic P&O canal into Stow and connect to Akron Metroparks Munroe Falls Park.
The significance the canal made to Kent's downtown growth makes the preservation of its history an asset. Combining that history with the master plan the city's Parks and Recreation Department has developed, blends local history with the environment through a network of open spaces connected with paths and trails. It goes without saying that the development of a comprehensive system of trails and related activity areas will increase recreational opportunities.
Kent’s Railroad Era
Mighty locomotives were the undoing of the Canals. They transported both people and freight at the then amazing speed of 35 miles-per-hour. Canal boats crawled along at only 4 mph. The Atlantic & Great Western Railroad guided Kent (then Franklin Mills) into her most prosperous period in history.
Seeing the potential for Franklin Mills to emerge as a vital commercial center,
businessman Marvin Kent was instrumental in bringing the railroad to the area,
and in 1863, the first cars of the Atlantic and Great Western rolled into town.
Franklin Mills experienced an extraordinary new period of growth and development following the advent of the railway. In the Central Business District dozens of new retail, commercial and manufacturing enterprises were established near the railroad station and the surrounding areas grew markedly as well. This new era of prosperity transformed the industrial town into a thriving commercial center, and, in 1863, the town was renamed Kent. Shortly thereafter in 1867, the town became incorporated as a village with a population of nearly 2,300. The community enjoyed continued economic success until the turn of the century when reliance on the railways began to diminish and was replaced by motor transportation. Kent was again facing a new era and a new century as well.
Atlantic & Great Western RR depot – today’s Pufferbelly Restaurant