Friday, May 22, 2009

My History Hobby

One of my favorite hobbies is studying history, but especially local history that I can go see for myself. The more I've studied the local history, the more I've come to learn what an interesting area I live in, Kent in particular. Today I took advantage of the beautiful weather and having WAAAY too much time off to go get some pictures of a piece of Kent history. Last July I blogged a little about what I thought was an aqueduct for the Pennsylvania & Ohio Canal near Plum Creek Park in southern Kent. The P & O Canal was a significant canal in the development of this part of the country because it connected Pittsburgh to Cleveland in the era before the railroad. It ran right through Kent, but unlike the celebrated Ohio & Erie Canal and its many locks still standing, the P & O doesn't have many structures left to let people know it was even here. Turns out the bridge I took a picture of isn't the actual aqueduct, but rather an old railroad bridge over the same creek just south of the actual aqueduct that looks remarkably similar since it is also an arch. After seeing a sketch of the aqueduct and some pictures others had taken, I was pretty sure I had photographed the wrong structure, so today I set out to find the correct structure. While I proved successful in my endeavor, it was hardly an easy one!

On the left is the railroad bridge over Plum Creek I photographed last July thinking it was the old P & O aqueduct. On the right is the actual aqueduct just downstream. Can you see how I could confuse the two? Note the amount of brush and trees growing above the aqueduct. It's a good 5-6 feet below the top of the embankment those things are growing on and it's very steep. The picture at the top of the page is the opposite side of the aqueduct facing the Cuyahoga River. The photo below was taken from the new boardwalk along the river that passes Kent's water reclamation facility. The large railroad bridge is very close to the aqueduct. Just past it was where the construction was taking place on the trail and where there is a new bridge built specifically for the trail.

The actual aqueduct is just north of where I found the previous bridge and is now part of the new Portage Hike and Bike Trail which is slowly being built in several phases through Kent. The part over the aqueduct was just completed last year. The biggest problem for me was finding a way to access the trail without having to walk miles and miles to get to what I wanted. I finally parked at Tannery Park and picked up the current riverside trail there which connects to the Portage Hike & Bike. Of course, I walked all the way down there and right near where I needed to be, there is construction on the trail. I didn't go too close but it looked like they were laying gravel down. I may have been able to just walk around it, but I wasn't in the mood to have some random construction guys yell at me even though there were no signs posted that the trail was closed. I walked back and tried to find an alternate entry. Thanks to my superior geographic knowledge of Kent I was able to find an access point right near where I wanted albeit I had to technically trespass on an empty lot and over the railroad tracks to get there. Oh well! And as my luck would have it, I walked right over the aqueduct and didn't even notice it and walked quite a ways before turning around and finally finding it. The problem is the trail runs right through a large portion of the original canal bed, plainly visible as you are walking in it. The aqueduct is well below that level and the canal bed is totally full of trees, grass, and shrubs, so if you aren't looking for it, you miss it. After paying close attention, I finally noticed the creek below me and found what I was looking for. Of course, it wasn't that simple either as I mentioned: the canal bed is pretty high up, so I had to scale a pretty steep embankment on both sides to get to a point where I could photograph the structure. The south side of the aqueduct was the most challenging and I got some pretty good scrapes from thorns. The things I do for history! But seriously, if I hadn't known what to look for and had an interest, there's no way I'd even know it was there as there are no markers, no signs, no nothing. As far as most people assume, the trail passes through an area where it has embankments on each side, is elevated above the river, and has some sitting water next to the trail. As for the aqueduct, I am impressed how well it looks and how well it has held up. The canal opened in 1840, so this was built sometime in the late 1830's and is still here despite near complete neglect (though I think there was a restoration of it some time ago) and having no much growing above it. I was also surprised to see how long it was from end to end. The canal was 40 feet wide, so I'm assuming that's how long this is!

Walking along the parts of the trail today it was hard to believe I was in the middle of Kent sometimes. Much of the trail all you can see is the river and heavy foliage. There are some really nice boardwalks and bridges that have been built for the trail, not to mention some of the existing ones Kent built as part of the city park system. Kent has always had a great park system and really all that it's missing is a good recreation center. I kept thinking about what Kent is missing as a city and it's mostly that and some more jobs. Having the University here is great and has helped Kent be more recession resistant, but only so many people (and certain kinds) can work on campus. A lot of the area I passed today while walking and driving was Kent's old industrial area and there is a lot of old abandoned buildings there from the boom days of Kent industry. Not that we should go back to low-skill manufacturing, but we definitely need something there! Other than that, Kent is a community with great parks, great schools, an awesome library, and even a slowly emerging downtown scene (we have PLENTY of town!!). Sure, not the most entertaining place at times, but definitely a nice place to live. If only I could find my own job here (or nearby), but the more I think about it, the more it seems I'll have to leave again. I also noticed even more that I need a new camera! My little Kodak EasyShare has served me well, but it just isn't taking sharp pictures and really struggles in low light (and now even high light!).

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