Saturday, October 24, 2009

What's in a name?

I decided to do a post about some of the aspects of local history I've been reading lately. This may be of interest to some of you, but less interesting to others. This post is all about what I've learned about the history of what Kent has been called prior to being named Kent in the 1860s. It also dives into the system used in naming that was brought here by the New England settlers in the late 1790s and early 1800s.

Before I begin, I better get all the technical stuff out! The main thing is township, more properly defined as a civil township. Most people here in the East are familiar at least somewhat with what a township is, while westerners are pretty clueless about what they are since such things do not exist in most western states. In Ohio, a township is an additional, older form of civic government that consists of three township trustees. This contrasts with a village or city that is divided into wards and the council will have representatives of each ward and maybe at-large members. Townships also have limited authority. In Portage County, most townships do not have their own police or fire departments, but some do have their own fire departments. Most cases, the township will either be part of a joint fire district or negotiate coverage with the closest city while the county sheriff will cover police protection. That's the case here as Kent Fire also covers Franklin Township. Townships also do not collect income tax and thus are usually not as able as cities and villages to provide additional services like sidewalks, sewers, or an aggregate agreement for trash pickup. I actually grew up in Franklin Township, just outside the Kent city limits. Most services were either ones we contracted ourselves (like garbage pickup) or did through the county (like recycling). Townships also don't have their own municipal water supply, though many will make deals with nearby cities to buy water. Even then, most township residents have wells. That's what we had growing up. As a result, townships can be less favorable to development, so many either are annexed by a neighboring city or incorporate into a village or city. In many other states, township can mean different things or a different term is used. For instance, in New York state, the word "town" is equivalent to a township in Ohio. So, for any of my LDS friends who are familiar with Joseph Smith History where the family "was removed to Manchester" (where they literally moved a few hundred meters down the street across the line), they didn't move from the village of Palmyra to the village of Manchester; no, they moved from the town (or township) of Palymra to the town of Manchester. The village of Palmyra, New York is located near the center of the town of Palmyra (The Book of Mormon was printed in the village of Palmyra). Like in Ohio, the village and town(ship) are two distinct entities, many times legally as well as in general practice, but share a common history and even name. OK...does that make any sense?

So, given that lengthy explanation of what a township is and how it is different from a city or village, on to the names of Kent.

Franklin: The first name of what is now Kent was simply Franklin. The townships were laid out before anyone settled there and most were bought by proprietors. The survey township "Town 3 Range 9" was purchased by Aaron Olmstead around 1798. He named his land "Franklin" after his son Aaron Franklin Olmstead. Only recently as cities and villages have become more prominent have we added "township" after the name to differentiate the township from the village or city. For instance, the nearby township of Mantua (MAN uh way) is usually referred to as "Mantua Township" while the village of the same name is referred to as "Mantua". In the early days (and in older published histories) and likely into the 20th century, however, "Mantua" by itself was referring to the township. Within the township were three small villages: Manuta Center, Mantua Corners, and Mantua Station. Eventually Mantua Station dropped "station" from its name and incorporated into a village and "Mantua" came to be referring to the village of Mantua as opposed to the township of Mantua (which, for my LDS readers is where Lorenzo Snow was born and raised and Eliza R. Snow was raised). So, the first name for Kent was simply Franklin when the first settlers arrived in November 1805. I have only found one other source that even mentions "Franklin" as an early name, but logic tells me it was the first name not only for the naming conventions of the time, but also the next name. Either way, Franklin Township was one of the first named townships in the Connecticut Western Reserve. Initially, "Franklin" included most of what is today Portage County and additional lands as well.

Franklin Mills: The next name, and probably the most well-known of Kent's previous names, was that of Franklin Mills. This, of course, was the result of mills -- gristmills, sawmills, even an ANVIL mill and more -- being built along the Cuyahoga River. So naturually, when the first settlers arrived and there were no mills here, I have a hard time believing they called it Franklin Mills. I do not know, however, when the name was first used. The first settlers, the Haymakers, built a gristmill in 1807, so sometime after then. The first official record of Franklin Mills was ca. 1837 when a town plat was registered for what is now downtown Kent. The original village of Franklin Mills started along the river southeast of present-day downtown on the west side of the river, near the Stow Street bridge. The Kent flour mill (ruins at right) was said to have been built on the site of the Haymaker's original 1807 mill. The name Franklin Mills lasted until 1867 when the change to Kent was made official at the incorporation as a village. The vote to change the name was made in 1864.

Reedsburg: Only dedicated historians even know this name existed. In 1811, the Haymakers sold their gristmill to Jacob Reed, who had come from Rootstown. He made significant improvements to the mill and operated it from 1811-1816 until he sold it to George DePeyster and William Price. Portage Pathways by Loris Troyer seems to indicate residents used the name in gratitude for the improvements to the mill, but at this early stage of Kent's history, there weren't many residents at all. All we know is once Reed sold the mill, the name "Franklin Mills" returns, so that only testifies to me that few used the name, particularly those outside the settlement.

Carthage: This is another of the better-known names of Kent, though this actually began as a separate settlement. Carthage began around 1818 when Joshua Woodard moved from Ravenna and began building several small factories and buildings along the river with Frederick Haymaker near the present day intersection of North Mantua Street, Fairchild Avenue, and Crain Avenue. Locally, Carthage was referred to as the "upper village" while Franklin Mills was the "lower village" and collectively they were referred to under the Franklin Mills name by outsiders. Carthage was, however, the first officially recorded name for what is now Kent when the town plat was registered at the county courthouse in 1825. It is the village identified in Franklin Township on the 1826 map of the Western Reserve (Portage County portion at left). The name, however, didn't stick as some historians believe residents preferred the Franklin Mills name. Whatever the reasons, the Carthage name was never widely used outside of the area and apparently even in the area. The only remaining evidence of it in Kent is a small side road called "Carthage Avenue" in the area where Carthage was. The square created by Hudson Road, Fairchild Avenue, North Mantua Street, and Cuyahoga Street is identified on older maps as "Center Place" and was likely the original town square for Carthage had it been laid out and developed as a village. A small but fierce rivalry did exist between the two villages, mostly because of the competing taverns located in them.

Kent: Kent is named for Marvin Kent as he was responsible for a number of business developments in Kent's history, but most importantly the establishment of the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad in 1863. Even more than getting the railroad to come through the village, he was also successful getting Franklin Mills to be the location of the railroad shops, providing hundreds of jobs and generating significant business growth and development. The Kents had been investing in the area since the 1830s with Marvin's father Zenas owning land along the Cuyahoga River and operating a flour mill (ruins shown above) and a tannery (which was briefly operated with famed abolitionist John Brown in the late 1830s). They finally relocated to the village from Ravenna in the 1850s. Marvin Kent's son William Stewart Kent would later donate his 52.89 acre farm as the site of a new normal school in 1910. This school would evolve into today's Kent State University, a development that has shaped Kent into the crazy, unique place it is today. The name "Kent" was used for the settlement first in 1864 after residents and the post office department approved the name change. The change was not official, however, until 1867 when it was approved by the Ohio state legislature and Kent incorporated as a village.

Rockton: Prior to voting on the name of Kent, local leaders also considered the name "Rockton" in honor of Standing Rock (seen at right), a local landmark in northern Kent. Interestingly enough, Marvin Kent actually preferred this name. There are only two known uses of "Rockton" today in Kent that I could find. The first and most prominent is the local Masonic Lodge (which meets in the former Kent home). It was formed in 1859 and adopted "Rockton Lodge" believing the name of the village would become Rockton. It didn't, of course, but the name of the lodge stuck. Another usage I have seen is the neighborhood where my Ridinger grandparents live just east of the city limits (Horning Road area) is identified in the 1957 Portage County Atlas as "Rockton Heights". It appears to have been the name of the subdivision when it was first being developed. It doesn't appear in subsequent maps, and I have never heard that area referred to by that name, so apparently it didn't stick around.

  • Brown, R.C; Norris, J.E. (1885, 1972 revision). History of Portage County Ohio. Chicago, Illinois: Warner, Beers, and Company.
  • Darrow, Ralph, ed (1999). Kent Ohio: The Dynamic Decades. Kent, Ohio: Kent Historical Society.
  • Grismer, Karl H. (1932). History of Kent (2001 Revision ed.). Kent, Ohio: Record Publishing (1932), Kent Historical Society (2001)
  • Plough, Cyrus T., ed (1978). 1874-1978 Bicentennial Atlas of Portage County, Ohio. Ravenna, Ohio: Portage County Historical Society.
  • Troyer, Loris (1998). Portage Pathways. Kent, Ohio and London, England: Kent State University Press

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