Founded in 1814 on land owned by the Connecticut Western Reserve, Wadsworth held the distinction of being the farthermost southern edge of the enormous land holding which Connecticut was permitted to keep while other states ceded their lands to the federal government.
Benjamin Dean felled the first tree on March 1, 1814. The Dean family and the Oliver Durham families came from Vermont and settled on the eastern end of what is now Wadsworth, known to locals as Western Star. There were no other white men or women here at the time, except for a Canadian migratory squatter, Indian Holmes, who was given this name because he was married to an Indian woman. He made his home a few feet from a brook which ran west of town, known now as Holmesbrook Hill. The area was named after Indian Holmes.
Revolutionary War hero, General Elijah Wadsworth, owned a huge portion of the land with others owning only a small portion of it. Because of this, the other land owners thought it appropriate to name the new settlement, Wadsworth. General Wadsworth, himself, was a respected patriot, military leader, pioneer, business administrator and visionary. He earned this heritage honestly, being the direct descendant of Joseph Wadsworth, who is credited for saving the charter of the Connecticut Colony by hiding the document in an oak tree in what history refers to as the Charter Oak. Elijah was also related to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
General Wadsworth never lived in Wadsworth. Instead, he lived in Canfield, Ohio, where he is buried and where his homestead still stands. He was prominent in Canfield and residents there built a statue of him which is erected on the north side of the main part of town. His homestead is owned by private individuals; however, there is a museum near the home where many of the historic elements of Elijah Wadsworth's life are displayed.
The settlers from Connecticut were mostly English, mainly because most of the people from New England were of English descent. They brought with them their culture, their Congregationalist religion and the term they called themselves, Yankees.
For the first fifteen years or so, the Yankees enjoyed singularity, but in the 1830's, a new breed of people began arriving in Wadsworth from Pennsylvania, a people who referred to themselves as Pennsylvania Dutch. Wadsworth is unique in that it is the only area where the Pennsylvania Dutch settled where the Yankees were already established. Other areas, such as Hudson, Tallmadge, Middlebury etc., did not share in this distinction.
There was animosity between the two groups, a product of earlier skirmishes they had had with one another in land disputes in the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania. The Yankees considered education, culture and religion to be their highest goals, and they considered the Pennamites [as they called them] to be good people but distrustful, clannish and extremely conservative, albeit religious [but not the right religion.] At one time, marriage between the two groups was considered a mixed marriage. After a few years of co-existence, the two groups began cooperating -- in different parts of the settlement and with different foci. The Pennsylvania Dutch moved to the outer regions and farmed while the Yankees became the professional people and merchants and lived in the center of the settlement.
The Pennsylvania Dutch were of German ancestry; the German word for German, Deutsche, was transliterated to Dutch. The influx of Pennsylvania Dutch continued to the extent that at one time, the entire area surrounding the central village of Wadsworth was inhabited by Pennsylvania Dutch. They were mostly of the Mennonite persuasion augmented by a good representation of Lutherans. German was the language in both churches in the early days.
At one time, the entire reserve was under the jurisdiction of Trumbull County with the county seat being in Warren. Trumbull County was divided in 1807 and became Portage County. Wadsworth first belonged to Portage County but was united with Medina County in 1818 when Portage County was further divided. Medina County, at that time, included the townships of Norton, Copley, Bath and Richfield to the east, and Grafton, Sullivan, Penfield and Huntington to the west in addition to the 17 townships which presently comprise Medina County: Wadsworth, Guilford, Westfield,Harrisville, Homer, Sharon, Montville, Medina, Layfayette, York, Litchfield, Spencer, Chatham, Granger, Hinckley, Brunswick Hills and Liverpool.
BEGINNING OF PROGRESS:
With the population now "booming", government began to become more formalized. On April 6, 1818, Wadsworth Township held its first election and officially named the community Wadsworth. Mail delivery began [although irregular and meager] in 1821, after which the first Wadsworth post office was built on Diagonal Road [now Wadsworth Road] and later moved to the center of the town.
Progress was at a standstill until about 1827, the year the Erie Canal was opened through Akron. What had been a stagnant economy for the early settlers was now becoming a promising ray of hope to compensate the settlers for all their hard work in clearing the fields to eke out a survival existence. With the new mode of transportation, some of their produce could be sold to outsiders since it could be transported via the canal. In 1827, the price of a bushel of wheat went from five cents to a dollar almost overnight. Poverty had turned into prosperity in the minds of the pioneers who compared it with their previous "spoils."
The grist mills were the first "industry" to greet the new age. Farmers could take their grain to be ground for feed and flour locally rather than having to cart it into Middlebury [East Akron] as before. This industry encouraged other industries which were required to support the milling industry, e.g., blacksmiths, wheelwrights, coopers, cobblers, wagon makers, etc. Soon, the ring of hammers on steel overpowered the dull sound of one furrow of soil falling upon another, the only sound the farmers heard for years before the Canal was opened.
Henry Morgan opened a general store in Western Star in 1825, but the venture was short lived. In 1826 Allen and John Pardee opened a store at the corner of what is now Broad and Fairlawn.
They later moved it to the southwest corner of Main and College Streets, behind what is now the First Merit Bank building. Built of stone, it was call the Old Stone Store. Allen Pardee then built the National Hotel on the other side of Main Street but it burned down in 1875.
Harvey Buell Spelman, was a competitor of the Pardees. This fact is not of particular significance; however, what is significant is the fact that he was the father of Laura Spelman, who became the wife of John D. Rockefeller. She lived on the corner of School Drive and Main Street [the entrance to Central Intermediate School] in a house which stood until a few years ago. When Wadsworth celebrated its 175th Anniversary in 1989, a descendant of the Rockefeller family wanted to see where his grandmother lived but the house had been razed by that time.
The Pardee family was prominent in Wadsworth. Aaron was an attorney and the first mayor; Eugene was an attorney; Allen and John were merchants; George was a physician. They were a family of wealth and had material goods to characterize their wealth. They owned a magnificent house which was moved to the south side of College street after it had been built on Akron Road.
The house still stands on Watrusa Avenue; however, it was divided into three smaller houses early on.
Caroline Pardee, great grandaughter of Aaron Pardee, died in Akron at 93 years of age.
Churches began to flourish in Wadsworth. Presently, there are 25 churches in the Wadsworth area, whereas earlier there were only a few. The first, of course, was the Congregational Church, brought from New England, followed by the Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, Disiciples of Christ, Mennonites [old and new] Catholic. All the churches started with small congregations and borrowed dwellings and most of them were served by itinerant clergy.
The Mennonites boasted three different churches, depending on the focus of their respective beliefs. The new Mennonites [now called the First Mennonite Church] actually built a college where Isham School now stands. It flourished until the end of the 1800's and then closed as a result of poor enrollment and severe financial problems.
Coal mining became an industry synonymous with the Wadsworth name in the mid-1880's. The fact that the railroad came through Wadsworth nurtured the growth of mining to the extent that, at one time, almost all of Wadsworth was resting above coal mines. The coal was soft but good and industries throughout the state used Wadsworth coal because it was of quality and was relatively inexpensive. On one day in the latter part of the 1880's, the Silvercreek Mine shipped over 1100 tons of coal in one day, a record which was never known to have been broken. This was particularly significant since all the coal was dug by hand and transported by a mule pulling a small cart through the four-foot-high mine shafts. Mining stopped almost completely by the 1930's but the mine shafts are still networked beneath Wadsworth.
In the early 1890's, a group of men founded the Ohio Injector Company, the Ohio Match Company, the Ohio Boxboard Company [Rittman] and the Wadsworth Salt Company, all known as the Ohio Companies. Prominent among these men were the Young brothers who dominated the industrial scene for about fifty years before their retirement and ultimate deaths. All these companies were sold near the middle of the 20th Century.
Valves [Ohio Injector Company] and matches are no longer made in Wadsworth; however, during the height of production years, they were part of a world-wide economy. The Wadsworth Salt Company burned in 1927 and was not rebuilt. The Ohio Salt Company in Rittman replaced the Wadsworth Salt Company as a focal point of salt production in the area. The salt vein in Wadsworth and Rittman provided abundant raw material for each factory.
SOUTHERN AND EASTERN EUROPEAN IMMIGRATION:
Just as the Yankees and Pennsylvania Dutch came to Wadsworth, so did other people of various nationalities, particularly after the turn of the 20th Century. Most of them found work in the companies cited above. The Ohio Match Company was unique in that it employed women on the assembly line. At one time, the Ohio Match Company employed over 1100 people, about one-half being women.
Italians, Germans, Slovenians, Hungarians, Slovaks, Poles, and Irish dominated the list of families joining together in small clusters throughout the City, mostly in the south end of Wadsworth.
By 1940, the immigration had nearly stopped with only scattered accounts of people moving in from other countries. This was not true during the years from 1900 until 1920, however, forty-eight families moved from Sicily to Wadsworth, almost all of them from the same region and many of them related. Two families [cousins] were from the mainland of Italy and settled in the Silvercreek area. Sam Buemi was the first to arrive from Sicily in 1908, followed by relatives and friends who looked for a better life than the ones they had abroad. Most of these people worked at the Ohio Match Company and lived close by the factory for convenience and economy.
Hungarians were led by Peter Bacso, a store owner on Main Street near State Street. His hardware and clothing stores were legion in South Wadsworth and his customers heralded the quality and low price of his goods.
Peter Bacso started the Hungarian Reformed Church on Chestnut Street near Main with assistance from the Young family, founders of the Ohio Companies. Several Hungarian families became members as well as a few from other nationalities. Mr. Bacso was awarded the Carnegie Medal for Heroism when he pulled a little girl from being run over by a train at the Main Street crossing. The little girl was rescued but Mr. Bacso lost his arm in the incident.
The Slovenians farmed in the southwestern portion of the City before they began to blend into the mainstream of community life later on. Prominent among these farmers were the Sega and Pecnik families. Mrs. Pecnik was a Sega. The Dombroski family [Polish] had a farm in the area as well. Herman Just, a German immigrant, joined this league of exceptionally talented masters of the land. John Hahn, also German, farmed a huge truck patch on Medina Line Road, north of Reimer Road. George Dutt, German, but American born, farmed on the east Medina County Line. His brother, Charlie, farmed at Custard Hook, in the southwestern portion of the township. Custard Hook got its name 'according to legend' from a railroad operative who waited for custard pie at a particular point and "hooked" it as the train traveled.
The Irish moved here in great numbers and were mainly coal miners, a trade they brought from their homeland. The Hutchinson family had a large extended family and lived near the railroad tracks at the western edge of Silvercreek. John Malaney, who married Katherine Hutchinson, owned a coal mine in Silvercreek, probably the last one to close in the mid 1930's. The decline of the use of coal was the main reason for closing the mine; however, the final straw was that the mule that pulled the coal cart perished in a flooded mine shaft.
There are many more families who should be mentioned as immigrants who made Wadsworth their homes; however, the numbers are too numerous to catalog in this account of history.
Wadsworth became a city on January 1, 1931, with 4,997 inhabitants as reflected in the 1930 census. It adopted the Statutory Form of Government, if not by choice then by default. The Ohio Revised Code is explicit in what form a government will be adopted: If the municipality opts for a Statutory Form of Government, it will govern itself thus. If it opts for a Charter Form of Government, it will need to develop a charter and place it before the voters. If it opts for neither of these, it automatically becomes a Statutory Form of Government. The Statutory Form of Government allows for home rule but requires the municipality to abide by the laws which govern municipalities enacted by the State Legislature.
The first school was built at the south end of what is now Hartman Road. It was replaced by one at the other end of Hartman Road only a few years later.
The sixteenth square of a village in the Connecticut Western Reserve was usually retained for the government, churches and schools. After the first two ventures in building schools, the Union School was built in 1870 in the center of the village where Central Intermediate School now stands. A wooden structure, it began to decay and was condemned. In 1907, it was razed and the brick structure still standing was built on the same site.
The Union School became Central School and housed grades Kindergarten through twelve in one building. This arrangement continued through the 1940's after which the building became a high school and junior high school, and still later, a high school only.
In 1915, Franklin Elementary School was built for the students on the south side of Wadsworth and Lincoln for those on the north side. Each building originally had four rooms, but a few years later, four more rooms were added to each school, Franklin in 1919 and Lincoln in 1929. Both buildings were replaced in 2001, Lincoln on the same site [the old building was razed], and Franklin on Takacs Drive. The old Franklin building was razed in 2002. Overlook School was built in 1954 and Valley View School was built in 1957.
Students from the township went to Wadsworth Centralized School -- beginning in 1915 -- now Isham School. Before that, it was the Mennonite College. At first, Centralized housed all twelve grades, but in 1927, the township paid tuition to the city school system to accept students from grades ten through twelve. The reason for this rather strange grade separation was that the city schools were on the 6-3-3 system; hence, the "high school" comprised grades ten through twelve.
Prior to students attending Centralized, they went to the twelve one-room schools throughout the township. Privately owned horse-drawn wagons picked up students at their homes and transported them to the school. In 1920, the township Board of Education purchased wagons but drivers furnished their own horses. Motorized buses [boxes built on truck chassis] began in 1927. Girls sat on one side and boys on the other. Smaller children sat on benches in the middle of the bus. When the "buses" were not used for transporting students, they were used for hauling goods by pushing the moveable seats to the side of the truck bed.
Wars impacted heavily on Wadsworth. Although Wadsworth was founded after the War of 1812 began and nearly forty years after the Revolutionary War, people who came to Wadsworth brought their war stories with them and then carried them to their graves. Wadsworth Union Cemetery, known popularly as Woodlawn Cemetery, entombs the remains of these precious few warriors with pious respect. They are remembered each Memorial Day with dignity and honor.
Filling the graves in overwhelming numbers, however, are veterans from World War I and World War II. Wadsworth sent over 1100 soldiers to the battlefields between 1941 and 1945 -- particularly significant since there were only slightly more than 5000 residents in the City at that time. All but 27 returned. The names of the 27 victims whose lives were prematurely stilled by the ravages of war are inscribed on a plaque in Wadsworth City Hall for all to remember long after those with first-hand memories will no longer be here to remember them.
Korea, Viet Nam, Desert Storm, Afghanistan, War on Terrorism, Iraqi Freedom; all names which were foreign to those who lived the simple life in Wadsworth, became all too real; so real, in fact, they will never be forgotten.
From the effort in felling the first tree in 1814 to the exhaustive efforts in moving Wadsworth ahead as waves of people flock to live in our city, Town One, Range Thirteen [as it was known when founded] is now an expanding entity, a product of people who moved here to relish the quaint small-town atmosphere where they could rear their families away from the large urban areas. An irony, of sorts, is that they very reason for coming to Wadsworth is what is changing Wadsworth. Perhaps the Dean and Durham families reflected similarly when they saw the third family move in. Whatever the case, today's activities will be tomorrow's history. And so it will always be.
Compiled by: Caesar A. Carrino, Ph.D, Wadsworth native and Mayor of Wadsworth from 2000-2004.