There was industry in Akron before rubber. There was a thriving clay manufacturing trade but other towns were churning out pottery and more of it. There was a bustling mill community, especially under Ferdinand Schumacher, the Oatmeal King, but other emerging grain processors were closer to the vast wheat fields being settled on the Great Plains. Few towns are as closely associated with a single product as Akron is to rubber but there was plenty of serendipity on the path to Akron becoming the Rubber Capital of the World.
The first bit of providence occurred with the discovery of vulcanized rubber itself back in 1839 when Charles Goodyear accidentally dropped rubber and sulphur onto his kitchen stove. In 1870 Dr. Benjamin Goodrich was operating a small rubber plant in Melrose, New York when he decided to break clean with New York and establish the first rubber plant west of the Alleghenies, out where there was power, transportation, fresh labor and a fast developing country. He did not have an idea where to build such a plant, however, and on the train west for his scouting mission Goodrich met a stranger who spoke so glowingly of a town in Ohio called Akron that he decided to pay a visit. The new rubber plant caused scarcely a ripple on the economic waters of Akron. The enterprise attracted a small band of investors to get going with $13,600 but there were few commercial uses for rubber. Dr. Goodrich contented himself with manufacturing cotton-covered rubber fire hoses and the like. Goodrich died prematurely in 1888 at the age of 47 four years before the racing trotter Nancy Hanks lowered the world speed record by four seconds. The six-year old mare had been fast before 1892 but that year she was hitched to a new bike sulky - one with pneumatic tires. Suddenly the demand for rubber tires for carriages and the new-fangled bicycle on America’s streets exploded. And in 1896 the Goodrich Company made the first rubber tire for an even more revolutionary contraption - the automobile.
The founding of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in Akron in 1898 was every bit as whimsical. That year Frank A. Seibering was nearly insolvent and was in Chicago to liquidate his failed business holdings when he happened upon an Ohio business acquaintance looking to dispose of a seven-acre strawboard plant whose main assets were a small power plant and two dilapidated buildings facing each other on opposite banks of Akron’s Little Cuyahoga River. He had invested $140,000 in the property, he said, but was seeking only $50,000. The desperate buyer accepted Seibering’s offer of $13,500. Seibering returned to Akron wondering what he was going to do with the old plant and how he was going to pay for it. He borrowed the down payment from his brother-in-law and other relatives loaned him money to start a rubber company like his father had once operated. Within 18 years Goodyear was the largest tire company in the world and every dollar invested in Goodyear in the beginning was then worth $100.
Harvey Firestone left his Ohio family farm in 1890 when he was 22 to work in an uncle’s buggy company as a salesman and shortly was put in charge of the Michigan district. One day in 1895 he sold a set of rubber carriage tires to a machinist fiddling with gasoline engines named Henry Ford. Five years later Firestone, armed with a patent for attaching rubber tires to rims, came to the new rubber mecca in Akron to start the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. By that time his old customer had started an automobile company of his own and Henry Ford placed an order for 2,000 sets of tires to carry his new runabouts. It was the largest single order for tires ever placed by an auto manufacturer and as the Ford Motor Company became the biggest car maker in the world most of those Fords came equipped with Firestone tires.
With the three tire companies in place, no town in America grew like Akron. The population of 70,000 in 1910 tripled to 210,000 in 1920. To keep up Akron swallowed rival communities and buildings were seemingly erected overnight. Most of the significant buildings seen today were constructed during that boom time until 1931, recasting the Akron streetscape from its origins as a canal town founded in 1825. Our walking tour will start hard by the vestiges of that Erie & Ohio Canal, at the high point on the historic waterway that gave birth to a town named for the Greek word akros, meaning “high place”...
Lock 3 Park
northwest corner of State Street and Main Street
Akron was founded by Simon Perkins as the high point on the new Ohio & Erie Canal in 1825. Lock 3 Park was created in the early 2000s on the site of a boat yard and dry dock that operated here. A remnant of the historic canal survives in the park.
LOOKING ACROSS THE CANAL, BEYOND THE PARK TO THE WEST, THE LARGE ORANGISH BRICK BUILDING IS...
Canal Square Akron YMCA
1 Canal Square Plaza
The Young Men’s Christian Association movement that had begun in England in the 1840s came to Akron in 1870. It opened as a small reading room downtown and became so popular that in 1931 the tallest YMCA building in Ohio and the largest YMCA in America was constructed here. The 17-story Art Deco tour-de-force offered members over 200 dormitory rooms, 24-hour medical service, two restaurants, a dry cleaner, two gymnasiums, and the largest swimming pool in the state. At its peak the Canal Square Y boasted more than 9,000 members but a lack of members by 1980 forced the facility to close. After a $10 million facelift the YMCA re-opened with apartments and commercial space for rent.
EXIT THE PARK ON THE OPPOSITE SIDE FROM THE CANAL, ONTO MAIN STREET. WITH YOUR BACK TO THE PARK, TURN LEFT, HEADING NORTH.
182 South Main Street
This theater was built by one of the greatest American movie impresarios, Marcus Lowe, in 1929 and designed by the equally renowned theater architect, John Eberson. Eberson was known for his “atmospheric” houses that transported patrons to exotic lands for an evening of entertainment. For the Civic that meant a Moorish castle featuring Mediterranean decor, including medieval carvings, authentic European antiques and Italian alabaster sculptures. Unlike many of its downtown American cousins the Civic has trundled on as an entertainment venue continuously since its inception, aided by a $19 million restoration in 2001. Among facilities of its size, the Civic is one of only five remaining movie palaces where theater-goers can still experience a twinkling star-lit sky and intermittent clouds moving across the horizon from their seats.
Akron Savings and Loan Company
156 South Main Street at southwest corner of Bowery Street
The Akron Building and Loan Association organized in 1888 to assist people in Akron to own their own homes. The bank grew along with the town, seeking ever larger quarters until it changed its name to the Akron Savings and Loan Company and landed in the South Main and Bowery Savings and Loan Company building here in 1909. That building was scrapped in 1924 for this 12-story Neoclassical tower. In 1980, the institution was renamed TransOhio Savings.
153 South Main Street at northeast corner of Bowery Street
This Neoclassical office building was constructed in 1911 for the Second National Bank, which was organized in 1863 by George D. Bates. As originally designed, the hillside bank had seven stories; an additional four came along in 1919.
First Central Trust Building
100 South Main Street
This 27-story Art Deco tower featuring setbacks as it rises above the fourteenth floor was constructed by Cleveland architects Harry Weeks and Frank Walker. Walker & Weeks carved out a niche as bank architects and they designed this financial temple for Central Savings and Trust. Faced in glazed white terra-cotta, the 330-foot tower has been the tallest building in Akron since its completion in 1931. Seventy years later when the bank picked up a $2.5 million facelift with some 450 blocks, weighing up to 75 pounds each, removed for cleaning and subsequent reassembly.
Akron-Summit County Public Library
60 South Main Street
The first books were lent in Akron in 1874. The collection arrived here in the late 1960s; the current appearance is the result of a makeover orchestrated by Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects in 2001 from 2004.
17 South Main Street
This building has its roots in the legal profession. After the local courthouse burned in 1899, Judge William B. Doyle constructed the four-story brick building and held court here. Doyle would serve as Akron mayor from 1901-02. In the late 1960s a different sort of legal attention was focused here when magazine publisher Larry Flynt opened a Hustler Club in the Nantucket Building. After some 25 years of neglect the building received a facelift and offices created specifically to attract lawyers once again. The hole to the north of the Nantucket Building is where the Hotel Howe once stood. It was the town’s tallest building when it opened in 1915; the 11-story tower was demolished in 1995.
1 South Main Street at southeast corner of Market Street
The United Building arrived during a construction boom in downtown Akron in the 1920s with a reported price tag of $1 million. Architect Alan R. Burge used the money to create a Neoclassical home for the United Cigar Store Company. After crafting entrance bays of sandstone on the lower levels Burge uses brick to reach the top floors which he has outfitted with a parade of fluted Corinthian columns. An intricate cornice tops the confection.
The Everett Building
37 East Market Street at northeast corner of Main Street
This building began life as Carver’s Academy of Music in 1871, designed in the showy French Second Empire style by influential architect John F. Seiberling. The opera house was damaged by fire in 1878 and again in 1897 and the latter time was rebuilt by Sylvester T. Everett. The lower level piers and the central arch are the only remnants of the original building. Everett was a leading Cleveland financier with interests in banking and mining. He bankrolled two of the first electric street railways in America in Akron and in Erie, Pennsylvania. Everett was a big player in Republican politics, playing roles in the ascendancy of James Garfield and William McKinley to national office. The building picked up a $1.5 million makeover in the late 1990s and re-emerged as retail and office space. Next to the Everett Building is the City Market House, built in 1905.
TURN RIGHT ON MARKET STREET.
Castle Hall Building
57 East Market Street
This picturesque building constructed in the early 1870s blends elements of the High Victorian Gothic and the Romanesque styles. The decorative elements increase as the three-stories climb higher until reaching a crescendo in the riotous parapet. It was used as a clubhouse by town fraternal organizations such as the Knights of Pythias and later did duty as the classrooms of the Hammel Business College.
69 East Market Street at northeast corner of High Street
When Andrew Carnegie got his first raise as a teenager working in the offices of the Pennsylvania Railroad - to $35 a month - he wrote years later, “I couldn’t imagine what I could ever do with so much money.” In 1901, when Carnegie sold his U.S. Steel Corporation to banker J.P. Morgan for $480 million Morgan shook his hand and told him, “Congratulations, Mr. Carnegie, you are now the richest man in the world.” This time, Carnegie had an idea what to do with the money. He spent a large chunk of his fortune establishing more than 2,500 public libraries around the world. His gift to Akron built this buff sandstone building in 1904, designed in the exuberant Beaux Arts style by local architect Frank O. Weary.
Akron Art Museum
1 South High Street at southeast corner of Market Street
The art museum slipped into existence in 1922 in two borrowed rooms in the basement of the public library. The Art Institute moved into its own space in 1937 in an historic town mansion that burned four years later, taking much of the collection with it. In the 1960s the abandoned 1899 post office was outfitted for display space and classrooms. An additional 63,000 square-feet of exhibition space came along in 2007, designed by the Viennese architectural firm Coop Himmelblau following an international competition.
TURN RIGHT ON HIGH STREET.
56 East Mill Street at southwest corner of High Street
Busy Akron architect Farnk O. Weary added this multi-use commercial building to the city streetscape in 1903. Retail shops operated on the ground floor and apartments filled the top three stories. Weary used two colors of brick and arched windows to infuse style into his building which featured a skylighted atrium. The tired Gothic Building had a date with the wrecking ball in the 1990s but instead received a $2 million rejuvenation.
103 South High Street at southeast corner of Mill Street
This seven-story Neoclassical structure was raised by the town’s Freemasons in 1917 to handle their business and social gatherings. Inside, amidst marble walls and floors are a ballroom and theater, among other facilities. The greatest flourishes are reserved for a pair of fourth floor rooms done in Egyptian and ancient Greek themes. In recent years the building has been spruced up to handle public events under the auspices of the Akron/Summit Convention Bureau.
Local Zion Lutheran Church
139 South High Street at northeast corner of Bowery Street
This congregation was formed by German Lutheran immigrants in 1854 who purchased a 20-year old building for a $1,000. The current sanctuary came along in 1877 followed by the brick school in 1889 and an addition in 1915.
YWCA of Akron
146 South High Street at northwest corner of Bowery Street
The Akron YWCA was organized on March 9, 1901 but did not get its own facility until 1929 when a joint YWCA-YMCA capital funds campaign raised $2,400,000 for construction of new buildings for both organizations. Akron’s architects J. Adam Fichter & H.A. Brooker contributed the Neoclassical design. Partners since 1912, this was their largest commission. The building boasts a limestone base and carved relief panels on the bricks above. Entry is through a monumental arch which the YWCA last used in 1991.
166 South High Street
Albert H. Good and Edwin D. Wagner were Akron’s busiest architects in the early decades of the 1900s designing high-end residences, country clubs and commercial buildings. In 1924 they designed the new 8-story home for the city government in the Italian Renaissance style. The building is crafted in sandstone, formed in ashlar blocks on the lower levels and prominent quoins on the corners.
Summit County Courthouse
209 South High Street
Akron muscled out Cuyahoga Falls as the seat of newly formed Summit County in 1840 and three years later the first county courthouse was constructed here on a hill called “The Gore.” In August of 1900, a mob raged through the streets of Akron in search of Louis Peck, who had been accused of assaulting and raping a six-year old girl. The vigilantes set fire to city hall and the jail but were persuaded to leave the courthouse standing. The next day Peck pled guilty in the courtroom where mob leaders were also indicted and tried. The Courthouse was demolished a few years later anyway and replaced with this Beaux Arts structure in 1908. The price tag for the building, constructed with locally-quarried sandstone, was $337,708.93. In 1922, an Annex of the same design was built to the rear of the new Courthouse at a cost of $350,000, connected by enclosed bridges.
WALK UP THE STEPS AND PATH TO YOUR LEFT OF THE COURTHOUSE THROUGH TO BROADWAY STREET. TURN LEFT AND WALK TO THE CORNER.
Quaker Square Inn
135 South Broadway Street
As settlers harnessed the tumbling water in the Cuyahoga Valley, Akron became a milling center in the 1830s and remained one until the turn of the century. The Quaker Mill Company incorporated in Ravenna, Ohio in 1877. These silos were constructed in 1939 and could hold 1.5 million grain bushels in their day. In an imaginative adaptation the complex was converted into a hotel in 1980.
TURN AND RETRACE YOUR STEPS BACK PAST THE COURTHOUSE, WALKING SOUTH ON BROADWAY STREET.
National Inventors Hall of Fame
199 South Broadway Street
The National Inventors Hall of Fame began in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 1973 in their headquarters outside of Washington, D.C. Thomas Edison was the first inductee. The Hall moved to Akron in this building in 1995.
St. Bernard-St. Mary Parish
44 University Avenue at southwest corner of Broadway Street
The St. Bernard Catholic church was crafted in a German-Romanesque style with Baroque overtones by Akron architect William P. Ginther, a parishioner. Ginther, who designed scores of churches across the country, patterned the structure after the great cathedrals in the Rhineland region of Europe for the parish that was established in 1861. The stone for the twin-towered structure cost $51,000 and arrived on site in 125 train carloads. St. Bernard and St. Mary’s parishes merged in 2010 but as the church building is consecrated it remains only St. Bernard Church.
TURN RIGHT ON STATE STREET.
Mayflower Manor Apartments
263 South Main Street at southeast corner of State Street
The esteemed Chicago architectural firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, with such iconic structures as the Wrigley Building in Chicago and the Terminal Tower in Cleveland on its resume, was summoned to Akron in 1931 to build the town’s most luxurious hotel. They created an eye-catching Art Deco structure rising from a three-story limestone base decorated with cartouches and masks. The State Street elevation is split into two towers by a recessed facade. The 450-room Mayflower Hotel reigned as the city’s best hotel until it closed in the 1960s; today it carries on as low income housing. From a pay phone in the Mayflower lobby in 1935 Bill W. made the historic telephone callwhich led to his first meeting with Dr. Bob and the subsequent founding of what was to become Alcoholics Anonymous. A replica of the phone and the Church Directory Bill W consulted for the phone number has been constructed in the lobby.
TURN RIGHT ON MAIN STREET.
O’Neil’s Department Store
222 South Main Street at northwest corner of State Street
Irish immigrants Michael O’Neil and Isaac Dyas opened a dry goods store on Market Street in 1877. Upon the death of Dyas in 1892, the store became M. O’Neil Co. When O’Neil’s was acquired by May Department Stores in 1912 the price tag was $1 million. This block-long building with a sandstone Neoclassical facade was opened in 1927 where it became a holiday institution for its displays of lights and animated characters. O’Neil’s closed in 1988 and the 800,000 square-foot building was donated to the city. It has recently been spruced up with $30 million of improvements by Akron’s oldest law firm, Roetzel & Andress with space for offices, restuarants, and shops.
225 South Main Street
Abram Polsky sailed from his native Poland to New York City in 1868 when he was 20 years old. He hopped a train to Iowa and earned his keep knocking on farmhouse doors, toting his goods in a tattered backpack. It was a grand day when he saved enough to buy a horse and wagon. By the mid-1870s he was in Ohio, in business with his brother-in-law and in 1885 the pair opened a dry goods shop in Akron. Polsky’s sons Harry and Bert took the controls after Abram died suddenly from an allergic reaction to an anesthetic during a routine medical exam in 1915. When its biggest competitor, O’Neil’s, set up shop on Main Street in the 1920s, the Polskys bought up the block across the street and erected a $2 million Art Deco retailing palace in 1930. Its original four stories weren’t enough selling space - even during the Depression - so a fifth floor was added in 1941. After Bert Polsky died in 1970 at the age of 88 Polsky’s, which then included four stores, lasted only eight more years. Today the building has been appropriated by the University of Akron as one of the gateways to its downtown campus.
WALK A FEW MORE STEPS TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT IN LOCK 3 PARK.