Early Industrial Development of Ravenna by Mary F. Stevenson
Did you ever stop to wonder what was the very first industry in Ravenna? After the first settlers had arrived, had cleared sufficient land for a dwelling place and some crops, had built that log cabin and planted those crops, who was the man who first turned his attention to supplying some need of his neighbors?
While I was unable to find a definite answer to those questions so far as Ravenna proper was concerned, certainly it would be safe to guess that that need was very closely connected to one of the three essentials of life: that is, to food, clothing or shelter. Thus, we read in the “History of Portage County”, that in August of 1800, “Conrad Boosinger, with his wife, sons George and John, and daughter Polly, came in and settled on the Mahoning, about one mile and half southeast of Ravenna Center. He purchased 200 acres of land from Tappan, cleared five or six acres and sowed it to wheat. Shortly after his settlement, he, being a tanner by trade, constructed a couple of vats, and as fast as he could obtain hides, tanned them.”
Likewise, within the town plat, the first industry we find mentioned was the tannery operated by Jared Mason from 1810 until the time of his death in 1813. John Wells married his widow, and thus came into possession of this tannery. Later Mr. Wells took as partner in the business, Jesse Grant, father of Ulysses S. Grant. This plant was located where Marshall’s Dry Cleaning plant now stands. Another tannery of an early date was run by John Gillis, father of George Robinson, grandfather of Harry Robinson. This one was just east of the Congregational Church. At a somewhat later date, Mr. Goeppinger had a tannery on South Chestnut St., between the B & O and Harris St. (where the Roger Brown Lumber Co. is now). This was a large two-story building, with numerous vats for curing hides, by the old tan bark method. They had open sheds where they stored the tan bark used in tanning.
At first there were no boot and shoe stores. In the fall after the farmers had had their hides tanned, the shoemaker would come to his house and make shoes for his family. Later came the shoe shop, where everyone went and was measured and then had to wait his turn to have his shoes made. Shoes for children were made identical; that is, no left and right. Much later, about 1895, there was a shoe factory here, in a large three-story brick building located on South Prospect St. by the B & O. The building, financed by Mr. H.W. Riddle, was constructed by C. Z. Loomis and P. L. Frank. It still stands at the east end of Cleveland Worsted Mills Co. yarn mills, and is now a part of their property. The shoe company was organized by local businessmen, among whom was Mr. Loudin, the famous Jubilee singer. The company was named for him, the Loudin Shoe Company. Shoes were manufactured in this plant until the Cleveland Worsted Mills took it over.
There was also in Ravenna at an early date, a manufacturer of hats. He used the furs of local animals.
For the remainder of their clothing, the early settlers did most of their own spinning and weaving. Later, they could buy materials in the stores. Considerably later, there was a woolen mill established here, but that belongs in the following paper.
So far as food was concerned, the first settlers had to be rather self-sufficient. Their greatest need was for the mills to grind their grain. These were built on streams, for the sake of the water power, so the people of Ravenna had to go to Kent (Franklin, it was called at that time) or to Monroe Falls. After the canal was built a mill was established at Campbellsport, which was patronized by Ravenna.
Eventually, mills were built in Ravenna, of which the most famous was the Quaker Mill. This was in the approximate location of Mayhew Elevator. It was originally organized, in 1877, by Bert King, Hohn King, Henry D. Seymour, William Hisler, and Henry H. Stevens. As you doubtless know, this was the beginning of the Quaker Oats Co. The company went through several changes of management while here. The names of Crowell and Andrews may be familiar to some. Mr. Byers, founder of the Byers Machine Shop, invented the machines which made possible the slicing of the grain, for originally, it was sliced, not rolled. While their chief product was oatmeal, other grains were handled also. A clipping, dated August 18, 1879 stated that seven tons of oatmeal were shopped from the C. & P. freight depot, for Glasgow, Scotland.
It may be of interest to know that Helen Williams' grandmother, Mrs. Phelps, whose husband worked at the mill, originated the recipe for Oatmeal Bread that appeared on the old oatmeal boxes.
The company was here until about 1889 or 1890 when it merged with another and moved to Akron, with main offices in Chicago.
A very important man in the settlement of long ago was the village blacksmith. His job included not only keeping the horses shod, but handling all kinds of simple iron work which required forging, and some work with other metals, also. David Moore was the first blacksmith in Ravenna. An advertisement in 1857, read, “New Blacksmith in Ravenna. Silver and brass plating. Key fitting. Old Stand. E. Woodruff. Chestnut St., south of Court House.”
In those days, charcoal was used for the forge fires. This was prepared by farmers who would pile a huge mass of logs in a certain formation so that the drafts would be just right, cover the pile with dirt, then set fire to it. It would burn for several weeks. The wood had to have just enough air to burn the volatile products in it, without being consumed itself.
I do not know at what date Ravenna began ‘exporting’ cheese, but from the casual references here and there it must have been an important industry in this section. The people here looked forward to opening of the railroad (the C. & P. was opened in 1851) because “Then we can sell our butter and our cheese at any time, and not have to haul it by wagon to Cleveland, or to the River, and we can go to Cleveland and back in the same day.” I also read that in 1885, there were 93,506 pounds of cheese made in Ravenna Township, and over 19 million pounds in the state.
There was one cheese factory at Beechwoods; one, called the Beman Springs factory, out Shalersville Road, in the valley between Hinmans and Watters; and the Heckman Cheese factory out Diamond St. just past the B. & O. tracks.
Although the log cabin provided shelter of a kind, certainly the homes could not have been very comfortable. Saw mills, planing mills, and glass were needed to produce a better type of house. I find no record of those early saw mills, but we read of the first frame house being built in 1809. Presumably the lumber must have been prepared in a local mill. I am told that the lumber for the First Congregational Church which was built in 1837 was milled at the plant near Black Horse, operated by the Babcock brothers. There must have been several whose names never appeared in the records, but in the 1885 History of Portage County, we find listed: D. L. Baldwin and Sons Planing Hill, which had been established as a cheese box factory by A. C. Chapman’s Son, and purchased by Baldwin in 1879. This was the grandfather of Leroy Baldwin. Their plant was located on Cleveland road near the Erie tracks. Among other things, they made boxes for the Quaker Oats Co. They also sold coal, and eventually quit the lumber business and stayed in the coal business only.
Work and Yeend moved their saw mill to Ravenna in 1883, and established a lumber yard. Kingsbury and Sons and Grohe also had planing mills. The Groche Mill was a later development of Griffin’s mill which earlier had been in a hub and spoke factory.
Our recent cold weather makes one wonder how it would be possible to live in a house without glass windows. While the first log cabins did not have glass, somewhat later it was brought in.
In fact there is a story about a pane of glass and a man. Authorities differ as to who that man was. A. B. Griffin, author of “Ravenna, Forty Years Ago”, claims to be that man. Others say it was Seth Day, great-great-grandfather of Howard Day. Possibly they were in on it together. Anyway, two men had driven to Cleveland by wagon and the one had carefully carried home a large pane of glass in his hands, so that it would not be broken by the jarring of the wagon over the rough roads. One can imagine the strain it must have been to hold it during that long tedious trip. Upon arrival, as he was looking for a safe place to set it down, he dropped it and broke it into a thousand pieces. He decided that Ravenna needed a glass factory.
At about that same time, it happened that the postmaster in Ravenna received a letter from a glass blower in Pittsburgh, inquiring if Ravenna might be a suitable place for a glass company. The letter was turned over to the Board of Trade and on this board was Mr. Day (or Mr. Griffin.) The Pittsburgh man was given assurance that the location was good, and that there was sufficient interest. He was invited to come to Ravenna at the personal expense of our friend.
The outgrowth of the episode was the foundation in 1852 of the Seth Day Glass Company. The sand around Sandy Lake was of a quality fine for glass making. This company went through several reorganizations and changes of name, later being known as the Ravenna Glass Works, then as the Ravenna Glass Company. It was located on the east side of Diamond St., north of Highland Avenue. Bowls, sugars and creamers, and bottles were made there. (What, no window glass?)
The Diamond Glass Co., organized in 1867 by F. W. Goffin, George Robinson, D. C. Coolman, H. H. Stevens, and J. D. Horton, was occupied chiefly in the manufacture of window glass. They employed about sixty men and the value of the annual output was about $100,000.
The Eureka Patent Glass Mold Company, operating in the 1880’s made the molds used by many glass companies.
The Ballinger Glass Pail Works, started in 1873, made a glass lining for wooden pails. This inner pail resembled a large, high-sided, ribbed milk bowl. It was probably one of the first attempts to make a pail which could be kept sanitary.
About 1878, the Ballinger Glass Pail Works, along with the Crystal Glass Company and the Eagle Glass Company were absorbed by the Enterprise Glass Company. Their chief output was table ware.
The Ravenna Flint Glass Company, organized in 1882, made everything in table ware, bottles, paper weights, etc. It was bought out by the Crown Flint Glass Company in 1883, and enlarged. They made both pressed and blown glass ware. This factory was located where the Fitzgerald Coal Yard is now. Names associated with it are H. D. Seymour, George E. Fairchild, Wm. Grinnell, Frank Woolput, T. Creighton and James Bleadingheiser. They employed and average of 175 men and had a pay roll of $7,500 per month. The amount of their annual sales was $175,000.
The advent of gas in the Pittsburgh area caused the breakdown of the Ravenna Glass companies because it cheapened the process to a point where Ravenna could no longer compete.
Fortunately for the town, although it lost the industries, many of the families of the glass workers reminded here, following other occupations and many of their descendants are present citizens here.
After the first requirements of food, clothing and shelter have been met in a simple way, and as community life become more complex, more and more industries develop.
Another of the famous industries of Ravenna was the Riddle Coach and Hearse Company. Mrs. Riddle has been kind enough to prepare a sketch of this for me, which I am going to quote directly.
“The factory was established on the site of Havre Garage in 1830 by W. C. Clark and Miletus Clark for the making of buggies. Mr. Chas. Merts, brother-in-law of Mr. Henry Riddle, worked for the Clarks and in 1861 sent for Mr. Riddle, who came from Pittsburgh. Later they took over the business and it was known as Merts and Riddle. After a few years, Mr. Merts retired and the business continued as the Riddle Coach and Hearse Company.
“Buggies, sleighs and high-wheeled sulkies were manufactured. In the early 70’s they made circus wagons for Sells, Forepaugh, Wallace and others. Mr. Riddle had many stories to tell about how he had to travel from town to town with the circus through many cold, rainy spring days, waiting for the circus to have a few good crowds so he could get his money for the wagons.
“They began making coaches and hearses in the late 70’s and the business expanded so that their vehicles were shipped to many states an even to Mexico in their own freight cars.
“As in the early days, they built the body, gear, wheels, everything but the horse power, so later, when moto vehicles came along, they built the body, chassis, and engines. However, they could not compete with the assembly lines, and closed the business in 1925.
“While still operating as Merts and Riddle, Mr. Riddle helped develop the two wheeled velocipede or bicycle, making the first in this part of the country. Mr. Riddle never mastered the art of riding one, but Mr. Merts did and attracted more attention at near-by Fairs than an airplane barnstormer would now.”
We might add that it was the oldest establishment of its kind in America, and that its products were shipped all over the world: also that Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Hayes, Harrison and his wife were carried to their final resting places in hearses manufactured by this company.
The Portage County History of 1885 lists a number of industries no longer in existence, but the names may be familiar to some. There was the Ravenna Carriage Manufacturing Co., operated by Furry and King. This was later converted into a plow factory. The star Agricultural Works, organized in 1874 by E. P. Brainerd, P. P. Dawley, B. Wells, Henry Seymour, and H. R. W. Hall was the successor to the Ravenna Mowing Machine Co. and made various kinds of farm equipment.
On March 3rd, 1873, the village council ordered an election to be held to decide the question of gas works. Receiving a favorable decision, the Ravenna Gas Light and Coke Company was organized by Isaiah Linton, Henry W. Riddle, DeWitt Coolman, H. D. Seymour, Wm. L. Poe, W. Holcomb. This was located on Mill Road.
The Colonial Lamp Works was one of the first to make incandescent bulbs. This occupied the large building by the Erie tracks on North Chestnut St., which had been previously used as a shoe factory, and later by a rubber works, and a paper box factory.
The Johnson Box Factory, across the street from Highland School specialized in tubular boxes, especially ones for gas mantles.
The Manhattan Electrical Supply Company had two large plants in Ravenna, each employing about a hundred men. One, on Cleveland Road near the Erie tracks, manufactured dry cells; the other, called the Carbon Plant, was on Mill Road, across the railroad from Byers Machine Shop. This factory supplied the carbon for all the other branch plants. Mr. Johnson, the manager, lived in (probably built) the large home on East Main Street, later occupied by the Rockwells, by Pickwick Arms, and now by Ben Jones. It is said that Mr. Johnson had a home in Manhattan and that this plant was so named for that reason.
There was another carbon plant down on Lake St. It was a large one story building extending from Chestnut St. to Prospect St. There the carbon sticks for arc lights were made. Mr. Laughlin was the superintendent. This plant burned down in a very spectacular fire in the early 1900’s and was never rebuilt.
In the same location, in a one room building in 1906, we might have found the beginnings of the Ravenna Furnace Company. Two years later, they moved to Cleveland Road where they remained until they went out of business in 1944. They had their own foundry, accessory plant, finishing and assembly plants. At the peak of their production which was about 1926 they were employing one hundred and thirty and had agents in every state east of the Mississippi. They could produce about ten furnaces a day, and in one year turned out 2300. Mr. Albert Dietrich was the manager.
The Browning Foundry was built on the site of the window glass factory. Stone from the razed glass factory were used for the foundation of the new buildings.
The Buckeye Chair Company came to Ravenna in 1893, after being burned out in Bedford, where it had been organized four year previously. Four men who had been with the B. L. Marble Chair Co., or the Taylor Co. in Bedford held key positions in the new plant; Mr. Chamberlin, President, Mr. John Flick. Mr. George Kidney was in charge of the finishing room. Mr. W. R. Jones was with them for many years. Mr. Frank Marble, brother of B. L., came in 1908 to be the superintendent. C. R. Francies joined the company in 1918, and upon the death of Judge Siddal succeeded him as president. The plant employed about 130 or 135 men. At first they made only dining room chairs and rocking chairs. Later they made radio cabinets and about 1928, they went into the upholstery business, making overstuffed chairs and davenports. They went out of business in 1934.
In conclusion, I should like to quote the final lines of an article written by H. D. Smalley and published in “Then and Now” in 1888, not because it expresses my viewpoint, but merely because it is interesting, especially considering its date. The article is a lamentation on the passing of days doing things by hand and calling neighbors to help, as in quilting parties, sewing circles, paring bees, harvesting parties where the scyhe and the flail were used. “Ere long we may expect to see everything done by machinery. There will be no necessity to call on a neighbor to help us do this or that. We’ll have no neighbors. Machines will have taken their places. We shall be doctored by machinery, killed by it, and buried by it. Save me from this labor-saving machinery.”
History of Portage County 1885
Ravenna Beautiful 1910
Griffins two pamphlets “Then and Now” and “Fifty Years Ago”
Various individuals—John Lowrie, Harold Lyon, Mr. Horr, P. L. Frank, C. R. Francies, Mrs. H. W. Riddle, W. W. Mann, and others.
NOTE - This typewritten document is undated, but based on the references given, it was most likely written between 1944 and 1951.