History of the Ravenna Flagpole
The Ravenna flagpole was built for Ravenna Township and the Village of Ravenna in 1893 by the Van Dorn Company of Cleveland, Ohio.
This structure is a splendid and rare example of the use of iron structure developed for the construction of bridges and other monuments of civic expression.
The 150' tall flagpole consists of a 100' riveted steel lattice box lower structure and a 50' welded tubular steel pole at the top. The entire structure is anchored to its foundations by diagonal struts at the base. The use of built-up steel members in the late 19th century for bridges and other structures provided an interesting kit of parts that could be used for all kinds of purposes. In this case the idea was to use the steel box lattice structure to support a flagpole that must have been one of the earliest using this technology and one of the highest flagpoles in the country in the late 19th century.
It is related to other structures such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris, erected for the World’s Fair of 1889. The company that constructed this pole erected three other similar ones in New York State. Only one, with a shorter pole, still stands in Palmyra, New York.
The Ravenna flagpole has been the tallest feature of central Ravenna, seat of Portage County, since it was erected. While the 19th century Court House has come and gone, the flagpole remains the most iconic object in the city and a symbol of the city in much the same way that the Eiffel Tower functions in Paris.
With the advent of the automobile, the flagpole was moved 15 feet from its original site in the public right-of-way in 1923. The ornamental iron fence that originally surrounded it has been removed. Otherwise the flagpole remains almost exactly as built, still adorning the front of the Portage County Court House. The move itself represents an interesting example of early 20th century ingenuity. The 150' pole was unmoored from its foundation, jacked up 8 inches and then lowered onto rails put in place for the move. It was then pulled along the tracks by a winch to its new site where it was lowered to the ground and secured in place. The entire 1923 operation took 12 minutes.
The structure retains pretty much all of its original material. It has been repaired and repainted, but the vast majority of it remains exactly as it did on the day it was erected, using riveted steel framing.
The pole was erected by the Van Dorn Iron Works Company of Cleveland, Ohio, at a cost of $800. This company, founded in Akron in 1872 by James H. Van Dorn, made a wide variety of metal objects ranging from ornamental fencing to mail boxes, jail cells and urns. Other works of the company included the structural steel for the Williamson Building in Cleveland, the 150 ft diameter steel intake crib for the Cleveland waterworks in Lake Erie, the cells for the Nebraska, Connecticut, Maryland and West Virginia penitentiaries as well as the “Tombs” in New York City. They also fabricated metal furniture for a variety of companies including the famous steel chairs designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for the Larkin Company in Buffalo.