Historical significance detailed in these 10 Stark County places. We are all historians. Although we live in the present and yearn for the future, we are all enmeshed in the past. Stark County has a rich history — accessible to anyone with a passion for the past.
The following pages detail the historical significance of 10 treasures found in Stark County. Included in this feature are the Saxton House and National First Ladies’ Library, Ohio & Erie Canal, Professional Football Hall of Fame, Chapman Hall at Mount Union College, Meyers Lake, the Stark County District Library, the Massillon Women’s Club, Massillon City Cemetery, Bezaleel Wells School and St. Haralambos Greek Orthodox Church.
We invite you to explore the past by reacquainting yourself with these places — and gain a renewed appreciation of all that the county has to offer.
MASSILLON WOMEN’S CLUB
The women who gathered in the Massillon Social Club during World War I wished to establish a women’s club to promote social, cultural and civic activities. In 1919, these women, holding their first meeting at First Methodist Church in Massillon, founded the Massillon Women’s Club.
At the gathering, sisters Edna McClymonds Wales and Ruth McClymonds Maitland invited the women to hold their meetings at the family home, Five Oaks. In 1924, Edna and Ruth gave Five Oaks to the club, stipulating that the group needed to include a diverse group of women and maintain the home. In 1973, the U.S. Department of the Interior recognized the club as a historic place, and the nonprofit Massillon Heritage Foundation assumed ownership of the club in 1976.To further the club’s mission, the Heritage Foundation receives tax-deductible gifts. An architectural treasure, the Massillon Women’s Club attracts tourists from throughout the United States.
PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME
It doesn’t take a historian to know that Canton always has been a football town — and a natural landing spot for the Professional Football Hall of Fame. It’s here for three main reasons, according to the Hall (look for more information at www.profootballhof.com). First, the American Professional Football Association, the precursor of the National Football League, was founded in Canton in 1920. Second, the city hosted the Canton Bulldogs, a powerhouse early professional team. And third, Canton citizens began a campaign to ensure the Hall landed here.The campaign started with an editorial in The Canton Repository that encouraged readers to make it happen.The Hall of Fame opened in 1963 with a modest building of just two rooms and an interior of 19,000 square feet.
Expanded several times since then, the Hall of Fame reached its current dimensions of nearly 83,000 square feet in 1995. It enshrines the best players, chosen by ballot.The Hall of Fame displays a bust of each inductee. It inducts new members every August, a time of celebration in Stark County. Following induction, two NFL teams play the first preseason game of the year in Fawcett Stadium. Today, the Hall of Fame is a tourist destination that attracts football fans from all parts of the United States.
BEZALEEL WELLS SCHOOL
Bezaleel Wells School has its roots in a modest four-room schoolhouse established in 1875. Known as Plumb Street School because it faced Plumb Street, the school added four rooms in 1890 and another four in 1896. Later, the name was changed to McKinley School in honor of William McKinley. When the city built a high school in 1918, it took the name McKinley High School, necessitating that the schoolhouse be renamed, this time as Bezaleel Wells School, in honor of Canton’s founder. By 1925, the structure had grown into the largest elementary school in Canton, with 1,000 pupils. During World War II, it began a preschool for children with working parents. By 1952, Bezaleel Wells School and its playground had grown to occupy an entire city block. The school closed to students in 1961 and then served as an administrative building until it, too, closed in 2008.
OHIO & ERIE CANAL
In 1787, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson conceived the idea of building a canal that would link Lake Erie and the Ohio River. Nothing came of this idea for nearly four decades. But in 1822 the Ohio Legislature appropriated $6,000 for the construction of the Ohio & Erie Canal. The canal reached Stark County in 1828, stretching from Akron to Massillon and the next year from Massillon to Dover. It was completed in 1832, and the canal operated from 1833 to 1913. Its success was brief. By the mid-19th century, railroads had diminished traffic on the canal. In 1913, heavy rains ruined many of the locks and ended the canal era in Ohio.Today, the people of Stark County walk, jog and bicycle along the canal’s towpath.
MASSILLON CITY CEMETERY
The Massillon City Cemetery was established in 1846, and the first graves were dug in 1848. Some 200 graves were moved there from the cramped quarters of Union Cemetery. More than 24,000 people have been buried in the cemetery, which comprises 60 acres. Far from being a relic of the moss encrusted past, the cemetery still has plots available for purchase, many in its newer Oakwood Cemetery. Some people assert that the spirits of the dead haunt the cemetery. Among the cemetery’s buried are three Civil War recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor: Robert Pinn, George Kelley and William Richardson. Other notables include Joseph Davenport, inventor of the cantilever bridge and the cowcatcher of the railroad era; Margaret Marlene Web Pratt, leader of the movement to light the Statue of Liberty at night; and Abel Fletcher, the father of American photography. Perhaps the most renowned is Jacob Coxey, a social reformer. In the midst of a depression in 1894, Coxey led a march in Washington, D.C., to petition Congress to create jobs for the masses of unemployed, a proposal the New Deal would enact some 40 years later.
The site of an American Indian settlement, Meyers Lake encompasses 144 acres in Canton. Bezaleel Wells, the founder of Canton, surveyed the lake in 1812. From the late 1880s, the site was home to Lakeview Park. In the early 1900s, George Sinclair, owner of the park, opened the first roller coaster, and by 1926, the park had several rides and a ballroom — a venue for big bands. The park later was named Meyers Lake Amusement Park and Moonlight Ballroom. Families and couples walked the picnic grounds, ate at the park’s restaurants and stayed in its hotels. By the 1970s, the park, unable to compete with the larger amusement facilities in Ohio, fell on hard times, closing in 1974. Fire consumed the ballroom in 1979.The Meyers Lake Preserve bought the lake from the Sinclair family in 1994.The preserve safeguards the ecology of the lake and maintains its beauty for future generations.
The Rev. Orville Nelson Hartshorn founded a school in 1846 that grew into Mount Union College in 1858. The first building was not erected until 1864 because of the shortage of labor during the Civil War. Known then as the Main Building, it later became Chapman Hall in honor of Professor Ira O. Chapman. For more than a century, the college used Chapman Hall for classrooms, faculty offices, library, museum and observatory. Between 1964 and 1967, the college remodeled Chapman Hall to comply with building codes. Today Chapman Hall keeps time, its bells ringing every 15 minutes and on special occasions. Among the oldest buildings in Alliance, many consider Chapman Hall to be one of the city’s most beautiful pieces of architecture.
ST. HARALAMBOS GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH
St. Haralambos Greek Orthodox Church germinated from the Greek immigrants who settled in Canton in 1900. In 1909 the faithful began to contemplate building a church. They bought land for a church at Sixth Street and Walnut Avenue S in 1914. Construction began in 1917, and St. Haralambos was completed in 1919 for $60,000. The parishioners chose the church’s name by drawing the name of St. Haralambos, a second-century priest and miracle worker, from a list of saints in a hat. In the 1940s, as Greek families moved away from downtown, St. Haralambos no longer was at the center of the Greek community. The parish had grown too large for the church. The parishioners initially considered building a new church, but the cost was too great. Instead, they moved and enlarged Saint Haralambos in 1958 and 1959. It is now on 25th Street NW. St. Haralambos hosts a Greek Summerfest every June that attracts visitors from Canton, Massillon, Akron and Cleveland.
STARK COUNTY DISTRICT LIBRARY
The Stark County District Library has its origins in a one-room library at the Spread Eagle Tavern in Canton in 1816. In 1884, a group of 20 men formed the Canton Public Library Association with the aim of establishing a library. The next year, the Canton Public Library opened, occupying one room in City Hall. Mary Martin, the first librarian, served from 1885 until her death in 1928. In 1895, the library moved to the Odd Fellows’ Temple in Canton, and in 1905, using a grant from industrialist Andrew Carnegie, to the Carnegie Building. In 1971, the library, underscoring the breadth of its mission, became the Stark County District Library. In 1978, the library moved to its current location, which was renovated in 2001. Currently, the library holds more than 970,000 items: books, videos and music. It has 11 locations, two bookmobiles, two kidmobiles and outreach services to nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and the homebound.
THE SAXTON HOUSE AND NATIONAL FIRST LADIES’ LIBRARY
George Dewalt, maternal grandfather of first lady Ida McKinley, erected the Saxton McKinley House about 1841. Ida’s father, James Saxton, expanded the residence around 1865. Ida and William McKinley lived in this home longer than in any other residence. After the house fell into disrepair, Marshall Belden Sr., a descendant of Ida’s, saved the home from demolition in the early 1980s. Belden restored the exterior of the property, and local foundations later restored the interior. The house became home to the National First Ladies’ Library in 1998. Sheila Fisher, a member of the board, directed the interior decoration of the house. She ensured the procurement and use of mid-1800s period wallpaper, furniture and carpet. The home was established as the First Ladies’ National Historic Site in 2000 and dedicated as the William McKinley Historic Home in 2009. In the late 1990s, the seven-story City National Bank Building at 205 Market Ave. S was donated to the National First Ladies’ Library. That building, which was built in 1895, had been nearly vacant about 15 years. It was fully restored with extensive private funding, in addition to federal funding from Save America’s Treasures. First lady Laura Bush dedicated the building as the library’s Education and Research Center in 2003. The center houses a research library,Victorian theater, exhibit space, conference space, archival processing and storage rooms, as well as administrative offices. Guests from all over the world visit the center — and the nearby First Ladies’ National Historic Site — to learn about the important contributions first ladies have made to our nation’s history.