Monday, May 14, 2012

Sisters of Titanic

With all the renewed interest in the Titanic recently as we observed the 100th anniversary of its sinking on April 14-15, 1912, most of the attention has been on the Titanic itself and the sinking in particular.  While I have always been fascinated with the infamous sinking and the exploration of the wreck, I have always been very interested in the ship itself.  Probably the biggest reason I was excited about the movie Titanic in 1997 was being able to see what the ship was probably like on the inside.  That alone made the movie worth it to me.
Olympic on the left and Titanic on the right, just before completion of Titanic in 1912.  This is before Titanic had its upper promenade enclosed, which was one of the differences it had with Olympic.  I have always loved this picture.  Too bad there was never a chance to get all three ships together.
Understanding the Titanic means realizing it was part of a class of ships.  Most Titanic enthusiasts are aware that the Titanic was the second of three ships known as the Olympic-class.  The first ship, the RMS Olympic, was launched several months before the Titanic and in many ways was identical to the Titanic.  The third ship of the class, the Britannic, was launched in 1914 (2 years after Titanic) and never saw service as an ocean liner because of World War I.  Instead, it served as a hospital ship before sinking after hitting a mine.

Olympic was the first of the new class of ocean liners from the White Star Line intended to be the most luxurious on the market.  This is in the days before air travel, so the only way to cross the Atlantic was by ocean liner (not to be confused with a cruise ship).  Being first of the class, like most first-time products, meant that the later sisters overall had the same shape and basic design, but also had slight improvements on the Olympic.  Because the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage, there are very few photos of the ship, particularly the inside.  Most of the shots used to show the interior of Titanic are actually those of Olympic because in most respects they were identical.  They had the exact same base plan and were largely built side-by-side.  It's not uncommon for exterior shots of Olympic to be mistaken for Titanic since they had very similar exteriors and identical paint schemes.  There are differences, though, that are easy to spot.

The biggest visible difference between the Olympic and Titanic was on the forward Promenade Deck (originally labeled as A-deck, the first deck below the top level or Boat Deck).  The Olympic's promenade was open the entire length.  During its initial runs, there was apparently some complaint about spray from the wind, so Titanic had the forward part of the promenade enclosed.  The later sister ship, Britannic, also had the forward promenade enclosed, but Olympic never did despite having several refits over the course of its career, many of which added features the Titanic had.  This is probably the most frequently used feature to distinguish the two ships, though it's not a perfect difference.  Titanic did not have that modification made until the very end of construction, so early shots have the same fully-opened promenade as Olympic, which often results in some Titanic enthusiasts believing they are looking at Olympic when, in fact, it is Titanic in latter stages of construction.

Comparison picture from  "The Great Titanic Switch" highlighting some of the differences between Olympic and Titanic

There is another way to distinguish the Olympic from Titanic in the early photos, but it's very small.  On the bridge level, there were two "wing" cabins on either end.  In the original configuration, the outer walls of these cabins on the Olympic were flush with the edge of the ship.  On the Titanic, however, these cabins protruded 2 feet over the edge of the ship.  After the loss of Titanic, several changes were made to Olympic, one of which was altering the wing cabins to protrude outward (among other changes; the bridge of the Titanic was quite different than the original configuration of the Olympic and was a major improvement).

Olympic on the left and Titanic on the right showing the subtle differences in their bridge wings.  After the loss of Titanic, Olympic had a major refit, part of which extended the bridge wings like Titanic's (Olympic below, 1929).  Britannic's bridge wings also protruded out

There are several other small differences between Olympic and Titanic, all of which have been documented and studied due to the conspiracy theory that the ship that sank was actually the Olympic redressed as Titanic.  While the idea is tantalizing to say the least, the idea that the ships would be switched (allegedly because the Olympic had received major damage in a collision with the HMS Hawke and was sunk on purpose to get insurance money), it's pretty much impossible not only because the immense amount of money required to change them, but the very obvious problem that Olympic's parts were stamped with the hull number 400 and Titanic's were stamped with 401.  Pieces of Titanic recovered from the wreck have had 401 on them.  Oh well!

Britannic painted in hospital ship colors.  The huge lifeboat arms can be seen here as well, a defining characteristic of the ship.  Like Titanic, Britannic had a partially enclosed upper promenade.
Britannic was the third and final sister of the Olympic class and was the largest of the three both by tonnage and by width.  The Britannic is much easier to differentiate for two major reasons: first, because it was never used as an ocean liner, pretty much all pictures of the ship show it as a hospital ship, which was a far different pain scheme than the White Star Line used for its ocean liners.  The only pictures of Britannic in its White Star paint scheme are postcards or artists' renditions, not actual photos.  Even so, the other very obvious difference on Britannic was the huge lifeboat davits that were installed.  They were supposed to be capable of launching lifeboats on the opposite side of the ship (in the event the ship started to list to one side to prevent lifeboats from being launched on that side), but the huge funnels made that pretty much impossible.

Cool picture of Britannic under construction with the Olympic's funnels visible in the background, from Kevin Scott Bolinger's post
Britannic (officially the HMHS Britannic for "His Majesty's Hospital Ship"), had a tragic end, though not as tragic as Titanic.  It struck a sea mine in the Adriatic sea of the coast of Greece and sank in about 400 feet of water.  30 people died in the sinking, and pretty much all of those deaths were the result of loading lifeboats prematurely before the ships engines had been shut off.  Britannic's low loss of life was also aided by the fact that it had recently unloaded most of its patients, so there were far less people on board.  The wreck of the Britannic was discovered in 1975 by French explorer Jacques Cousteau.  Unlike Titanic, the Britannic sank in one piece, though the front of the ship is bent since it hit the seabed before the ship totally sank (the water was 400 feet deep and the ship was just over 882 feet long).  The wreck is explored regularly and can be explored by scuba divers since it is at a far higher depth than Titanic, which is some 2 miles below the surface.  Britannic is also far better preserved than the Titanic.

Olympic served a long and eventful career, finally being retired in 1935 and scrapped about a year later.  It served as a troopship during World War I and actually rammed a German U-boat in that capacity and, of course, had a long career as an ocean liner between New York and Southampton.  It is likely that if Titanic hadn't sunk, it would have also been used as a troopship in the war or some other military purpose.

This painting and the picture below show Olympic in "dazzle paint" during its time as a troopship.  The dazzle paint was supposed to act as a camouflage to protect against submarine attacks

Friday, April 6, 2012

Origins of Easter

I had a request to do a blog post similar to my post "Understanding Christmas" about the origins of many of our Easter traditions as we approach Easter Sunday.  In many ways, the way Easter has evolved both religiously and secularly is similar to how Christmas has developed over the centuries.  Like Christmas, Easter has many traditions and symbols that pre-date Christianity and are rooted in ancient paganism.  Also like Christmas, it wasn't a simply matter of the early Christian Church inserting a Christian holiday in place of a Pagan one; rather, it was a gradual association of Pagan symbolism and tradition with the Christian holiday simply because the two occurred around the same time.  What I intend to focus on here are the most visible secular symbols of Easter: the Easter Bunny and the Easter Egg, both of which seemingly have no connection to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  I'll also touch on the name of Easter and the reasoning behind its date.

The first thing that always seems to throw people for a loop is the date of Easter.  Every year it's on a different day and can be anywhere from late March to late April.  What gives?  Easter is different from most holidays because it's not a fixed day like Christmas, Valentine's Day, Independence Day, etc. are.  Instead, Easter is based on a "lunisolar" calendar, similar to the way Passover is determined in Judaism.  Basically, the cycles of the moon are included in the calculations where our typical measure of time on our Gregorian calendar is made using the Sun.  The rule for Easter (which seems to be first established in 325 AD at the First Council of Nicaea but was debated many times after) is that it's the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox (first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere).  Because the spring equinox is March 20 or 21, Easter cannot happen before then.  Easter and Passover are normally celebrated very close to each other (according the the Bible, the events celebrated in Easter happened during Passover), but because the calendar used by the western world (Gregorian calendar) is not identical to the Hebrew calendar (Passover starts on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan), the two holidays occasionally are weeks apart.  While Passover is a fixed day in the Hebrew calendar, because of the way the Hebrew calendar is determined and measured, it appears to move around when compared to the Gregorian calendar.  For your info, next year, Easter will be on March 31st again, which last happened in 2002.

The next thing about Easter that is confusing on the surface is the name itself.  Where on earth is the name "Easter" from and what does it have to do with the Resurrection of Christ?  From what I can find, the name Easter is derived from the Pagan goddess Eostre.  The ancient Anglo-Saxons worshiped Eostre, who was the goddess of fertility and "new beginnings", during the springtime.  Her symbol was the rabbit, since the rabbit is a symbol of fertility, as are eggs.  In other languages, the word for "Easter" is the same word as "Passover" (based on the Latin "Pascha" from the Hebrew "Pesach").  Why did English adopt a pagan word for this holiday?  From what I have read it was simply due to the fact that the two events were at the same time of the year, so it simply evolved from common usage.  One source mentioned that the ancient month for the goddess Eostre (also spelled Eastre), known as Eostremonat ("Eostre's month") was at the same time as April.  As Christianity replaced Paganism as the dominant religion, it is natural that many of the wordings and cultural traditions would carry over, similar to many of the symbols associated with Christmas.  In many Christian churches and movements, they will refer to Easter as "Resurrection Day" as a way to avoid using a Pagan name.

Eostre seems to be the source for the most common Easter symbols: the Easter Bunny and Easter Eggs.  Both of them are ancient symbols of fertility and re-birth that pre-date Christianity by hundreds, even thousands, of years, and thus were used by the Anglo-Saxons in association with Eostre and the spring festivals in her honor.  Even so, they were not used in any way similar to how we use the Easter Bunny or Easter Eggs, but it does explain where the idea came from.  The legend of the Easter Bunny bringing eggs to children seems to come from Germany with the earliest mention being in the 1500s.  What I found interesting about the early use of the Easter Bunny was that kids would make "nests" for the rabbit (where we get our "Easter grass") using their hat (boys) or bonnet (girls) and later using sticks in their garden.  They would put them in secluded places and then go and find them the next morning.  Of course this has now evolved into using Easter baskets instead.  The German custom seemed to be a way to help their children be better behaved similar to Santa Claus, since the Easter Bunny would only bring these colorful eggs to good kids.  When German immigrants came to the United States, they brought this tradition with them, though it wasn't until after the Civil War that we see the emergence of the Easter Bunny and Easter in general as any kind of major holiday celebrated around the country.  Christmas is similar in that it wasn't widely celebrated early in the history of the US simply because it was considered British.  The German immigrants also introduced making pastry bunnies and later, chocolate bunnies.

As for the Easter Egg, as I mentioned, were long symbols of fertility and re-birth associated with Spring.  In the Middle Ages, eggs were forbidden during Lent, so any that were laid during Lent were boiled or preserved in some other way.  At the end of Lent, eggs were a major part of the menu and were a seen as a wonderful gift for children and even servants.  Early Easter Eggs were sometimes decorated with gold leaf or were dyed in colors boiled from flower petals.  Over time, different kinds of candy have been added along with eggs (does anyone still put real eggs in their Easter baskets anymore?).

Of course there are other symbols and traditions that are associated with Easter, but these are the biggest ones.  In doing this little study of the history of Easter, it's interesting to come to understand how everything came to be and how the Pagan symbols were worked into a Christian holiday.  In the end, Easter is just like Christmas in that it has a very serious religious side (the Resurrection of Christ) and a very secular side.  Both Christmas and Easter have elements of Paganism in them (though hardly anyone uses the symbols as they were originally intended or even thinks about the original symbolism), but they also have the general recognition of when they take place.  Easter is generally associated with spring because that's when it happens.  Christmas is generally associated with winter because that's when it happens too (and yes, even in the Southern Hemisphere I've heard of people viewing a "White Christmas" as basically the iconic Christmas even though in the Southern Hemisphere, Christmas occurs at the beginning of summer!).  As such, many of the symbols and traditions associated with Christmas and Easter on the secular side are more appropriately associated with the season rather than the religious aspect and as I said before, no longer have any Pagan association to the average person.  I imagine that like any convert, these early converts to Christianity from Paganism over 1,000 years ago didn't just wholesale drop all their customs and beliefs, but sought to make sense of what they knew compared to that they were learning in their new religion and it gave them new meaning to some of their previous beliefs.  I can also see why there was an association with a Pagan spring holiday and the Resurrection since both have rebirth and renewal at their core.

Personally, I love many of the Easter traditions (especially the candy and chocolate!!!) :).  Does it lessen the religious aspect of Easter?  Hardly.  I'm also a big proponent of having Sacrament Meeting on Easter be a little more special than your average weekly meeting (we do it for Christmas, why not Easter?) with extra music and talks.  But just like Christmas, it's not like I only think about the wonder of the Resurrection ONLY at Easter, so why can't I enjoy some of the cultural fun that has developed alongside the religious rite?  The fun, secular side of Easter is part of our culture and there is nothing wrong with having fun, especially when so many of the secular traditions associated with Easter involve spending time with family (Easter dinner, Easter egg hunts, doing Easter baskets, decorating eggs, etc.).   How can that be bad or negative?  Yes, you CAN take part in the secular aspects of Easter and still not lose any of the value or meaning of the religious side.  It's a matter of balance just like anything.  Just like with Santa Claus, my parents also did the Easter Bunny thing and would you believe I STILL go to church and still believe in the Resurrection and have a testimony of the Atonement?

For more on Easter and its history see the Wikipedia articles on Easter, Easter Bunny, Easter customs, and Eostre, as well as:
I also found a great answer for the calendar question on Yahoo answers (it has sources): "Why didn't Passover and Easter coincide this year?" (2008)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Giving a Second Look

I had one of those unexpected history moments this past week where looking closely at a photo made me realize it wasn't from the time period and event I (and seemingly everyone else) thought it was.  As fun as those can be, the search for answers (and ultimately finding them) was the most fun.  Now, I'm left with the question of exactly when one of the photos was taken.

This first picture was a photo I had seen many times online and in print.  It was thought to be of the great flood of 1913.  The flood in Kent was part of a larger flood across the state over several days at the end of March.  Virtually every city in the state has some kind of story related to that flood.  Over 100 people each died in Dayton and Columbus because of the flooding in those respective cities among countless losses of property all over Ohio, including the dynamiting of several old Ohio & Erie canal locks in downtown Akron.  The damage in Kent was mostly restricted to areas right along the river, helped in no small part by the fact that through downtown, the Cuyahoga River is around 40 feet below street level.  The Baltimore & Ohio tracks (known locally as the "lower tracks" because of how they pass through downtown) suffered the most damage simply because they are closer to the river.  The stone arch dam, built in 1836, suffered severe damage and the adjoining lock was pretty much totally destroyed (though by then it had long been bricked over).  The dam would eventually be repaired in 1925, but only after a long debate over whether it should be removed since it no longer served a purpose for the canal or industry (in addition to the adjacent canal lock, the dam also fed a mill race on the opposite side of the river that initially served the old Kent Flour Mill near Stow Street).
Photo posted by Henry Halem; from the collection of the Kent Historical Society
Now, at first glance, this seems to be a photo of that flood.  I have seen this photo many times in books and online and never gave it a second thought about its timing.  Then, a few days ago, a friend of mine posted a photo in the possession of Kent State University's Special Collections and Archives that is from virtually the same angle and is also of a flood.  He and I both assumed it was simply another photo of the same event since it also featured flooding and shared the vantage point of the photo above.
Photo from the Kent State University Special Collections and Archives
Again, at first glance, these seem to be photos of the same event.  When I first saw this, I thought briefly that it was simply an untouched version of the previous photo, since the first picture is clearer.  Then I thought it must be a picture from a little later since the water level in the bottom picture is higher than in the first picture.  But then I looked more carefully at the first photo and noticed some big differences; differences that give an idea of when each picture was taken and that they weren't THAT close together.

The first that jumped out to me was the absence in the top picture of the large tower just to the right of center in the bottom picture.  This was a 150-foot flagpole (which included a bell) that was built in late 1895 on the site of the current gazebo downtown.  It stood until sometime in the 1910s and is often in the background of photos taken of downtown during its existence.  Next I noticed that the trees along the riverbank at the bottom of each picture were noticeably larger in the bottom picture than they were in the top picture.  The third major thing I noticed was the mill on the far left of the picture (and adjacent smokestack) was also absent in the first picture.

Now, with those obvious differences clearly visible, I still had to do a little digging and some more visual inventigative work to determine A) which (if either) photo was of the 1913 flood, and B) when the top photo  was taken since it was definitely not 1913.  I found a few clues in three Kent history books I have that allowed me to say with almost certainty that the bottom picture is of the 1913 flood and the top picture is probably sometime in the 1880s for a flood that is not mentioned.

The most detailed history of Kent ever written is the 1932 History of Kent by historian Karl Grismer.  He mentions three major floods for Kent: 1832, 1904, and 1913.  At first I thought the top picture was possibly the from the 1904 flood, but the absence of both the mill and the flagpole eliminate that since both were also there by 1904.  It's definitely not from 1832 since there wouldn't be clear photographs from then not to mention that where downtown Kent is now wasn't developed until circa 1836-37.  The large mill building seen in the bottom picture was built in 1890.  At that point, I was looking pretty carefully at the top picture to see if there were other details I could find.

The first additional detail I could find was the retaining wall that separates the upper tracks from the lower tracks is simply the natural rock cut away.  In the bottom picture, that has been covered with large bricks (still there today).  In a book I have called Images of Kent by Michelle Wardle, I found two photos taken of downtown in the 1880s that show that same rugged drop (as opposed to the brick wall), as well as the absence of the mill (and obviously the flagpole).  The pictures are dated in the captions as "1880s".  From that, I could definitely date the top picture as being from the 1880s at least.

Even with that, I still couldn't date the top photo or totally confirm that the bottom photo was, in fact, from the 1913 flood (instead of the 1904 flood).  Since the mill and flagpole were also present in 1904, I needed something else to give me more clues.  I looked at Roger Di Paolo's book Rooted in Kent, which is a compilation of many of his more recent Portage Pathways articles on Kent history.  I was looking to see if there was a larger version of the top pic so I could possibly see more detail.  Well, instead of seeing more detail on the picture, I found mention of a building that could help me date it.  From 1884-1905, there was a small building along the lower tracks immediately south of the Main Street bridge (accessible via a staircase from the bridge) known as the "boxcar depot" since it was a depot station for those tracks (Baltimore & Ohio or B & O) made from an old boxcar.  When I looked at the top photo again, sure enough, there it was right adjacent to the bridge.  When I downloaded the full-sized photo from Henry Halem's Facebook page, I could see the boxcar depot even clearer.  In the lower picture, there isn't anything in that area at all besides the staircase, which was there much longer than the depot was (a new and nicer depot for the B & O further down the tracks opened in 1905).

I was able to see several other photos from the 1913 flood, all of which match the bottom picture with certain background details like the flagpole, absence of the "boxcar depot", and presence of the mill.  As for the top photo, it is of a flood that is not mentioned in Grismer's history.  It was taken during or after 1884, but before the construction of the mill's prominent grain elevator in 1890.  So, in other words, sometime in the mid-to-late 1880s.

It just goes to show how valuable photos are in studying history and even more so how valuable dating them is!  This is why I like to get pictures around town (especially as things are changing) and I try to make sure my digital camera's date and time are set correctly.  It also goes to show the value of looking for details.  You never know what you're going to find!

UPDATE: February 2, 2012
I found a picture of the Kent Opera House, which is visible in the left backgrounds of both pictures.  It was built between May and November of 1889, which reduces the time frame of the top picture to about a year.  The fact it is in the picture and the mill is not tells us the picture was taken sometime after enough construction of the Opera House was done so that it was visible and before any visible construction began on the mill expansion.  If construction started in May, I would guess based on how it looks in the top picture that this picture was taken very close to its completion if not after.  If I had to pick a date based on what I know, I would say this is probably sometime in the early spring of 1890 since there are also visible leaves in the trees along the river.  Even today, the Cuyahoga gets very high from spring rains and snow melt in March and April (other times too).  The fact that it's not mentioned in the detailed History of Kent makes me believe it wasn't that big of a deal when it happened and if it were just another typical spring flood, that's what it would be.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Fall of Old Ravenna High

Sometime during 2012, the old Ravenna High School will likely be torn down if plans proceed as they are currently laid out.  The building has been vacant since mid 2010 after it was replaced by a new, $26 million building on North Chestnut Street.  Now, I know what some of you are thinking.  Why write about the old school building of Kent's biggest rival?  As much as I enjoy the sports rivalry between Roosevelt and Ravenna, as a historian and fan or architecture, I can also appreciate the history and character that the old Ravenna High School has, especially the original portion of the building, which opened in 1923.

Front of the original portion of "old" Ravenna High School, which opened in 1923.  I took this picture in 2009
The building at the corner of Clinton and East Main near downtown Ravenna is actually the 4th home of Ravenna High School (3rd permanent home).  The school was first housed in an old grocery store when it was established in 1858.  Like the original Kent High School, that was only temporary while Ravenna's new Union School building was finished.  That building opened in December 1859, about 10 years before Kent's Union School opened (March 1869).  A "union school" was simply a type of building that consolidated local school houses into one structure and allowed for the students to be separated by grade level.  The Ravenna Union School was the home of Ravenna High School until 1883 when a new high school building opened at the corner of Walnut Street and Bowery Street (now Highland Avenue).  It also housed 7th and 8th graders, which occurred at the original Roosevelt High School on several occasions.  An addition was built on the front of this building in 1910 and it still stands, though it is no longer used as a school.  The original part of the building was torn down in 1960.  By the early 1920s, enrollment growth necessitated construction of a larger building, which is the one most of us are familiar with.

Ticket booth at the entrance to the auditorium wing from Clinton Street
Ceiling above the entrance to the auditorium wing facing Clinton Street
Having attended school at the original Roosevelt High School (now Davey Elementary and known as Davey Middle School while I was there in the early 1990s), I had long wanted to see the inside of "old" Ravenna High School since I knew the two buildings were built at roughly the same time.  I finally did in 2010 when the Ravenna Schools hosted an open house of the old building just before they officially closed it.  What I found was a lot of similarities in the overall feel of the original sections of both Davey and Ravenna, but some big differences as well.  Construction on "old" Roosevelt (now Davey) began in May 1921 and finished just under a year later in May 1922.  Ravenna High School was started in August 1921 but was not completed for almost 2 years.  It was dedicated in August 1923.  I haven't been able to find out why it took so much longer to complete Ravenna High School.  The buildings are pretty much the same size and the site in Ravenna is mostly a level grade, while the Kent site is on the side of a hill, so it doesn't make sense.  In any case, the two schools have a similar feel to them, even though both have been modified extensively since they first opened.  I'm hopeful there will be one more walk-through before the building is finally razed.

Ravenna High School ca. 1923 when it was new.  The entrance visible on the right faces East Main and was covered up by the addition of Whittaker Hall in the late 1960s
The biggest difference between the two is their layouts.  Davey is 3 stories of classrooms with a partial basement, due to the building being on the side of a hill.  Old Ravenna High is also three stories, but it's confusing for visitors and new students because the main entrance is on the 2nd floor.  The building is also on a hill, but it's parallel to the hill rather than perpendicular like Davey is, so the bottom floor is slightly below ground level on the front of the school, while fully exposed on the back.  The other differences in the layout are the gym and auditoriums.  Both schools are largely symmetrical, but Ravenna High School is almost perfectly symmetrical from the outside, at least originally.  The only thing that keeps it from being perfectly symmetrical is the entrance to the auditorium from Clinton Street, which includes a porch and stairs.  There is no entrance for the opposite wing (which is the gym).  Davey is symmetrical up to the gym, which is slightly off-center, shifted to the east.  I'm not sure why that was made, though the original site plan from 1920 has the building completely symmetrical on the north-south axis of the center of North Prospect Street.  At Ravenna, the gym and auditorium were on each end of the building with the classrooms in the middle.  At Davey, the auditorium and gym are both in the middle of the building, but on the back, with the classrooms on the front.  The sites for each school are very different, with Ravenna High on a 5-acre block adjacent to downtown and Davey on a 10-acre site that, at the time, was the edge of Kent.  Kent nearly built the school on a lot similar to what Ravenna did before a firm from Columbia University recommended they not build on such a confined lot.  As a result, the Board took some more time to design a larger school and find a more suitable lot that could accommodate growth and campus with athletic facilities.  Ravenna, on the other hand, had to have athletic fields in other parts of town (old Gilchrist Stadium was located several blocks away) once the school had to be enlarged in the 1950s.  Only with the opening of their new high school in 2010 did Ravenna finally get a single, unified campus.

Aerial of Ravenna High School from the 1947 yearbook showing its symmetry.  The auditorium is in the wing on the right side of the building and the gym is in the wing on the left side.  A baseball diamond can be seen on the left, later to be occupied by the first addition to Ravenna High School, the Coll Annex in 1958.  
Aerial of "old" Roosevelt (now Davey) from the 1950 yearbook.  The long building in the back that is separate from the school is the vocational area, added in the late 1930s.  The symmetry of the front part of the building can be seen here with the auditorium the long part in the middle with the gym in the back.  For whatever reason, the gym does not match the symmetry of the building and is shifted slightly to the east (you are looking to the northwest in this picture).  The football field visible on the left was known as Bowers Field and was the home of the Roosevelt football team until 1970.  
The auditorium was an interesting bit of history for me.  The Ravenna Republican reported at the school's opening in 1923 that it had a "1,000 seat auditorium".  The auditorium at Davey, according to Karl Grismer's 1932 The History of Kent had 833 seats when it opened.  Today, the Davey Auditorium has about 500 seats, though the balcony no longer has any seats on it and the remaining seats have been modified with wider seats, reducing capacity, so 833 seems plausible in its original configuration.  1,000 seats in Ravenna's auditorium is simply not possible and can be attributed to a gross exaggeration or simply trying to make it look bigger (and thus, better) than it was (or a combination of both).  My mom and I counted 399 seats in that auditorium when we toured in 2010 with no sections having seats missing (like the Davey Auditorium balcony being totally void of seats).  While it is likely the original configuration had more seats than it does now (mostly because they were narrower with narrower aisles), there is not enough room in there for an additional 600 seats.  Despite the obvious that there is no way 1,000 seats could've ever been in that auditorium, it was repeated multiple times by the local newspaper and the Ravenna Schools themselves as the history of that building was discussed just prior to its closing.

Old Ravenna High School auditorium as seen from the stage.  Yeah, NO WAY there were EVER 1,000 seats there!  I would love to see an interior picture of this when it was new. 
Davey Auditorium in 2009 as seen from the stage
The original gyms in each building were also very similar, with Ravenna's simply a smaller version, but with a balcony that went completely around the gym where Davey's went around three sides but was much deeper.  Ravenna's "balcony" today looks more like a walking track (which is what is was mainly used for most recently), but old pictures show people sitting there for basketball games.  The estimate is about 200 people could fit in the gym for games, though in those days the basketball courts were smaller.  The Davey gym seated an estimated 300 people.  They gyms were similar enough that I mistakenly thought a picture of a basketball game was taken in the old gym at Davey and was actually at Ravenna.  The fact that it was in a Roosevelt yearbook AND a large banner that said "ROOSEVELT" was hanging off the balcony threw me off too, but sure enough, it was Ravenna's gym when I compared pictures I had of both.   

Can you see why I thought this was the gym at what is now Davey?  This is from the 1955 Roosevelt yearbook
Interior of the original gym at old Ravenna High in 2010 showing that yes, the picture above was taken in THIS room, not in Kent!
One cool feature of the original part of Ravenna High School is the skylights that line the hallway on the top floor.  They can be seen in the aerial picture above.  The idea was to have as much natural light as possible, so there were small class panels put in the floors to let that natural light flow down to the lower levels.  For the last few decades the skylights themselves have been covered up by the ceiling tiles in the school, a later modification used to bring heat costs down.  Unfortunately, the windows weren't exactly economical in terms of heating, so rather than modify them, they were just covered.  When I toured the building in 2010, some of the ceiling tiles were missing, so I could see the skylights.  I'm a big proponent of natural lighting (I HATE rooms that have no windows for no purpose!), so I thought that was a very cool feature.

There were two large additions to old Ravenna High, the first being the Coll Annex in 1958-59 and the other being Whittaker Hall in the late 1960s.  The Coll Annex was built north of the original building and housed a larger gym (which opened the same year that the original part of the current Roosevelt building did) and other classrooms like the band and choir rooms.  It is connected to the original building by way of a bridge on the top floor.  Whittaker Hall was a two-story addition of classrooms on the south side of the building and covered up the entrance to the original building for East Main (which is actually the school's address even though the main entrance faces Clinton Street).    

The gym in the Coll Annex, which opened in 1959.  I went to a few games in here, usually as a fan of the rival Rough Riders.  Sorry Ravens, but my best memory in here was in late 2000 or early 2001: Roosevelt 88, Ravenna 38.  What was funnier was the Record-Courier's headline the next day on the front page was simply "Roosevelt Over Ravenna, 88-38".   
Now, of course, the talk has been about the demolition of the building and why it couldn't be used for something else.  Once the new high school was approved, the old building's future was virtually sealed.  Because the state paid for most of the new building, the stipulation is that the old building cannot be renovated and used for a school, like making it a middle school.  This point was made very clear to voters at the time the bond issue was approved in 2006.  The line of thinking with that rule is that the state will help a district build a new building if the cost of renovating the old one is over a certain percentage of building new.  In the long run, it will be less costly to build new.  Since the old building is in bad enough shape to warrant replacement (verus renovation) and the district needs help to build new, then logic says there is no point keeping the old building for a school.  Included in the money the state offers are funds for demolition or the district can sell the building, which they tried to do.  While adapting an old school into something else is possible, it is also very expensive.  For a building the size of old Ravenna High, it's VERY expensive and time-consuming, so the only hope, really, is for someone to come forward that has a love of the building for whatever reasons, and more importantly, deep pockets.  You also need a person or group that needs the amount of space available in a building that size.  Remember, not only are there tons of classrooms, but two gyms and an auditorium.  Face it, large high school buildings really don't work well for anything except, well, being a high school.  Not only does the building need extensive renovation just to bring it up to code, remove asbestos, and fix other issues, but then it would need renovations to convert it to something else.  Apartments always seem to be popular re-uses for old schools, but that requires tons of new wiring and even more so plumbing.  Even using it for offices would need tons of work.

Dedication plaque
There was talk of separating the three sections of the building, but nothing came of it because even that option would require costly renovations.  On top of the logistical problems of converting a high school to something else, you also have much more of a time limit on deciding what to do with the building because it is publicly owned.  Many people were quoted as saying they didn't want old Ravenna High to become Ravenna's "old Kent Hotel".  The difference with the old hotel in Kent (which was recently sold and will finally be renovated) was that it was privately owned, so no tax dollars were being spent to maintain it even as it sat vacant and was a total eyesore.  The Ravenna Schools were spending somewhere around $12,000-$15,000 per month just to maintain a building they could no longer use.  When they tried selling it and later auctioning it off, no offers were worth anything close to the property's worth.  Basically, if they sold it for what they were being offered, they would've had to return the demolition money to the state, which was more than what they would get from the sale.  So, while it's sad from a historical perspective to lose a structure like this, it's not surprising at all, especially in an economy like we are experiencing and in a town the size of Ravenna, along with simple logistics.  If something similar happened in Kent with Roosevelt or Stanton, it's unlikely either building would be saved for a non-school use.  Bottom line is if the people of Ravenna really didn't want to lose the old high school, they wouldn't have approved a ballot issue that guaranteed it could no longer be used as a school.  There were previous bond issues that were rejected by voters that would've built a new high school and renovated the old one for use as a middle school.  In Kent, the only reason that "old" Roosevelt has been saved as a school is because Kent hasn't relied on state help for funding new buildings.  With the demolition of the old Ravenna High School building, the site will be much more marketable for redevelopment because it won't have a large three-story building on it that needs demolition or millions of dollars in renovations just to be viable.  Sometimes history has to give way to economics.

2010 view of the front entrance

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Evolution of Roosevelt High School Part 2

I hadn't intended to do another post on the evolution of the current Roosevelt High School, but I noticed that the Portage County Auditor's website has added additional aerial photos of the entire county from various years, so you can get a view of how a property has changed over the decades.  Previously the only years were 1937, 1951, 1959, 1966, 2006, and 2010.  Now 1964, 1970, 1975, 1980, 1985, 1990, 1995, and 2000 have all been added.  Google Earth has a similar feature, but the aerial images only go back to 1994.  While the aerial pictures aren't always totally in line with the other overlays (like the streets and parcel lines) and the picture itself isn't super clear (especially compared to the more recent aerials), they are clear enough to get the idea of how things have changed, particularly for a place like Roosevelt that has just had tons of changes on the building and the campus itself.  I put a montage together of each year available, starting with 1951, which is before there was anything on the campus at all.  The only years available I didn't include were 1995 and 2006 because the differences from 1990 to 1995 and 2000 to 2006 weren't that significant. The street labels on each year are the current center-lines of the roads.  So, for instance, River Bend Boulevard is labeled on the right side of every year's picture, but it wasn't built until 1990.

The large diagonal line visible in most of the pictures is the path of the main water line that connects Lake Rockwell (Akron's main water supply) to the city of Akron.  I was told by my history teacher at Roosevelt (Bruce Dzeda) that the school was able to use the water from that line to water the athletic fields for free in lieu of future problems that might occur with the line needing serviced.  I haven't been able to verify that, but I do know up until the completion of the Kent Water Treatment Plant and wells along SR 261 in the mid 1970s, Kent did get water from Akron to supplement their own supply.  Now, I don't believe they do, outside of possibly having an emergency hookup.  Another point to make is that the campus has obviously expanded.  Initially, it was 31 acres.  Over time, adjacent parcels were added.  The scope of the original campus is pretty clear in the 1959, 1964, and 1966 pictures.  The most recent additions to the campus itself were done in the 1990s for the construction of Stanton Middle School.  Best I could gather on the Portage County Auditor's website, the entire campus is now around 88 acres.  The county doesn't consolidate the parcels on the map, so that total comes from adding up the 18 or so contiguous parcels owned by the Kent City Schools (which is listed by several variant names). 

The Portage County Auditor's website is a great tool for history, but obviously that wasn't its main purpose.  It's mainly to provide a fairly accurate map of all properties in the county, plus it includes data on virtually all of them, like how much they are worth, how much each property is assessed in property taxes, who owns them, what school district they're in, and even has sketches of buildings on the property (showing outside measurements).  There is a search tool by address or last name (or even parcel number), but even better is the map tool which allows you to click on a parcel and it will tell you who owns it and have a link to the details available.  I've found it very convenient in discussions that have involved property values and taxes as well as just being a way to be informed about who really owns a particular piece of land or building.  Check it out if you live in Portage County.  It can be found at

If the picture is not displaying large enough for you, go to and click on the small magnifying class just above the picture to use the zoom feature.