Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Wagon Wheel myth

Locally, the big college rivalry is between Kent State University and The University of Akron. Both schools are roughly the same size and since they're only about 10 miles apart, it's pretty natural that not only would there be a rivalry, but it would something that is regularly contested in sports. Like most rivalries, the biggest games are the football and men's basketball. The rivalry also features a trophy that goes to the winner of that year's football game. For Kent State and Akron, that trophy is an old wagon wheel pained blue and gold, which are the school colors for both schools. While the trophy itself continues to be held by the team that wins that year's football game, since 2011, the Wagon Wheel Challenge is held involving all sports. The background of the actual Wagon Wheel, though, is another example of folk history that has become accepted as truth despite having no real basis.

Wagon Wheel Challenge logo showing the current point total for each school. Points are from wins in head-to-head competition between the two schools. In addition to winning the actual Wagon Wheel trophy in 2011 and 2012, KSU also won the challenges each year.
The Kent State-Akron football rivalry was first held in 1923, a 32-0 Akron win, though it was not a regularly held contest at first. No games were played between the two schools from 1924 until 1928. It became an annual game from 1928 through the 1936 game, all of which were Akron wins except a scoreless tie in 1932. The game took another hiatus from 1937 until 1940. After one more more Akron win, Kent finally broke through in 1942 with a 23-7 win. World War II would be the next interruption for the series from 1943 through the 1945 season as neither school fielded a football team during those years, which was the case for many other schools across the country. The game resumed in 1946, which is the first year the Wagon Wheel was contested. Kent State went on a dominating run from then on, including a 31-0 win in 1948, a 47-0 win in 1949, a 48-7 win in 1951, and a 54-19 win in 1953 culminated by a 58-18 win in 1954. After that game, which was Kent State's 10th consecutive win over the Zips, the series was discontinued as being noncompetitive. It would not be played again until 1972, which resulted in a 13-13 tie. After that, it was played in 1974, 1979, and 1981 and has been played every year since the 1983 game, with the exception of 1991. Akron joining the Mid-American Conference in 1992 made the game a conference game again for the first time since 1950, when both teams were members of the Ohio Athletic Conference.

The Wagon Wheel in 2012 after Kent State won 35-24 in Kent.
Photo is originally from the Akron Beacon Journal and was also used
The Wagon Wheel trophy was the idea of Dr. Raymond Manchester at Kent State, who was the dean of men during the 1940s. How or where he got the wheel is not recorded, but he had it in 1945 and suggested it be used as a trophy between the schools. He concocted a myth about the wheel's history connecting it to both John R. Buchtel (pronounced BOOK tul), the namesake for the original name of The University of Akron (Buchtel College), and Kent State, near where the wheel was reportedly found in 1902, to make it something that both schools would want to play for.

The legend passed around in the newspapers and media guides for both schools is that the wheel was part of a wagon of John R. Buchtel, who was searching for a site for a new school. While in Kent around 1870 near the future site of Kent State University, the wagon got stuck in the mud and the horses pulled it apart as they tried to break free. One of the wheels got buried in the mud and was found in 1902 during construction of a pipeline or a building (different accounts use one or the other). Eventually, Buchtel chose Akron as the site for the school, known as Buchtel College, which eventually became The University of Akron. An "account" of the story from the 1955 KSU yearbook Chestnut Burr states that Buchtel chose Akron right after the horses broke his wagon in the mud. In any account, that's the basic legend and while there are some real people (John R. Buchtel) and places (Akron and Kent), the rest of the story fails miserably when put up against actual history.

Explanation of the wheel from the 1955 Chestnut Burr at Kent State, the year after the rivalry was ended until 1972.

First is the role of John R. Buchtel in the founding of the University of Akron. Yes, it is true that the school originally was named after him. What is not true is that the decision of what town to put the college was Buchtel's to make nor is it true that it was Buchtel's school. The University of Akron was founded in 1870 and was first known as Buchtel College, because of a large monetary gift from Buchtel. According to the 1908 Centennial History of Summit County, Ohio, initially, the Universalist convention wanted to name the school "Murray Centennial College" or "Buchtel Universalist College." When Buchtel was asked what his opinion was, he said: "name it what you like. The college is yours, not mine. It shall have my hearty support. If prospered, I expect to give it one hundred thousand dollars." The account continues: "Then it was unanimously voted to name the child of the Ohio Universalist convention Buchtel College, in honor of the man who financially most loyally aided it in its infancy."(pp. 203-204) The University of Akron's own history page also states "The Universalist Church founded Buchtel College, the forerunner of The University of Akron, in 1870."

John R. Buchtel. One of the high
schools in Akron is also named for him
So, the school was created by the Ohio Universalist convention, not Buchtel, and was associated with the Universalists until 1913, when the school was sold to the city of Akron. It became a state university in 1968. Buchtel did have ties to Kent as he was a member of the Kent Universalist congregation, founded in 1866, which, for a time, was the closest Universalist congregation. Akron had previously been home to a Universalist congregation, but it closed in 1853 and a new Akron congregation wasn't established until 1872 when the college opened. That means he was certainly in Kent multiple times during this time period and he most definitely had a horse-drawn carriage.

In their search to locate this new college, the Universalists did consider Kent, along with some other cities in the state (Mt. Gilead in particular and initially Oxford, home of Miami University). The site in Kent offered was the eventual site of the original campus (what is known as Front Campus) at Kent State University, the former William S. Kent farm at Lincoln and Main. While Kent had financial backing to secure the school, "there was a strong prejudice on account of its reputation of unhealthfulness" (Centennial History of Summit County, Ohio, p. 202) which basically eliminated Kent as a possibility. The convention nearly put the school in Mt. Gilead (more centrally located in Ohio) as they had investigated Akron as a site but with "unsatisfactory results." Later, several Akron businessmen met together and convinced the actual man in charge, financial secretary Rev. H.L. Miller, to come back to Akron and "re-investigate." The second visit was much better than the first as there was an organized push to get subscribers. Buchtel became a strong supporter of putting the school in his hometown and donated the initial $6,000 for the $60,000 building fund and $2,500 for the endowment.

So, Buchtel clearly did not establish the school himself (though he is sometimes referred as the "founder" and clearly played a large role in the establishment of it), nor did he go out and search for a host community. Again, it was not his decision and he clearly advocated for Akron to host the new school.

Statue of John R. Buchtel on the campus of The University of Akron that describes him as the
"Founder" of Buchtel College (photo from Wikipedia)
Kent's other connection to the founding of Buchtel College is that the person who first proposed the Ohio Universalist convention establish a school was Rev. Andrew Willson, who was the pastor of the Kent congregation at that time and also served as the chairman of the convention's Committee on Education. He first presented the plan in 1867 in Mt. Gilead and again in 1868 at Dayton. Willson, of course, favored putting the school in Kent, but after it was apparent that Kent would not be chosen, he supported Akron as the site for the new school.

The other issue in the story is where the wheel came from and if that's true. 1902 for the discovery of the wheel seems plausible at the very least. Kent had a municipal water system by the late 19th century, so a pipe could've been constructed, or a building, depending on exactly where it was found. There really wasn't a whole lot in the area where campus is now even in 1902, but an old wagon wheel buried in the mud is entirely possible. Heck, it could've very well been John R. Buchtel's own wagon, but he certainly wasn't scouting a site for the Universalist college.

In conclusion, while the evidence does not conclusively rule out the possibility that the Wagon Wheel was part of John R. Buchtel's carriage, it seems to indicate it's most likely not his, though. The evidence certainly eliminates the possibility that even if it did happen to be from Buchtel's carriage, it certainly wasn't part of him scouting for a site for a school in Kent and it had absolutely no bearing on the college being located in Akron. What is true, though, is that the histories of Kent State University and The University of Akron do have connections, which is hardly surprising considering how close they are to one another. What is now Kent State University could very well have started off much earlier as a Universalist college. Who knows, if history had been different, maybe the rivalry would be between The University of Kent and Akron State University?

Friday, August 30, 2013

School Colors

I published this on the Kent Patch back in January 2012 and figured I should post it here since I don't really blog there anymore, and it was on my mind recently when I read through a game program at the KSU football game yesterday. Anything I have added that wasn't part of the original post will be in italics.

Ever wondered why Kent State University's school colors are Navy Blue and Gold? Well, if you go to the university's website or one their athletic media guides, you will likely find the following story: the school colors were originally purple and orange in the charter that established Kent State Normal School. Later, the basketball team had their uniforms taken to a cleaner and the hot water faded the purple to blue and the orange to gold. The student body liked the new colors and voted to change them. Sounds simple enough, but is that the whole story? Is it even close?

Growing up in Kent, I often heard the oversimplified version of how Kent got the university and Ravenna got the county seat. Basically, it was that Ravenna was given the choice of being the county seat or having the university and they chose the county seat with Kent getting the university.

Where that story came from is beyond me, because the two events had absolutely nothing to do with each other and happened about 100 years apart. Ravenna was named the county seat in 1807 and Kent won the state normal school (which became Kent State University) in 1910. Both Kent and Ravenna competed for the county seat (via their original proprietors) and the normal school. As further proof that Ravenna's status as county seat had nothing to do with the location of the state normal school is the fact that Bowling Green, Ohio, is the county seat of Wood County. It was also chosen as the site for the state normal school (for northwestern Ohio) in 1910.

What does that have to do with the school colors for KSU? It just goes to show how "folk history" often simplifies and puts two facts together that were never meant to be together and draws conclusions from them or creates a new story all together.

The first item I would like to see but haven't had a chance is the actual charter document. According to the "faded colors" story, the original school colors of orange and purple are listed as such in the school's charter. I have not been able to track that actual document down.  That could at least verify that the colors were orange and purple at one point. (After publishing this post, I found an FAQ page from Kent State's Special Collections and Archives that stated: "The founding of Kent State University was a gradual progression encompassing several years; there is no evidence of an official charter." That page has since been changed and has no mention of the school colors or the charter and searches for anything related to the university charter come up empty. It is worth noting that Bowling Green State University, Kent's sister school founded on the same bill in 1910, states their colors of orange and brown were suggested by a professor who recommended them to the board of trustees. If BG didn't have their school colors written into their alleged charter, why would Kent?) 

What I have been able to track down thus far, however, lists not purple and orange as the original school colors, but blue and orange. One of the great resources available from Kent State to study their own history is the digitized library of every yearbook published by the university.

From 1914-1985 (except 1920), KSU published a yearbook that was called the Chestnut Burr. Not only is every year available online, but it's also digitally indexed, so searching for keywords within one book or across all of them is very easy. I've referenced old yearbooks before because they are very valuable tools in research. Sometimes they directly say something that is a fact you are looking for. Other times, there are references to events or people that prove a certain fact. Many other times they have pictures that can tell us a lot about an event, building, group or person.

Being contemporary sources of the period, they also offer us glimpses into the way things were; how people dressed, how they thought, what was considered humorous, what was considered important, etc. For this, we have some direct evidence for orange and blue as the school colors.

Both the 1914 (first yearbook) and 1915 books make direct references to the school colors as orange and blue. The 1914 yearbook has a page that says "School Colors: Orange and Blue" at the bottom, and later has a page entitled "Our School Song" which references "her orange and blue." The 1915 yearbook has a school song "The Orange and Blue" on a page. The earliest reference to blue and gold as school colors in the Chestnut Burr is the 1921 edition, which has a picture and description of the "Blue and Gold Debate Club." (In later views of the yearbooks, I found an earlier mention of blue and gold as the school colors as part of a poem. Page 87 of the 1916 yearbook has a line that says "To Normal, her blue and gold." The next year, though, there is another clear reference to the colors as blue and orange, showing how both gold and orange were apparently being interchanged. There are multiple references in the early 1920s of the athletic teams being referred to as the "Blue and Gold" as well.)

1914 Kent State yearbook page clearly showing the school colors to be orange and blue, not purple.
Page also from the 1914 yearbook with a school song mentioning orange and blue as the colors.
Page from the 1915 Chestnut Burr with another song mentioning the school colors of orange and blue. "Orange" is highlighted because it was a search term I was looking for when I searced the online Chestnut Burrs.

But where did orange and blue come from? According to the first history of Kent State, The Years of Youth, written in 1960 by Phillip Shriver, the orange and blue originated from the university's first president John McGilvrey. He cites a March 13, 1913, article in the old Kent Courier and writes that McGilvrey "determined" that the school's colors would be orange and blue. Shriver credits McGilvrey being a "staunch Illini," though even in his own book, he also writes that McGilvrey was from Indiana and while he was on the faculty at the University of Illinois for a time, it was only for three years. He did not attend school there (McGilvrey had degrees from what is now Indiana State University and Indiana University, so if anything he's a Hoosier!). McGilvrey also served twice as a principal for two high schools in Illinois and was at what is now Western Illinois University just prior to coming to Kent.

So, is it a definite that the school colors of orange and blue were inspired by the University of Illinois? Shriver seems to think so, but the connection doesn't seem so obvious to me. It's definitely possible. In doing further reading, the first four faculty hires by McGilvrey were all from the state of Illinois, three of whom had degrees from the University of Illinois. So there was definitely some connection with the University of Illinois at Kent State in those early days. Shriver states that blue and gold were used interchangeably with the orange and blue for a period (doesn't appear to be very long) before blue and gold officially won out in 1925 by virtue of a committee. No mention is made of any vote from the student body, nor any mention of faded uniforms. There is also no given reason as to why blue and gold were selected or any significance behind them.

In looking at the difference between the color gold and orange, it's easy to see how they could be used interchangeably. Often times today we use yellow instead of gold, but gold as a color (not a metal) is much darker than yellow and is actually a yellow-orange blend. Was it a matter of fading? Perhaps, but it could also just be a matter of general use.

When the committee made the colors official, they were royal blue and gold, but now are shades of Navy blue and gold. Today, the colors are officially "Kent State blue" (Pantone 281; color hex #003876) and "Kent State gold" (Pantone 124, color hex #f0b310). Black is listed as a complimentary color.

 Of note, Kent State is one of three schools in the Mid-American Conference that use blue and gold as school colors, the other two being the University of Toledo and arch-rival the University of Akron. All three schools use slightly different shades of blue and gold. For instance, Akron uses a slightly darker shade of blue and a darker, more metallic gold. On sports uniforms, the shade of metallic gold looks almost tan. Toledo uses more of a yellow ("Rocket Gold") with a shade of midnight blue known as "Tower Blue." As far as fan support goes, Kent State has emphasized the "gold" more as the main color ("Get your gold on!"), while Akron seems to emphasize the blue more or white. Toledo tends to use the blue and gold pretty evenly.

I'm planning to search the archives of the Record-Courier here in Kent soon to go over some of the articles from the old Kent Courier that Shriver mentions in his book as sources. Hopefully they will have some additional information that can give me a little better understanding of where the colors came from. UPDATE, 10/15/13: In searching the archives of the Record-Courier, I found a mention of the school colors in 1913, but the date of the article was 2 months after the citation given by Shriver. The article, which covers several developments related to the school, simply states that the colors are blue and orange. That's it. No reasoning is given for them or who even made the suggestion. It was simply a matter of business.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Ravenna State University?

Most people who are familiar with the history of Kent State University are aware that the state of Ohio awarded Kent with what was known as a "normal school" (a school to train teachers) in 1910.  They also are familiar with the somewhat embellished story of how local leaders here in Kent were able to convince the commission that was sent from Columbus to scout various sites in both northwestern and northeastern Ohio for two new normal schools that Kent was the best spot and how the Kent visit was nearly a total disaster.  Not only did the weather not cooperate in the least, but the local welcoming committee didn't meet the search commission at the right place (the train station downtown) believing that the commissioners would be arriving by car.  Only a wonderful blue gill dinner at the Frank Merrill home in Twin Lakes saved the day, enough that Kent eventually won the normal school which later became Kent State University.  The next stop for the commission was Ravenna, where they were expected by lunchtime but arrived about three hours late.  It's most often presented like the committee in Ravenna knew their bid was doomed and that Kent would win.  But was Ravenna really ever a major consideration for the normal school?  And was it a competition exclusively between Kent and Ravenna?

Locally, many people are aware that Ravenna was one of the cities that tried to get the normal school along with Kent, but for some reason, many also believe that it was a choice the state made only between Kent and Ravenna.  This has evolved into an even more bizarre myth that Ravenna was given a choice between having the county seat and the university and chose the county seat so Kent got the university.  Where that story came from I have no idea, but it's pure folk history (and false).  Ravenna and what would later become Kent did compete for the honor of being the county seat when Portage County was formed, but that was in 1807, over 100 years before the state of Ohio passed the Lowry Bill to establish two new normal schools in northern Ohio.  In 1807, neither city was much of anything in terms of buildings or a city layout.  Ravenna won because its founder, Benjamin Tappan, was able to convince the powers that be to give his settlement the county seat (on his land, which is now downtown Ravenna) over what had apparently been the favored location in Franklin Township, owned by Aaron Olmstead.  Had Olmstead's land been chosen, the county seat would've been located about where Standing Rock cemetery is today in northern Kent along SR 43, and Kent itself likely would've been located further north that it is.  As it turned out, Olmstead died before the deal could be worked out and his heirs used the land for other purposes, so the county seat went to Ravenna.

Front page of the Ravenna Republican,
September 22, 1910
On to the normal school.  The first important fact to know is that the search for the normal school site in northeastern Ohio included far more than just Kent and Ravenna.  Over 40 communities statewide applied for consideration for one of the two schools.  In northeastern Ohio, Kent and Ravenna were just two among a group that included Ashtabula, Canton, Chagrin Falls, Columbiana, East Liverpool, Geneva, Hubbard, Hudson, Lorain, Massillon, Medina, Poland, Salem, Seville, Urichsville, Wadsworth, Warren, and Youngstown.  Eventually the commission narrowed the list down based on a number of criteria like central location in the region, access to railroads, etc.  They then heard presentations from each candidate city and made further cuts.  After those two "rounds", the commission visited the remaining candidate cities, which totaled 14 for northeastern Ohio.  Both Kent and Ravenna made those first cuts as both cities shared a central location in the region and rail connections.  Also included were Wadsworth, Medina, Hudson, Salem, Warren, Poland, Youngstown, Ashtabula, Geneva, Chagrin Falls, Canton, and Massillon.

Front page story from the Ravenna Republican, September 29, 1910
After the commission narrowed down the list, they started making their official visits.  Each community's first visit was highly planned and announced ahead of time.  I already mentioned Kent's first visit, which was plagued by bad weather and poor communication and was preceded by a visit to Wadsworth.  Most of the details about the time the commission spent in Kent are accurate as far as I can tell.  They did arrive without anyone to greet them; the weather was miserable, and they did go to a dinner at the Frank Merrill home in Twin Lakes, which was on the "road to Ravenna" (which is technically correct; it's just the "road to Ravenna" between Ravenna and Hudson, not Kent and Ravenna).  It is also true that they were originally expected around lunchtime and arrived later in the afternoon.  However, if the Ravenna committee felt their bid was dead-on-arrival, they certainly didn't let on in the press.  The Ravenna Republican makes no mention of the commissioners being late and they felt like the Ravenna committee showed off what they needed to and that it was received well.  The feeling the bid may have been doomed from the start is expressed in Philip Shriver's 1960 history of Kent State, The Years of Youth, but the footnote says it was from an interview in 1958, so 48 years later and a lot of time to put hindsight into the view.  Further, a few months later, the commissioners made surprise visits to the same cities, including Ravenna.  I hardly think they would've made a second visit to Ravenna if they weren't still considering it as a site.  Shriver notes that most of the cities the commissioners visited felt confident about their respective bids.  Hudson in particular, which had an entire campus (the former campus of Western Reserve College and current campus of Western Reserve Academy) ready and waiting, felt they had a strong case for the new school.  The positive feelings of Salem, Warren, Chagrin Falls, Hudson, Canton, and Wadsworth (as expressed trough their newspapers) are also recorded.

By the time of the decision, the front runners weren't exclusively Kent and Ravenna, however.  For whatever reasons, the front runners were seen, at least in the media, as Kent, Warren, and Wadsworth.  Ravenna certainly believed they were still in the running as a newspaper article seems to suggest, as did Hudson, but that may have just been pure optimism on the part of the newspaper.  And remember, newspapers in those days were a lot more editorial than papers today and often acted as the mouthpiece for an entire town or a specific family or group within a town.

Ravenna Republican front page,
November 24, 1910
Obviously, Kent won the normal school since Kent State University exists today.  This was after those visits by the commission (the 2nd visit being much better than the first for Kent), and final hearings in late November 1910.  The news of Kent getting the normal school came at the end of November and was met with disappointment in Ravenna, but still the Republican offered Ravenna's "heartiest congratulations" and found some solace that the school would be located in Portage County.

Two sites were presented to the commission in Ravenna (2 sites were also presented in Kent and both of them are now part of the KSU campus).  The first was the Beebe farm, which straddled the line between Ravenna and Ravenna Township.  Today, that area is roughly bordered by Washington Avenue, North Walnut Street, Freedom Street (SR 88) and the railroad. It's largely residential, but includes Carlin Elementary School on Washington Avenue and Bethel Baptist Church on Coolman Avenue.  The other site was known as "Bunker Hill" in the southeastern part of town.  I have not been able to pinpoint exactly where that was as it is a name that was apparently not all that common (not on any period maps) and certainly isn't used today.  All I can narrow it down to is in the part of Ravenna south of Main Street and east of Chestnut Street, probably a few blocks out of downtown.  It is apparent that the commission wanted, or at least preferred, a site that was on a hill as both sites in Ravenna were on a hill (or at least purported to be) and the main site in Kent, where KSU's original front campus is now located, is a hill (over 60 feet above Main Street and about 100 feet above downtown).  Sites in other towns mentioned also indicate that hilly sites were offered.  Indeed, the KSU history indicates that one of the primary features of the Kent site that really attracted the commissioners was the hill (some views below).  Obviously in northwestern Ohio, hills are hard to come by, so it doesn't seem like it was a priority or preference there (Bowling Green State University has no hills anywhere on its campus and the entire town is roughly the same elevation).  Below is a map of Ravenna that has the former Beebe farm outlined.  Had this been selected, it would be the nucleus of what would more than likely be called "Ravenna State University".  However, as we can see, there was a more likely possibility of a "Warren State" or "Wadsworth State" than a "Ravenna State University".

View Ravenna Normal School locations in a larger map

View of Kent from N. Mantua Street looking east showing the relative height of the KSU campus in the background (water towers on the right, pitched roof building just to the left of the crane) over downtown Kent.  

View looking northwest from the KSU campus in 1919, similar to the view the commissioners would've seen in 1910
(image from Kent State University Special Collections & Archives)

View looking west over Kent from the KSU campus, similar to the view the commissioners would've seen in 1910
(image from Kent State University Special Collections & Archives)