|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 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 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
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)
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?