Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Mantua Street

Here in Kent, one of our main north-south roads is Mantua Street, which is divided into north and south sections at West Main Street. The entire length of Mantua Street is also part of State Route 43. All but a short section of North Mantua Street is 4-5 lanes and the section that isn't (along with all of South Mantua Street) is two lanes going in one direction (south).

Every once and awhile, though, people look at a map and realize that Mantua Street doesn't actually lead one to Mantua (pronounced "MAN uh way"...don't ask me why, but it's a very old pronunciation!), a village to the northeast of Kent. OK, so why is it then called Mantua Street? And what about other roads in Kent that are clearly named for nearby towns but don't actually go to them? It's a matter of going back in time and realizing that the current setup for road routes isn't how they've always been.

The key to understanding the name "Mantua Street" is Diagonal Road, which is located just north of the Kent city limits. Diagonal Road is, as you may have guessed, a diagonal road. It's southern end is at State Route 43 less than a mile north of the Kent city limits. Diagonal Road's northern end is at Mantua Center Road, just a few hundred feet south of State Route 82 in Mantua Center, which is the center of Mantua Township. There's your "Mantua Street".

Today, Diagonal Road just appears to be a side street off 43 as you're heading north out of Kent, but up until the early part of the 20th century, instead of the intersection that exists today, the road heading out of Kent to the north had a fork in it. To the right, the road to Mantua, to the left, the road to Cleveland. Indeed, older maps of the area show the main road being Diagonal Road and Mantua Street with the part going to Cleveland as more of a side road rather than today's setup where the main road is 43. Only as the roads and the communities they went to developed more did the more traveled road become the road to Cleveland. Eventually a spur of the railroad was built in that area, so Diagonal Road was re-routed slightly and turns more to the west then it originally did to avoid crossing those tracks.

1874 map showing Kent and most of Franklin Township. Mantua Street/Diagonal Road can be seen as the diagonal line cutting across the center of the map. 
Close-up of the above map (left) and a modern view (right). Ravenna Road was also re-routed slightly (it is broken into two sections when it meets SR 43) because of the railroad building a new line in the 20th century. The settlement of Earlville was based on the railroad station that was located there. (Image on right from Google Earth)

There are still physical reminders of the original path that connected Diagonal Road and SR 43. Just south of the current Diagonal Road-SR 43 intersection is a house that has a row of very large trees in front of it all lined up. If you look at the direction of the line, though, it doesn't parallel SR 43; instead the line appears to be moving away from the road as you travel north. If you look at a map of the area now, you can draw a straight line from the main part of Diagonal Road south and those trees line up with that path.

SR 43 heading north. The line of trees in the center follows the original fork in the road, which connected with the rest of Diagonal Road.
Another point to understand is "Mantua" itself. When people say they're going to Mantua these days, they mean the village of Mantua, which is located in north central Portage County, along State Route 44. But in the early days, going to Mantua meant going to what we generally refer to now as "Mantua Township", the 25 square mile block that almost surrounds the village of Mantua.

Mantua village also wasn't known as "Mantua" until 1898, however. For most of the 19th century, it was known as "Mantua Station". Mantua Township is actually a classic example of how New England naming conventions were used in the Western Reserve. The township (some areas use "town" instead of "township") was Mantua, and then within the township were three hamlets or settlements: Mantua Center (intersection of SR 82 and Mantua Center Road), Mantua Corners (intersection of SR 82 and SR 44), and Mantua Station (now the village of Mantua). Mantua Station was founded in the late 1840s when a railroad line was built through northern Portage County, hence the "station" part of the name. It had a brief period of growth, but was never that big. Mantua Center was intended to be the main settlement of the township since it's at the physical center. That, however, never really happened because of growth at Mantua Corners (it being on a busier road, which is now SR 44) and Mantua Station. Mantua Center is where the township school was located (now listed on the National Register of Historic Places) and where the township hall is still located (part of the Mantua Center Historic District on the NRHP).

1874 map of most of Mantua Township, showing the three hamlets within the township: Mantua Center, Mantua Corners, and Mantua Station. Mantua Station is now the incorporated village of Mantua. Diagonal Road can be seen on the left (my grandma labeled it!) and SR 44 can be seen to the right of center, the road connecting Mantua Station and Mantua Corners. 

The same is true for roads in Kent like Middlebury Road and Akron Boulevard. Changes in road layouts, mostly for the sake of traffic, have removed the clearly visible reminders of why they were named as such, along with name changes. Middlebury was a settlement in what is now eastern Akron. Originally, it was a rival to Akron, but eventually Akron grew to the point that Middlebury was absorbed by Akron. Middlebury Road in Kent originally lined up with Northeast Avenue in Tallmadge and continued on to what is now Southwest Avenue (which becomes Eastland Avenue in Akron). In the early 1970s, the re-routing of SR 261 created the current intersection of Middlebury Road and Northeast Avenue and also shortened Cherry Street, which used to intersect with Middlebury and Northeast as a fork in the road.

1826 map of Portage County prior to the creation of Summit County. Middlebury can be seen near the bottom left (SW corner of Tallmadge Township) with Akron (which had just been established) just west of that in Portage Township. The road leading from Middlebury to the northeast is now Eastwood Avenue/Southwest Avenue, Northeast Avenue, and Middlebury Road, and even part of Mantua Street. The settlement labeled in Franklin Township is Carthage, which was located at the present-day intersection of Fairchild Avenue and N. Mantua Street (SR 43). 
Maps of the intersection of Middlebury Road and SR 261 (Northeast Avenue) in 1970 (top) and 2011 (below) from the Portage County Auditor's website showing the previous fork in the road  and how Middlebury Road and Northeast Avenue were connected. I added the labels. The current SR 261 was built around 1973.  The vertical dotted line is the border between Summit and Portage Counties and the horizontal line is the former boundary between Franklin and Brimfield Townships.
Akron Boulevard (and Majors Lane, which used to be Akron-Kent Boulevard) parallels the main water line that connects Lake Rockwell (Akron's main water supply located north of Kent) to Akron. That is why houses along Akron Boulevard and Majors Lane have such large front yards and long driveways. It is actually not that old of a road and has only existed since the late 1950s. While it appears like it could have originally lined up with Middlebury Road (and thus have gone to Akron), it is more likely it is named such because of the water line. Aerials from the 1950s show the road as a dead end near its current intersection with Middlebury. The road was connected to Middlebury sometime in the mid 1960s as more houses were built along it.

Middlebury Road also has physical reminders of its former route. The line of trees just west of the current intersection of Northeast Avenue (SR 261) and Middlebury follows the original route the road went. The area vacated by Middlebury and Cherry Street is now just a grassy area. Cherry Street was a veer to the right before angling northeast to its current location. The re-routing of 261 simply smoothed the curve out and removed the forks in the road, and broke the connection between Middlebury and Northeast, similar to Diagonal Road and Mantua Street.

So, if you ever see another road that looks like it's named for a town but doesn't seem to go there, don't assume that the current route is the way it's always been!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Dix Stadium

It's no secret that I love local history, but I also love history of sports, stadiums and arenas in particular. So it's of no surprise that I have studied the athletic facilities in this area, especially those at Kent State University. Thank goodness for the abundance of records available digitally that I can access, and also for the Kent State University Special Collections and Archives on the 12th floor of the library, where I spent quite a bit of time poring over old blueprints, athletic programs, and other documents!

Dix Stadium is the football stadium at Kent State University and is a place where I have spent a lot of time. My grandparents took my siblings and me to games as kids and I have attended games on my own every year that I have lived in Kent. Not only have I gone to dozens and dozens of games over the years, but I grew up all of a half mile from the stadium. Growing up, we could easily hear announcements from the stadium in our back yard. Even now, I drive past the stadium almost every day for various commutes to the southern and eastern parts of Portage County.

In just the past 10-15 years I've seen quite a few changes made to the stadium, but only recently have I really dug into its origins and early years. Some of what I've found is surprising, while other information is either confusing or not totally clear.

One of the great things about having my grandparents around is I can get a lot of first-hand information from them about the early years of the stadium. My grandpa is 89 and still has a very sharp memory. He served as the assistant dean the KSU College of Business until 1985 and was a season ticket holder for football and men's basketball for many years, so he spent a lot of time at Dix Stadium over the years until he was simply no longer able to come to games and stay comfortable.

Dix Stadium in 1969, with only the first few rows installed on the
new west stands
(Kent State University Libraries. Special Collections and Archives)
My grandpa was one of the 8,172 fans who were on hand for the very first game at Dix Stadium in 1969. At the time the stadium wasn't even completed yet. On the west ("home") stands, only 16 of 58 rows of seats had been installed and the locker rooms and press box were also not complete. In doing some research, there was apparently a construction accident earlier in the year that put work back several months. The stadium itself wasn't done until after the 1969 season, finished in either December 1969 or early 1970.

The most bizarre aspect of Dix Stadium is that it wasn't regarded as a new stadium, but rather as an "expansion and relocation" of the old Memorial Stadium. Memorial Stadium was located where the parking lot is for the KSU Student Center now. It was built in phases, the oldest of which opened in 1950, though the field had been used since 1941. Rather than just build an entirely new stadium in the late 60s, instead KSU dismantled all the main seating sections of Memorial Stadium and moved them about a mile down Summit Street to the new stadium site. The construction at Dix Stadium was to build a 12,772-seat grandstand on the west side of the field that had a new press box and locker rooms, along with 4 free-standing restroom facilities on each corner of the field. The seating sections from Memorial Stadium were used on the other three sides. Memorial Stadium's sideline grandstands became the new end zone seats at Dix Stadium while the 4 auxiliary bleacher sections became the new east stands, known mostly as the "visitor's section" (visitor fans no longer sit on that side of the stadium, however, as it is now the student section). Because Dix Stadium incorporated virtually all of Memorial Stadium's seats, obviously the university couldn't use the old stadium after the new stadium wasn't totally ready in time.

Memorial Stadium ca. 1968. All seating visible in this photo except the end zone bleachers
was moved to Dix Stadium in 1969. The buildings adjacent to the stadium from left are:
Bowman Hall, Lake-Olson Halls, and the Memorial Athletic & Convocation Center. This area is now
mainly occupied by the visitor parking lot for the Student Center
(Kent State University Libraries. Special Collections and Archives)
Top photo is of Memorial Stadium when it was new in 1950. Bottom photo is the same
grandstand in 2008, but now in the north end zone of Dix Stadium. The old press box was
removed in 2007.
(Top photo from 1951 Chestnut Burr; Kent State University Libraries. Special Collections and Archives)

Those Who Fail to Plan...

Document outlining the future plans for what is now
Dix Stadium. 
The most surprising aspect of Dix Stadium that I discovered were the original long-range plans for its development, most of which were never followed. The most disappointing one to me is the plan for the east side seating area. As I mentioned above, the east side seating, which up until about 2000 was where fans from the visiting team sat, was actually made up of four separate stands of wooden bleacher seats. In the original plans for Dix Stadium, those were considered temporary seats and were supposed to have been removed by 1973 and replaced with an 18-row section of concrete seating. Eventually, that would have been extended to 58 rows to duplicate the west side stands, bringing the seating capacity to around 35,000. The last phase of expansion would have been to add an upper deck on each side of the stadium, bringing total capacity to around 50,000. I would love to see an architectural rendering of what that would've looked like as it's hard to imagine an upper deck at Dix Stadium.

Those "temporary" wooden bleachers ended up being removed, but not for over 30 years. After the 2001 season they were condemned and torn down. During the 2002 season, that area was left empty before a new, smaller section of aluminium bleachers were built on that site for the student section.

Why weren't the plans followed? Well, for one, they were contingent on the team continuing to win, which didn't happen much. Even so, the first few years at Dix Stadium, KSU football did very well and was drawing decent crowds. The two largest crowds in stadium history were both set in 1973 (27,363 and 25,137), though the first recorded sellout didn't occur until 2010 (with a smaller seating capacity). After that, though, attendance was pretty low and crowds above 20,000 were rare.

East side stands (student section) with Field House in the rear in 2010.
The north stands can be seen on the left.
The other factor was likely the effects of the 1970 Kent State shootings, which occurred just after the stadium was initially completed. The shootings caused a decline in enrollment at KSU, which in turn led to budget cuts across the university, so it is of no surprise to me that stadium expansion or upgrades may have been one of those casualties. The only major athletic-related capital project in the 1970s was the controversial construction of the Gym Annex in 1977, and that was more related to physical education than to athletics.  The plans that did largely come to pass are that Dix Stadium is the center of an athletic complex, though not quite as large as the original plans, which included a new basketball arena in the field across Summit Street from the stadium. The field house, built in 1989, was mentioned in the 1970s plans as well as including other athletic fields. As of 2014, field hockey, women's soccer, softball, and indoor track all have facilities in and around Dix Stadium along with football.

Personally I wish KSU would look back on those original plans and use them in their current upgrades to the stadium. I don't think anyone expects the 50,000 seat plan to be followed, but the original idea to have the east side and west side look similar would be quite an improvement over the current setup. The east side stands built in 2003 just don't look like something you'd expect to see at a Division I FBS school. It's made worse by the fact that television cameras are located on the much larger west stands, so TV audiences see the very small east stands in the background (which seats just 4,104), so the stadium looks even smaller than it actually is. Originally, the cameras were located at the top of the east stands, so the west stands were in the background. Aesthetically it's also bizarre that you have a section with almost 13,000 opposite a section with just 4,000, while the north end zone section between them has almost 6,000 seats.


Another interesting aspect of Dix Stadium is the name itself. The stadium is named for Robert C. Dix, who was a member of the Kent State Board of Trustees for some 30 years and also was editor of the Record-Courier newspaper. Locally, the Dix name is known for Dix Communications, which owns several media outlets, including the Record-Courier. Dix Communications is now partially headquartered in Kent while the rest of its headquarters is in Wooster, Ohio. Anyway, my aforementioned grandpa was part of a committee established in the early 1970s to name the stadium. When it opened in 1969, it was known as Memorial Stadium since it was regarded as an expansion and relocation of the existing Memorial Stadium, rather than a new facility.

My grandpa said there was no consensus in the committee (which included the likes of Jack Lambert) on who to name it for, but the various ideas floating around were all athletic-related such as former KSU players and coaches. He said no one even mentioned Robert C. Dix as an option. After the university announced that the stadium was to be named for Dix, my grandpa wrote a letter to the university letting them know to never again call him to be on such a committee that he felt was a complete waste of his time since they did not use any of the naming recommendations the committee gave. One of the suggestions from a committee member, though, was selling the naming rights to a company. While that is commonplace now, it wasn't the case in the early 1970s. In any case, the "Dix Stadium" name became official in 1973.

Just How Many?

Another sort of mystery or source of confusion for me is the actual seating capacity of the stadium. News articles from the time it opened list its capacity at 28,748. Later, the capacity was listed at 30,520 in media guides. This number is listed as the capacity until 2003 (it's even used in the 2002 guides even though the east stands weren't there the entire season). In 2003, with the opening of a newer and smaller east stand, the capacity was changed to 29,287, a loss of 1,233 seats. In 2008, after the south end zone seating was removed, the capacity was listed at a generic "25,000", until 2010, when the capacity suddenly "dropped" to 20,500. That was the official listed capacity until 2013, when, despite no new construction, the stadium got about 5,000 more seats to have a listed capacity of 25,319.

The one consistent number I have found is that the west stands have seating for 12,772. That number is present in the architectural plans and news reports from the late 1960s and in media guides over several decades, plus the west stands have had no major changes made beyond new paint. I could only find one game program that listed the seating capacities for each section, from the mid 1980s: 12,772 for the west stands, 5,976 for the original east stands, and 5,726 for both the north and south end zone sections (which were virtually identical). It also has a "Southeast Corner" section with 320 seats that isn't on the stadium seating diagram nor is it one I remember ever seeing in all my years going to games. All of that added together was where the 30,520 total comes from. The new east stands built in 2003 were listed in a 2008 media guide as having 4,104 seats, so that explains why capacity went down in 2003, though the new section is 1,872 seats smaller than its predecessor yet the overall stadium capacity only dropped by 1,233 even though there were no additional seats added elsewhere that I am aware of.

The 5,726 total for the north and south end zones is interesting because when Memorial Stadium opened in 1950, it consisted of one grandstand (which is now the Dix Stadium north end zone...pictured above) and some auxiliary bleachers on the opposite side of the field. The listed seating capacity for Memorial Stadium then was 5,600. Obviously that's an estimate, but it seems odd that the 1980s total for that section of seats is higher than the 1950 total without auxiliary seating in the count. Edit: turns out, the initial capacity for Memorial Stadium was actually about 7,000, which included the main grandstand and auxiliary seating, so the 5,726 for that section seems accurate!

If the totals from that 1980s game program are correct along with the 4,104 total for the current east stands, then the current seating capacity of Dix Stadium is 22,602. Now, there is a difference between seating capacity and total capacity too. Obviously since the stadium has a large plaza in the south end zone, smaller open areas on either side of the east stands, and virtually all of the seating is made of of bleachers, more people than the total seating capacity can be in the stadium, but still, I do wonder where the current 25,319 figure comes from and why there is so much discrepancy, especially in the last few years. Have they started counting seats that hadn't previously been counted? Has the university changed how they divide the bleacher seats in the various sections? Do they include the standing room only sections in the capacity? At this point, the latter is the only explanation I can find. The largest crowd since the most recent renovations was 24,221 in 2010. At the time, it was almost 4,000 over the listed capacity, but now it appears it was slightly below the listed capacity even though no changes to the seating have been made between 2008 and now. That game, however, was the first official sellout for Kent State football at Dix Stadium.

Location, Location, Location

The other aspect of Dix Stadium's history I've always wondered about is why the stadium was built where it is. In studying the contemporary news stories, there aren't any specific reasons given by those who were responsible for the stadium's development.  Based on reading those stories and what I know about developments that were going on around it at the time, though, I can make a fairly educated guess.

Dix Stadium in 1970. The rest of campus can be seen in the upper
right corner of the picture
(Kent State University Libraries. Special Collections and Archives)
First, the reason they needed to move the stadium away from the Memorial Stadium site was due to the growth of campus in the 1950s. When the athletic fields that later became Memorial Stadium were built, that was the edge of campus. By 1964, there were several more buildings and campus was starting to "pass" Memorial Stadium to the point that it was becoming more central to the campus instead of the edge. University officials wanted to build a new University Center (library and student center), and that location seemed to be best geographically based on the how campus was at the time and the long-range plans.

OK, but why did they choose a site that was, at the time, off-campus? That specific reason is never mentioned, but my guesses have to do first with cars. A big part of the Dix Stadium project was the parking lot for a few thousand cars, so they needed a very large area. The Dix Stadium site is about a mile from the edge of campus (at that time), though today it doesn't seem nearly as far as it did in 1969 as campus has expanded further east. I don't consider Dix Stadium to be "off-campus". It has plenty of space not only for ample parking, but has allowed for the other athletic facilities to be built there. The university did want an athletic complex at that site in time.

Another reason that may have played into the decision to locate there specifically was the proximity to what is now State Route 261. In the late 1960s, plans were in place to make what is now SR 261 a 4-lane limited access freeway that would have had an exit at Summit right near the stadium site (at the time, SR 261 entered Kent via Cherry Street, then followed South Water Street and SR 43 north to downtown Kent where it ended at the intersection of Main and Water Streets). The portion of 261 now that runs north-south from SR 59 to just past Summit Street was originally going to be part of a divided 4-lane limited access highway SR 435 going between SR 14 in the north and I-76 in the south. 261 was supposed to tie in to SR 435 just south of Summit. The overall project was only partially realized with 261 being built as a divided highway from just south of Summit to just east of the Kent-Tallmadge border, completed in the early 1970s. The property lines, though, still reflect where the on-ramps and interchanges would have been. It makes sense that having the stadium and its huge parking lot directly accessible to the highways would have been preferable, especially in the late 60s when the general planning mindset favored more highway construction.
1968 Land Use and Thoroughfare Plan for Kent and Franklin Township. I added a few labels.
Of these plans, part of SR 261 was built (without any highway interchanges) and Haymaker
Parkway, which can be seen on the left side. 435 was never built, though part of SR 261 follows
the SR 435 route between Summit Street and SR 59. 
Property map of the Dix Stadium area today. The location of the planned interchange of what would have been SRs 261 and 435 and the exit ramp to Summit Street (all visible in the bottom right of the picture above) can still be seen in the property lines even though the project was abandoned years ago.
(Portage County Auditor)
I haven't really touched on all the more recent changes made in 2007 and 2008, or the upcoming plans for the stadium and the entire athletic complex. To see more, be sure to visit