Let’s have a history lesson.
If you are standing, say, in the Kenmore Branch of the Akron-Summit County Public Library (located in what was once Kenmore’s city hall, which housed the police department, fire department, doctor’s office, dentist, court and library), you’re above a salt mine, or what used to be one. Kenmore was once a town of salt miners and rubber workers.
Many of the salt companies were located near the Manchester Road/Kenmore Boulevard intersection in an area once popularly known as Halo that butted against the now-drained section of Summit Lake, which was once part of the canal system. Manchester Road, by the way, is the oldest road in Akron. Native Americans would “portage” (i.e., carry their canoes to the next body of water) on the trail that’s now Manchester, which had purportedly been worn down for them by buffalo that roamed the region.
How do I know this? Well, I’ve recently been schooled by members of the Kenmore Historical Society. The Society started in 2001 with the aim of preserving Kenmore’s history for younger generations, and is run by the kind of Kenmore-proud residents I’ve been meeting throughout my time exploring the neighborhood. This pride seems the result of families who have resided in Kenmore through generations.
Let’s use Jan Williams, the Historical Society vice president, as an example. She’s a former Kenmore High School teacher who taught three generations of Kenmore residents (the last names of new students would already look familiar in her gradebook). She turns up at local events and meetings. Multiple people asked, when they discovered that I was writing about Kenmore, whether I had talked to her yet, because I needed to. Her father-in-law, Harry Williams, invented the “silver screen,” the highly reflective, image-enhancing slabs that became ubiquitous in American movie theaters of the 1940s and early 1950s. At one time, the screens were produced in the building that now houses the First Glance Youth Center on the Boulevard. Williams’ husband grew up in Kenmore, and his old friends all still live in the neighborhood. If anyone moves away, they naturally fall out of the friend group.
“You used to be able to get anything you needed in Kenmore,” says Richard Jolly, trustee of the Historical Society. “We had grocery stores, shoe shops, clothing stores, drug stores, a YMCA. There was no reason to leave town.”
Jolly was raised in Kenmore, and he’s full of neighborhood pride, too. For example, he’s still fed up that the city of Akron stole Kenmore’s fire truck.
Here’s the story, from what I could gather: When Akron annexed Kenmore at the very tail-end of 1928, ending Kenmore’s six-year stretch as its own town, Kenmore had a squeaky-new fire truck that was much nicer than Akron’s firetrucks. Upon annexation, the city of Akron commandeered Kenmore’s firetruck for use in a different Akron fire station, leaving Kenmore one of the old Akron fire trucks.
Jolly was decades from being born when this happened, but to hear him speak of the affair, you’d think it all happened a few years back. See what I mean about neighborhood pride?
The Kenmore Historical Society collects whatever artifacts people will give them. They own cheerleading outfits from 30 years ago, trophies, a chunk of a water line from underneath Manchester Road that is now over 100 years old and a sign from the old Kenmore trolley stop.
“Right now, we keep it all in our homes until we get a physical space to keep everything in,” says Jolly. “We’re trying to get a building for all of our stuff because we want the young kids to know what Kenmore was like years ago.”
The best artifacts the Society preserve, the ones that will keep the neighborhood’s history familiar to future generations, are the stories of Kenmore’s past shared on the Society’s web site (kenmorehistorical.org). There are historical writings, interviews from elderly, probably now-dead Kenmore residents and excerpts from one former resident’s memoir. Although the personal accounts are preluded with statements explaining that the stories “may not be strictly factual” or “were not researched for accuracy,” they transcend mere note-taking on geographical locations and archival tidbits and offer accounts, however brief, of what life was like in this specific slice of America in the early 1900s.
Here’s a selection from an interview with Kenmore resident Flossie Triplett Wilson describing halcyon Saturdays spent in nearby Manchester coal yards:
“A special Saturday treat for Flossie and a few of her friends was to get to ride a big horse-drawn wagon from Kenmore down to neighboring Manchester to the coal yard. There the men would load the big wagon high with big chunks of black coal and Flossie and her friends got to ride back to Kenmore, in style, high atop the coal. This was the greatest!”
I imagine anecdotes like this inspire people to start up historical societies. By appreciating the still-recollectable remnants of what was here before, you begin to better understand, to delineate the importance, of what is here now.