City Spotlight: Canton, OH

A Brief History

Canton, Ohio was founded by Bezaleel Wells in 1805. The community grew slowly during the early part of the nineteenth century, with only 300 residents by 1815. Two main reasons are cited for its slow economic development. First, during the late 1820’s, Ohio and Erie Canal planners offered to build the canal through Canton, but city officials and residents worried this would cause disease to spread. As a result, the canal was built through neighboring town, Massillon, whose residents reported improved health as a result. Second, the developers of the Cleveland and Pittsburgh Railroad offered to build the track through Canton, in exchange for ten thousand dollars to be contributed to the line’s construction. Again, city officials declined, on the assumption that the developers would have to build the line through Canton regardless. Proven wrong once again, the railroad developers constructed the line 18 miles east of Canton, through Alliance, thus helping Alliance to prosper, while Canton continued to maintain its economic state.

Despite these early setbacks, Canton finally saw economic growth and modest prosperity as a result of the Civil War. It emerged as a leading agricultural and industrial center, with critical manufacturers setting up shop in northeastern Ohio in the years leading up to and following the Civil War. Later, Canton grew to hold an important position in the production of iron. In 1888, Canton’s manufacturing firms brought in nearly five million dollars.

An equally important contribution to Canton’s continued economic growth was due to the presence of the Hampden Watch Manufacturing Company and the Dueber Watch Case Company. In 1890, the total companies employed in excess of 2,300 people, roughly 10 percent of Canton’s population. Further, Canton’s population had doubled since 1890, to about 26,000 people, due in large part to the watch manufacturers.

Over the course of the next several decades, Canton’s primary routes of prosperity were via agriculture, namely dairy and poultry production. A small tourism industry also exists, as Canton is home to the Pro-Football Hall of Fame. In the twentieth century, the Hoover Vacuum Cleaner Company established their headquarters in Canton. Other prominent companies in Canton include Diebold, Inc, a firm which primarily manufactures security devices, and the Timken Company, historically a bearings manufacturer.

In the 2000 census, Canton cited a population of over 80,000 people, with local industries producing over 1500 items. Fun Fact: one of Canton’s more famouls residents was former president, William McKinley.

Historic Images of Canton, Ohio

Cornelius Aultman built this magnificent home, which passed in owenership to Kate Aultman, his widow. She willed the estate to her step-daughter, Elizabeth Aultman Harter, the wife of George D. Harter, and thereafter it became known as the Hartner Estate. It stood on 11 acres on Market Avenue North at 11th Street. Unfortunately, the house became the victim of urband renewal and was replaced by this complex - the Cultural Center for the Arts (below). 

Reprinted from 'Canton' by Ronald E. Sterling (Pg. 11, Arcadia Publishing, 1998.) 

The center houses of the Players Guild, Canton Ballet, Canton Symphony, and the Canton Museum of Art - all wonderful additions to the Canton Community. It does seem a shame that such a magnificent structure could not have been saved.

Reprinted from 'Canton' by Ronald E. Sterling (Pg. 11, Arcadia Publishing, 1998.) 

In 1884, Canton joined the nineteenth century with its first mass transportation system - the horse-drawn trolley. Pictured here at the central barn of the Canton Street Car Lines of West Tuscarawas Street are the conductors, groomsmen and blacksmiths. It was not until 1889 that the first electric trolley system began operating around the city and some surrounding areas. The paving of Canton's streets in brick by Henry S. Blenden began about the same time, but started on East Tuscarawas Street, and had not yet reached the west side of town. We do know that this picture was taken in the spring of the year, as the conductor on the car is carrying his straw hat, a sure harbinger of spring and summer.

Reprinted from 'Canton' by Ronald E. Sterling (Pg. 15, Arcadia Publishing, 1998.) 

William McKinley, the 25th President of the United States, was Canton's biggest claim to fame. Mr. McKinley was decorated for bravery three times during the Civil War for his efforts in troop support, most notably at the Battle of Antietam Cree. After the war, he completed studies in law and at the behest of his sister Anna, he locating in the booming city of Canton. He frequented one of the city's banks and was smitten by a female teller, Ida Saxton, who's father owned the bank. As the story goes he pursued Ida until she caught him. They were married on January 25, 1871, and began a long and devoted life together - one that alternately held triumph and tragedy. They had two daughters who died very young - baby Ida at six months and Katie at three years. Mrs. McKinley then went into a life-long depression, but fulfilled her duties to her beloved William as he rose politically from county prosecutor, to the United States Congress, to governor, and finally to the White House.

Reprinted from 'Canton' by Ronald E. Sterling (Pg. 21, Arcadia Publishing, 1998.) 

After the Civil War, increasing leisure time led to an interest in recreational facilities where people could escape from the city. By the 1890s. ot was common for entire families to move out to Meyers Lake for the summer, living in tents or simple shacks that would be transformed into cottages in later years.

Reprinted from 'Canton Entertainment' by Kimberly A. Kenney (Pg. 11, Arcadia Publishing, 2013.)

Most of the original 20 figures were made by B.B. Bradley in Tampa, Florida, who charged only for the materials and donated the labor. The Ohio Air National Guard delivered the figures to Canton during a routine training flight to Florida. This photograph shows one of the knights for the Humpty Dumpty exhibit being carefully unloaded from the plane.

Reprinted from 'Canton Entertainment' by Kimberly A. Kenney (Pg. 22, Arcadia Publishing, 2013.)

William H. Hoover, owner of a North Canton saddle leather company and best-known for making vacuum cleaners, and Charles A. Kolp incorporated the CAR (Canton-Akron Railway) on April 4, 1901. Construction began in June, but was delayed several months over a payment dispute regarding filling a quicksand sinkhole. Car No. 54, built in 1902 for the CAR, is shown at the Canton carbarn. (Courtesy of the Paul Vernier collection.)

Reprinted from 'Canton Area Railroads' by Craig Sanders (Pg. 13, Arcadia Publishing, 2009.)

The CAR (Canton-Akron Railway) had 15 miles of city lines in Canton and Massillon. Buses began siphoning away riders in 1918, and eight bus lines operated in the Canton area by 1924. Massillon streetcar service operated for the final time on June 2, 1929, but Canton-Massillon interurban cars made local stops on routes they had shared with streetcars. Massillon car No. 481 is shown in 1911. (Courtesy of the Paul Vernier collection.)

Reprinted from 'Canton Area Railroads' by Craig Sanders (Pg. 14, Arcadia Publishing, 2009.)

The PRR (Pennsylvania Railroad) did not embrace diesel locomotive power as quickly as most of its peers. In part this way because hauling coal accounted for a significant share of the PRR's freight revenue. By the early 1950s, when this photograph of a westbound manifest freight entering Orrville was recorded, the question was no longer if steam would remain the railroad's primary motive power, but for how long. (Photograph by Bob Redmond.)

Reprinted from 'Canton Area Railroads' by Craig Sanders (Pg. 25, Arcadia Publishing, 2009.)

William H "Boss" Hoover liked the "contraption" and saw potential in Spangler's invention, so he purchased the patent from Spangler in 1908 and began producing the Hoover Suction Sweeper. This is a page from an early instruction book that came with a new vacuum cleaner, c. 1918. 

Reprinted from 'Canton's West Lawn Cemetery' by Kimberley A. Kenney (Pg. 31, Arcadia Publishing, 2004.)

Boss Hoover was a beloved figured in North Canton. He died in 1932. Despite the family's wealth and local game, their graves are quite modest, blending in seamlessly with the markers that surround them. (His plot is in Section U.)

Reprinted from 'Canton's West Lawn Cemetery' by Kimberley A. Kenney (Pg. 32, Arcadia Publishing, 2004.)

For more resources, historical facts, and historical photos of Canton, Ohio, consider the following resources:

Postcard History Series: Canton

Canton Entertainment

Canton, Ohio

Canton: A Journey Through Time

Canton's West Lawn Cemetery

Akron-Canton Football Heritage

Canton Area Railroads

Akron-Canton Baseball Heritage

Canton's Pioneers in Flight