By Roger J. Di Paolo | Record-Courier Editor
The iconic flagpole that dominates Ravenna's skyline has been associated with the Portage County Courthouse for nearly 120 years.
The courthouse, of course, isn't the seat of justice that was located at the site when the American flag first was raised on the 150-foot tall mast on Memorial Day, 1893.
Still known by many as the "new" courthouse, the present structure was erected in 1960 and its Victorian era predecessor was razed shortly afterward.
The flagpole itself isn't situated on its original location, either. It was moved several feet in 1923 -- a formidable undertaking that took every bit of 12 minutes.
The flagpole came into existence as a replacement for an 85-foot tall mast that had been erected in front of the courthouse in June 1888. That pole, which was formed using two trees cut from the Doolittle farm in Streetsboro, fell victim to a storm.
The metal staff erected by Ravenna Township to replace it was a 150-foot tall structure, utilizing a steel lattice-work base topped by a 50-foot tall steel mast.
Work on the project was authorized in late 1892. Van Dorn Co., a Cleveland firm, was paid $800 for the flagpole, the equivalent of nearly $20,000 today.
The design of the flagpole was decidedly different from the 19th Century structures that surrounded it. Some critics derided it as looking similar to an oil derrick while others questioned spending such a large sum for a flagpole when Ravenna didn't boast a single paved road.
Criticism aside, the pole was a distinctive structure that was probably one of the tallest of its kind in the nation and, in fact, was among the tallest structures in Ohio at the time.
Thirty years after it was erected, however, it became apparent that the flagpole's location with the Main Street right-of-way was becoming problematic. The horse-and-buggy traffic of 1893 was giving way to the automobile, and that was posing traffic concerns.
"With the advent of the automobile, the presence of such an obstruction in the main business street of the town became a menace," the according to a Ravenna Republican account.
The decision to move the pole was made in October 1923, with minimal publicity, in conjunction with the resurfacing of Main Street.
A brief item in the Ravenna Republican on Oct. 3, 1923, reported that Ravenna City Council had instructed the city's service director to consult with the Ravenna Township trustees regarding "moving the steel flag staff back out of the roadway and to a new location between the curbing and sidewalk."
Two days later, the Republican reported that T.R. Shanaberger, the township road superintendent, had begun work excavating the new site for the flagpole, which would be moved "10 feet to the south, inside of the curb." C.R. "Chet" Jones of Ravenna would oversee the actual relocation of the structure.
The move occurred several days later, at 10:05 a.m. "on a bright October day." The flagpole was released from its concrete foundation by Jones' crew, who removed the bolts at its base. It was jacked up eight inches and four sections of rails were placed under the base, one on each side and two in the center. A cable was attached to the bottom of the flagpole; the other end was attached to a large timber across the opening of a basement window in the courthouse.
With the flagpole anchored to the cables, a motor-driven winch attached to a truck hauled it along the rails to its new location and onto the foundation prepared for it. The bottom of the structure was encased in 10 inches of concrete to stabilize it.
The entire move took 12 minutes.
"It was found that when the pole had separated from its former foundation, the iron at its base, which was originally encased in two inches of concrete, was in prime condition," the Republican reported, "showing no rust or other evidence of deterioriation." The original paint, visible when the flagpole was being relocated, "was bright and fresh appearing."
"Chet" Jones had plenty of experience moving buildings and other structures. He had relocated hundreds during his 20-year career, the Republican reported. It's a good bet he had never moved a 150-foot tall flagpole, however.
Nearly 80 years after its 12-minute "walk," Ravenna's flagpole remains in the news as its future is debated. The issue of razing the flagpole arose last year because of concerns about the safety of the structure.
It appears to have been granted a reprieve, thanks to the efforts of Friends of the Flagpole, a preservationist group, which has raised about $75,000 to save the flagpole. A plan under discussion calls for dismantling the structure, shipping it to a firm in Syracuse, N.Y.., that would refurbish it, and then reinstalling it.
So it looks like the flagpole might be coming down again -- temporarily. Chances are, this time it will take longer than 12 minutes to get the job done.