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A Stow Boy Scout helped transform an unremarkable alley in downtown Kent into a looking glass that peers into the city's industrial roots.
Henry Van 't hooft, 17, a Boy Scout from Troop 177 in Stow, organized an effort to adorn the alley between Skullz Salon and Woodsy's music shop -- better known as Burbick Way -- on South Water Street with a 10-foot-by-25-foot mural of an iconic image of a passenger train arriving at the Erie Depot (now the Pufferbelly Ltd.) 50 years ago.
The service project fulfills Van 't hooft's final requirement to achieve his Eagle Scout rank, the pinnacle of scouting.
"It's something personal for me, but also something a little different from other projects or just building something," said Van 't hooft, an aspiring artist and senior at Archbishop Hoban High School in Akron.
The mural is a copy of a photograph taken by former Cleveland-area train aficionado Herb Harwood around 1965 while trekking through the area. The image also is the cover of Kentite and railroad historian Bruce Dzeda's book, "Railroad Town: Kent and the Erie Railroad."
From city officials to building owner Bill Arthur, stakeholders picked the image because of how it captures a moment in Kent's mid-century railroad heritage.
The mural has been a work in progress since May, Van 't hooft said. It was expected to be installed today following an estimated 200 hours of combined work by volunteers, many of whom were Van 't hooft's high school classmates. It took about another seven hours to put the image on the wall.
The photo was blown up and traced onto a special polytab fabric, painted in a gray scale and will be glued to the side of Skullz Salon using a special compound. A second coat will be applied to the front of the piece to make it stick and take the shape of the brick blocks behind it. The material is more weather resistant than paint alone.
While materials like paint and the fabric were donated to Van 't hooft from the Hoban art department, the scout troop picked up the remainder of the estimated $1,000 worth of materials in total.
The non-profit Main Street Kent organization has been active this year helping clean up Kent's various downtown alleys. Besides beautification, it is hoped that murals like these will deter vandalism.
"We've cleaned up a lot of graffiti this year," said Heather Malarcik, Main Street Kent executive director. "That wall is going to be a pallet to somebody, so we figure if we assign some real art to it, maybe other folks will leave it alone."
Coincidentally, this year marks 150 years since the railroad came to Kent.
The passenger locomotive pulling into the Erie Depot on Franklin Avenue in the image is called the Lake Cities train, Dzeda notes, which was operated by the Erie Lackawanna Railway. That company was the result of a merger of the Erie Railroad and the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad lines.
As the adage goes, this picture is worth a thousand words.
"This is a photograph that reminds us of Kent's heritage," Dzeda said. "In a sense, without the railroad, we would've been a very unimportant little burg, but the trains helped bring the university and it brought diversity to the town."
Dzeda estimates the photo was taken around 1965, which was also a pivotal time for the entire railroad industry which was wrought with bankruptcies, consolidations and deregulation at the time. That same railway in Kent served as a portal for Kent's various ethnic groups who settled in the area throughout the turn between the 19th and 20th centuries.
"I think the mural is great," said Thomas Hatch, director of the Kent Historical Society. "A good mural tells a story, and this one certainly does."
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