PORTAGE PATHWAYS: Muzzy Lake namesake was obsessed with fatal attraction

By Roger J. Di Paolo | Record-Courier Editor Published:

Muzzy Lake has been in the news recently because residents of the Rootstown neighborhood surrounding it are battling a serious flooding problem that is threatening their lakefront homes.

Located south of Sandy Lake Road, the lake once was utilized by the city of Ravenna as a supplemental source when its waterworks was located at Crystal Lake, which also is in Rootstown.

Muzzy Lake's distinctive name is a lasting reminder of a lovelorn soul -- dead for nearly 170 years -- whose eccentricity made him a legendary figure during his lifetime and a legend beyond it.

Nathan Muzzy -- or Nathaniel, according to some sources -- was born in Worcester, Mass., in the 1760s and served as a teenage member of the Massachusetts Militia during the Revolutionary War. He graduated from Yale and had plans to become a Congregational minister when he became smitten with a girl named Emma Hale.

It proved to be a fatal attraction of sorts, because the object of his affection chose not to return his love.

Nathan never recovered from her rejection. Nor did he ever forget her.

Giving up the ministry, he left Massachusetts and made his way to the Ohio frontier, eventually coming to present-day Portage County, where he settled at the dawn of the 19th Century. He moved to Deerfield, finding work as an itinerant carpenter, a job that kept him busy as the pioneer settlements welcomed new residents.

In 1801, Ephraim Root, the Connecticut settler for whom Rootstown is named, hired him to construct a two-story structure made of logs that provided shelter for the township's first residents, who spent the winter there until their own homes were built. Muzzy also built the first frame structure in the settlement, a barn Root hired him to build in 1804.

He worked in several communities elsewhere in Portage County, including Shalersville, Palmyra and Randolph. He evidently had a solid reputation as a carpenter, but did nothing to hide his peculiarities.

In Shalersville, where he was hired to frame a sawmill for Stephen Mason in 1812, he was remembered for being "a little 'off' of his mental balance" and exhibiting "a queer streak of drollery" that found its expression in bits of doggerel. When a flood destroyed the dam near the sawmill he had built, neighbors arrived at the site to find Muzzy viewing the devastation and remarking, "God be praised, the devil's raised, the world rolls round in water."

In Randolph, he built a log cabin for himself, then burned it down to use the framework for a new home. He built a large gate in front of his residence, with an archway bearing the name of Emma Hale -- reminding him of the woman who spurned him every time he entered or left his home.

He carved Emma Hale's name on other buildings, fences, gates and trees, obsessively immortalizing his lost love.

And then he vanished, pulling up stakes in Portage County to head west to the frontier, where presumably he continued to console himself with memories of Emma Hale. He returned as abruptly as he had left, turning up in Edinburg as a carpenter 25 years after his departure.

During his time in Rootstown, he is said to have discovered the lake that now bears his name. When it became known as Muzzy Lake is uncertain, but the name is listed in an 1874 atlas published three decades after his death.

Muzzy Lake is the only body of water in northern Rootstown Township that bears its original name. Crystal Lake originally was known as Ward's Pond, in honor of its discoverer, "Mother" Ward, who came across the lake while searching for a lost cow. Lake Hodgson, now Ravenna's water source, was known as Muddy Lake, but gained a more appealing name after the Cleveland Worsted Mill Co. acquired it as a source of water for its operations in the late 19th Century. Sandy Lake once was known as Lake Stafford, as was the large resort hotel located there.

Nathan Muzzy lived out his long life in Portage County, but he died penniless. He spent his final days at the Portage County Infirmary -- better known as the "poor house" -- where he died on Aug. 14, 1844. He was about 80 years old. Records at the Portage County Historical Society show that he was buried in a black walnut coffin, trimmed in white felt, that cost the county $4. His final resting place is believed to be in West Cemetery in Palmyra.

His story, which has intrigued local historians for more than a century, is forever entwined with the tale of his lost love. One account, written in 1885, summed up his life as a tragedy: "Poor old Nathan! His life was a romance: A graduate of Yale, brilliant young minister, crossed in love, reason dethroned, a wanderer in the West, decrepit and penniless, buried by the hand of charity."

And today, more than 200 years after he first set foot in Portage County, his name lives on in the body of water overflowing its banks in Rootstown.

Want to leave your comments?

Sign in or Register to comment.

  • "A great story!!!" "As my great great great great grandfather, William Philip Willyard/Williard/Wilyard is buried 'somewhere' on the, 'NOW', wet banks of the lake, I found this article quite interesting!!" Thanks Roger for writing it!!! "Mr. Jim"