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Portage Pathways: Millionaire Dan Hanna put his money on the line for good roads

Published: February 3, 2013 4:00 AM

Dan Hanna, a millionaire several times over, was the squire of Cottage Hill Farm, a 2,000-acre holding east of Ravenna where he raised one of the finest herds of shorthorn cattle in the nation. His 42-room mansion on the Charlestown-Ravenna Township line, which was his summer home, was the largest private residence in Portage County.

Hanna was the driving force behind the "Good Roads Movement" whose aim was to "lift Portage County out of the mud" during the early years of the 20th Century at the advent of the automotive age.

The richest man in the county envisioned a network of paved roads linking villages and townships that would not only serve transportation needs but spur economic development as well.

The Portage County Improvement Association was Hanna's brainchild. He envisioned a countywide organization, with representation from every township, to foster better agricultural practices, including improving the quality of livestock. Improving roads for farmers was an element of his plan.

Hanna spent lavishly to maintain Cottage Hill, where he lived a Gilded Era lifestyle in a time when there was no income tax. Married four times, he was a 300-pound bon vivant who lived up to the image of a pleasure-loving tycoon.

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He also didn't hesitate to put his money on the line for the Portage County Improvement Association. As 1913 dawned, he pledged a personal donation of $50,000 -- the equivalent of $1.1 million today -- for agricultural improvements, better roads and the general welfare of Portage County.

But his generosity came with strings attached.

Hanna said he would make good on his pledge only if Portage County residents raised $30,000 for the association. Ravenna, the county's largest community, would have a goal of $4,000 per year for the next five years; Kent's share would be $3,000 for the same period. The remaining amount would be raised by outlying areas.

According to the Kent Courier, Hanna's plan envisioned a 2 percent road tax on every community, in addition to a doubling of the tax on automobiles; together that would amount to roughly $350,000 over a five-year period.

All told, the plan called for raising roughly $1.2 million over five years -- a staggering $33 million in today's dollars -- which would be used to transform agricultural conditions and pave a network of highways linking Portage County.

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Meetings touting the improvement association and the Good Roads Movement were held in every community, and the plan was well received. "Not a township in the county has failed to respond," the Ravenna Republiucan reported.

Several prominent area residents were named to the association's board, including H. Warner Riddle Jr. of Ravenna, educator Frank Merrill, who represented Franklin Township and Kent, and Hiram College President Miner Lee Bates.

"All of the residents of Portage County will cheerfully pay their proportion of any tax necessary," the Republican predicted. Good roads, the newspaper observed, "will make the farms more profitable while you work them and more valuable when you are ready to sell out."

Despite the enthusiasm for Hanna's plan, selling prospective shareholders proved to be more of a challenge than expected.

Hanna "condemned Ravenna and Kent for not coming forward in better shape," the Kent Courier reported.

The Republican threw down the gauntlet in a sharply worded broadside that dominated its front page on Jan. 23, 1913.

"We are very laggard in Ravenna to push things that are bound to benefit us in every way. Let us get busy now before Mr. Hanna becomes more disgusted with us than he is now. He is beginning to think we are dead here in Ravenna. He is right. We are dead. Let us come to life now," the newspaper scolded. "What's the matter with us anyway?"

The Republican added that many who ought to be supportive of Hanna's program had failed to sign on as shareholders -- and concluded with a threat to "publish a select list of non-members."

"We are hitting from the shoulder ... but strong threats are necessary as the condition is critical," the newspaper observed.

Whether the Republican ever made good on its threat of public shaming is unknown. And, while Hanna's plan met with initial enthusiasm, with 1,300 signing on with the improvement association, it eventually foundered.

The $1 million envisioned for better roads never materialized, but the association was instrumental in the creation of Main Market Road No. 11 -- present-day S.R. 59 and 5 -- the east-west highway spanning the county from Kent to Paris Township.

Dan Hanna's fortune, at its height, was estimated at $40 million and it was said that he spent about $100,000 on his ventures in Portage County. He was 54 years old when he died of heart failure on Nov. 3, 1921, at The Croft, his 168-acre estate in Ossining, N.Y. He had been divorced earlier that year by his fourth wife on grounds of alcoholism.

The Cottage Hill mansion, located at 5555 Newton Falls Road, which dates to the 1830s, still stands and is now a private residence. There is another fitting reminder of the father of the Good Roads Movement more than 90 years after his death -- Hanna Road, which connects Newton Falls Road and S.R. 5. He built it.

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anonymous Feb 3, 2013 4:35 PM

Nana56 Your right, I was wrong. I Apologize! However, why would you infer that I would think a vet getting a check would be on the public dole? Thats just mean. If you want to comment on issues great, but putting me down and trying to discredit me does nothing in the way of exchanging ideas or futhering a conversation wether you agree/disagree. Anyway, sticks and stones can break my bones, but names shall never hurt me. Besides, I've been put down, insulted, by the best of them, plus I've been married to the same woman for over 40 years, if you know what I mean! I think I heard it all! She could use your prayers. Shalom

anonymous Feb 3, 2013 3:53 PM

@Redleg6.....I NEVER SAID YOU WERE ON THE DOLE!!!!! Can't you read? I said that if the shoe were on the other foot, you would probably accuse a disabled veteran of being on the dole. I said that intelligent folks would THANK a disabled veteran for his or her service!!!!! I have the utmost respect for our veterans. Don't you DARE twist my words and say otherwise. I suggest you go back and read my previous post and not just READ what YOU want it to say!

anonymous Feb 3, 2013 3:32 PM

@nana56 When I joined the US Army, and took the oath to defend the country and the constitution of the United State, against all enemies both foreign and domestic, Your government and mine made a contract with me. If I get hurt in the service of my country, the government, thru VA would take care of my family, and me. I kept my part of the contract, the government, VA is keeping there part. To say a disabled soldier getting compensation is on the DOLE shows your ignorance. Nana56, Do you think folks that get Social Security retirement or a disability check are on the dole? It is a contract. If you want to know what the definition of Dole is, google the democrats platform. @Hiram & nana56, Does it elevate you folks to attack a person because you don't agree with what he said. Why don't you stick to the issues? Put more time in commenting on the issues, not name calling, I comment on issues. You know were I stand. Hiram & Nana56 comment about what an ahole I am. And you wonder why it's pointless to try and have an intelligent conversation with Redleg6. All your comments are personal attacks. Maybe you folks need to review the RC/terms of service for this forum. Shalom

anonymous Feb 3, 2013 2:51 PM

I have never met or read a post by a veteran that points out the fact they are a, "100% total/permenantly disabled US Army combat veteran/Vietnam War" like redlegs does so often. My husband is a veteran, we know many veterans, some with disabilities. They don't go around bragging about being disabled as redlegs appears to do so often.

anonymous Feb 3, 2013 1:55 PM

@Hiram.....it's pointless to try and have an intelligent conversation with Redleg6. If the shoe were on the other foot, I'm certain he would whine and complain about a 100% total/permanently disable veteran being on the public dole. He would also blame it on Obama because, well he blames the current administration for everything regardless of when it happened. Of course, intelligent folks would and should thank him for his service to our country. While the first amendment does allow you the right to free speech, must it include incessant complaining and misinformation without any viable solutions? As I posted elsewhere, Redleg6 is a grumpy person! Maybe volunteering to help others would help his outlook, but I am afraid that he would just spread his negativity to others. Sad.....so very sad.

anonymous Feb 3, 2013 12:14 PM

Good morning Hiram. Whining & complaining is the American way. If we didn't whine and complain, we would still be British. As a service connected 100% total/permenantly disabled US Army combat veteran/Vietnam War I feel I have the right to whine and

complain... Hiram, you have the right to say I whine and complain like a child. Just curious of why do you focus on me? Can't handle opposing thoughts, observations, and opinions? The 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." The constitutional right of peaceful assembly means that people can gather in public to discuss their opinions about government or other concerns. This right of assemble also guarantees the right of association in groups, such as political parties, labor unions, and business organizations.Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/right-to-petition#ixzz2JrAIG8jf ***** You see Hiram, the 1st Amendment gives you and me the Right to whine and complain, even like a child! Keep Warm Hiram, Shalom!

anonymous Feb 3, 2013 10:07 AM

redlegs, do you wake up every morning just to complain and whine like a child all day? It appears posting on the RC is a BIG part of your life.

anonymous Feb 3, 2013 9:26 AM


"We are very laggard in Ravenna to push things that are bound to benefit us in every way. Let us get busy now before Mr. Hanna becomes more disgusted with us than he is now. He is beginning to think we are dead here in Ravenna. He is right. We are dead. Let us come to life now," the newspaper scolded. "What's the matter with us anyway?"**** That was 1913. 100 years ago. Sounds like Ravenna today.