PORTAGE PATHWAYS: No Bowery, but most 1853 Ravenna names endure

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

Only five streets in Ravenna had names when the community became a village in 1853, and they were quite simple to remember: North, South, East and West, plus State Street, the main thoroughfare.

Ten other streets had no names at all.

Village Council took steps to remedy that with an ordinance changing the names of the original five streets and designating names for the others. With a few exceptions, virtually all of the choices remain on the map 160 years later.

When Ravenna was laid out by town founder Benjamin Tappan in 1808, he designated the main intersection as Public Square and laid out a grid of 192 lots, with streets running north to what is now Highland Avenue, south to Oak Street, east to Walnut Street and west to Sycamore Street.

The main streets on Tappan's plan for the village all received new names in December 1853.

The main highway for the county seat received an appropriate name: Main Street.

South Street became Spruce Street. North Street also received a "tree" name; it became Cedar Street. East Street became Prospect Street. West Street became Meridian Street.

The northernmost street in the village became Bowery Street. The highway known as the Cleveland and Wellsville Turnpike, running northwest from Bowery to the corporation limits, was designated as Cleveland Avenue. Nearby, the street running north off Bowery was named Day Street, most likely in recognition of H.L. Day, a prominent businessman, who owned the block between present-day Chestnut Street and Cleveland Avenue.

The "tree" theme continued with Sycamore Street being chosen as the name of the first street west of Meridian; Walnut Street, the first street east of Prospect; Elm Street, the first street east of Walnut; and Oak Street, the first street south of Spuce. Interestingly, while the Ohio Star's report of Village Council's action references another "tree" street -- Chestnut -- in the context of the naming of Day Street, there is no indication when that street got its name.

Pratt Street was the name chosen for the first street east of Walnut, running south from Main. The first street east of Elm, running north from Main Street, became Hood Street. The street running southwest on a diagonal from Sycamore and Main streets was designated as Mill Street.

Council's choices received notice from at least one other community. "The Ravenna people have been naming one of their streets 'Cleveland Avenue,' a compliment to the Forest City," the Plain Dealer reported a week after the street names were announced.

Not all of the 1853 choices stuck. Hood Street became Clinton Street. Bowery Street, too, eventually got a new name -- but not the one that Ravenna's leading citizen proposed in 1912.

Running from City Park east to the city limits, Bowery had become the site of Ravenna High School in 1910. Many of the community's prominent residents also lived in the area.

"The name 'Bowery' seems to be objectionable to many of the residents," the Ravenna Republican reported, noting that there had been a move to rename it "Highland Avenue" but that suggestion "was not satisfactory to many living on the street."

Henry W. Riddle, whose hearse and carriage works was a leading employer and whose name adorned several blocks in the downtown area, had another suggestion: Kent Avenue.

That name, he said, would be "a very pretty compliment to the sister town of Kent" as well as an honor for Marvin Kent, who was born in Ravenna and lived there until he was in his mid-30s.

The Kent family had ties to Bowery Street. Marvin Kent's father, Zenas Kent, who was a downtown Ravenna merchant, owned a 20-acre parcel on Bowery, between Chestnut and Walnut streets. The high school was located on part of what was known as "the Kent Lot."

Riddle's request met with a cold shoulder from Ravenna City Council, which dealt a rare, public rebuff to the community leader. It turned him down, dismissing his petition for Kent Avenue. Maybe having a major street named in honor of a rival town was just too much.

Bowery didn't remain Bowery for long, however. It eventually was rechristened as Highland Avenue.

And, while Henry W. Riddle lost his bid for Kent Avenue, he does have a street named in his honor: Oak Street, one of the streets christened in 1853, became Riddle Avenue in 1908.

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