Fifty years have passed since its creation, but Sugar Bush Knolls remains Portage County's youngest village. And, with fewer than 200 residents, it's also the smallest -- a distinction it has held throughout its entire existence.
Located north of Twin Lakes, on the Streetsboro-Franklin Township border, the village came into being after Portage County commissioners approved its incorporation on June 15, 1964 -- 50 years ago today. The decision became final on Sept. 1.
The infant community had its share of growing pains. And, despite the affluence of many of its residents, money woes topped the list. Just months after it was created, Sugar Bush Knolls made headlines as Ohio's poorest village.
Sugar Bush Knolls traces its existence to the Davey Tree Expert Co., which acquired land in Twin Lakes and surrounding areas in the 1920s with plans to eventually build its corporate headquarters in a wooded setting there. The Depression scuttled that plan, but the firm retained much of the land.
Reminders of Davey Tree's stewardship remain. The village owns two lakes, Lake Martin and Lake Roger, which take their names from Martin L. Davey, the Davey Tree president, and William Roger "Shorty" Williams, a longtime Davey Tree executive. Two streets also bear those names.
Sugar Bush Knolls, according to the village's website, has "nine streets, two lakes, 83 private residences, and 177 residents." That's down from 227 in the previous census in 2000.
"Much of Sugar Bush Knolls was, at one time a tree farm for the Davey Company," Mayor James Beal writes on the site. "As a result, we have lots of mature greenery and many specimen trees. Since the Village is bordered on three sides by rural land, wildlife abounds. Deer, fox, turkey, coyote, hawks and owls are common sights for us."
When residents in the area petitioned Portage County for incorporation, they met with opposition from the Franklin Township trustees, who weren't happy about losing territory while battling "continued annexation by Kent of piece-meal township lands."
Organizers of the proposed village told commissioners that their neighborhood was "the unfavored stepchild of Franklin and Streetsboro townships" -- Streetsboro was not yet a city -- and also indicated that they hoped forming a village would enable the transfer of youngsters from the Streetsboro school district into the Kent district. (That proved to be a longstanding issue that took years of litigation to resolve.)
Franklin Township officials didn't buy those arguments, contending that the real purpose for creating the village was the eventual incorporation of Twin Lakes as a separate municipality, which would pose a considerable loss of tax revenue for the township.
Despite their objections, the commissioners approved creation of the new village, the first such entity in Portage County in decades.
Sugar Bush Knolls got off to a bumpy start. As 1965 dawned, Mayor C.R. Porthouse and the village faced a formidable problem: Sugar Bush Knolls was broke.
"Ohio's newest and probably smallest village ... is also the state's poorest," Record-Courier reporter Carol Clapp wrote in a March 1965 article headlined "Sugar Bush Knolls Has $75; It Is Ohio's Poorest Village!"
With a paltry sum in its treasury -- money from license plate fees -- and no tax revenues forthcoming for another year, the village had no money to deal with roads that were "falling apart, trapping irate residents in mud, mire and chuckholes," Clapp reported. "Plaintive calls for help to Franklin Township officials, the county engineer and even the Sheriff's Department elicit little sympathy and no action," she wrote. "'You're a village now -- it's your problem,'" one disillusioned resident was told."
The revenue issue eventually resolved itself. The village now has an operating levy on the books that covers basic expenses.
Sugar Bush Knolls rarely makes headlines -- the 1965 "poorest village" report may have been the most prominent one in its history.
The leadership of the village circulates among the residents. In addition to Mayor Burns, there are five Village Council members and an elected clerk-treasurer, who is the only paid official.
Contested elections are rare. Sometimes there aren't any candidates on the ballot -- that happened in 2005, when nobody filed for council. The slate was filled by appointment.
Portage County's smallest village is, in some respects, one of its best-kept secrets. And, despite the fears of Franklin Township trustees a half-century ago, it appears not to harbor any appetite for swallowing Twin Lakes.