Ohio & Erie Canal in Downtown Massillon
Looking south from the Tremont Ave. bridge about the turn of the century.
Courtesy Massillon Museum

 

HISTORY OF THE CITY OF MASSILLON

[Editor's note: This brief history is but a sketch of the rich historic and cultural heritage of our community. This summary treatment will be expanded as time permits. Check back in a short time to see updated versions. "Thank you's" are in order to those who contributed to this initial effort: Mayor Francis H. Cicchinelli, Jr., Chief of Police Mark Weldon, Kirk T. Albrecht, Police Detective Kenneth Hendricks, Police Department Administrative Assistant Penny Berg and Executive Director of the Massillon Public Library Camille Leslie and the library staff.]

Massillon is located in the northeastern portion of Ohio, Stark County, on the Tuscarawas River. Being in the center of the manufacturing heart of America, it is situated 54 miles south of Cleveland, 100 miles west of Pittsburgh, 375 miles east of Chicago, and 450 miles west of New York.

The Tuscarawas River served as a boundary line among the Indians as early as 1650. Later it was a boundary line between the French and the English, the English and the Indians, and finally, the states and the Indians. The Fort McIntosh Treaty of 1785 established the Tuscarawas River as the boundary between the Indians and the Territory of the United States. A boulder north of Massillon overlooking the river commemorates this treaty. Ten years later, the Greenville Treaty reconfirmed this line. Massum Metcalf was the first white settler to come here in 1810, staying but a few years.

Kendal, now a part of the northeast section of Massillon, was founded in 1812 by Thomas Rotch of Hartford, Connecticut, formerly of Nantucket and New Bedford, Massachusetts. Thomas Rotch brought with him a flock of Spanish Merino sheep and erected a woolen mill in town.

Thomas Rotch and his wife, Charity, later lived in a home overlooking Sippo Creek and the town of Kendal called "Springhill." The home was built in 1821 before Thomas Rotch's death in 1823 and the death of Charity in 1824. Arvine Wales, who came to Kendal with the Rotches, purchased the home and acreage from the Rotch heirs in about 1831. The Wales family occupied the home until 1973. The Massillon Museum Foundation, Inc. now owns the home and 12 acres of land which is now open to the public since being entered into the National Register of Historic Places.

The town plat of Kendal was the first plat to be recorded after Canton became the county seat. Rotch had a post office established soon after this took place, and he was appointed postmaster.

James Duncan arrived in 1816 from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Duncan grazed sheep on the "plains," formerly the cornfields of the Indians. This land is now occupied by the Massillon State Hospital, and the original cottage was used as a dwelling until 1956. Two hundred and forty acres of this land was given to the State by the citizens of Massillon at the suggestion of William McKinley while he was governor of Ohio. The hospital was ready for its first patients in 1898.

Duncan also owned a quarter section of land which is now a part of downtown Massillon. The purchase of this land was made for the water power of Sippo Creek on which he constructed a dam and erected a flouring mill, a saw mill, and a tannery.

In 1826, Duncan purchased farm land adjoining that which he already owned and laid out a town of 165 lots extending from North Avenue to South Avenue and from the river east to the neighborhood of our present Fifth Street. Mrs. Duncan named the town Massillon in honor of the famous Court Preacher to Louis IV of France-Jean Baptiste Massillon, Bishop of Cleremont.

The first dwelling built and occupied in the village of Massillon was at the southeast corner of Erie Street and Oak Avenue and was owned by a gentleman who had originally planned to build in Kendal but became attracted to Duncan's town of Massillon. Business began to center in Massillon rather than Kendal, and it began to progress almost instantly.

The first private school opened in Massillon in 1827 and was located in a building belonging to James Duncan on the corner of First Street and Charles Avenue, S.E., and the Union School opened in 1848 on the site of Longfellow Junior High School.

When the Ohio-Erie Canal opened in 1828, Massillon became known as the "Port of Massillon," with wheat being its principal export. Immense wagons of grain crowded the streets as farmers brought in their crops to be loaded on the canal barges or stored for later marketing.

The need for farm machinery brought forth a new industry–an industry destined to be the largest in the "Wheat City" for many years. In 1845, a thrashing machine built by Massillon's Russell brothers won first prize at the Ohio State Fair. By steadily improving "The Boss," as the machine was called, the three brothers were able to expand their factory until they were leading all competitors.

After the advent of the railroad in 1852, the future of Massillon was definitely insured. Industrial firms moved in, and the city maintained a steady, well-balanced growth. Pig-iron, glass, and coal mining industries cropped up. Another big industry was added when Joseph Davenport, the inventor, founded the Massillon Bridge Company. Davenport also invented and built the first locomotive "cowcatcher" and cab.

Massillon was incorporated as a village in 1853. The Board of Trade, organized in 1890, developed into the Chamber of Commerce in 1915.

Thus, year after year, thriving industrial activities have grown until Massillon became one of the foremost steel and metal working centers of the world. Massillon remains a vital center of steelmaking and fabricating. The city's industrial base continues to expand, with growing food processing, chemical processing and industrial machinery manufacturing becoming ever more important.

Today, Massillon is a community of 31,007 (1990 Census) with an approximate area of 17 square miles and 164 miles of streets. There are over 13,000 dwelling units in this city, and the percentage of home ownership is high.

The city government of Massillon is served by a Mayor-Council form of government. The Mayor is the Chief Executive and Administrative Officer of the city, and the City Council consists of three council-persons-at-large and six council-ward members.

The city's safety service forces consist of the Fire Department with 4 fire stations and 46 members and the Police Department, located at City Hall, consists of 55 members.

 

 

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