I like trees. Trees provide beauty, shade, shelter, and a vast and renewable source of material for fuel and construction. They are a large part of what I do for a living. I’ve even admittedly hugged a few. Please refrain from telling my friends.
In this day and age, trees, especially those that are grand old specimens, are cherished and protected. Do a Google search for ‘Save Trees’, and several organizations pop up dedicated to protecting the plants. Concerned folks have even been known to chain themselves to their cherished living lumber to save it from the saws.
Sacrificing a Towering Beast
In 1831 this was definitely not the case. Large trees were the standard. Early Geauga settlers were removing them by the thousands, using what they could to construct cabins, houses, and barns, then simply burning the rest. It was in this very year that one particularly large Claridon tree met an untimely demise. However, while most of its family was being incinerated, this giant had about as good of an end as could be had.
The First Congregational Church of Claridon had been founded in 1827. For a few years, the group held their services in the home of the town’s first settler, Asa Cowles, and in two different schoolhouses. The time had come to erect a meeting house. The reverend, Louis Humphrey, took one look at the towering whitewood on his property and knew this tree would be culled for a divine duty.
The sources listed it as a ‘whitewood’, which most likely means that it was a tulip tree. It stood at the southwest corner of present-day Claridon-Troy and Mayfield Roads and was a towering beast. How tall was it? The total height seems to be missing, but it was listed as being ninety feet tall…….to the first branch! To give you some perspective on exactly how tall that is, if you live in a two-story house, that is over three times its height from the ground to the peak….TO THE FIRST BRANCH! As the story goes, it was felled, milled, and provided enough lumber for the backs of the pews, the trim, and even the sanctuary wainscoting!
The First Settlers
Asa Cowles was the first to bring his family and settle in this area, then known as Canton. He purchased around 1,000 acres and in 1811 settled into a schoolhouse in nearby Burton until his cabin, located just south of Mayfield Road on what is now Aquilla Road, was finished. That same year, families by the names of Spencer, Horace, Andrews, and Humphries staked their Canton claims.
In 1817, the town was incorporated with another sparsely-populated settlement to the west known as McDonough (now Munson—did you catch my last article?) and together were known as Burlington. The arrangement was short-lived, and in the winter of 1819-1820 the townships separated. Since there was another Burlington in Ohio, the name Claridon was chosen, possibly in tribute to the town of Clarendon, Vermont.
In 1839, the Geauga County Commissioners purchased 258 acres a few miles south of Mayfield Road on Aquilla Road. A County Home was erected to house the poor. It was originally designed as a working farm, with residents working as they could to make the facility self-sufficient. Cows provided meat and milk, and there was even a large-scale sugar bush. In 1875, the present red brick building was constructed, and can currently house 36 residents.
A man by the name of Chester Treat donated the land for the public square, on the condition that the residents clear the land. At one point, the notion was considered of handing over the park to the state for use as a roadside rest area. The idea was eventually dropped, and the park remains in the hands of the township trustees. A few years ago, some local craftsman, including timber frame carpenter Scott Carlson, erected a beautiful gazebo.
Rails and Trails
In 1872, the Pittsburgh, Painesville, and Fairport Railroad laid its tracks through the eastern side of the township, known as East Claridon. At the time, it allowed for mail to be delivered twice a day, a passenger service, a means for farmers to transport their goods to the Cleveland markets, and revenue to help fund the town schools. The rail changed names to the P & W (Painesville and Western) before finally changing to the well-known B & O (Baltimore & Ohio). In 1983, the rail was abandoned. Today, it has been revived as a bicycle path by the Geauga Park District.
In 1932, the City of Akron was looking for a way to increase its water supply. With help from the state, it invested over $6,000,000 in damming the Cuyahoga River to create the East Branch Reservoir. Shared by Claridon and Huntsburg, the reservoir was at first closed to public access. Many tales still linger of locals and their covert Sunday fishing operations. In 1959, the reservoir was opened to the public and included a swimming beach and rental boats. Today, the land is maintained by the Geauga Park District. Many improvements have been made to the Claridon side of the park, including improved trails and camping facilities.
Just to the west of the reservoir sits the old Country Style Drive In. Operated for many decades by Paul Demko, the store has been closed this year due to Paul’s passing. Many area residents have fond memories of this store, including the author. Paul’s granddaughter Kelly has recently taken charge of the operation, and I am pleased to announce that soon, the Country Style Drive In will be open for business once again! Look for my article on the history of this popular spot in the near future.