Note: This is the first part of a two-part series.
In the spring of 1966 the Aurora Village Council established a nine person committee to explore the requirements for and the advantages and disadvantages of seeking "city status."
Designation as a city would give the citizens local autonomy, replacing the authority of township trustees and diminishing control by Portage County officials. The Aurora Board of Education supported the idea because it would be more cost-effective to administer certain services locally rather than having them provided by the County Board of Education.
After a lengthy study it was determined that Aurora met all the requirements as set forth in the Ohio Revised Code and having reached a population of 5,000 registered voters. Application was made to the Ohio’s Secretary of State’s Office and Aurora which granted the status of "City" on March 20, 1971.
As a newly chartered city, Aurora could operate under a Mayor-Council form of government. City Council functioned as the legislative body, while the Mayor oversaw the administrative branch as chief executive officer. By the city charter, the council exercised the responsibilities of adopting ordinances and resolutions governing local law, approving the city’s annual budget, approving recommendations from the various boards, committees and commissions of the city, as well as addressing the concerns of constituents.
Achievement of this city status was rooted in the early actions of the nation’s struggle to become a united country.
Following the victory in the American Revolution by the "United Colonies in America," the young nation’s congress enacted, under the Articles of Confederation, legislation that facilitated the eventual settlement and government of northeast Ohio.
The Land Ordinance of 1785 provided for the surveying, selling and settlement of the lands of the Northwest Territory, which was bounded by the Ohio River to the east and south, the Mississippi River to the west and the Great Lakes to the North. This included the area of northeast Ohio that came to be known as the Western Reserve.
Money raised through the sale of land within this "reserve" would help support the new United States of America. The land was divided into "townships," each of which would also provide for the support of public education in addition to pensions for the veterans of the War for Independence. It was the enactment of this ordinance that enticed the early inhabitants of Aurora to settle, beginning in 1799, along the Chagrin branch of the Cuyahoga River.
By 1807 the settlement of Aurora had grown and prospered, making it necessary to form a village government. The first elected officials were Samuel Forward, Phineas Perkins and Ebenezer Sheldon. As trustees of the village, their primary duties were to provide for the upkeep of local roads and schools, to care for the poor and to collect funds for support of both the county and state.
While the village possessed some local autonomy, it was politically under the auspices of the county government centered in Ravenna. Greater political independence could only be achieved through the process of incorporation. By the end of the 1920s the village had grown to a point where officials believed that greater autonomy had become a necessity.
In 1928 the central portion of Aurora was incorporated into what officially became known as Aurora Village.
Lee Gould was elected the village’s first mayor. Lacking a town center, the village had two primary areas of activity. Located along Garfield Road (Route 82) was "Aurora Station." Here the Erie Railroad Depot saw passengers and freight traveling between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. It was the village’s main area of commercial activity.
"Main Street" (Routes 306 and 43) where the village hall, the Federated Church and Aurora Centralized School House were located side by side formed the cultural center of the village.
The remaining agricultural areas, along with the community of Geauga Lake, made up a separate political division known as Aurora Township. The Township had its own set of elected trustees who operated under the direction of the Portage County Commissioners.
The physical, political, economic and social division of the Aurora community under two separated governments led to growing division and confusion. The division let to the inefficient support of the schools, maintenance of roads and other services. The community, village and township, remained politically and geographically divided until the township was officially annexed by "Aurora Village" in 1958.
Supporters of annexation had argued that while Aurora was mainly a rural community, the development of Cleveland both as an "ocean-going port" and an industrial center, Aurora was becoming an important suburban area
In December 1957, the "Citizens Committee for the Good of All Aurora Township & Village" published a letter to the residents in which they explained that "communities affected by rapid industrial and residential growth are finding it necessary to incorporate to properly control, plan, and handle the many problems rapid growth of any area brings with it."
To govern this enlarged 25 mile square village a 15-member Charter Commission was appointed which carefully worked on creating the village’s "constitution."
Over the next decade the village continued to see commercial and industrial growth. By 1971 the population had grown to include 6,549 registered voters qualifying it to be designated a city by the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office.
Mayor George B. Hettinger declared March 20, 1971 as "Birth of a City" day.
However, achieving the status of "City" did not come without resistance from different areas of the community. In Part II of "Aurora, the Dawning of a City" will relate the attempts at "secession" from Aurora Village.
Kudley is president of the Aurora Historical Society.