Immerse yourself in Aurora's history and get outside with a walking tour of Aurora Center

By John Kudley Jr.
Special to the Aurora Advocate

Now that spring is upon us, hopefully the winter of the pandemic will soon be another footnote in history. Looking for something to do that is safe and gets you outdoors? The “Walking Tour of Aurora Center” is a tour through the heart of Aurora’s nationally recognized historic district. The district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 for the architectural significance of the century homes and buildings. The area has also been locally landmarked and registered with the Ohio Historic Preservation Office. There are 32 structures along the walk that are identified for their significance to the early history of Aurora.

A map of Aurora Center from the 1878 Portage County Atlas.

The tour begins as the Ebenezer Sheldon Deed House located in Pioneer Park directly across from the Aurora Memorial Library. The Deed House was originally located three miles east on East Pioneer Trail on what is now known as the Spring Hill Park. Built circa 1805, the building was the office from which Sheldon conducted and recorded land transactions as an agent for the Big Beaver & Cuyahoga Land Company from Suffield, Connecticut. A grandson, Albert Sheldon later used the “house” as a home for his mother-in-law. It’s not really clear why she moved out of the main house. Either she couldn’t stand the commotion of the family, or Albert felt more comfortable with her out of the main house.

Leaving the Deed House the tour continues onto the corner of Pioneer Trail and Route 43. On the corner is the 1815 House, which is the oldest house in Aurora and now the home of the 1815 Tavern. Built by Samuel Forward and his wife, Susannah, as their home, it was also used as a tavern and over the years has had many commercial uses. Looking south and adjacent to the 1815 House was the C.R. Harmon & Sons general store, now the home of the Wayside Workshop. Originally the home of Ebenezer Sheldon II, it was converted to a store by Harmon and was operated by the family into the 1940s. South of the store was the C.R. Harmon cheese warehouse (The Secret Garden) and adjacent to it was the house of several doctors and now Mad Jack’s Grill & Pub.

Returning to the corner and crossing West Pioneer Trail stands The Church in Aurora, originally known as the Congregational Church. The 1872 church replaced the “Old Brick” church constructed in 1824. The church sits upon a section of Lot 18 donated by Samuel Forward in exchange for his choice of pews. To the left of the church sat the Village of Aurora’s town hall, which later served as the fire station and now is the site of the church’s annex. To the right of the church is Town Hall, built circa 1882-1884. It was originally Aurora’s first centralized school house replacing the village’s eight one-room schools.

Main Street Aurora c. 1900 looking south from the corner of Chillicothe Road and Maple Lane.

The tour continues northwest on Route 43 past the Aurora Cemetery, which was started in the early part of the 19th century replacing the “Burying Ground,” which was alongside the Congregational Church. Further north along the walk is Maple Lane, originally known as Baptist Street. The Baptist church was moved to the current location of the Town Hall and was used by the town to store its hearse. Walking down Maple Lane, the home at 74 Maple Lane was originally the District #5 schoolhouse, which was moved from the corner of South Bissell Road and Route 82. Willis Eldridge moved the school as a house for his caretaker. Across the street at 73 Maple Lane, sits the Columbus Jewett harness shop. The harness shop was moved to Maple Lane from its location on the corner of Routes 306 and  82 near the Aurora Inn.

It was not uncommon that when many structures were no longer used for their original purposes they were moved to new locations and given new life. Two other buildings along Maple Lane were relocated to their current sites. One structure removed from its site on South Chillicothe Road (Route 306) was the Gray Hotel. The hotel was adjacent to Hurd’s home at 30 S. Chillicothe. Hurd had little children and he did not want them exposed to dancing and drinking that went on in the hotel. He purchased the hotel and had it moved around the corner on East Garfield. The hotel continued to operate in its new location and is now the site of Mario’s International Spa.

At the southwest corner of Routes 82 and 306 is the James Converse Store (10 S. Chillicothe Road, Sutton Insurance). The store operated as a barter house where Converse would trade his merchandise for items his customers offered. It also was used as a cheese factory and feed store. Whiskey was one of his bestselling items.

Walking south on the west side of South Chillicothe Road. is the home of Frank Hurd. Hurd was one of Aurora’s “cheese kings” and built his home (30 S. Chillicothe) in the Italianate-style to rival that of his neighbor, Willis Eldridge, to the south across Maple Lane. Eldridge’s Queen Anne styled home (50 S. Chillicothe) dwarfed his neighbor’s. Once partners in the cheese industry Hurd and Eldrigde were business competitors but at the same time maintained friendly relations. Their homes exhibit each man’s desire to show to the community who was the most accomplished.

The house at 84 S. Chillicothe was originally built as residence for Rev. John Seward who served as the first minister of the Congregational Church. In 1875, Charles Harmon purchased the house and constructed the Italianate addition. The Jeremiah Root house is the last home on the west side of South Chillicothe before the “Y” where Routes 306 and 43 intersect. Root was one of Aurora’s early justice of the peace.

Returning to the east side of South Chillicothe located diagonally in front of the Aurora Inn is was the millinery shop of Eliza Spencer (37 S. Chillicothe). A blacksmith shop operated on the rear of the property. In 1896, Willis Eldridge moved the former home of Samuel Ferguson across the street to its current location (73 S. Chillicothe) in order to build his house frequently referred to by longtime residents as the “Green Monster.” Other homes along the east side of the road are the homes of Jeremiah Root Jr. (109 S. Chillicothe) and Americus Jewett (123 S. Chillicothe).

Sears Roebuck “Rodessa” Kit House c. 1915

The tour continues back to East Pioneer Trail where three additional homes are highlighted. The Alanson Baldwin house (60 E. Pioneer Trail) was the site of his 1859 murder and the legendary “hanging tree.” The home was a center of Aurora’s social entertainment as Baldwin and his daughter hosted numerous community gatherings. To the right of the Baldwin “mansion” was the home of Clayton Harmon, which was built in 1872 as a wedding present from his father C.R. Harmon. The little cottage that is adjacent to the Harmon house is unique. Built in 1915 the house was ordered from a Sears Roebuck catalog. The 616-square-foot home sold for $1,122 with a bathroom or $1,098 without. It was shipped by railroad and assembled on site.

The “Walking Tour of Aurora Center” is a great opportunity to walk along the villages’ early roads and to visualize in your mind what life was like in the 1800s and early 1900s. The tour takes about an hour, however stops along the way can be made to patronize some of Aurora’s commercial establishments. Have lunch in the home of Samuel Forward, now the 1815 Tavern. Stop at the Wayside Workshop, once the general store of C.R. Harmon & Sons. Browse the unique goods in the Secret Garden and imagine when it was a cheese warehouse. Grab a bite to eat at Mad Jack’s and reflect on what it might have been like to be treated by one of the doctors who practiced there. While the noise of the traffic along the way has displaced the quiet of dirt roads travelled by horse drawn wagons and carriages, the bell from the old Congregational Church) will remind you that Aurora’s heritage has filled the air since its founding in 1799.

A Walking Tour of Aurora Center brochure is available at the Deed House in Pioneer Park.

Walking Tour of Aurora Center brochures are available in the mail box mounted outside the entrance to the Deed House where the tour begins. Please use consideration when viewing private homes. Observe parking and traffic regulations and do not walk in the road. To learn more about the early history of Aurora the book, "Aurora from the Founding to the Flood" is available for purchase from the society’s website at www.aurorahistorical.org or by calling the museum at 330-995-3336 or emailing director@aurorahistorical.org.

Printed with the permission of the Aurora Historical Society which retains rights to all content and photos