Early roads: Paving the way to the future

John Kudley Jr.
Aurora Historical Society
Men working on the first road paving on East Garfield near the railroad depot.
The first road to be paved from the Hurd Store at the Aurora Depot past Harmon’s store in the town center. This photo was taken near 260 S. Chillicothe Road.

Editor's note: Due to an error in production, Kudley's previous column, "Maintaining law and order in early Aurora," was truncated in the Advocate's print edition. The full version is available online at www.mytownneo.com/auroraadvocate.

During the first few decades of the 1900s, the growing Aurora community saw the need for the improvement of being able to move about the town. As in many small rural communities across America innovation and progress often moved faster than the resources and abilities of local officials.

Most people traveling to towns between Cleveland and Youngstown were dependent upon the daily passenger trains that stopped at the Aurora and Geauga Lake stations. Local travel was conducted by foot or horse and wagon.

Those among the first to acquire autos were frustrated by the condition of the town’s dirt roads. It was a common site to see an automobile be towed through the muddy streets by a team of horses.

Despite the ordeals associated with automobile travel there were those who soon could not possibly think of life without the car.

In 1916 Frank Treat had purchased a new two-door passenger Ford. He was quoted as saying that when he dies he wants the Ford buried with him since it had “helped him out of many a hole and perhaps it will there.”

The town’s trustees were constantly berated for the deplorable conditions of the roads especially during the early spring thaws of winter snow and ice. Often teams of horses had to be hitched to cars to enable them to get up hills.

While Chillicothe Road had been a major route between Lake Eire and Ohio’s first capital in Chillicothe, disagreements existed over who owns Chillicothe Road and therefore responsible for up keep and repairs.

In 1915 surveyors were laying out a proposed inter-county road between Portage and Summit Counties. The road was proposed to be “west of the big pond” and would be “about five miles in length.”

Meanwhile a delegation of 25 realtors had visited county officials in Ravenna. The group was interested in extending the Solon brick road to Aurora Center where it would connect with the Warren-Garretsville Road (Route 82 East) and the Ravenna-Kent Road (Route 43 South). The roads would merge in the center of town.

This “Y” road already had the endorsement of state and county authorities. In November, 1917 the road between Geauga Lake and Aurora Center was completed.

Many who had been previously hesitant because of the poor conditions of the roads began to purchase automobiles.

It did not take long for Aurorans to become attached to their new changing lifestyle. It seemed that it was difficult to keep the roads in repair and arguments often prevailed over who was responsible for clearing the roads in bad weather.

Once the farmers in the southern portion of the town complained that they didn’t understand why roads in other portions of the community could be cared for in the same fashion that they had taken care of those in their area. They had taken it upon themselves the job of plowing and scraping the roads.

Tired of the dust and dirt, the community came together to not only construct a sidewalk but to also pave two well-traveled roads.

In The Ravenna Republican, July 20, 1905 the author of an article wrote, “Upon arriving at Aurora via the Erie one is surprised to find the first-class stone walks that stretch from the station to the center and radiate north and south to the village limits, a total distance of about two miles. Promptly upon inquiry, the visitor learns that this excellent public improvement originated with the young people of the place, to whose untiring efforts the success of the project is due.”

Each year the village’s school age children raised money to be used on projects for the public good.

In 1904 an ambitious project was undertaken to construct a sandstone sidewalk from the railroad station west on East Garfield Road and then south on South Chillicothe and Route 43 to the village center ending just past the Congregational Church’s manse (270 S. Chillicothe). The project was the largest undertaking by the children to date.

News of the ambitious project was enthusiastically received by the entire community and soon $2,000 had been collected. The Village Trustees appropriated $300 for the project.

One of Aurora’s most prominent citizens, Frank Hurd, donated $500. Stone from local quarries was used to lay the 4-foot wide sidewalk. Construction was done by S.W. Shepard of Freedom Township. As it was reported, “Everybody rallied to the sidewalk cause and the result is that Aurora, distinctively rural, with no manufactories or municipal proportions, has better walks than many a village far more pretentious. Visitors never tire of complimenting the improvement.”

At the same time that the sidewalk project was underway, the community also rallied to pave a portion of Aurora’s “main streets.”

Like the sidewalk project, the paving of East Garfield Road began at the Train Depot and followed the path of the sidewalk running west to Chillicothe Road and then and south on S. Chillicothe and Route 43 to the church’s manse a total distance of one and quarter miles. The base of the road was crushed stone, which was then covered with tar and rolled to a hard surface.

The paving project was completed without spending a single taxpayer’s dollar and was totally financed through donations by the village’s citizens and merchants.

The improved roads made visiting relatives and friends by automobile in nearby communities such as Solon, Chagrin Falls and Ravenna commonplace.

The automobile, along with access to trains at both the Aurora Depot and the Geauga Lake Erie Station, made commuting to Cleveland for work a distinct possibility. Yet despite the expanding horizons the citizens of Aurora continued to retain a strong sense of community and civic responsibility.

Kudley is president of the Aurora Historical Society.