The SummaCare Building

By Christopher Sector

On this location at North Main Street and East Exchange Street sits the SummaCare Health Plan building. Although this building is only twelve years old, this property dates back almost 170 years. On November 20, 1847, the Empire House Hotel opened where the current SummaCare building resides. With the advent of the rubber boom in Akron, a grander hotel was needed. A group of local business men banded together early to provide a modern hotel in 1911. They built an eight-story 170 room hotel on the site of the old Empire House Hotel at the cost of $600,000. The new Portage Hotel opened on June 12, 1912 with a grand banquet that attracted Akron’s elites. It was here at the Portage Hotel in 1935 when the international United Rubber Workers Union was founded. In September of 2003 a garden was planted on the north side of the SummaCare building to honor the URW. October 20, 1923 was a day of infamy for the Portage Hotel. Marion Webb, who owned four horses at Northampton race track, fatally shot Judge Frederick Gerhardy and wounded Judge Peter Callen at noon in the Hotel’s main lobby. The two judges banned Webb from the track after accusing him of “preventing his horses from winning”, so Webb sought revenge. The Portage Hotel closed in the spring of 1965. Irvin Apelbaum was the last owner of the hotel and saw its conversion into a nursing home, as he continued to own the building thereafter.

O’Neil’s Department Store

By Christopher Sector

This site on the corner of South Main and State Streets has been the home of the O’Neil’s department store building since 1927. Prior to this current structure, this corner was the home to Merrill Pottery Works. East Akron used to be a hotbed for clay deposits, and in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Summit County was considered the sewer pipe capital of America. The Merrill family was one of the first throughout the country to master vitrification. In 1927, the Merrill Pottery Works building was bulldozed and the current building was built by the O’Neil family. The department store is known for holiday seasons in which O’Neil’s and its rival store, Polsky’s – across the street, would light up downtown with Christmas festivities and window advertisements. The building was originally an 800,000 square foot structure. It has undergone reconstruction, as it has been greatly downsized. Currently, the building has approximately 185,000 square feet. Improvements included demolition of the old parking deck and construction of a new 550 car parking deck, an atrium extending from the roof to the lowest level, and a Main Street public lobby. O’Neil’s department store saw its end in the late 1980s. Roetzel & Andress, Akron’s oldest law firm, now occupies 60,000 square feet on floors four, five, and six of the building. Ernst & Young occupies the third floor and McDonald’s Investments occupies the second floor. The first floor was sold to The George Group in 2001. They operate the Barley House, a restaurant and bar.

Cascade Plaza

By Christopher Sector

Beautiful Cascade Plaza is situated along South Main Street. Dedicated on June 26, 1970, it was one of three parts of a 43-acre downtown urban renewal project known as “Cascade Urban Renewal Project”. The plaza itself is roughly 6.5 acres. It sits atop the city’s $10 million – 2,150 car parking garage. According to then Mayor John S. Ballard, the plaza’s purpose was to be an “inviting open space” and “civic focal point”. The block in which the plaza now resides was once the home to the Quaker Oats building (torn down in 1959) and the Flatiron building, which was situated on the corner of South Main street and South Howard street (which cut diagonally from West Mill street and came to a point intersecting with S. Main and West Bowery Street). The flatiron building burned down, bringing much needed restoration to the block. Cascade Plaza, in the heart of downtown Akron, consists of beautiful landscaping, picnic tables, an ice rink in the winter, and the Cascade Plaza Sculpture, which consists of a fountain as well. Recently, in October 2013, the city of Akron approved a $3.2 million project to improve the plaza. This was at the request of First Merit, whose large office headquarters flank the northeast side of the plaza. First Merit will finance much of the project, with the city offering tax incentives to First Merit, in an effort to spice up the surrounding property as they look to expand. First Merit projects the new improvements will create 150 new jobs.

Sojourner Truth Site

By Tara Racher

In May 1851, as part of the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention, Sojourner Truth gave an unplanned speech at the Universalist Stone Church located at 37 N. High Street. Being an extemporaneous speech, she did not have a written version of it, but on June 21, 1851, the first published version of the speech appeared in The Anti-Slavery Bugle. Twelve years later, the organizer of the convention, Frances Dana Barker Gage, published a version of the speech in The New York Independent. This version, written with a southern dialect, became known as the “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech. Sojourner Truth was born and raised in New York speaking Dutch for the first nine years of her life and, according to accounts, did not speak in southern dialect.  The earlier version did not contain the phrase “Ain’t I a Woman?” anywhere in the speech and had other details that were markedly different from the later version. Both versions are available at

Akron Riot of 1900

By Carrisa Signore

The 1900 Akron Riots occurred on August 22, 1900 after a man named Louis Peck allegedly lured a small girl out of town and raped her. After being held in the jail, located within Akron’s City Building, a mob formed outside the building demanding for Peck’s head. When the police did not give up Peck to the crowd, the mob turned violent and shots fired from both sides wounded many and ended up killing 4 year old Rhoda Davidson and 10 year old Glen Wade. The mob, about 300 people, began to throw bricks and dynamite into the City Building, trying to draw the police out. When that did not succeed, they set the City Building on fire as well as the neighboring building, Columbia Hall. When the fire department showed up to put out the fire, the mob cut the fire hoses to stop them but the fire department continued to battle the flames heroically despite the violence. To quell the riots, President William McKinley sent two regiments of United States Army troops to stop the violence and maintain peace as city officials could regain control of Akron. In the aftermath, many of the rioters were put in jail on rioting charges and Louis Peck was found guilty of rape and sent immediately to a jail in southern Ohio. This riot is still the largest on record in the city’s history.

Old Post Office Building

By Carissa Signore

The old Akron post office building was constructed in 1899 in old Italian Renaissance Revival Style, designed by architect James Knox Taylor who had already designed countless post offices around the United States as well as the Ellis Island Hospital building. The post office was rebuilt in 1927 after the city’s population outgrew the space and it needed to be enlarged. The new building, located at current 168 E. Market St., housed the post office as well as the Internal Revenue Department, military recruiting offices and customs offices. The post office moved again in 1975 to its current location on Wolf’s Ledges. The old building became part of the new Akron Art Museum after it moved from across the street due to lack of room. The building still remains the same as when the museum took it over.


Hotel Matthews

By Tara Racher

Hotel Matthews, located at 77 N. Howard St., opened in 1925. Owned by George Washington Mathews (1887-1982), it was the first African-American owned hotel in Akron. For reasons unknown, the name of the hotel was spelled Matthews, though the owner spelled his name with only one “t.” When big name African-American musicians came to Akron, they played in the “white-only” jazz clubs, often in the “whites-only” hotels where they were not allowed to stay. Instead, they stayed at the Matthews at a cost of $1 per night or $2.50 per week and played the local African-American jazz clubs after hours. Famous guests included Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, and Dizzy Gillespie. Hotel Matthews was torn down as part of urban renewal plans in 1982 but the site received an historical marker from the Ohio Bicentennial Commission in 2001. A memorial to the hotel, created by local artist Miller Horns and completed in 2012, replicates the front of the hotel and is near the original location.


Hall’s Corner

Hall's Corners 1858

By Tara Racher

Hall’s Corners is the name given to the intersection of Howard St. and Market St. Named for Philander Hall who opened a general store (P.D. Hall & Co.) at the intersection in 1835, it was the main business district in Akron for most of the 1800’s. Several fires in the 1840’s and 1850’s destroyed many of the businesses and buildings around Hall’s Corners. As a result, the business center shifted south with the building of the Masonic Temple in 1870 and the O’Neil & Dyas Co. site in the 1890’s. In 1880, Hall’s Corners was the location of Akron’s first electric “mast”, a 208 foot high post with four arc lights at the top. It was believed that it would light up the entire city.  It was not nearly as effective as anticipated.



Carnegie Library

By Carissa Signore

The Carnegie Library was built in Akron on Market Street in 1904 after building started in 1901, due to a grant given to the city by steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie. The grant amount was for $82,000 and the city had an architectural design contest to choose a building that would be constructed using the grant money. The winner of the contest was Akron native architect Frank O. Weary, responsible for building many iconic Akron buildings such as the Glendale Cemetery Chapel. The library offered many amenities such as a catalog of 21,000 books, free access to the public, reading rooms, reference room, study room, lecture hall and a bicycle station located in the basement. Soon, the building became too small for the growing collections of the library and it was moved from the building in 1942 and remained vacant until the Akron Art Museum claimed it in 1947. The Akron Art Museum moved across the street to its current location in 1981. Currently, the building sits at 69 E. Market St., as the offices of Brennan, Manna & Diamond. The façade of the building remains intact and is representative of the Beaux Arts Classical style of architecture meant to resemble a French cathedral. The building is also registered historic building listed in the National Register on January 19, 1983.


Evans Building

By James Caprio

The Evans Building resides on what is perhaps the most significant site in the city of Akron. In the 1830s, Akron was put on the map from the construction of the Ohio & Erie Canal. In order to accommodate the influx of construction workers and travelers who came to see the canal, Henry Clark’s Tavern was built on the corner of what is now Main and Exchange Streets. Not only was it the first hotel in Akron, it was also the first public building erected. In 1836, Seth Iredell was elected Akron’s first mayor at Henry Clark’s Tavern. The site remained a hotel and tavern until a few years before the turn of the 20th century, when the banking industry began to boom in Akron. The original building was then razed and replaced by the People’s Savings Bank. In 1915, The Evans Building and Loan Association took over the site and constructed the upward addition to the building that remains today. Evans Building and Loan Association eventually became the Evans Savings Association. The Evans Building has since housed a variety of financial institutions and law firms and continues to do so to this day.