By Mark J. Price, The Akron Beacon Journal, Ohio
Jan. 9–One of the most beautiful places in Akron’s history is hidden deep in the crevices of a residential neighborhood.
The Wolf Ledge, a natural ravine with 30-foot cliffs and a shallow cave, took centuries for nature to create and years for man to destroy.
Located south of East Exchange Street until the early 1900s, the giant rock formation was a marvel of erosion. A tiny stream — Wolf Run — had gnawed away at its sandstone base, carving out a rocky gulch that raced east to west.
The ravine began near present-day Spicer Street and extended all the way toward the Ohio & Erie Canal near Main and Cedar streets. The exposed ledge rose near Kling Street and cut across Allyn, Sumner and Sherman streets before descending near Grant Street.
Its jagged line followed a rough course between Power Street to the north and Cross Street to the south. In the 1880s, a wooden bridge was built over the chasm at Sumner Street.
“This ravine was a landmark of old Akron,” local historian Cloyd R. Quine (1881-1967) remarked in a 1950 study titled The Old Wolf Ledge. “With its high, overhanging cliffs and cave, and the rippling brook, it was one of the town’s most famous beauty spots.”
The ledge and stream derived their name from the wolves that early settlers used to hunt in the vicinity.
One of the featured attractions of the ravine was a 20-by-8-foot recess at the base of a large outcropping. Area residents referred to it by several names, including Indian Cave, Under the Rocks and Old Maid’s Kitchen (a name also bestowed upon Mary Campbell Cave in the Gorge Metro Park).
“Always the neighborhood children used it as their favorite playground and many were the Indian arrowheads turned up there by diligent searchers,” Beacon Journal reporter Ken Nichols reminisced in 1957.
Kids liked to build bonfires outside the cave and scratch their initials into the soot-blackened walls. In the wintertime, they sledded on southern hills leading to the ledge and skated on Brown’s Pond, a small lagoon formed by Wolf Run. In the summer, they enjoyed picnics.
Young adults visited the cave, too. They brought small kegs of beer purchased at the Wolf Ledge Brewery on Grant Street — better known as the Burkhardt Brewing Co. (and now the site of the Akron Board of Education Maintenance Building). The brewery was at the western end of the ledge, which, come to think of it, may not have been an ideal situation for safety.
It wasn’t all fun and games, though. Four quarries operated along the ledge. The ravine’s sandstone was used in the construction of downtown landmarks, including the Everett Building at Main and Market.
The rapidly growing neighborhood, primarily populated by German immigrants, was nicknamed the Wolf Ledge for the ravine that ran through it. Its general boundaries were East Exchange, Spicer Street, South Street and Washington Street (now Wolf Ledges Parkway).
“The district in recent times has often been called `Goosetown,’ but most Wolf Ledgers resent this term,” Quine noted. “At most it should be applied to the district south of South Street which was settled by Platt Deutsch and Slavs, with a business center at South and Grant streets.”
As Akron’s population surged in the 20th century, the neighborhood began to diversify and lost its distinct flavor. A mixture of nationalities followed the streetcar line down Grant Street.
More housing was needed to meet local needs. City officials began to murmur about all that available land along the ravine.
In 1915, Akron officials pointed out Wolf Run’s “tendency to choke up with refuse and overflow onto adjoining properties” during heavy rains.
In 1916, the City Council proposed building a reinforced concrete bed for the stream.
No, that wouldn’t suffice. In 1917, the city embarked on a $130,000 project to encase Wolf Run in a storm sewer.
Workers funneled the ancient stream into an underground pipe. After all those centuries, erosion would no longer be a factor at The Wolf Ledge.
As local development moved closer, more and more debris was tossed into the gully. Small sections were partially filled.
In January 1921, Akron officials proposed filling in the rest of the ravine to make “public playgrounds, athletic fields and recreation spots.” The council voted unanimously to buy the land on both sides of the ledge.
Trucks began dumping fill dirt and other materials that summer. The cave disappeared, the quarries disappeared, the cliffs disappeared.
Eventually, the ground was raised to an acceptable level.
Akron extended its streets and built new homes along four blocks in the neighborhood. Boss Park is among the landmarks situated over the site.
Today, there’s a noticeable dip in the road on Sumner, Sherman and Allyn. That’s about all that’s left of the famous ravine.
“Its course can be traced by the lowest ground to which the land slopes north and south between Power and Cross streets,” Quine noted in 1950.
The Wolf Ledge is buried and forgotten. Here’s the ultimate insult, though: Hardly anyone calls it by the correct name.
During an urban renewal project in the early 1960s, Washington Street was renamed Wolf Ledges Parkway.
Ledges? Wait a minute.
It should be ledge!
Too late. All the signs had been made.
“Someone apparently made an error,” City Planning Department librarian Louise Morris explained in 1970. “That’s the only explanation we have as to why the `S’ was added to the name.”
Regardless of wrong or right, Akron residents have called it Wolf Ledges ever since.
This year, another big change is coming to the neighborhood.
Spicer Village, a $32 million residential and retail development, is scheduled to break ground south of East Exchange and east of Brown Street.
That’s pretty close to Akron’s former beauty spot.
If construction crews should stray a few blocks over, they just might hit something hard when they begin to dig.
Mark J. Price is a Beacon Journal copy editor. He can be reached at 330-996-3769 or send e-mail to [email protected]thebeaconjournal.com.
Copyright (c) 2006, The Akron Beacon Journal, Ohio
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