Summit’s Summit

On February 16, 2012 · 5 Comments

The ever-reliable Anonymous Searcher provided inspiration again today. I’m not sure how I’d write half of my articles if it wasn’t for the inspiration of random search engine queries that somehow land on the Twelve Mile Circle. It’s my daily Google Love. What can I say? My unknown friends in the general public need to know things. Today they wanted to find the highpoint of Summit County, Ohio.

That’s an easy request. I can find that answer in about fifteen seconds on the County Highpointers Association website. Yes, that’s a genuine organization and I use their website regularly. County highpointers are a highly specialized set of county counters. Traveling into every county of the United States isn’t good enough for them. They also want to touch the highest points of elevation. I’ve done that myself and more than once so of course I believe it’s perfectly rational. I don’t go out of my way in this pursuit but I understand it and I appreciate it.

The County Highpointers identified a location in Summit County about three-quarters of a mile north of West Richfield, at 1,320 feet of elevation.

View Larger Map

It’s not much of a summit but it’s clearly marked right along the western edge Broadview Road at the entrance to Camp Hilaka, a Girl Scout retreat. This is an easy highpoint, the kind that I like to visit. It’s marked by a big blue sign by the side of the road, clearly visible in this Street View image. Trekkers can’t possible miss it.

There’s also a dirty little secret. The highpointers have noticed that despite the claim posted on the sign, terrain directly across the street marks the true summit of Summit County. It’s about five feet higher. I guess the county engineer didn’t want to see citizens trampling through someone’s front yard.

That finding answered the random query but it felt a little anticlimactic to me. That’s a rather inconsequential summit.


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The actual "Summit" referenced by the county name isn’t the county highpoint at all. It’s the highpoint of an historic remnant from the early-industrial age: the Ohio and Erie Canal. It sort-of followed the map image I embedded above — while Google provides driving, walking, bicycle and public transportation options, it doesn’t include water routes, so you’ll need to use your imagination. How times have changed. Canals were once a major form of transportation used to open wilderness areas to settlement and trade. Ohio had several hundred miles of canal by the middle of the 19th Century.

The Ohio and Erie Canal was a particularly complicated undertaking since it had to traverse the St. Lawrence Continental Divide. One part of the waterway flowed north via the Cuyahoga River, to Lakes Erie and Ontario, to the St. Lawrence River and finally to the North Atlantic. The other side of the waterway flowed south via the Tuscarawas River, to the Ohio River, the Mississippi River and then to the Gulf of Mexico.

Ohio & Erie Canal - Lock 5 (Stone Mill Lock)
Lock 5 on the Ohio and Erie Canal
SOURCE: flickr under an Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license

The summit happens atop the crest between the two watersheds. A complete crossing required passage through 49 locks including an engineering marvel called the Cascade Locks. As the Northeast Ohio Journal of History described:

Akron’s Cascade Locks are a unique artifact left over from Ohio’s canal era—an era that began in 1825, and ended in 1913 in a catastrophic flood. They are the remains of a steep staircase of seven locks on the Ohio & Erie Canal that permitted canal boats to ascend 70 feet in less than half a mile to reach the Akron Summit—the highest point in on a canal more than three hundred miles long. The Cascade Locks were part of the canal system that transformed Ohio from a primitive wilderness into the third most populous state in the union.

That’s a great article by the way. You should read it.

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The Ohio and Erie Canal contributed to the success of cities such as Cleveland and Columbus. It also created the very reason for Akron’s existence. A savvy speculator, Simon Perkins, understood that canal boats would take much of a day to cross the divide using slow but effective locks. People in transit needed services and this key constriction created perfect conditions for a town to provision them. He was influential enough to finagle a route across the divide through land that he owned. The resulting town, Akron (from the Greek, "high place") quickly became an industrial powerhouse. More than a half-million people live within its metropolitan area today.

The summit of the canal that inspired names for a city and a county was located at Lock 1, just west of the original Akron town center at Main & Exchange Streets.

The history I uncovered was infinitely more interesting than the original anonymous query. I’ve barely scratched the surface. Much more information can be found at the websites of the Cascade Locks Park Association, Ohio and Erie Canalway and the Ohio and Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor.

On February 16, 2012 · 5 Comments

5 Responses to “Summit’s Summit”

  1. Matt says:

    The watershed divide also explains the meaning of the county to the east, Portage County. (A portage is a place you have to walk through with your boat because there’s no waterway crossing it.)

    Incidentally, I think “West Richfield” is one of those phony pseudo-place names you see on Internet mapping services. The municipality is just Richfield, which I’m sure is what everyone calls the area.

    I used to live on a street named after the Perkins family. The Perkinses were also big in Warren, Ohio. The City Hall is the old Perkins mansion. It’s said to be haunted by a family member who killed himself/herself or something.

    This area of Ohio is kind of a big geographic anomaly because it’s part of what’s still called the Western Reserve. When the kings of England granted charters to colonies, they didn’t always set a western boundary. After independence, all of the colonies gave their “western” territories to the federal government, but Connecticut kept the part just west of Pennsylvania. Although they gave it back not too much later, the New Englanders left their mark on the area. Townships in the area are 5×5 square miles, not 6×6 like in most of the Midwest and, like New England towns, are considered to be real “places” with town squares and gazebos in the middle rather than just administrative divisions of a county. A northeast Ohioan will say “I’m from Newbury” or “I’m from Hinkley,” but you’re unlikely to hear someone from Franklin County say “I’m from Blendon;” he’ll say he’s from Columbus even though he really isn’t. Northeast Ohio is also closer to New England in politics (formerly GOP, now Democratic) and religion (plurality Catholic) than to parts of its own state.

  2. Interesting stuff. I know your Google Map showing the canal route isn’t meant to be precise, but as a Columbus resident I’d like to point out that the canal did not go through Columbus but Lockbourne. There was a 12 mile feeder canal that connected the Scioto River in Columbus to the canal. That ran right past where I live now. Turns out there were lots of feeder canals like this.

    When I moved to Columbus years ago I bought a book about the canals: “A Photo Album of Ohio’s Canal Era, 1825-1913”, by Jack Gieck. It has numerous photos and is a great reference for those interested in the history of the canals.

    BTW, your second link at the end, “Ohio and Erie Canalway”, is currently a 404.

    Thanks for the post,

  3. APH says:

    An enjoyable post — glad to learn the history of the Summit County name. As a COHPer, I visited the Summit County high point in 2009, and posted a few pictures (and a LiDAR-based elevation analysis) here:

    The high points of two other metro-Cleveland counties, Medina and Cuyahoga, are very close by.

    Next time I’m in Akron I’ll have to go see the locks near the baseball stadium.

  4. Jonathan Harris says:

    How about a Summit county that is named after its elevation?

    Summit County Colorado, named after it’s many peaks has an appropriate name. The highest point is summit county is Grays Peak (14,278′) The peak is the highest point on the Continental Divide and the 9th highest peak in Colorado. It shares the status of highest peak with Clear Creek County. Summit County only contains Three of Colorado’s 54 Fourteeners (mountains over 14,000′ MSL).

    The 1.7 mile long Eisenhower–Johnson Memorial Tunnel exits to the west into Summit County is the highest tunnel and highest point on the US interstate highway system.

    Loveland Pass (11,990′) is the highest regularly open pass in the world.

    P.S I discovered you blog yesterday and have been constantly checking it through the past 2 days, it is quickly becoming my newest online addiction.

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