Students sitting together at Wick’s Poetry Park
By Ryan Lind
A town was planted on the banks of the Cuyahoga River to ship the fruits of industry and agriculture south and east along Ohio’s canal routes. The railroad upended the ambitions of the canal system while many of its routes were still being cut into the earth. The nimble village of Franklin Mills, renamed Kent, re-routed the commodities of its gristmills west on the rail. The city demonstrated its will to thrive and re-imagine its possibilities. Decades later, land annexed for the formation of Kent Normal School, a teacher’s college (later Kent State University), indicated the city’s commitment to cultural progress alongside its economic growth. Modern-day Kent, Ohio, influenced by its University, reflects Kent’s adroit history: a can-do Midwestern town, friendly and curious.
Buy a fancy pair of insoles. Kent is best experienced on foot. Outdoor season begins on a false-spring day in late February. The city’s mood shifts, ignoring Lake Erie’s clouds, and residents fill the streets. The University’s Lefton Esplanade funnels the student body to the city proper. Part enterprise, part art project, downtown Kent features local and regional shopping and dining, with plenty of places to stop for a drink or a sleeve of tattoos. In one city block you can buy used books, fresh coffee, fiddle strings, framed art, and on the right night, just across the street at the Kent Stage, you can catch Glass Harp or some other interesting, nearly forgotten band in concert. The recent revitalization of Kent’s downtown area has not erased its history. The glass lines of modern architecture reflect the repurposed mills. Now home to art galleries and local small businesses, the buildings of bygone industry stand a proud watch; below them, the long defunct canal lock and dam.
Pedestrians can find some shade in Franklin Mills Riveredge Park along the Cuyahoga River, across the tracks and over the Main Street Bridge. The path that follows the flow of the river is modern and accessible. In the span of a few steps, forest hides the hiker from the sounds of town. Further down the trail, a bridge abutment is covered in graffiti. Parts of the trail are dense enough to forget everything but birdsong until a train whistle interrupts. The whistle signals progress preserved—the possibility of future possibility. And if you rest in the park until dusk, chances are good that when you return to town, a local band will celebrate your return.