This article was found undated, but was probably written about 1941. It is from the scrap book of Maxwell Riddle. Photo from the archives of Maxwell Riddle.
Army Plans Arsenal by Maxwell Riddle
European war and its effects in the United States today threatened to reach across the sea to split the peaceful little village of Charleston, O., in two.
For, if the Government's plan to build a $10,000,000 munitions plant in Portage County becomes a reality, one-half the quiet farming village of a few hundred persons will become a gigantic munitions plant employing 10,000 men. The western limit of the 15,000 acre tract, which agents' working indirectly for the War Department are optioning for construction of a shell loading factory, would cut cleanly through the center of the village, taking all homes, the village store, and the cemetery. Across the street, the school, and the church would remain.
Charleston is a crossroads town perched on a hill at the Junction of Ohio Routes 5 and 80, six miles east of Ravenna. Around it are rich farms plowed by thrifty, deeply religious people who are proud of their debt-free record during the depression. Most of the people descend from pioneer settlers there. Those who do not came there to find peace and quiet.
In Center of Steel
Why Charleston faces so astonishing a future is this. It lies at the hub of a great steel industry. Youngstown and Warren are, roughly, 24 miles to the east. Alliance, Canton and Massillon are 20 to 30 miles to the south. Akron is 24 miles west, Cleveland 40 miles northwest.
The Erie and Baltimore & Ohio railroads are the north and south boundaries of the tract, but the Pennsylvania and New York Central trains use the lines as well. The Mahoning and Hinckley River guarantee sufficient water. And yet, with all these industrial advantages Charleston has remained a comparatively isolated farming village. And it is just such an isolated place that is needed for a munitions factory for the highly dangerous job of loading 75 and 155 mm shells.
Today the people of Charleston could do little more than gather in their homes or at the village store of V. G. Sly and face the reality that American defense violently may alter the peaceful paths of their lives.
Those who live within the tract to be taken, to the east of Route 80.could only wonder where they would move. "Where can we find farms like ours?" they asked. "Where could we find any vacant farms at all worth farming?" Those who live on the west side of the road, toward Ravenna, could only wonder how a munitions plant employing 10,000 men would change their lives. "How can half of us keep the school going?" they asked. "Will the value of our land be raised to the point where we can no longer afford to farm it?"
But there were no immediate answers, or else they spoke jokingly of moving into a neighbor's corncrib.
The Frances P. Bolton farm of 1490 acres; is the largest unit to be taken. Until the death of the late Congressman Chester C. Bolton, Franchester Farm was the home of purebred Guernsey cattle. And hundreds of pheasants were raised there which populated the lowlands and made Charleston a hunter's paradise. An option for this farm has been given. But not all options have as yet been secured. The stunning suddenness of the proposed project has been too great for the farmers to comprehend immediately. Life without their farms is beyond their imagination. "It's our home." says W. R. Strausser. "My father and his brother bought this farm and built on it. I've been here 54 years and I don't want to sell." The Strausser farm contains 116 acres, supports three families, and is noted for its gladioli and maple sugar. "I'm ready to move out," says Mr. Sly, village store keeper. "I'm an American citizen and I won't hold up the Government. And yet," he adds, "this store represents a lot of hard work, and joys and sorrows. It's hard to place a value on it."
Where to Move?
And there's the Springs Ridge Farm of 75-year-old Phillip N. Kropp, his son Bryan, and his grandchildren Virgil and Dale. And the farm which Steve Yustin rents from Jack McIllvried? Its fireproof barns and silos are newly completed, worth with the land itself and other buildings nearly $30,000. Where can we move? Some say they might, move to Newton Falls. There's talk that the Newton Steel Co. which made Newton Falls a boom town during the World War, might be reopened. There the rows of houses which formerly were occupied by steel men, decay in the sun, unpainted, bringing in a rent so small that upkeep is impossible But like F. J. Moore, a retired oil driller and his family, they like the peace and quiet of Charleston, wondering uneasily what is to become of them.
Max Riddle about 1940.