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This article about the early history of Ravenna was apparently written in 1906. It was found in the scrapbooks of Mary Fitz-Gerald Riddle. Pictures by Tom Riddle.


Mrs. E. M. Ward of Alliance, Who Was a Continuous Resident of Ravenna for 88 Years, Tells of Some of Her Early Experiences

A Ravenna pioneer is spending her last years in Alliance. Since October, 1906, Mrs. Elizabeth N. Ward has been living with her sister, Mrs. H. G. Carrington, at No. 445 Freedom Avenue, the home of Mrs. John Whitley, daughter of Mrs. Carrington. Mrs. Ward, who is the widow of Nelson Ward, dead six years, was born in Ravenna October 1, 1813, and lived in the town of her nativity for a continuous period of eighty-eight years. She is in remarkable health for one of her years and is able to entertain her friends in conversation as briskly and timely as though her age was less by half. Although in a pleasant home and having the companionship of a sister, Mrs. Ward misses the environments of almost four score years and ten and often finds herself longing for a sight of the old home town and the presence of familiar faces. But memory keeps fresh the life of former years and she has a fund of personal recollections that needs only the presence of a Ravenna acquaintance to be put into words.

The parents of Mrs. Ward, Edmund and Lura Babcock, came from Connecticut and their journey to the Ohio wilderness was one of unusual hardship. They took an open boat at Buffalo, steamers not yet having appeared on the lakes, and for twelve days skirted the shore as closely as possible, headed for Cleveland. When they tried to land their boat struck ground a long way out and after vain efforts to release it, Mr. Babcock swarms ashore, bearing his wife and daughter Corintha, their first child, through the water. With them was Perry Hazzard Babcock, parents of Edmund Babcock, his sisters, Cynthia and Sally Babcock, and Lndwick arsons (Larsons or Carsons?) and wife, the last of whom settled in Charlestown Township.

On landing they built a brush house in the wilderness which sheltered them for seven days before they could make up their journey to Ravenna, their point of final destination. They ( not clear ) ended with an exhausted larder, to replenish which Mr. Babcock walked three miles to the nearest settler's cabin where a piece of pork and a loaf bread were sold to him for three dollars—a prodigious sum of money in the wilderness. Evidently the early settlers brought the methods of the traders with them among their other possessions.

Mr. Babcock was a man of culture and education and in his cargo was included a small library that was among the first collection of books in the section and doubly prized by the owner. Some of the precious items were all but ruined by the waters of Erie whose waves dashed over the catamaran, goods and occupants alike. But the Babcocks came from sturdy, sea faring blood that was not to be daunted by a bit of fresh water. Commodore Perry, who defeated the British on Lake Erie, was the cousin to Edmond Babcock.

On arriving at Ravenna, Edmund Babcock lived with his brother, Almon Babcock.who was landlord of a tavern that stood on the site now occupied by Beatty's clothing store. Almon Baboook also had a blacksmith shop where Horr's warehouse now stands. As soon as possible be moved into the house in which Mrs. Ward was born. This house stood on the site later occupied by the Waterman drug store, of which Lyon & Morgan are present proprietors. The building was about as open as a sieve and it was no infrequent thing for its rooms to about evenly divide the reception of the elements with the outside. Rain, snow and wind were familiar companions to the occupants. The house was later moved on South Hickory alley where it stands to this day.

Mrs. Ward's recollections of Ravenna date from the period of her home on what is now the Peter H. Bean farm, one mile east of town. At that time Ravenna was a very ordinary country village, no larger than Atwater now is. It was solid woods to the old Robinson bouse, now the home of Judge David L. Rockwell. To the south the forest came to what is now Court House Park; the traveler from the north did not emerge from the woods until he reached Bowery street and the domain of the trees approached as near at the west Deer, bears, wolves and all kinds of lesser wild game held dominion in the wilds about, while the rattler and the copperhead were deadly enemies under foot. Mrs. Ward says that many a night she has lain in bed huddling in terror at the bowling of the wolves that came out in droves. Many a time, she says, she and her sisters were commissioned by their father to drive the sheep into a little old log barn, where they were barricaded for the night, and where the baffled pack, which never failed to follow up the trail, would bowl like furies in their midnight assaults. Failure to thus secure the fold would have meant the loss of the entire flock. Her father was a noted hunter of his day and always one in the periodical gathering of those assembled for organized hunts. Mrs. Ward says that venison and wild turkey were so common in the Babcook home that her mother fervently wished that she might not see any more of them as long as she lived. Today they are luxuries for which almost any price will be paid where they were once to be had for the killing.

One day Mrs. Ward, then a little girl, was sent with her sisters to pick some field corn for dinner, sweet corn being a luxury unknown at that time. The children almost ran into a company of 15 or 20 deer that had preceded them to the corn patch and were very much frightened, but the deer were as frightened as they and turned and ran away with great leaps.

Mrs. Ward describes the flight of wild pigeons as one of the wilderness wonders. Millions of these birds would appear in flocks so dense and so large as to entirely cover the sky and shut out the light of the sun as effectually as night. Chickens would go to roost and the housewives would light their tallow dips Toward evening, she says, a deep roaring sound would be heard from the south, a terrifying sound to the uninitiated and disturbing even to the nerves of those accustomed to hear it. Directly the black outline of a moving host spanning the horizon would appear, steadily mounting higher until the entire heavens were obscured . . . .
Lake District was the roosting home of the birds. Armed with poles and clubs, people would visit this vast colony and knock the birds off the trees by the hundreds. Mrs. Ward says that her father often brought a bushel basket full of dead pigeons home after such an expedition. The birds existed in countless hordes and no one who saw their seeming infinity of numbers would have believed that some of the people then living would see the day when they had entirely disappeared from this section. Yet such is the fact.

Selling their east Ravenna home the Babcocks purchased a farm on the Sandy Lake road at Breakneck Creek, or the Little Cuyahoga, that flows in winding course through its acres. Why the stream was named "Breakneck" is unknown to Mrs. Ward, but she remembers that she and her sisters came to be known in the country round about as "The Breakneck girls." Mr. Babcock built a dam across the stream and established a sawmill at that point in partnership with his brother, the late Ethan Babcock of Ravenna. The firm of Babcock Brothers did a large business, an item of which was the lumber for the Ravenna Congregational church and for the first Universalist edifice. The late Harriet M. Babcook, widow of Ethan Babcock, was a maternal cousin of Mrs. Ward and Mr. Baboook was her paternal uncle.

Mrs. Ward has seen Portage county develop from an almost trackless wilderness to one of the most productive agricultural counties in the state with a population of 85,000 When she appeared on the scene people were glad to pick their way over winding roads and paths with ox team, horseback or afoot, the last being the most common method. At that time there were no public schools, no church organizations, no fraternal societies, no manufactories, no coal, no railroads, no canal, few roads worthy of the name, no newspapers, no telegraph or telephone, no sidewalks, no street illumination. All of these and a thousand other inventions she has seen take the place of primitive ways, and while she appreciates their value as indispensable factors in the present fabric of population and scheme of living, she thinks that people were every bit as happy and even happier in "the good old days of hard muscle and good appetites."

"People didn't have time to get sick in those days and neither did they have time to study up things artificial or superficial," she said. "Everything as a rule was solid and genuine." Mrs. Ward remembers when the use of tow or punk and flint and steel was the only known method of starting a fire and says that she has often been sent to the neighbors to borrow coals when they were unable to originate their own hearth flames. At that early time the roadway between and Ravenna was of corduroy make with swale and poison vines on either side. Mrs. Ward and her sisters trudged over this rude contrivance many times between home and "the store." In common with others still living she also remembers when Campbellsport was in its palmy "days, a threatening rival of Ravenna. And she has clear memories of what she says was called "Puckerhuddle" and sometimes "Skunk's Hollow" in those days, location where ex Mayor H.W. Riddle established his summer home. I have attended many a funeral and followed the remains to the cemetery formerly located this place," she said. Portage County’s "Buried Village," remains of which were unearthed in excavation for an artificial lake on the Riddle site. The settlement and development of this once busy little center, its subsequent abandonment and the slow burial of its foundation under silt and second forest growth, have been fully described in a former issue of The Republican.

Gravestone found in the “buried village” at the Riddle farm.
Contemporary view of the artificial pond at the Riddle farm.

"The time was within my recollection when Ravenna had neither church nor schoolhouse," she said. "I remember when children in Ravenna came in numbers to attend a school in what is now the Bean district. The first Sunday school I ever attended was in my father's woods near the present home of Judge Rockwell. The first church was on the green in front of the present jail structure. Rev. Mr. Storr was the first minister ever hired in the town."

Mrs. Ward tells of the discovery and naming of "Mother Ward's Pond," afterward rechristened "Crystal Lake" as follows: "My husband's grandmother had a cow that strayed into the forest. The cow bad a bell attached to her and the old lady bearing its tinkle, followed the sound into the depths of the forest and was astonished on finding the animal near a small lake, the existence of which bad been unknown to her and I think to anyone else. Its discovery and the circumstance attending the same gave it the name of “Mother Ward's Pond." Mr. Muzzy, known as "Old Muzzy" the original owner of Muzzy Lake, was a familiar character in those days. It is traditional history that he lost his lady love by death and that his bereavement so preyed on his mind that he built a large gate of rustio pattern on the shores of the pretty waters in memoriam of her.

Indians were not infrequent visitors at Mrs. Ward's childhood home and one day a party of eight of them nearly frightened her out of her senses by calling at the door. They were generally peaceful and always hungry. They were in fact but straggling bands left from the tribes that once owned the lands from which civilization had banished them. One day a band of these stay-behinds called at another home and compelled the frightened women to prepare a meal for them, but these instances were rare. Mrs. Ward says she sees as in a vision, the succession of oxcart, stage coach, canal boat, steam and electric railroad, road carriages, coaches and other vehicles, bicycle and automobile. Nearly everything in fact known to modern economy and convenience has come onto the stage of life within the period of her 88 years. To illustrate the strenuousness of life and its application to the gentler sex, Mrs. Ward related how she and her half-sisters yoked up her father's ox team during his absence from home and of how they went into the woods, loaded the cart with wood and hauled it home to supply the fireplace. "Young women as well as young men were ready for any emergency in those days," she said. Mrs. Ward says.