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Article published in the Record-Courier in 1989. The black and white picture was taken at the turn of the century. The color picture was taken in 2010 by Tom Riddle. The postcard comes from the Riddle archives.

Ravenna Riddle blocks a Vestige of City's Past

By Sheila Unsworth

Record-Courier About People editor

Riddle Block 1
Riddle blk 1
RIDDLE BLOCK 1, shown in the old days in top photo, and today.

There are two ways to tell longtime Ravennans from the Johnny-come-lately.

Old timers still read "The Evening Record." And they can list and locate the Riddle Blocks — all 11 of them, all the way from stately Block No. 1, east of the courthouse lawn, to Block No. 11 at the corner of East Main and North Prospect Streets.

Downtown Ravenna east of the alley at Ravenna Savings and Loan is Riddle territory. This part of Ravenna with its stores, offices and apartments stands as a tribute to the foresight of Henry Warner Riddle, who arrived here from Pittsburgh in 1861.

The offer of a salesman's position with the N.D. Clark buggy works drew Riddle, then 26, to Ravenna. Clark's factory was located where Kading Insurance now stands.

Riddle was, according to his grandson, Hugh, "a terrific salesman who hit it right."

"Hitting it right" for Riddle meant working in the carriage trade when the invention of embalming fluid was sounding the knell for familiar funeral practices.

Simple pine boxes and buckboards were giving way to elaborate caskets and fancy hearses for that final trip to the cemetery. Such developments and the growing Victorian obsession with the trappings of death, brought prosperity to the buggy works. Livery stables were the best customers for Ravenna built hearses and carriages.

In 1866, H.W. Riddle formed a partnership with his brother-in-law, Charles Merts, and bought out Clark. The men built twin homes on East Main Street opposite their factories. Today, all that remains of their "windows on Ravenna" is Merts's elegant gingerbread carriage house behind the Masonic Temple. The Riddle home was demolished to make way for the Elks Club.

Long before 1891 when the Riddle-Merts partnership was dissolved, H.W. Riddle had begun his downtown expansion.

"Grandfather was a real Ravenna booster, he loved it here," said Hugh Riddle. "He wanted to see Ravenna grow and decided to build in the east side of town," remarked another grandson, Maxwell Riddle.

Keen businessman that he was, H.W. Riddle built his blocks with offices and stores on the lower floors, and with apartments above.

"He wanted people to live in Ravenna near their work, and he wanted shops and places for them, too," said Maxwell Riddle.

"Grandfather's philosophy was that you built well, and then took good care of your property," said Hugh Riddle. That tradition persists today.

Riddle Block No. 1 set the tone for all subsequent buildings. To climb the wide stairway, run one's hand over the curving oak banisters, to see the carved lintels and 12-foot-high ceilings is to sense H.W. Riddle's quest for quality.

The hidden surprise of Block No. 1 is the fourth floor ballroom whose tall windows offer views over Ravenna and to Kent. It's unused and dilapidated now. The wallpaper is faded, and odd pieces of furniture clutter the stage. And it's easy to imagine the room in its elegant glory days, gaslights flickering, piano and violins playing, the ladies' silk skirts swishing as they swirled to a Strauss waltz.

Riddle Block 9
RIDDLE BLOCK 9 built in 1911 and 1912, shown in the days of horse carriages and hitching posts. The Main Street building now houses John's Pharmacy and Dollar General.

The Deluxe Bakery building is Block No. 2, but Block No. 3 has gone. That building, which housed livery stables, Chinese laundry, flower shop and apartments, stood on land now used by Paul's Do-It Center.

The lower floor of Block No. 4, now the Library Apartments, was the home of the "Ravenna Democrat" newspaper, while the upper floors rang to the chisels and tools of wheelwrights and carvers, many of them brought in from Europe. This part of factory was linked to Block No. 5, now the home Kading Insurance, by a bridge through which carriages and hearses went to the paint shops.

Editor's note: This is a reprint from a story that appeared in the Record-Courier in April.