Kent through the years; it’s been a great journey

Kyle Reynolds

From a small village to a bustling college town, the city of Kent and the Kent State have a rich shared history.

The city of Kent started out as a milling village known as Franklin Mills.

During the Civil War, the village of Franklin Mills thrived primarily due to the completion of the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad, as documented in the 1932 book “The History of Kent” by Karl H. Grismer.

Marvin Kent was an influential figure and was able to convince A and GW Railroad to set up their railroad’s shop in Franklin Mills.

“The community was so grateful to Marvin Kent for having secured the shop that when a movement was started, early in 1864, to change the name of the village from Franklin Mills to Kent, it was supported with great enthusiasm,” Grismer wrote.

But in December of 1909, the people of the city of Kent had fallen on harder times, as documented in the 1960 book “The Years of Youth” by Phillip Shriver.

Kent’s population in 1910 sank below the city’s 1900 population.

On May 10, 1910, the general assembly of Ohio passed the Lowry Bill, which approved the establishment of two normal schools in Northern Ohio, one in Northeast Ohio and one in Northwest Ohio.

After receiving many applications from towns across Northeast Ohio, the assembly narrowed down the list to 14 contenders. On Dec. 12, 1910, it became official that a normal school would be established in Kent.

“Basically the Kent people tried a little harder and had some really prime high land on the high ground and it persuaded this committee,” said University Archivist Stephen Paschen.

“The factor which more than any other, perhaps, influenced the commission to give the school to Kent was the offer of W.S Kent to give fifty acres of land for the school site,” Grismer wrote.

The first year classes were taken on Kent’s campus was in 1913 and the enrollment for the fall class was 271, the following year it went up to 538 and in 1930 the school exceeded 1,000 students for the first time.

“For the first few years classes were taken outside of Kent in places like Ashtabula, which became a precursor to the regional campuses we have now,” Paschen said.

Kent has been home to several annual celebrations including the Black Squirrel Festival and the Kent State Folk Festival.

The Black Squirrel Festival gets its name from the rare species that was imported into the area in 1961 from Canada by Larry Woodell, the University’s superintendent of grounds at the time, according to “A Most Noble Enterprise: The History of Kent State University 1910-2010” by William Hildebrand.

Kent in the 1960s and ‘70s attracted some of the most popular people in entertainment at the time, everyone from Pink Floyd and Santana to Bob Hope and Johnny Carson, said Paschen.

Kent has been a stop for many presidents and vice-presidents through the years, including Barack Obama during the 2008 election season, said Paschen.

An infamous event was when Hubert Humphrey, vice president to Lyndon B. Johnson, was campaigning for the presidency and came to Kent to speak.

“There was actually a demonstration by Black United Students, and while Humphrey was speaking, they got up and made a show by walking out and it made news across the country,” said Paschen.

But what Kent has been immortalized in song and history for are the infamous May 4, 1970, shootings on campus, when the Ohio National Guard was called in to control a student protest of the Vietnam War and opened fire on the crowd, killing four people and injuring others.

Today, Kent is home to about 30,000 residents and Kent State.

Kyle Renolds is a general assignment reporter for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].