North Akron has been home to immigrants from Nepal, Italy, and – 200 years ago -- Ireland. So what happened to the area that was once known as Old Dublin?
In Samuel Lane’s 1892 history of Akron, he writes: “The lower lands of what is now called North Akron, being thickly dotted over with log and slab shanties, inhabited mostly by Irish laborers upon the canal, was christened, and for many years, retained the historic name of ‘Dublin.’”
There’s a spot just north of downtown Akron – right next to the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railway depot – where one can look down the hill at the Little Cuyahoga River. It’s where I found myself on a rainy afternoon with Akron attorney Chris Esker.
Esker is part-Irishman himself. “The Irish roots would be my grandfather, whose last name was Horgan. His name was Denis, his father’s name was Denis, his father’s name was Denis, but it was his father who emigrated to the United States and ended up in upstate New York working for the railroad.”
Esker led me to a spot under the Y-Bridge after seeing a social media post about what the area was called in the 1820s. He wanted to know, “what happened to Old Dublin?”
A working village
The shanty town was a working village for Irish laborers who built the Ohio & Erie Canal in the 1820s and
‘30s. It grew to more than 200 people. But at the University of Akron, anthropology researcher and historian Eric Olson says much of Old Dublin’s history was never documented.
“The Irish were not thought of as ‘white,’ as we think of them today. At that time, they were discriminated against in ways that, today, we would think would be weird because they’re considered part of the same racial category. I’m not condoning any of this; this is obviously 19th century history that we’re talking about here.”
Lisa O’Rourke writes for Ohio Irish-American News. She says there are enough records and anecdotal information to support accounts of Old Dublin, but historians may have ignored the area for a different reason – one which makes it difficult for modern historians to conduct research.
“The people who were interested in the founding of Akron were interested in landed gentry: people had money and influence already. And not the people who actually built [the city]. That’s kind of the story of the Irish; it’s the story of a lot of groups, depending on where you go.”
She and Olson add that after the canal was finished, Old Dublin was essentially abandoned as the Irish moved to other parts of the city. But remnants of its history remained as the hillside had been used as a makeshift cemetery.
Mary Donaghy, who emigrated from Ireland in the 1990s with her husband when he found work in Northeast Ohio, reads from Samuel Lane’s book, “Fifty Years and Over of Akron and Summit County.”
“It is even being reported that a pretty well preserved skull thus brought to light was the missing head of William Beatson, the Englishman murdered at Cuyahoga Falls.”
His bones were discovered years later when what had been Old Dublin was being excavated for the Valley Railway and other purposes. And that’s what led to people remembering that there had once been a shanty town there. Historian Eric Olson – who also runs the local history site SHiP (Stewards of Historical Preservation) -- explains.
“This was actually the bed of the Ohio & Pennsylvania Canal, which went defunct very quickly. So you had a canal splicing through this community. You had railroads that were built around the 1870s in this community as well.”
A home for immigrants
As Samuel Lane put it in his book, “Paddy built the railways and made the highways and dug canals. The Irish have prospered and moved into better city quarters, while the Italian, a late comer, has taken old houses and become the predominating influence in the locality. The territory has been conquered in succession by Ireland, Africa and Italy.”
Old Dublin continued evolving into what is today the Cascade Valley neighborhood. A city report puts the current population at about 2,200 people with a quarter of the homes being built this century. Standing next to the Little Cuyahoga, Chris Esker wonders what it was like 200 years ago.
“Where the river is flowing, it would have been up the hillside where Old Dublin would have been. And then kind of rolling its way down to the water, since people always gravitate towards water. So you and I can see where we were five minutes ago, which is just up the hill by the railroad tracks. Then it would have been the rough and tumble down into the water area where people would have done what they need to do by water: clean, bathe, get water, whatever they needed.
“Akron’s history’s been written and re-written. We’re writing it right now with the middle of Main Street being re-done. When you’re doing historical stuff, [you do your research] the same way we learned in law school: you do your research until you come back around to where you started.”
Hibernians, a social club in Firestone Park. The club hosts Akron's annual St. Patrick’s Day parade -- a day when everyone is Irish. This year’s parade is March 14, and the route will be slightly modified due to the work on Main Street. The start point is at Carroll and Spicer Streets near the University of Akron’s James A. Rhodes Arena. The parade ends at E.J. Thomas Hall.
Another tribute to Irish heritage is a plaque – near Canal Park -- commemorating those who died in The Great Hunger of Ireland from 1845-50. Chris Esker and Mary Donaghy say it might be nice to also have a marker where Old Dublin once stood. Those come under the purview of the Ohio History Connection, and their yearly application deadline for historical markers is July 1st.
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