A Bit of Local Color

When most people hear the name Goodyear, they think of tires. Maybe, depending on the situation, you might think of a high point in your life, a wine vintage, or an old Sinatra song.

If you like to watch football on TV, your mind might go to the Goodyear blimp, which gives fans an eagle’s-eye view of the games.

But few people hearing the word Goodyear would think of fishing.

Growing up in northeastern Ohio, I’ve always associated Goodyear with Akron. As a kid, I always associated Akron with the smell of burning rubber. If there was one place I didn’t want to go—or even drive through on the way to somewhere else—it was Akron, Ohio. My nose crinkled with distaste at the very word.

Thankfully, the stink is now gone and has been for years. Though still very much a going concern, Goodyear is no longer the powerhouse corporation it once was. Nevertheless, it’s made an indelible mark upon the community and on the world.

As a lifetime resident of this part of the state, I sometimes forget about Goodyear’s legacy. People in other parts of the world seldom have cause to think about it as they drive hither and yon on their Goodyear tires. So today, let’s talk a little bit about the corporation’s impact on local history and culture.

A muskrat house

The temperatures yesterday were in the mid-70s, the skies sunny, and the breeze gentle. A rare—and unbeatable—combination for mid-March in Ohio! This time last year, my husband, Craig, was still ice fishing. But because Jack Frost avoided us this year, Craig never once had a chance to get out on the ice, so he’s been itching to fish since last fall. Besides that, we only have three packages of fish left in the freezer, so it’s time to replenish the supply.

You’re probably wanting to interrupt me at this point to say, I thought we were talking about Goodyear? Good observation. But you see, we are talking about Goodyear. Because, back in 1916 (the year my dad was born), the Goodyear corporation purchased 720 acres in Portage County just outside Akron, which property included a 444-acre lake. They named the lake Wingfoot in honor of the Goodyear logo.

In the 1960s, they built a park there for the exclusive use of company employees—and it was no shabby park. It included multiple picnic shelters with fireplaces, ball diamonds, volleyball and bocce ball courts, paved courts for basketball and tennis, playgrounds and boating facilities. In the 1980s, attendance at Wingfoot Lake Park peaked with more than 100,000 Goodyear employees and their families each year.

But all good things must come to an end. (Sidenote: so do all bad things, eventually. So take heart!) After the park fell into disuse, the State of Ohio purchased nearly 700 of the acres, including the lake, and turned it into a state park in 2009. The fishing there is good. And, since it’s only about an hour from home, that’s where we headed yesterday.

Because my presence frequently seems to act like a pox on the fish, no one was catching anything despite the perfect conditions. You could see them in the water—thousands of little crappie and bluegill, carp the size of dolphins—and based on past experience, we knew there were big bass and other fish there as well, lurking out of sight. But none were biting. Maybe they didn’t know how to react to the unaccustomed sunshine. Whatever the reason, we had an enjoyable day out on the lake, but all we came home with was a little fresh pink to our complexions (since we, like the fish, are unaccustomed to sunshine).

I also came home with some pictures on my memory card. In addition to a variety of fish, two turtles, a muskrat (lots of muskrat houses on one end of that lake), two deer making a racket in the cattails, a gazillion very-vocal Canada geese, two pairs of swans, some black-and-white ducks of a variety I don’t recall ever having seen before, and a whole lot of other birds, we also saw a sight few fishermen get to see: the flight of the Goodyear Blimp.

The acreage Goodyear retained when they sold the property holds the hangar home of the famous blimp. Craig says its keepers have taken it out and played with it almost every time he’s been to the lake, and yesterday was no exception.

In the early afternoon, the hangar doors opened, the blimp slowly emerged (powered by some sort of conveyor on rails), and eventually lifted off. It was gone for a while, came back, landed, and then took off again. I have no idea what the purpose of all this was, but it landed and took off so many times, we wondered if the pilot might not have been practicing landings and take-offs. We left the lake about 4 pm, and it was still in the air when we drove away.

A swan swims in Wingfoot lake, the blimp hanger in the background
The hangar doors open and the blimp emerges
At the blimp's nose, you can see the yellow framework of the apparatus that moves the blimp on the ground
Lifting off
Coming in to land

Wingfoot Lake Park is only one interesting legacy the folks at Goodyear have handed down for Akron and nearby residents to enjoy. Another site worth visiting is Stan Hywet Hall and Garden. I used to assume the name of the guy who built the place was Stan Hywet (pronounced like Hewett). But that’s not the case. The guy who built it was none other than Franklin Sieberling, the same guy who founded Goodyear. He named his company after Charles Goodyear, inventor of the vulcanization process for rubber (which, as I understand it, has absolutely nothing to do with the Vulcans of Star Trek fame). He named his home after the property’s prior use: stan hywet is ye Olde English rendering of stone quarry.

The Sieberling family lived in the home until 1957, when Sieberling’s heirs donated it to a non-profit organization created for the purpose of allowing the public to enjoy the house and grounds. A visit to Stan Hywet Hall is a delight. If you have the opportunity, do it on a nice day, because the gardens are fabulous, and you’ll want to spend some time there.

And here’s one more little-known Goodyear fact: the first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous was held in the gatehouse at Stan Hywet Hall. True story.

 

 

 

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