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History

history

Massillon’s heritage can be separated into a regional triptych. Originating from three distinct communities, today’s Massillon was incorporated into a functioning city in 1853—one centered around industry, religion and its unique heritage.

As part of a government surveying crew, William Henry noted the potential of the land along the Tuscarawas River. In 1808, he purchased property on the west side of the river, but he waited until 1831 to found his town of West Massillon.

Thomas and Charity Rotch, prominent New Englanders, came to this area in 1811 to escape the harsh North Atlantic coastal climate. They would have settled farther south, but their Quaker convictions prevented them from living in a slave state. In 1812, Thomas Rotch founded the village of Kendal (now part of northeast Massillon) and attracted many of his seafaring friends from the Nantucket area to his village when the War of 1812 stagnated shipping. Rotch raised Merino sheep and built a mill along the banks of Sippo Creek to process their fine wool.

James Duncan arrived in Kendal, having left life at sea, and engaged in several entrepreneurial efforts before 1826, when he founded the town of Massillon two miles to the southwest on the east bank of the Tuscarawas River. He built mills along Sippo Creek. His greatest contributions to his new town were persuading the State to route the Ohio and Erie Canal through his land and rerouting the east-west State road (which became the Lincoln Highway) along Main Street, now Lincoln Way.

Named in remembrance of the French Bishop of Clermont, Jean-Baptiste Massillon, the city of Massillon was incorporated in 1853 from the three neighboring communities: Kendal, Massillon, and West Massillon. During the town’s 1926 centennial, two additional villages to the west, Brookfield and West Brookfield, became part of the town. By 1828, when canal boats first reached Massillon, the Wellman brothers had built a warehouse and offered cash for wheat. Farmers from miles around brought their crops to the booming Port of Massillon, which became known as “The Wheat City.” Just a quarter century later, the arrival of the railroad marked the end of the canal’s heyday, but it facilitated growth of the steam engine industry. Shipping machinery around the world, Russell & Company employed hundreds from 1842 until the early 1900s. Glassmaking added to Massillon’s industrial growth from 1880 into the early 1920s. Coal mining and quarrying flourished as well. By then, steel had become king. Its era lasted until the 1960s when a progressive group of community leaders formed the Massillon Development Foundation, eventually leading the community to today’s industrial diversification, thus softening the impact of the impending steel industry slump.

The flood control project of the 1940s allowed the town to overcome its worst obstacle: annual inundation of the downtown and industrial area. The resulting viaducts better linked the community, while grouping the railroads and eliminating grade crossings saved lives, and straightening and widening the Tuscarawas River averted future floods.

Against the industrial backdrop, downtown Massillon grew to include a bustling retail center, a fine opera house, a semi-pro baseball team, a professional football team, streetcars (later a city bus system), excellent schools with unrivaled football tradition and an inordinate number of churches.

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