Filed Under Industry

Kent Dam

Water, something we all take for granted today, was often the key resource needed to make a new settlement thrive. This was certainly the case for Kent, located in northern Portage County, about 40 miles southeast of Cleveland.

The area around Kent was originally owned by the Connecticut Land Company, which sold parcels of land to pioneers such as Moses Cleaveland, John Haymaker, and Zenas Kent in the late 1700s. One of the most important geographic requirements for the new settlers was a water source, which could be used to power various mills and, later on, factories. The Cuyahoga River runs through Kent, which made the city an ideal location for settlers. The river was both friend and foe to the early developers of the area. Several times floods caused terrible damage. To end this constant struggle with nature, the residents of Kent decided to construct a dam.

The Kent Dam was completed in 1836 and was considered to be one of the greatest engineering successes of its time. The arched dam is the oldest masonry dam in Ohio and is the only dam to be connected to a canal lock. In its early days the Kent Dam played an essential part in providing water power to the many businesses and mills located on the banks of the Cuyahoga. The lock connecting the dam to the Pennsylvania & Ohio Canal made shipping goods to and from the area very convenient.

In 2004, the dam was bypassed due to environmental problems associated with the river's low flow. Though the dam today has no real function, it remains intact because the citizens of Kent have grown to love it. The rich history of the dam and its impact on the development of the city have made it an essential part of Kent's identity.

Images

Overlooking the Dam, 2011 The Cuyahoga River's Kent Dam is a historic symbol of the city of Kent located in northern Portage County. This 2011 image depicts the beauty of the Dam's waterfall and sandstone structure. Overlooking the dam on the eastern bank of the river are tracks from the former Baltimore & Ohio rail lines. Railroads became the dominant form of transportation in the mid-1800s making canals, including the Pennsylvania & Ohio Canal that ran through Kent, obsolete. Photo courtesy of Ashley Mauger
Glory Days, 1868 This 1868 photo of downtown Kent shows the dam during its glory days when it was an integral part of the city's industrial development. Several of the businesses located on the eastern bank of the Cuyahoga are still intact today and serve the citizens of Kent just as they did in 1868. Image courtesy of the Kent Historical Society
Dam Construction, ca. 1921 The construction of the Kent Dam was not an easy task. This "highly engineered structure" is the only one of its kind. With an arched dam made of sandstone and a canal lock on it eastern side, the Kent Dam is truly a unique structure. Photo courtesy of the Kent Historical Society
View of Kent, 1876 This image, taken from the eastern bank of the Cuyahoga, displays the beauty that surrounds the Kent Dam. From the massive churches in the background to the covered bridge crossing the river, the historic architecture of Kent is truly breathtaking. The covered bridge was once an iconic symbol of the quaint community. It was torn down in 1876 and replaced by an arched sandstone bridge which still stands today. Photo courtesy of the Kent Historical Society
Skating on the Cuyahoga, ca. 1880s A couple ice skates on the frozen Cuyahoga River in the 1880s. The iconic multi-arched bridge in the background serves as the centerpeice of the city's downtown. The bridge was constructed in 1876-1877 and consists of stones which were dug from the quarries of Kent. Photo courtesy of the Kent Historical Society
Side by Side: Canal and Cuyahoga Running alongside the Cuyahoga River was the Pennsylvania and Ohio Canal. The combination of a canal lock and a dam in one location was the only one of its kind. The canal made Kent a convenient location for mill owners who wanted to ship their finished goods to other markets. The canal as a whole was completed in 1840, but as with most other canals across the country, it became obsolete when the railroad came to town. By 1867, the canal had been abandoned. Photo courtesy of Ashley Mauger
1913 Flood Relying on mother nature always comes with a price. The industries and mills of Kent's early days learned this very quickly when the Cuyahoga River flooded in March 1913. The flood impacted several successful businesses located on the banks of the Cuyahoga, including the Kent Mill which was put out of operation. The flood also destroyed parts of the Pennsylvania & Ohio canal lock. The lock was not rebuilt until 1924. The same flood also caused destruction along the path of the nearby Ohio & Erie Canal, leading to the end of its operation as a working canal. Photo courtesy of the Kent Historical Society
Bypassing the Dam, 2004 As part of the Clean Water Act, the Kent Dam was bypassed in 2004. As seen in this image, the bypass project was not an easy task, especially since the structure of the Dam was to remain intact. When the bypass was proposed in 1998, the citizens of Kent were reluctant to let go of the Dam, which had become an essential part of their history. Image courtesy of the Kent Historical Society
Keeping History Alive, 2011 The history of the Kent Dam is very much alive in the city today. Located behind the arched stone structure of the dam is Heritage Park, a place where history is celebrated. Placards in the park display the rich history of Kent and its dam. Residents of the city continue to enjoy the beauty of their beloved dam as an underground pump keeps water moving through the dam's waterfall. Photo courtesy of Ashley Mauger

Location

The dam is beneath the Main St bridge over the Cuyahoga River in downtown Kent.

Metadata

“Kent Dam,” Cleveland Historical, accessed August 10, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/277.