Sunday, September 18, 2016

Full Circle: Tallmadge's Namesake Leads the Way in AMC's TURN: Washington's Spies

It’s not every day you hear a familiar name on TV, but if you’ve ever watched AMC’s TURN:Washington’s Spies then you’ve certainly come across one of the show’s main characters, the dashing Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge, who helps maintain George Washington’s military intelligence operation during the Revolution.

If you’ve ever wondered whether there was a connection between this character and Akron’s neighbor to the northeast, the answer is absolutely YES.  Tallmadge (played on the show by actor Seth Numrich) was founded in 1806 by Rev. Davis Bacon, and Colonel Tallmadge was one of the first property owners. Bacon named the township after Tallmadge precisely because of his well-known, highly-respected name, which was known throughout New England.

While a major landowner and investor, Tallmadge was never a local resident. He maintained his home in Litchfield, Conn. and was happy to support Bacon, a missionary whose religious views he fully shared. Eventually, Bacon obtained a contract of purchase with Tallmadge and the other dozen or so investors in the settlement, which stipulated that whenever payment of any part was secured, a deed would be delivered for that part.

Tallmadge was leader of  the Second Regiment of Continental Light Dragoons, also
known as Tallmadge's Dragoons.

While much of Colonel Tallmadge’s notoriety comes from his espionage activities, he had an equally distinguished service in more conventional military activities, participating and leading forces in several important military actions against the British and their Tory sympathizers. After the war, Tallmadge flourished as a successful businessman, land speculator, and served several terms as a Federalist Congressman. He died in 1835.

It’s important to remember that years ago, a large section of east Akron was actually part of Tallmadge, which extended down across Chapel Hill and down through Goodyear Heights towards Middlebury, until it was eventually annexed by the city. Even today, if you look at a map of Akron, you can see that for the most part, there really is no “northeast Akron”—what would be is mostly Tallmadge, and Cuyahoga Falls.

As for Bacon, his plans for settlement did not offer much personal success; there was little hard cash available for new residents to buy land, and he was forced to return to New England after 1811. Bacon's idea was a good one, it just took longer to develop than he expected. Those who did stay here held on long enough to see the settlement prosper and grow into a successful town and today, their descendants can claim a prosperous city.

With that in mind, it seems appropriate that we take a moment to enjoy Colonel Tallmadge’s newfound posthumous fame. It makes the TV show that much more fun to watch.

Friday, September 09, 2016

The Day Akron had an NFL Team

When you think of Akron and football on Thanksgiving, you automatically think of the old tradition of “Turkey Day” games, when the City Series Championship would inevitably be decided at the Akron Rubber Bowl. But in 1952, Akron was treated to something extra—a double-header that not only included the high school championship, but an NFL game as well, featuring George Halas’ Chicago Bears vs Akron’s home team—The Dallas Texans.

Never heard of the Texans? Maybe you have – but those Texans are probably the 1960 AFL Team that later moved to Kansas City to become the Chiefs.

No, these Dallas Texans were the only NFL franchise to ever go belly up.

In this story, it’s important to point out that the post-WWII NFL was not the incredibly popular money machine it is today. The league was still struggling for fans and respect. So, after an unsuccessful 1951 season, New York Yanks owner Ted Collins decided that—after eight years of losing money—he’d sell his team back to the NFL. In January of 1952, a Dallas-based group led by a pair of young millionaires, Giles Miller and his brother, Connell, bought what was ostensibly a new franchise from the NFL—the first-ever major league team based in Texas.

At the time, Texas was totally dominated by college football, so there were a lot of skeptics when the team scheduled their first game in the 75,000 seat Cotton Bowl. As it turned out, the skeptics were right; in their brief stay in Dallas, the largest crowd the Texans managed to draw was 17,499 curious spectators on opening day.

1952 Texans uniform guide - courtesy NFL
Things got worse with each following week. With five games remaining and the Texans unable to meet their payroll, Miller was forced to return the franchise to the league. The NFL operated the team for the remainder of the season. Of the final three games, two were hosted by the Philadelphia Eagles and the Detroit Lions—this got the league off the hook as far as finding a place to play for the vagabond team. But what to do about the third and last game?

So the NFL decided that Akron would play host for Dallas’ last “home” game, serving as the second half of a special Thanksgiving double-header.

Can’t miss, right? The first game, a traditional high school matchup played between East and South was certainly a success, with East winning 26-19. NFL legend Art Donovan, who with fellow Texan team member Gino Marchetti would later be inducted into the Hall of Fame as Baltimore Colts, remembered the day well:

“In the morning they had a high school football game and they must have had about 20,000 people in the stands. When we went to warm up, there must have been about 3,000 people in the stands.”

In fact, Texans coach Jimmy Phelan thought there were so few fans in the stadium that he laughingly suggested the team should just “dispense with the usual introductions and just go into the stands and shake hands with each fan.”

As bad as it sounds, it wasn’t all bad.

In fact, the game at the Rubber Bowl turned out to be the only victory in franchise history. Chicago coach George Halas was so sure of winning, he started his second stringers. As a result, the Texans jumped out to a quick 20–2 lead and then managed to hang on for a 27–23 victory.

The Texans went on to lose their final game. The NFL was unable to find a buyer for them and folded the team right after the season ended.

Just a few months later, the league granted a new franchise—and all the remaining assets of the Texans (including the players)—to Baltimore-based group headed by Carroll Rosenbloom. Though it makes sense to argue that Rosenbloom just bought the Texans and moved them to Baltimore to become the Colts, that’s not how the Colts (who are now in Indianapolis) or the NFL see it.

Both see the 1953 Colts as an all-new expansion team. Because of this, the Texans officially remain the last NFL team to permanently cease operations and not be included in the lineage of any current team.

But they were Akron’s team—for a day.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Akron's "Other" Brewer: The George Renner Brewing Company

Everyone in Akron has heard of Burkhardt’s Brewery; located on Grant Street in Wolf Ledges, it is currently home to two current Akron breweries, Thirsty Dog and Aqueduct, who share space at the cavernous old brick building.

Up until recently, the former Akron Brewing Company, too, was highly visible—its large brick edifice overlooking the westbound lanes of I-77 where it crossed Broadway. Sadly, the building has recently been demolished due to reconstruction of the exit ramps there, near South Main St.

For the most part, only area brewers, long-time residents and brewerania collectors are familiar with Akron’s other major brewer, the George Renner Brewing Company, whose plant and ice house was located on North Forge St., just west of North Arlington, near Adams St. The facility is still there, spanning both sides of North Forge; most impressive is the ornate brick 1880’s-era boiler and bottling house on the north side of the street.

Renner's old brewery buildings still stand on North Forge St.
Born in Germany in 1835, George Renner was among a number of German immigrants who settled in the area during the 1800’s. He came with his parents to Cincinnati in 1849, where he learned the brewing business, then moved to Wooster in 1882, where he opened his first brewery. He stayed there for about four years, opened a brewery in Mansfield in 1886, and finally settled in Akron in 1888.

Old Cockney Ale. Seems highly sessionable, with only 3.2% " ABV. You can drink a LOT.
In Akron, he purchased an old brewery on N. Forge and began making substantial improvements and continued to enlarge the facilities. Soon, Renner’s operation became one of the largest breweries in Ohio, selling over 30,000 barrels annually with a capacity of over 50,000 by 1910.

Through the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Renner produced a wide range of popular beers, like the popular Grossvater (Grandfather), Old German, Lucky Shoe, Old Cockney Ale, Half and Half and Souvenir Bock. The Prohibition era was a tough time for all of Akron’s breweries. When it finally ended at 12:01 A.M., on April 7, 1933, a crowd of 2,000 people waited in line outside Renner's brewery in a cold rain to purchase some of the 5,000 cases of their Grossvater  brand beer that were available at $3.25 per case. By noon the next  day, 10,000 cases had been sold at the brewery and through  shipments all over northeast Ohio and western Pennsylvania.

Today, Brewerania collectors seek out old bottles, cans, labels and crates featuring this venerable old brewery’s name and products. Renner’s son, George Jr. was a successful brewer in his own right, moving to Youngstown and opening a very successful brewery there, marketing many of the same brands as the Akron plant.