Aurora History: Where is Downtown Aurora?
By John Kudley Jr.
As you walk through “Downtown,” have you ever taken the time to gaze at Aurora’s “Green Village,” the grassy area in front of Aurora Church and City Hall? Or are you too busy focusing on the traffic lights at the Y intersection of Route 306 and Route 43, trying to avoid cars that suddenly swerve in front of you because they’re in the wrong northbound lane on Route 306. Certainly, visitors to Aurora, or those just passing through, will not have realized they had just passed through “downtown” Aurora.
The heart of many New England colonial villages was the town square, around which were small shops and homes. A focal point in the square was the meeting house. Built in the traditional New England style, it served as a unifying factor within the community, not only as a place of worship but also as a political gathering. Originally, the square was a common area in which animals were often allowed to graze. The village square was also a community gathering place. The land was either designated at the time of foundation for such use or was given to the community by a wealthy landowner. This pattern of settlement was replicated when settlers moved to Western Reserve land after the American Revolution.
The New England-style “village green” and “town square” can be seen by car through many communities on Ohio’s Western Reservation. Twinsburg (founded in 1817) and Hudson (founded in 1802) are two examples of towns built around a common open space. Founded in 1799, Aurora’s early settlers brought with them the tradition of a deep faith in God and a strong work ethic as they moved from New England into the wilderness. What they failed to replicate was community cohesion.
Aurora was created by the Cuyahoga and Big Beaver Land Company, which purchased the land in a lottery after the Revolution. Most of the land was sold to large landowners such as the Sheldons, Egglestons, Harmons, Hurds, Bissells and Kennedys who in turn sold plots to other families and businessmen. business. As a result, Aurora’s commercial development was dispersed throughout the village. Socioeconomic differences between segments of the community have also led to the lack of a central “downtown” and the absence of a sense of community.
A 1910 photo of the center of Aurora shows the Congregational Church in the center flanked by the village town hall on the left and the central school on the right. The “public land” was given to the village by Samuel Forward and his wife on the condition that it have a permanent bench in the front row of the meeting house. The area in front of the church was called the “green village”. There is no record of the ‘green’ ever being used to graze animals and the first historical reference to there being a major community event was the Bigelow Riot of 1835 over the division of the community on the abolition of slavery. Aurora’s 1899 Centennial Celebration and 1949 Sesquicentennial Celebration were held on the lawn.
Additionally, Aurora’s “green” does not meet the definition of a downtown as previously described. The Forward Tavern (1815 Tavern), the few shops to the south along South Chillicothe, and the houses in the central historic district do not fit the description of a “public square”. So the question remains, why doesn’t Aurora have a downtown?
Prior to 1958, there were two political entities that governed Aurora. At the center of the 5 square mile area that included Aurora was Aurora Village. The area surrounding the village was Aurora Township. The village annexed the township in 1958. It was a difficult annexation and several attempts were made by segments of the community to “secession”. Farmers in the southern part of Aurora felt that their needs and concerns were not taken into account and that it was better to govern themselves. For example, when they felt that their roads should not be plowed in the winter or repaired in the spring, they took it upon themselves to fix the problems. A group also attempted to secede from part of Geauga Lake along Highway 43, including the park, township, and later village after the area was annexed. Although each attempt made its way through the legal system, the courts rejected each attempt. The discord between those engaged in farming in the township and the wealthier merchants who lived in the Aurora center is also evidenced by the fact that many called Maple Lane “Snoot Alley”, as they felt that those who lived in the area had contempt. for those they considered to be of lower social status.
As the community of Aurora grew, four distinct areas developed as centers of social and economic development, each with its own character. In the center of the village was “Aurora Center”, distinguished by the three buildings that stood on a small rise where Route 43 and Route 306 converge. were the town hall, the Congregationalist church and the central school house. There were several small traders to the south along South Chillicothe Road, the Harmon & Sons store being the main traders. There was also the Harmon Cheese Warehouse, now the Secret Garden, and a doctor’s office in what is Mad Jack. Just a short walk north on South Chillicothe Road were two of Aurora’s wealthiest families, the Eldridges and the Hurds, who built their homes, vying for grandeur.
Located on East Garfield, in the area of the railway tracks, was Aurora’s main commercial and “industrial” center, where Frank Treat and AB Hurd operated their stores. It was the site of a cheese factory, a cabinet and furniture maker, a blacksmith, a wagon maker, a sawmill and a luthier. It was from the Aurora Station that cheese produced in Aurora and surrounding communities was shipped to markets in Ohio, nationwide and overseas. While some of the artisans lived in the area, many had homes elsewhere in Aurora. It is also important to note that many of the people who lived east of the station and north along Eggleston Road socialized more with the Bainbridge community than with Aurora.
During Aurora’s early history, Centerville Mills was also a center of economic activity with a flour mill, sawmill, blacksmith shop, and rake factory. However, its economic activity was eclipsed by the station area and with the closure of the mill at the turn of the 20th century it lost importance. Due to its proximity to Bainbridge, those who lived and worked in the area had social contact with Bainbridge and Aurora.
In the northwest corner of Aurora was Lake Geauga. The community first developed here as a collection of small summer cottages frequented by those visiting Giles Pond, better known as Geauga Lake. The area’s first economic development centered around supporting a small “picnic lake park” and by the late 1800s it had grown into a thriving amusement park. The business district along Route 43 had small businesses in support of the park as well as seven bars that dotted the East Boulevard area at the Solon town limits. During the Great Depression and after World War II many small cottages were converted to year-round homes and the construction of a community church replaced the lakeside services held by the church’s Reverend David Pearson Aurora Congregationalist.
So when you’re driving past the Aurora Church or stuck in the morning with school buses and commuter traffic along Highway 43 and waiting for the lights to change at the corner of Pioneer Trail, remember you that you are in “Aurora’s Town”. Center.” Within walking distance are schools, a church, the city government center, parks, restaurants, a music school, a library, and Aurora’s “best kept secret,” The Aurora Historical Society & Museum.Although Aurora doesn’t physically have a scenic place in New England, those who live in Aurora will brag that Aurora has that “small town” community feeling.
Printed with permission from the Aurora Historical Society, which retains rights to all content and photos.