words by Mark Schweitzer, photos by Charlotte Gintert
You might think that after 107 years, the brick walls of Viall Lodge would be darkened with soot, as it stands so close to the former Goodyear Tire factory across the street. Yet the building’s hard red brick and well-formed stonework still look pretty good, making the lodge an attractive and welcoming landmark at the entrance of East Akron Cemetery.
Set back under the shade of some large and very old trees, the lodge was named in honor of John F. Viall, whose family came to the area in 1830 and settled in what is now Middlebury. After spending time learning the cabinet-maker’s trade, he turned his newfound skills toward building coffins and became one of the area’s more successful undertakers. (Perhaps you can see a pattern developing here.)
So, it made sense that Viall became secretary of the Middlebury Cemetery Association, which decided that a new cemetery was needed to service the east side of town. The original half-acre Middlebury Cemetery, located on Newton Street, was the city’s oldest, dating from 1808. By 1850 it was almost full. Local leaders decided to establish the new 13-acre East Akron Cemetery on top of a high bluff about a third of a mile south of the older burial ground.
East Akron Cemetery was highly popular, and the graves of a number of notable Akronites can be found there, with family names like Robinson (clay products), Saalfield (publishing), Barber (father of O.C., the founder of Barberton) and many others.
By 1912, the cemetery was well-established, and the association decided that a new superintendent’s home and office was needed. With Viall having passed in 1899, the new building was named to honor his legacy, and as a result, “Viall Lodge” and “1912” were prominently chiseled into a stone shield that still appears on the building’s facade.
The lodge is built in a Tudor revival style, with some Jacobethan elements worked into the well-tailored exterior. The two-and-a-half-story house has an almost symmetrical three-bay front, featuring a high, pedimented gable, a tall chimney and a prominent entrance porch.
Much of the exterior is trimmed in an attractive buff-colored stone, which appears around the windows and also caps the narrow corner-buttresses found on the front elevation. The same stone is used in the eight carved shields, which are inlaid into the exterior brickwork around the house.
One of the most pleasing features of the building is the large porte-cochere, or covered entryway, located on the east side, supported by two massive brick piers and expressing its Tudor flavor with vertical open timberwork. This would have been very convenient during inclement weather.
The building’s architect was J. Adam Fichter. A 1910 listing in The American Architect notes that he had won a contract to design a new theater in Cuyahoga Falls, but beyond that, little is known about his career or other buildings he designed.
The lodge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. At the time the National Register nomination form was completed, the researchers noted that the interior, including oak doors, staircase and fireplace mantel, was essentially intact — though some interior walls had succumbed to that 1960s-70s scourge of cheap wall paneling.
The lodge remains as a stately reminder of the time just before its neighborhood was quickly transforming into a commercial and industrial hub. By the 1940s, the huge Goodyear factory and offices dominated the other side of Market Street, and the cemetery itself was bookended by a solid stretch of retail buildings, hotels and theaters running from Case Avenue to Goodyear Boulevard.
Today, only the lodge and its next-door neighbor, a former executive parking garage, remain — all the other buildings on this stretch of the street have long disappeared, as has a large part of the old factory. Somehow it seems fitting that the cemetery and its occupants can now rest in a quieter setting.
Mark Schweitzer is a lifelong Akron resident and proud of it. Speak ill of his hometown and he will fight you. Or at least sic one of his fat, lazy cats on you.