It’s one of our city’s primary mixed-use thoroughfares, home to everything from the post office to the BMV, with light industry and office space throughout. It lies on the western edge of University Park, skirting the downtown region as it heads toward South Akron. Wolf Ledges Parkway is a part of Akron’s economic engine, and though some of its properties are vacant or under-utilized, it contributes to the vitality of the neighborhood. But it’s not exactly what you’d call picturesque.
If you’re like me, you’ve wondered about that. How did Wolf Ledges get such an exotic, evocative name? Where are the wolves? Where are the ledges?
Like many things in life, idle curiosities can remain idle until you do a little digging, or until you speak with the right person. In my case, the right person was Bob Haag, local historian and trustee of the Archaeological Society of Ohio. One day this spring he revealed an entire lost history to me with an offhand comment.
“There actually was a gorge,” Bob said. “A beautiful park.” He explained that this was in the days before the rubber industry, roughly from the late nineteenth century to the time of the First World War. “Then with the desperate need for housing, it was filled in. What a loss.”
The history of Wolf Ledges is, in every sense of the word, buried. Somewhere deep beneath the asphalt and cement, there’s an old meandering stream, which was once known as Wolf Run. It was named by families with familiar names like Spicer and Balch, who hunted wolves, as well as deer and bears, all throughout the area.
The ledge itself is down there too — a jagged sandstone ravine, plunging as deep as 30 feet in places. It ran a course roughly perpendicular to the present-day parkway, from the area of Exchange Street westward to the edge of the Ohio and Erie Canal.
The Wolf Ledge (it became mysteriously pluralized only later; no one is quite sure how or why) was an Akron landmark, a recreation center and even a quarry, supplying much of the stone building material for the city’s early development.
Our primary historical source for this story — and it might actually be the only extant source — is a privately printed booklet dating from 1950, “The Old Wolf Ledge,” by C. R. Quine.
Quine was born in the Wolf Ledge neighborhood in 1889 and spent his first 25 years there. He fondly recalls picnics and bonfires under the rock ledges, and reports that sometime just before the turn of the century, he and another boy captured a live ‘possum in the ravine, which they traded for “about six hundred tin plug tobacco tags.”
As Quine tells it, Wolf Run and its gorge was the focal point for a community of mostly working-class German immigrants who fished and waded in the stream and ice-skated on the ponds and swamps that drained into it.
But over the decades it was also the scene of accident and tragedy, from a pastured cow that wandered to the cliff edge and fell into the ravine to a run-away baby carriage that likewise plunged over the ledge near Sumner Street in about 1888. (Quine details the ensuing recovery effort. There was not a happy ending.)
Around the turn of the century, the local population grew and became more ethnically diverse. As the rubber industry came into its own, property development in the area became a priority. Between 1915 and 1917, City Council passed a series of measures to first reinforce Wolf Run’s streambed with concrete and later encase it entirely in clay piping. It was eventually incorporated into the storm-sewer system and disappeared from sight.
In 1921, the city purchased the land on both sides of the ledge. By June of that year, a seemingly endless parade of trucks began dumping fill material into the ravine. After several months it was completely buried, the ground was leveled, and construction began on road extensions and new homes.
Today you might notice dips and depressions in the road on Wolf Ledges Parkway near Thornton Street, or due east from there on Sumner Street and Allyn Street. You can visit a small, vestigial ridgeline along the south end of Boss Park, just a couple blocks east of the Parkway, near Cross Street. These are the only reminders left to us of old Wolf Ledge, a natural wonder.
Unlike so many lost wonders, however, this one is still there — hidden from us, deep underground.
And although none of us are likely to see it, we can imagine that shovels and backhoes, or even erosion and slow tectonic forces, might someday bring it back to the surface, and the old Wolf Ledge might once again see the light of day.
Pat Worden is a lifelong Akron resident. He’s on the hunt for the city’s lost lore.