Ancestral oaks and maples spread their limbs over the neighborhoods of Ward 1. The sun shining through the leaves creates soft dancing shadows on the sidewalks and a warm glowing haze over the century homes that line the streets one after the other. The buzz of cars passing on the busy streets on either side of the neighborhood blocks, build a background hum that reminds those walking on the streets or sitting on their porch that Sheetz and the Fairchild Avenue bridge are just a little ways up North Mantua Street, even if the sprawling trees cover the view.
Up through the middle of Ward 1, between Majors Lane and North Mantua Street, these historical 1800 century and early 1900 century homes are prominent, capped off by Stanton Middle School and Theodore Roosevelt HS at the top of Ward 1.
To the left and right of the middle and high school, Ward 1 is about 3 miles across, expanding into increasingly affluent and vast neighborhoods built in the last two decades. Parks, athletic fields and Forest Lake Wildlife Preserve are scattered throughout the 3 miles providing green-scapes and walking trails for nearby neighbors and Kent residents.
“I would call it primarily residential, but then you’ve got this commercial area right here that’s bordering downtown,” said Ward 1’s Councilman Garret Ferrara, pointing out Ward 1’s southern border along West Main. “It’s an eclectic mix of the newer homes out in Forest Lakes and there’s some rental properties and multi housing units over by Standing Rock. It’s a nice mix that kind of epitomizes Kent in and of itself in that you have a full gamut of people and housing options for them.”
With a growing wealthy community in the upper left and right corners of the ward boundaries, Ward 1 is a blend of century-old postage size yards partnered with ancient 100 foot trees and newly landscaped million dollar homes with sprawling clean cut lawns. Historical and contemporary, Ward 1 positions socioeconomic boundaries right next to each other. Modern affluent neighborhoods worth $350,000 plus butt up against old established homes that sell for $100,000, placing varying socioeconomic statuses within close range of each other.
“One of the things I love about teaching in Kent is the diversity, whether it be socioeconomic, but also racially. It’s just a really welcoming community, as far as teachers go, and I think it’s a great place to work,” said Chris Gibbs, a teacher of 18 years at Franklin Roosevelt HS.
The city of Kent has a median annual household income of $32,993 and the largest shares of homes are worth $125,000, according to Data USA.
“Kent is a community that has always valued education. I think we’re either the only district or maybe there’s one other district in all of Ohio that has never failed a school levy, which is really amazing when you think about the demographics of Kent,” Gibbs said. “You wouldn’t expect that because we’re not one of the richer districts.”
Although over 78% of Kent’s residents are white, residents comment on their love of the diversity and friendliness of the community. Gibbs and some residents of Ward 1 attribute the diversity of Kent to Kent State University cultivating a respect for teachers and education and welcoming students of all backgrounds.
The university also contributes to the political climate of Kent’s schools according to Gibbs observations.
“It’s been my experience that the majority of our kids are fairly liberal and again I think that’s partially because of the university. I think typically we’re one city in Portage County that tends to vote blue,” Gibbs said.
The city of Kent overall tends to be evenly split between blue or red political beliefs. In the 2016 election, 54% of Kent residents voted along Republican lines and 46% along Democratic lines, according to Data USA.
“I think Kent is more of a liberal city, so we would fall more conservative because we follow the Bible, but we have both sides and people can be very polar in their thinking,” said Maggie Kirbabas, the Connections Coordinator at Riverwood Chapel located in the upper left corner of Ward 1 (see map).
Kirbabas has lived in a neighborhood behind Riverwood Chapel for 18 years with her children and foster kids. Over the past two decades she has witnessed Riverside’s political and racial diversity expand.
“When I first came here almost 20 years ago it was very different. We were all very similar, very white, but now Riverwood is much more multicultural,” Kirbabas said.
Ward 1’s neighbors and neighborhoods
While the neighborhoods make up the geographical boundaries of Ward 1, the neighbors make up the demographic of the area.
In the Forest Lake neighborhood and the one behind Standing Rock Cemetery, residents commented on their everyday life living in Ward 1.
“I’ve been here about four years and I knew this was going to be something nice. The people are just fabulous here,” said Bob Corall, a resident of the neighborhood behind Standing Rock. “Everybody comes from a diverse background; we all get along. A neighbor just had his daughter’s wedding and I went to the daughter’s wedding. People on the path will stop and talk and telling me about their day, and it’s like living in a park.”
Since the city would not fulfill the residents request of repainting the bridge that leads into area, Corall said the neighbors got together and did it themselves.
“We came together and did it,” Corall said. “That’s the kind of neighborhood it is.”
While Corall’s positive feedback expressed the general feeling of the neighborhood as a whole, there are still some problems the residents have run into.
One of these issues was a possible traffic light at the intersection of River Bend Boulevard and North Mantua Street, said Bill Cox, another resident of the neighborhood behind Standing Rock.
“If somebody comes to the road, I can see it trigger the light on and switching it,” Cox said.
Surrounding Forest Lake Wildlife Preserve, the Forest Lake neighborhood holds residents who have the same positive reactions.
“There’s a lot of kids in the neighborhood,” said Dwayne Ward, a resident of Forest Lake. “We have two kids, so they have other kids to play with at a playground up the street. It makes it nice.”
Ward and his family moved to the neighborhood in Dec. 2020. One of the main reasons for the move was the school district for his two young kids, he said.
Down the street, another couple said they also moved to the neighborhood because of the location.
“The convenience is great,” said Kathleen Nagle, a Forest Lake resident. “All the stores around us and the healthcare. We’re close to everything.”
Small businesses and organizations encourage community
Just as Nagle was saying, Ward 1 has many stores, organizations and other businesses located in convenient areas for the residents.
Riverwood Chapel is one of the largest churches in Kent and the largest in Ward 1 in both membership and building size. As one of the bigger churches, Riverwood puts a lot of effort and resources into local outreach and community building through events, food pantries, and mental health counseling.
“We did an event called Summer Together that is a mix between outreach and a community event because we had felt that togetherness was lacking. We welcomed people for free and feed them dinner. We rented inflatables for the kids,” Kirbabas said. “ It was bringing people together not only from Riverwood but the community. We’ve never seen so many non-Riverwood people in the halls before.”
Ward 1’s latest addition is the Bell Tower Brewery, located on Park Ave. The brewery, which is set to open in late Oct. or early Nov., is in an old an old church (hence the name, Bell Tower Brewery).
The owner of the brewery, Ryan Tipton, and his team had to do a number of things to be able to open the business in Ward 1. Since they will be manufacturing their own beer, Tipton had to obtain a manufacturing license.
The precinct the brewery is located in is dry, meaning they can not sell any alcohol they do not produce themselves. To combat this problem, Tipton and his team went door to door in the Ward and collected signatures from the residents to ultimately obtain a liquor license.
“We had to petition Ward 1 to get their permission to even put an issue on the ballot,” Tipton said. Our issue was on the ballot last November. 85% of the voting population in the neighborhood said they want to put the issue on the ballot. Everything voted yes.”
The brewery is located across the river from other bars and restaurants such as Taco Tontos and Ray’s Place, both of which are included in the Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA). Bell Tower brewery may be included in this special area.
“They first request to be in the Dora,” said Garret Ferrara, the councilman for Ward 1. “Council votes on it, whether to approve it or not. Dora itself is approved by council, so it’s not put in the charter or codified ordinances or anything like that.”
If the brewery is to be included, Ferrara said the new boundary would extend across the bridge on West Exchange Street and would surround Bell Tower Brewery. This issue is currently working its way through city council.
“There was a little bit of an issue with this being Bell Tower, and the vote to allow liquor license in a dry precinct,” Ferrara said. “But the Tipton’s did a great job of going out, walking the community and getting signatures. I have yet to hear any negative about it.”
The neighbors feelings about the brewery encapsulate the general feeling of the ward, Ferrara said. They realized the economic benefit and the neighborhood charm of the new business.