Mantua’s historical township center has moved a vital step closer to being preserved and protected for posterity.
The Ohio Historical Preservation Office announced it has agreed to double the size of the existing historic district to cover more buildings and cemeteries around the township’s central crossroads.
Resident Lynn Harvey, who helped spearhead the initiative to expand the area, said she was delighted with the news and looks forward to the final step in October, when she anticipates the National Park Service designating key buildings to join the National Register of Historic Places.
“Mantua’s township center is a throwback to the way townships developed when people came out here from New England, as there was cheap land on offer. If you were a pioneer and came and settled it you could have cheap land and this became the Western Reserve,” she said. “Our center is a throwback into time and still looks like a crossroads would have then.”
These first non-indigenous settlers set up the village green with buildings around it, two churches and a town hall.
“All the buildings go back to the 1830s and ‘40s, and they are still here and still look as they did then, with the traditional architecture,” Harvey said. “On the other side are wonderful old houses going back to the 1840s.”
She said some of the area has been under a protection order, but previous attempts to expand it came to nothing until proposals from the Ohio Department of Transport proposed replacing the township crossroads with a roundabout.
“Every now and then people think whatever is old needs to be replaced with a modern structure of glass or aluminum or residential building and destroy the historic value of a building that has been there a long time,” she said.
Harvey said there are three buildings already on the National Register of Historic Places from 50 years ago, which has since been joined by the 1914 elementary school.
“What triggered all this is that about three acres was protected, but there are two old cemeteries and other wonderful old houses that were without any form of protection,” she said. “Ohio wanted to put in a roundabout at the intersection of state Route 82 and Mantua Road. That would have destroyed the township center, the green and the homes. It would have been a disaster.”
Using her experience as a member of the township zoning board, she rallied support from the trustees to expand the historic district.
With the help of the historic preservation consulting firm Naylor Wellman, they developed a plan to more than double the size of the historic district.
“Sure enough, ODOT pulled their plans for the roundabout, and we now have a four-way stop. It was a very dangerous intersection with a lot of crashes so no one was arguing that we shouldn’t do anything, but a roundabout wasn’t the answer,” Harvey said. “Mantua is one of the last intact examples of what is being called an Early 19th Century Rural Crossroads Township Community, dating between 1822 and 1914.”
The Ohio Historic Site Preservation Advisory Board approved Mantua Township’s plan unanimously.
“We’re not across the finish line,” she said. “We have one more hurdle to get onto the national register. We anticipate it will go ahead as it has been smooth so far and I don’t think the National Park Service will shoot it down.”
Harvey said it is important to preserve old buildings appropriately.
“These are wooden structures. They are 150 years old, and the value is that they look old,” she said. “It doesn’t mean they have to go to ruin, but they do have to be maintained. You can put modern things like siding on them, but it is not the same old integrity that was put up by those pioneers.”
She added: “Mantua is a delightful area. Other townships have some historic buildings, but I cannot think of another place that is as authentic as here. It is remarkably intact, and we want to make sure it stays that way.”