Mark J. Price
Time used to tick more slowly than it does today. Life meandered at a reasonable gait, allowing people to keep pace without suffering palpitations.
Somewhere at the dawn of the 20th century, though, the world began to twirl faster. Society shifted into a higher gear. Those who couldn’t quicken their step soon fell behind.
Cynthia B. Foltz tried her best to keep up. She marveled at each modern convenience, but she couldn’t forget the past. The Akron woman was locally famous in the 1930s by virtue of her advanced years. After Foltz entered her late 80s, reporters flocked to her doorstep every birthday to record her recollections and impart her wisdom.
“Seated in a big armchair, Mrs. Foltz, who has hundreds of friends among the older people of the city, told her life story,” Akron Times-Press reporter John A. Botzum wrote in a 1929 story about the 89th birthday. “Often I wished I was an artist that I might paint her picture. Often I wished I knew how to even put it adequately in words.”
Older people were an endless source of fascination for newspapers because of the remarkable transformations they had witnessed, including the advent of electric lighting, indoor plumbing, telephones, automobiles, refrigerators, washing machines, airplanes and radios.
“In my time, I have seen many changes, but changes are to be expected,” Foltz said. “It is the way of life.”
Cynthia Bell Hughes was born Nov. 27, 1838, in rural Dalton in Wayne County. One of her earliest memories was watching students play outside a little schoolhouse at the top of a hill. She wasn’t old enough to go to class.
“They threw a ball over the schoolhouse and once it went clear down the hill,” she recalled. “It’s funny why I should remember things like that.”
At age 23, she married Hiram H. Foltz in March 1862. Five months later, Foltz and his four brothers enlisted in the Union Army on the same day and marched off to battle in the Civil War.
The newlywed wife worried about her soldier in the 102nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. It wasn’t long before news arrived that Hiram was deathly ill in a southern hospital. Without thinking twice, Cynthia Foltz rushed to Kentucky to nurse her husband back to health and accompanied him to a Tennessee hospital as the troops moved onward.
“Yes, I met and shook hands with Grant and Sherman,” she recalled. “They were very kind. I also met and shook hands with Gov. Johnson at Nashville. He became president when Lincoln died.”
All five Foltz brothers returned safely to Ohio after the war. Hiram and Cynthia Foltz moved to Akron in 1866 when the village’s population was a mere 9,500 and lived in a little frame building at Howard and Mill streets — near the site of today’s FirstMerit Tower downtown.
“The old race running down to the old Stone Mill passed right beneath our window,” Foltz noted. “I don’t believe there were over three or four houses at that time on Main Street between Mill and Market.”
There were few people on the streets in those years. Late one evening, a window closed on Foltz’s hand and she had to call for help for nearly an hour before anyone arrived.
Another night, a building went up in flames and the fire department arrived with hand pumps. A firefighter came to the Foltz house to borrow grease and rags, and Cynthia Foltz ended up making coffee for the entire squadron.
Hiram Foltz worked as a carriage painter and later became collector of taxes and tolls on the Ohio & Erie Canal. He served as chairman of the Summit County Republican Party, director of the Summit County Agricultural Society and was a member of the Akron Board of Education.
When he died in 1899, his widow was granted a monthly pension of $12. He left behind two children: Minnie and Harry.
Cynthia Foltz busied herself with activities at High Street Church of Christ and the Women’s Relief Corps. She attended social affairs, made candles and took her knitting when she left home.
Reading was one of her many passions.
“The Bible is the greatest book in all the world,” she declared.
Foltz looked like a typical grandmother of yesteryear with round glasses, gray hair, wrinkled face, buttoned-up dress and cameo collar. Sprightly and playful, she tried to maintain a cheerful disposition throughout life’s setbacks.
“What’s the use in worrying?” she would say. “We might as well laugh as weep.”
She saw Akron transform from a sleepy town into an industrial giant. She welcomed the arrival of the automobile, gaped at the first airplane, won the right to vote and tuned in to early radio.
“How wonderful things are today,” she said.
As she got older, Foltz moved in with her son and daughter-in-law at 1073 East Ave. and regaled visitors with stories of the hoop-skirt era.
“When I came to Akron, we used to see the women parading up and down the streets dragging behind them long trains,” she told a reporter in the 1930s. “I don’t think we want them now, although it does look as if the women now have gone to the extreme in many ways.”
During a family celebration of her 95th birthday, Foltz beamed: “Tell all my friends, who may be remembering me, that I thank them. I am glad to have lived so many years and to have enjoyed such good health.”
Cynthia Foltz never had a serious illness. She hoped to live to 100, but fell three years short. At age 97, the great-great-grandmother suffered a stroke and died one week later on May 19, 1936. She was buried next to her husband at Mount Peace Cemetery.
Akron, a bustling city of more than 255,000, lost its oldest resident.
A Beacon Journal reporter once asked the nonagenarian: “What do you recommend for a happy life?”
“A useful life,” she replied. “One filled with a nice home, friends, children, memories. A happy one — dancing and gayety.”
By that reckoning alone, she most certainly succeeded.
Copy editor Mark J. Price is author of The Rest Is History: True Tales From Akron’s Vibrant Past, a book from the University of Akron Press. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or firstname.lastname@example.org.