With the recent announcement that Macy’s and three other significant stores will be pulling out of Chapel Hill Mall, lots of folks are concerned that the Chapel Hill of tomorrow will be a shadow of what it is today — and but a tiny sliver of the thriving mall Akronites knew in the good old days.
Then again, the term “good old days” is relative.
For Cuyahoga Falls resident Bob Harvey, 66, those days predate the mall.
Before Macy’s replaced Kaufmann’s, before Kaufmann’s replaced May Co., before May Co. replaced O’Neil’s, before the mall opened in 1967, a young Bob Harvey picked berries on the big hill that was then an idle farm.
Harvey’s dad would drive him and his sisters from their home on Bailey Road to the 187-acre tract owned by J.J. Buchholzer and his son, Richard, who eventually developed the mall on a big chunk of the land the family had gradually accumulated.
J.J. believed the city of Akron would grow most rapidly to the north because a water treaty prevented the city from peddling its water to southern parts of Summit County. He was right.
According to Beacon Journal archives, the roots of the mall’s name extend all the way back to the 1930s, when Richard was in his teens. As he was roaming the property with his .22 rifle, as he often did, he discovered what his Boy Scout training told him was an Indian council circle — their version of a chapel.
Fast-forward to 1960, the year J.J. Buchholzer died. That’s when Cuyahoga Falls resident Harvey was making his berry-picking sojourns. Safe to say the place looked a little different in those days.
“There was a tumbled-down barn with a Mail Pouch advertisement on the side,” Harvey recalls.
He also remembers coming across a tombstone where a parking lot is today. For decades, he has wondered whether the remains were relocated or the stone was simply plowed under.
The ground under Chapel Hill has held plenty of surprises.
“Brittain Road used to be really steep, coming off Howe Road,” Harvey says. “When they were regrading it, they cut into the mine.”
The mine reared its ugly head again in 1988, when Tallmadge city workers were checking on a collapsed sewer line on West Avenue near Brittain Road. They discovered a coal shaft only 10 feet below the surface.
In his berry-picking days, Harvey attended Crawford Elementary School, at Second and Tifft streets in the Falls. The school no longer exists.
“Most of my childhood has disappeared,” he says.
Know the feeling.
Harvey is a retired handyman who spent a good chunk of his life in Colorado before coming home.
As a young man in Akron, before joining the Army, he spent time in a job few of us would envy.
“I helped build the bridges on the interstate system, including the one where [Interstate] 271 goes across the Cuyahoga River. They got built about two years before the highway ever got to them.
“It was fun — 120 feet above the river. In those days, there were no tethers, no safety nets, nothing. You were just careful. Nobody fell off, because we knew we were gonna die.
“It was so high that if you dropped a hammer it disappeared into the ground. You had to talk to a guy on the walkie-talkie and tell him where you thought it went. I’m not exaggerating.”
Ah, yes. Loved those good old days.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or email@example.com. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31