CUYAHOGA FALLS: As the city celebrates its 200th birthday, it’s natural to reflect on how it has evolved over the years.
We asked local officials and historians to identify 10 moments when the city’s path was irrevocably altered, for better or worse.
The first five, which ranged from the decision of local Indians to leave the land in 1812 through the granting of cityhood in 1920, were published Friday.
Today’s final installment takes a look at five more modern milestones — events that longtime residents would have experienced in their lifetime.
We begin with No. 6:
1947-57: Residential boom
In the years after World War II, Cuyahoga Falls faced its own invasion.
Real-estate developer Ray Heslop built nearly 1,000 homes and apartments in the city to woo returning soldiers.
“Homes were modestly priced and young families flocked to these neighborhoods, where tricycles lined the sidewalks,” author Carolyn Vogenitz wrote in her book Cuyahoga Falls Then & Now.
By 1960, the city’s population had swelled to 48,000 from the pre-war census of 20,000.
As a result, despite being the second-largest city in a highly industrialized Summit County, Cuyahoga Falls turned from its industrial roots to become a largely residential community.
7. 1972: State Route 8.
Slicing through Cuyahoga Falls, state Route 8 was one of the original state highways in Ohio, and the section that opened between Front Street and Stow in 1972 changed the face of the city.
And not all for the better.
The city’s main business artery, State Road, had been a popular destination for consumers and visitors in the 1950s and ’60s.
When nearby Chapel Hill Mall opened in 1967, State Road business owners began suffering, and the expressway landed a decisive punch.
“It altered people’s driving habits, and that altered the shopping experience,” said Sue Truby, the city’s development director.
As stores and restaurants sought to be closer to the expressway, the area off the Howe Road ramp exploded into one of the area’s biggest retail meccas.
Today, state Route 8 continues to influence city development. An interchange that opened at Seasons Road in 2010 motivated Cuyahoga Falls to join with neighbors Stow and Hudson in the first multicity partnership of its kind to make the most of the underdeveloped land in that area.
8. 1978: Downtown dies
In the 1960s and ’70s, the rise of shopping malls like Chapel Hill led to the decline of central business districts all across America. In Cuyahoga Falls, the city’s main thoroughfare, Front Street, paid the price, losing department stores and restaurants.
In 1978, when the federal government offered financial help through its urban renewal program, Cuyahoga Falls used its share to close Front Street and turn it into a pedestrian mall.
Truby, the development director, wishes the city hadn’t.
“If I could go back in time, I would have taken that federal money to improve it but not close it,” she said. “Initially, it seemed like a great idea, but it was really detrimental to our downtown area.”
Because it is closed to traffic, Front Street has been a perfect spot to host many popular festivals, along with the city’s Rockin’ on the River music series each summer.
But officials say their efforts to bring business back to Front Street have mostly been a failure, “and every Realtor will tell you it’s because that street is closed,” Truby said.
9. 1985: Township merger
After the housing boom that followed World War II, the Falls was filled with small homes on small lots — something that had served its purpose but proved to be problematic as suburban migration kicked into high gear.
Cuyahoga Falls was desperate for land that would suit larger housing developments, offering growing families a chance to move up without moving out of town.
In 1985, the city found its answer by merging with rural Northampton Township, tripling the city’s physical size. It was the first time in Ohio that a city had merged with a township.
“It was hugely significant for us,” said Mayor Don Robart, who was on the merger study commission. Without the township, “we would lose good people to Hudson or Tallmadge or Stow or Green.”
In the voter-approved merger, the city also absorbed Blossom Music Center, one of Northeast Ohio’s prime entertainment destinations.
10. 1990: Sheraton opens
When the Sheraton’s first all-suite hotel opened in 1990 on the old Vaughn Machine Co. site, it was heralded as the centerpiece of downtown redevelopment.
It did prove to be a catalyst for the development of some offices and restaurants in the area, city officials said.
“Here we are, 26 years later, and it is still one of the top hotels in the region,” Truby said.
Robart said the Sheraton did something else for the city: It turned the long-neglected Cuyahoga River into an asset.
He said he remembers when the Sheraton was being built on the banks of the river, “and they were cleaning brush and debris away, and everybody looked down there and said, ‘Oh, my gosh’ as if they had never seen the river before.”
The river’s prominence slowly has risen over the years, attracting leisure activities as well as more developments, like the new Watermark senior housing complex on Front Street.
The city intends to eliminate two dams on the river this fall, creating class 4 and 5 rapids with the potential for recreational opportunities, like kayaking, and better water quality for fishing and swimming.
Visit CuyahogaFalls.Ohio.com/bicentennial to keep up with all of the bicentennial celebration coverage from the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com.
Beacon Journal copy editor Mark J. Price contributed to this report.