MEDINA — James Starr Redfield was Medina’s version of Daniel Boone.
Like Boone, Redfield was a trailblazer, who in the 1800s singlehandedly built what is now Lafayette Road from Medina to Lodi. He was only 17 at the time.
“For all that, he was paid $200, which was not bad back then, but it was a lot of work,” said Roger Smalley, chairman of the Bicentennial Committee of Medina.
Smalley spoke Saturday to an audience of about 75 at Medina Library. The topic was the history of transportation in Medina.
The lecture was the latest in a series of events to mark Medina’s 200th birthday this year.
Smalley said many of today’s Medina County roads evolved from shoulder-wide trails created by American Indians — including the Chippewa, Ottawa, Lenape and Mingo tribes — as they hunted for food. They somehow bent trees to mark the way.
One path, the Watershed Trail, included part of what is now state Route 18. The trail separated the Lake Erie watershed, where rainwater flows north into Lake Erie, from the Cuyahoga River watershed, where rain flows south into the Cuyahoga.
When early settlers arrived, the trails were widened so oxen and small carts could ride on them. By 1825, a road system had been established, and included a toll road, which is now U.S. Route 42, into Cleveland.
It was the state of Ohio that hired Redfield to build a road from Medina to Lodi, which was called Harrisville at the time. The original name of Redfield’s road was Harrisville Road.
By then, Redfield was already a legend. When wandering wolves endangered the lives of residents in the early 1800s, Medina County commissioners offered $6 for every wolf pelt. Redfield handed in 123.
To lay the road, Redfield used an ax to cut down trees, and he cleared underbrush. He lived off the land. At night, a fire kept him warm. If it was too cold, he wrapped himself in tree bark.
Other highlights of Smalley’s lecture included the development of:
- Turnpikes. By 1823, Montville Township residents decided they needed a road to Chippewa Lake and Wooster. Property owners whose land the road would bisect or pass contributed money toward construction.
Those who traveled the road paid a toll. Such roads eventually were called turnpikes because a pike or long stick would block passage until the traveler paid the fee. Then a worker would turn a lever to move the pike out of the way.
- Canals. Akron flourished due to the construction of an Ohio canal system in the 1800s. Medina farmers traveled to Akron, where they sold their crops to a broker. The broker moved the crops to Buffalo, N.Y., via the canal system and Lake Erie.
The canals cut shipping costs for farmers. They paid 15 to 25 cents a mile for wagon transport but 5 cents or less for the canals.
- Railroads. Locomotives put the canals out of business. And when the first passenger train pulled into Medina in 1871, people lined the streets to see it. The town celebrated with fireworks, speeches and a feast that day.
“People were so excited about the railroad coming, they couldn’t contain themselves,” Smalley said.
- Electric rail system. Streetcar tracks once lined the middle of some roads. One set of tracks passed through Medina and went south to Wooster. The lines lasted until the early 1930s.
- Horseless carriage. Smalley showed a photo of Medina Public Square in first half of the 20th century. Horse-drawn carriages were parked on one side of the street, facing storefronts, while cars were parked on the other side of the street, facing the square.
“I don’t think there’s any picture that shows the transition in Medina’s history more than this one,” Smalley said.