Couple remembers Middlebranch history

By Olivia Holland — Sitting in the living room of Jim Stevens and his wife, Evangelia or ”Lil”, so much history can be seen in the home from the picture of John F. Kennedy on the wall to the black and white pictures on the coffee table. Jim and Lil, though were not raised in Middlebranch but in neighboring Marlboro, were neighbors as children and have been married for 66 years since Jim’s return from his two-year service in Burma during World World II.

On the walls and around the room, pictures of family members spanning from their five children as toddlers to great-great-great-grandkids are proudly showcased. A holographic picture showing a young Jim in uniform and Evangelia switches to a picture of them as an older couple with a move of the head.
Jim owned Jim’s Diner by the corner of Middlebranch Road and Diamond Street, sitting adjacent and between the crossing railroad tracks. Named after his father, it was in operation from 1954 to 1976. It was then torn down after years of paying $40 a year for the lease to build a park. Due to its location in the center of town, community members labeled Jim as the “Mayor of Middlebranch”.

At the time of Jim’s Diner, truck drivers and Italian immigrants working around the community would sit down to enjoy a cheap and hot meal after a day’s work at the Diamond Portland Cement Company, founded by entrepreneur Zebulon Davis in 1892.

“You could get a bowl of chili, a cup of coffee, and two donuts for 35 cents,’” Jim said, laughing at the one dollar price of a donut today.

He remembers fondly of neighbors and various businesses, such as fishing on the Werner Church Road bridge and the formation of Holly Hills and its 200 hopeful sluggers waiting to see whether or not they were given a spot.

As legend has it, the hill that is located by Leno’s Restaurant at the crossing of Middlebranch Road and Easton Street, used to operate a whiskey still during Prohibition in the 1920s and into the 1930s. Some of the alcohol on a traveling wagon fell off and was drunken by the locals around the hill. It is now named Whiskey Hill.

The Middlebranch community was founded in 1815, six years after the founding of Stark County. It was made up then of a mill, a post office and distilleries, according to the Plain Township Historical Society. In 1926, Middlebranch High School for grades first through twelfth was constructed and used as a high school until1957 when it was then transferred to Glenwood High School, according to the president of the Plain Township Historical Society, Tom Pieper.

“Middlebranch ceased to be the Plain Township high school because the township was growing very fast in population and Middlebranch did not have enough room to hold all of the high school students, despite an addition having been added to the building,” Pieper said.

The Middlebranch community has been and is continuing to be preserved by the Plain Township Historical Society, founded on February 15, 2005. Though it has no official location, archived materials are being kept at The Plain Township Hall by the aid of Lou Giavasis, Scott Haws and Albert Leno who are all Plain Township Trustees.

According to Pieper, the Plain Township Historical has been very active since its beginning eight years ago. They have created a team of people looking to preserve the community, a program to educate school children about the history of Plain Township and public archives.

Their future plans involve continuing the relationship between the society and the residents of Plain Township and to share the history of the community to as many people as they can.

“As a historical society, we hope to instill a pride in Plain Township residents as to what Plain Township has been and what Plain Township continues to be,” Pieper said.

The Plain Township Historical Society meets at 7 p.m. on the third Wed. of each month, except March and December. Anyone can join, beginning with filling out an application and paying an entry fee.

“The Society would say to the students and staff and readers of The Eagle that we would very much like to have each of you participate with us the our quest to preserve and promote Plain Township history,” Pieper said. “We would like for each of you to become a member of The Society and for each of you to attend our meetings….We would like to give each of you an opportunity to play a part in the history of Plain Township by helping to preserve and promote the Township’s past. There are many tasks to be done and we would like to share those opportunities with you.”

The Plain Township Historical Society is looking for Plain Township families to interview whose ancestors moved into Plain Township years ago. Such ancestors may have moved into Plain Township from Canton after emigrating from their homelands. They would like to capture these memories by completing an Oral History Day project. If this applies to you, please contact the township office at 2600 Easton Street NE, Canton, Ohio 44721, or email Laura Shoemaker at [email protected]. The Plain Local History Society also offers a Facebook page so please consider liking or joining it to become involved.

[Updated Aug. 7, 2017: This article has been reformatted for consistency.]