Part V: Recent History
1960 to Present
Several important trends have had a major impact on Barberton during the past 30 or so years. The period of the 1960s and 1970s was marked by a number of government programs designed to encourage new housing developments, to build and extend highways, and to "renew" urban areas through clearance and reconstruction. None of these forces worked in isolation; they influenced and were influenced by each other. Government programs encouraged suburbanization, but highway improvements also helped make suburbanization possible. Urban renewal efforts intended to make the downtown more attractive for redevelopment were often frustrated by highway improvements that made it easy to develop competing fringe area shopping centers and places of employment.
Adjusting to Change
In the private sector, industries and businesses had to adjust to changes in the U.S and world economy, with the result that some of the early Barberton firms were closed. These include Diamond Match (1960), Sun Rubber (1974), Seiberling Rubber (1980), Ohio Brass (1985), and Rockwell International (1986). PPG downsized substantially during the 1970s and 1980s, and today employs only about 140. On the positive side, many of these abandoned industrial buildings have been taken over by B and C Machine, the city's third largest employer. Babcock and Wilcox remains the second largest industry in Summit county, employing approximately 1,300 in its Barberton facilities.
Many who work in Barberton today do not live in the community, and many who live in the city go to work elsewhere. The ability to commute to places of work, shopping and entertainment has been enhanced over the past 30 years by highway improvements that include Interstate 76 to the north of Barberton and Route 21 to its west. Other improvements came in the form of new viaducts at Tuscarawas Avenue in 1961 and State Street in 1980.
Downtown Commercial District
Barberton's downtown commercial district has struggled with both urban renewal and periods of disinvestment. The closing of Marshall's Department Store provides an example of the changing nature of retailing in older downtown areas. Urban renewal resulted in demolition of three blocks of older commercial buildings, two of which have been built upon with new buildings. The city's housing stock has experienced varying levels of disinvestment, sometimes through subdivision into multi-family units. Other areas of the city have lost significant buildings because a use could not be found, most notably the O.C. Barber Mansion which was demolished in 1964, and related Anna Dean Farm buildings.
Recently, programs have been instituted to try to recapture some of the lost economic trade in the downtown area. Buildings in the Alexander Square area have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, making tax incentives available for rehabilitation. The city of Barberton has received approval for a federal loan guarantee which is also targeted at the reuse of these important downtown buildings. There have also been private renovation efforts which have resulted in an enhanced appearance and business outlook for the downtown.
Neighborhood Conservation Services Program
Neighborhoods in Barberton have benefited from the city's Neighborhood Conservation Services program, begun in 1979. Awareness of the significance of older neighborhoods such as the Lake Anna area needs to be increased, although there are recent examples of rehabilitation.
Two of the city's most important assets, the Ohio and Erie Canal and the Anna Dean Farm buildings, are the focus of renewed discussions about their preservation, enhancement, and use. A study of a possible Canal Heritage Corridor is underway by the National Park Service and the Barber Barns are currently being studied for preservation and reuse.
The city of Barberton celebrated its Centennial in 1991, a milestone marked by a number of community activities. The past 30 years have been a period of great change, but much remains from the city's remarkable history. The Centennial celebration seems to have focused attention of the city's historic resources and their value to the Barberton community today.