History etched in wood Mulletts carvings tell story of historic fire

Chad Dryden Published:

By Chad Dryden Record-Courier correspondent Local history buffs, particularly those who live in Randolph, know the story of the infamous 1854 fire that swept through the town that once boasted the largest manufacturing area in Portage County. The problem is, historical accounts of the Johnnycake Hollow fire are spotty at best, and nary a photograph exists to provide visual accompaniment to the tale of that hot, dry and windy August day in 54. In an effort to match images with words, Myron Mullett, an accomplished folk artist of Marlboro Township, created a series of wood-carved plaques depicting his interpretation of the harrowing blaze. Mullett recently presented his work to the Randolph Historical Society whose Bruce Stanford originally approached him to create the plaques where it will be permanently displayed. Mullett, a retired school teacher and Randolph High School graduate who once lived on Saxe Road near the site of the fire, was a teenager when he first heard the story from his bus driver, the late Clem Wise. I was always one of the last to get off the bus and I would ask questions, Mullett said. One day he pulled off the side of the road and told the story about the hollow. It lit a spark that in a way started a fire in my imagination. It always kind of stuck with me. What Mullett heard that day was a hand-me-down account of a tumultuous fire that supposedly originated in the engine room of a flour mill. From there, the flames were said to spread rapidly to the neighboring wood buildings where everything from textiles to bricks to wagons were manufactured. Though no one died, the fire did put an end to Randolphs industrial prominence. The town soon refocused its economy on agriculture, while the businesses that once lined Johnnycake Hollow relocated to places like Kent and Ravenna. Mulletts plaques tell this story in fitting form he used a wood burner to create several smoked-filled images on raggedly cut pieces of basswood. Im a rustic guy, the self-described backwoods artist said. I like things primitive and old. I didnt want (the plaques) to be too refined. Mulletts modesty does little to mask the ornateness of his work. Each plaque depicts, with a noticeable attention to detail, some aspect of the fire, whether it be a saw mill burning, a man saving goods from his shop or the bucket brigade the de facto fire department on scene fighting a fruitless battle. I tried to show the efforts of people who worked there and their despair and frustration, he said. They couldnt keep up with the fire. Mullett looked to achieve two goals with his creations: one, he wanted to make people aware of their beginnings; and two, he wanted people to recognize what a catastrophe the fire was. I just wanted to draw peoples attention to it, he said. Hundreds of people drive through here every day and no one really realizes this was a hub of manufacturing in the 1850s.

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