Dan Hanna, a millionaire several times over, was the squire of Cottage Hill Farm, a 2,000-acre holding east of Ravenna where he raised one of the finest herds of shorthorn cattle in the nation. His 42-room mansion on the Charlestown-Ravenna Township line, which was his summer home, was the largest private residence in Portage County.
Hanna was the driving force behind the "Good Roads Movement" whose aim was to "lift Portage County out of the mud" during the early years of the 20th Century at the advent of the automotive age.
The richest man in the county envisioned a network of paved roads linking villages and townships that would not only serve transportation needs but spur economic development as well.
The Portage County Improvement Association was Hanna's brainchild. He envisioned a countywide organization, with representation from every township, to foster better agricultural practices, including improving the quality of livestock. Improving roads for farmers was an element of his plan.
Hanna spent lavishly to maintain Cottage Hill, where he lived a Gilded Era lifestyle in a time when there was no income tax. Married four times, he was a 300-pound bon vivant who lived up to the image of a pleasure-loving tycoon.
He also didn't hesitate to put his money on the line for the Portage County Improvement Association. As 1913 dawned, he pledged a personal donation of $50,000 -- the equivalent of $1.1 million today -- for agricultural improvements, better roads and the general welfare of Portage County.
But his generosity came with strings attached.
Hanna said he would make good on his pledge only if Portage County residents raised $30,000 for the association. Ravenna, the county's largest community, would have a goal of $4,000 per year for the next five years; Kent's share would be $3,000 for the same period. The remaining amount would be raised by outlying areas.
According to the Kent Courier, Hanna's plan envisioned a 2 percent road tax on every community, in addition to a doubling of the tax on automobiles; together that would amount to roughly $350,000 over a five-year period.
All told, the plan called for raising roughly $1.2 million over five years -- a staggering $33 million in today's dollars -- which would be used to transform agricultural conditions and pave a network of highways linking Portage County.
Meetings touting the improvement association and the Good Roads Movement were held in every community, and the plan was well received. "Not a township in the county has failed to respond," the Ravenna Republiucan reported.
Several prominent area residents were named to the association's board, including H. Warner Riddle Jr. of Ravenna, educator Frank Merrill, who represented Franklin Township and Kent, and Hiram College President Miner Lee Bates.
"All of the residents of Portage County will cheerfully pay their proportion of any tax necessary," the Republican predicted. Good roads, the newspaper observed, "will make the farms more profitable while you work them and more valuable when you are ready to sell out."
Despite the enthusiasm for Hanna's plan, selling prospective shareholders proved to be more of a challenge than expected.
Hanna "condemned Ravenna and Kent for not coming forward in better shape," the Kent Courier reported.
The Republican threw down the gauntlet in a sharply worded broadside that dominated its front page on Jan. 23, 1913.
"We are very laggard in Ravenna to push things that are bound to benefit us in every way. Let us get busy now before Mr. Hanna becomes more disgusted with us than he is now. He is beginning to think we are dead here in Ravenna. He is right. We are dead. Let us come to life now," the newspaper scolded. "What's the matter with us anyway?"
The Republican added that many who ought to be supportive of Hanna's program had failed to sign on as shareholders -- and concluded with a threat to "publish a select list of non-members."
"We are hitting from the shoulder ... but strong threats are necessary as the condition is critical," the newspaper observed.
Whether the Republican ever made good on its threat of public shaming is unknown. And, while Hanna's plan met with initial enthusiasm, with 1,300 signing on with the improvement association, it eventually foundered.
The $1 million envisioned for better roads never materialized, but the association was instrumental in the creation of Main Market Road No. 11 -- present-day S.R. 59 and 5 -- the east-west highway spanning the county from Kent to Paris Township.
Dan Hanna's fortune, at its height, was estimated at $40 million and it was said that he spent about $100,000 on his ventures in Portage County. He was 54 years old when he died of heart failure on Nov. 3, 1921, at The Croft, his 168-acre estate in Ossining, N.Y. He had been divorced earlier that year by his fourth wife on grounds of alcoholism.
The Cottage Hill mansion, located at 5555 Newton Falls Road, which dates to the 1830s, still stands and is now a private residence. There is another fitting reminder of the father of the Good Roads Movement more than 90 years after his death -- Hanna Road, which connects Newton Falls Road and S.R. 5. He built it.