Hercules Motors is a formerly abandoned industrial factory that manufactured high-speed, lightweight gasoline engines on Market Avenue South in Canton, Ohio. The plant’s buildings, an earshot from downtown, are being rehabilitated into apartments, offices, and retail space.
The Hercules Motors plant on Market Avenue South was initially the location of Ball, Aultman & Company’s mechanical grain thresher and reaper manufacturing plant. 5 19 Built in 1852, the factory was later purchased by the Arctic Ice Machinery Corporation, one of the earliest producers of refrigerating equipment in the nation. 20 The company was succeeded by the York Ice Machinery Corporation. 19
In 1894, the Hercules Motors Corporation was formed in Canton, Ohio 7 and produced high-speed, lightweight gasoline engines, which then became the standard for early truck manufacturers in the United States. 1 It moved to York Ice Machinery’s factory in 1915. 1 The company soon expanded into engine production for farm machinery, generators, and oil-field equipment, and in 1931, it introduced a line of highspeed, lightweight diesel engines.
During World War II, Hercules expanded its factory to produce 18,000 engines per month to supply the United States and Allied armed forces with engines. 1 Nearly 5,000 were employed. 15 By the end of the conflict, the company had built nearly 750,000 Hercules engines that went into armoured cars, Jeeps, landing aircraft, picket boats, tanks, scout vehicles, and tank transporters. 1
In 1956, Hercules introduced a line of interchangeable, overhead-valve gasoline and diesel engines with three, four, and six cylinders. 1 Identical cylinder blocks, crankshafts, rods, valves and such were used for the engines, shaving costs. In the early 1960’s, the company acquired the Lycoming Industrial Air Cooled Engine Division of Avco and the Hall Scott Engine Division and relocated them to Canton.
The Hupp Corporation purchased Hercules in October 1961, with the Canton plant becoming the Hercules Division. 1 17 18 In July 1966, White Motor purchased the Hercules Division of Hupp, which became effective at the end of the year. 17 The Canton facility was operated as the White Engine Division. 1 The engine division was sold in 1976, and the company reorganized as White Engines, Inc.
The newly formed company mostly built engines for the military, such as multi-fueled engines for 2½- and 5-ton trucks, and engines for 15 and 30 KW generator sets. 1 The remainder were engines for private applications. White Engines also entered into a private brand contract with Caterpillar Tractor to supply engines for its Tow motor line. Additionally, a 70 HP diesel engine was developed by White and marketed by Ford Motor Company for use in its Ford E-350 vehicles.
Neoax Inc. of New Jersey later acquired White Engines. 9
Neoax sold purchase rights to White Engines to Wedtech in October 1986. 14 Two months later, Wedtech filed for bankruptcy protection as Wedtech’s dealings came under federal investigation. New York investors Donald C. Stewart, Campbell Corfe and eight others, many of them former Hercules officers, acquired the rights of White Engines from Wedtech’s bankruptcy trustee for $800,000.
In March 1987, the investors purchased White Engines for $56.7 million in a leveraged buyout 15 and renamed the company Hercules Engines, Inc. 1 14 At the time, the company employed more than 600. 9
The company saw its fortunes decline with long-term cuts in the defence industry, which upon it depended. 15 In 1988, about 80% of Hercules business were defence contracts, which dropped to just 45% of total orders by 1992.
Hercules notified its workers on October 16, 1992, that the company could close for good between October 28 and November 10. 15 The company, which employed 380, had an additional 280 persons laid off.
Hercules Engines Inc. reorganised as the Hercules Engine Company in November 1992. 16 The move allowed it to lay off 350 employees, but the company later agreed to rehire 75% of its employees.
On April 19, 1999, Hercules sent home its remaining 30 employees for what many believed was an extended shutdown. 9 The plant never reopened and its equipment was auctioned on June 8. 10 12
Shortly after, Hercules Engine Components was established in Massillon to support the Hercules Engine customer base with replacement parts and services. 6 The company expanded in 2003 and created an engine remanufacturing centre, with a state-of-the-art engine cleaning, machining, assembly, and testing centre for nearly all engine types and companies. It expanded again in 2006 when it formed an Airline Ground Support Equipment division to perform “zero-time” refurbishment of bag tow tractors and belt loaders. It also upgraded and converted engines from diesel to electric.
Eslich Wrecking Company purchased the 26-acre, 620,000 square-foot site in April 2000 for $600,000 8 11 and proposed redeveloping the buildings for industrial use. 2 The environmental work to upgrade the buildings was projected to cost $800,000 to $1 million. 11
In June, the state lent Eslich Wrecking $830,000 from its Ohio Department of Development’s Urban Revitalization Loan Program. 13
The redevelopment proposal by Eslich never came to fruition. The only use for the site were two haunted houses, the Factory of Terror, that operated in 2002 and 2003. 8
The Hercules Engine site was identified as a location for a potential sports arena in 2003. 2 The city proposed relocating the Pro Football Hall of Fame to the downtown location and creating a “Gridiron District,” but the board of the football museum rejected it.
A group of developers, under Broadview Development Company, acquired the Hercules Engine site in 2005. 2 The developers partnered with Cormony Development who proposed s $178 million mixed-use development 2 containing 150 residential units, 70,000 to 80,000 square-feet of retail, 100,000 square-feet of office space, and 100,000 square-feet of convention room within the existing Hercules buildings. 8 Around the same time, the national economic outlook grew sour, and the credit markets tightened. 5
In 2007, Clean Ohio funds were awarded for the remediation of environmental concerns at the former engine plant. 2 8 The project was then awarded $36.7 million in Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credits from the Ohio Department of Development in 2008. 8
By 2013, private financing was secured for the project: $13.8 million from Huntington Bank; $5 million in equity; $3 million from Clean Ohio; and $2.7 million from the construction firm. 2 On November 14, 2016, Cormony secured a $3 million loan from the city, contingent on the repayment of the Cormony’s $2 million loan that was used for its Historic Onesto Lofts. 3 Due to the prevalence of financing from other sources, the loan from the city was never used. 2
To jumpstart construction, the Hercules Engine redevelopment project was split into phases, with the first $28 million phase including 95 market-rate apartments. 2 The design was headed by Jonathan Sandvick Architecture Firm, notable for work in the Flats district of Cleveland. 5
Construction began in June 2016 on the redevelopment of the Hercules Engine complex. 4 The first phase focused on the oldest buildings dating to 1875, with 90 market-rate apartments spread over 125,000 square-feet, and included amenities such as a community room, and private roof decks. 2 The second phase construction start date is contingent on the passage of tax increment financing by the city. 3
“If redevelopment plans never get off the ground, then, sure, eventually people come around to the realization that demoing the site and starting over is the only viable option. But once you demo, you’ve taken all the other options off the table. You could spend millions of dollars, to be left with a hole in the ground, or you could incentivize developers to invest millions of dollars to create living space, work space and commercial space. And that redevelopment will generate tax dollars in the form of property tax, sales tax, income tax.”
– Frank Quinn, director of preservation, Heritage Ohio 4
The first phase of the redevelopment project was completed on December 18, 2017. 5
[su_spoiler title=”Sources” icon=”caret”]
- Booth, Robert. “A Brief History of Hercules Engines.” Gas Engine Magazine, 1988, article.
- Matas, Alison. “Construction of Apartments Underway at Hercules Site in Canton.” The Repository [Canton], 2 Sept. 2016.
- Byer, Kelly. “Canton City Council casts final vote in favor of Hercules bonds.” The Repository [Canton], 15 Nov. 2016.
- Hoover, Shane. “Scaffolding is up around smokestack as work continues at the former Hercules site in Canton.” The Repository [Canton], 29 Jun. 2016.
- Holbrook, Jessica. “A peek inside new apartments at Hercules.” The Repository [Canton], 24 Nov. 2017.
- “About Us.” Hercules Manufacturing, article.
- “Hercules Motors Corporation – Hercules Engines (Canton, Ohio), 1920-1940 and n. d..” Historical Construction Equipment Association, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, article.
- Miller, Marilyn. “Overhaul at Canton Plant.” Beacon Journal, 21 Mar. 2008, pp. C8–C9.
- “Mayor tries to keep Canton plant open.” Beacon Journal, 21 Apr. 1999, pp. C7, C10.
- “Canton makes offer for plant.” Beacon Journal, 9 Jun. 1999, p. C7.
- Gross, Andale. “Abandoned plant to be renovated.” Beacon Journal, 18 Apr. 2000, pp. A1, A10.
- “Public Auction Sale.” Beacon Journal, 16 May 1999, p. G36.
- “Ohio lends Canton money for project.” Beacon Journal, 20 Jun. 2000, p. C3.
- “Switch in control at Canton firm.” Beacon Journal, 17 Mar. 1990, p. A8.
- Jenkins, Colette M. “Hercules Engines INc. warns it might have to close its doors.” Beacon Journal, 17 Oct. 1992, p. B8.
- Harris, Sheryl. “Laid-off Hercules Engines workers sue over unpaid benefits, vacations.” Beacon Journal, 26 May 1993, p. C7.
- “White Buys Hercules from Hupp.” Beacon Journal, 16 Jul. 1966, p. B8.
- “Hupp Buys Hercules.” News-Messenger [Fremont], 3 Oct. 1961, p. 1.
- Botos, Tim. “Canton’s most important figure? Cornelius Aultman.” The Repository [Canton], 17 Sept. 2017, article.
- “Electricity and Invention.” Refrigeration: A History, by Carroll Gantz, McFarland & Company, 2015, p. 69.