Cadillac Hill Is a Local Landmark I Was Proud To Conquer

Coming back to Akron sparked some memories, and I couldn't resist visiting some special spots.

Whenever I’m getting a flip car, something to buy, fix, and resell, it’s almost never in town. Often, these drives take me out to the corners of Ohio, cities and towns that no one can seem to remember, full of young people itching to make their next move to a big city. When I’m waiting on the tow truck to tow my newfound source of income back to my mechanic, I explore. I ask myself: “I wonder what it’s like to live here? What do these folks do for fun? Are the jobs here any good?” But recently I found myself somewhere more familiar.

When I found a cheap and broken Ford Fiesta, I ended up in my hometown of Akron, Ohio, awaiting a tow truck to carry my cash cow to the mechanic. I hadn’t been back to Akron for months; I had moved away about eight years ago after I came out of the closet, only visiting sparingly, never staying too long, never asking any questions. This time, though, I couldn’t help but notice all the changes my hometown had gone through. Some of my stomping grounds were gone, run-down, or replaced. Other areas were new, completely foreign, and totally different from when I was a kid. While in Akron, I drove to my favorite car-oriented place: Cadillac Hill.

Cadillac Hill, technically known as South Bates Street, is a hill situated near downtown Akron, overlooking the small city’s skyline and “interbelt” freeway linking Ohio Route 8, I-77, and I-76.

Bates Street isn’t very long, but it’s super steep. If you stand at the top and look directly outward, you can’t see the bottom of the hill, and vice versa for someone at the bottom. As a kid, I was sure it was the steepest street in the country, despite the fact that it actually only has a grade of 28 percent. The street is paved with brick pavers from the 1920s, apparently to give horses traction. Immediately at the bottom of the hill, there is a 90-degree turn, then a stop sign.

Near South Bates street is a Cadillac Dealership. Urban legend says that the hill was used to test new Cadillac transmissions at the dealership, and if they failed to traverse the steep hill, they’d promptly be sent back to the factory.

Cadillac Hill Is a Local Landmark I Was Proud To Conquer
Image: Kevin Williams

Ten-year-old me had never seen a car go up or down that hill. Was the hill impassable? Was it only for Cadillac cars and trucks?

One day, I begged my mom to drive up Cadillac Hill — someone had to drive up it, Cadillac or no. Mom was annoyed, but obliged. Bracing for the worst, I buckled up and braced for her big Econoline to roll backwards down the hill. The transmission kicked down to what was probably first gear, the van’s V6 engine screamed, but we did make it to the top.

Over a decade later, while waiting for my Fiesta I drove over to Cadillac Hill in my Fiat Abarth, to look at the city I once knew.

Cadillac Hill, once clean, with walkable sidewalks and somewhat manicured brick, looked dilapidated. The brickwork had vegetation growing through it; many bricks were cracked, broken, or missing. The stairs that allowed people to walk from the top of the hill, was all busted up, with overgrown foliage in the way. It looks like the city of Akron put a “road closed” sign at the top of the hill, but some vagabonds moved it out the way. Should I even traverse that hill, in the state of disrepair it was in?

Before I could make that decision, a Honda Civic flew past me, happily bounding down the ancient-looking paver bricks. I put my Fiat in first gear, and hoped for the best. I knew I had the power, the traction, and the grip to get me to the top — but I couldn’t help but feel like a kid in his mom’s Econoline van, waiting for a rollback that wouldn’t ever come. 

Cadillac Hill Is a Local Landmark I Was Proud To Conquer

Of course, I made it to the top. 

It’s funny now, that I’m older, I know that even a 78-horsepower Mitsubishi Mirage would make easy work of Cadillac Hill. I’ve been to bigger cities, with steeper hills — Cadillac Hill isn’t really steep at all, in the grand scheme of things. Still, I couldn’t help but feel like I’d beaten something big when my car was resting triumphantly on top of it.

Kevin Williams
Kevin Williams

Kevin's been into cars his entire life, anything from the tiny kei cars in Japan, to the maybe not-so-good American barges of the 1980s. He's flipped more than 25 cars, only lost money twice, and has known how to make his dollar stretch as far as it can. If he ain't talking about cars, he's probably snacking on something sweet and cakey. Contact the author here.