Thursday, October 29, 2015

USCG 1915-2015 and Station Fairport

As the nation's oldest maritime agency the United States Coast Guard history is one of multiple origins.  While 2015 is the centennial year of the USCG the history of the service is an amalgam of many Federal agencies dating back to 1787.  These agencies, the Revenue Cutter Service, the Lighthouse Service, the Steamboat Inspection Service, the Bureau of Navigation, the Lifesaving Service, and in recent years Homeland Security were independent and overlapping organizations that today fall under the united USCG umbrella.

August 4, 1790 marks the first day of service for 'first' U.S. maritime organization.  President George Washington realizing that income was necessary for our new nation signed a Tariff Act.  This act authorized construction of ten vessels whose primary duty would be to patrol the eastern seaboard and levy trade taxes.  Preventing smuggling and assisting vessels in distress became two additional missions.  Growth continued over the ensuing decades as our nation grew.  In 1876 a bustling Lake Erie shipping industry created a regional need.  Fairport was granted a station.  George Francis Babcock, a local resident assumed charge of Station Fairport on September 26, 1876 and remained at his post till his death in 1898.  Niels Rasmussen another local Fairporter assumed charge of the station on February 17, 1899 and was still there at its end in 1915.  The original station was situated on the east bank of the Grand River just below the hill of the local lighthouse-1825-1925.  It was moved by Babcock to combat shoreline congestion in late 1800s to the west bank of the river.  The station remained intact with some modifications for nearly one hundred years until a completed remodel /  renovation on August 15, 2014 ushered in a new era of local USCG history.

1915 saw an Act of Congress merge the Revenue Cutter Service with the U.S. Life-Saving Service.  Remember prior to the establishment of the Navy Department in 1798, this organization was our nation's only armed force afloat.  1939 saw another major change occur as President Franklin Roosevelt transferred the organization to the charge of the USCG.  This change became permanent in 1946 when Congress transferred several offices into this final umbrella.  Homeland Security became the most recent task added to the history of the USLSS-USCG after 9/11.

From the earliest volunteer groups that spearheaded the first maritime organizations to the early professional pioneers such as Fairport's Francis Babcock and Niels Rasmussen these agencies of service have a history and tradition unsurpassed in the annals of our nation.  These stories, artifacts and more may be viewed at the Fairport Harbor Lighthouse & Marine Museum - maintained by The Fairport Harbor Historical Society since 1945.

source:  USCG website, USLSS article by Dr. Dennis L. Noble, archives Fairport Harbor Historical Society

Monday, October 19, 2015

Haunted Ohio - Lake County Trivia

             Test your Ghostly I.Q. with these ten Wayward Spirit teasers…

1.  This 1890s site is situated on 525 acres and was known then as the River Farm Estate.  Rumors persist to this day of this haunted lady . Do you know the name of this uncompleted site?

2.  What is the name of the veiled lady of Kirtland’s Historic North Cemetery?

3.  Can you name any of the six haunted buildings on this Lake County college campus?

4.  What is the name of the young boy who haunts Fairport’s sentinel?

5.  Whose name appears on the solitary gravesite located on Hart Road?

6.  In 1943 owner Don Norris fell to his death from a third story floor - Name the haunted hardware store that is listed at #10 in the book Haunted Ohio.

7.  Although not specific to our county or state, what is the common name of this Ohio Cryptid?

8.  Spirits are said to frequent this 1870 Victorian Home in Painesville that once belonged to a Civil War General who married a founding member of the suffrage movement.  Name the home!

9.  This First Lady is said to haunt the upstairs of their NHS home.  Can you name her?

10.  The haunting tale led to the demise of this Medical College in Willoughby in the mid-1840s.  What future Ohio medical institutions rose from this tragic tale?

Bonus:  This 1847 Ohio Cottage is said to be haunted.  Name the community or street location of this multi-use historic facility?

answers-  1.  Squires Castle  2.  Hattie Martindale  3.  Morley, Kilcawley, Andrews, College Hall, Fine Arts, Fowler  4.  Robbie Babcock  5.  Levi Smith  6.  Willoughby Coal   7.  Melonheads  8.  Casement Home  9.  Lucretia Garfield  10.  WRU and OSU    bonus - Madison / Middle Ridge

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Fairport Harbor to host Remembrance for the 40th Anniversary of Edmund Fitzgerald Disaster

The SS Edmund Fitzgerald was an American Great Lakes 'workhorse' freighter that sank in a Lake Superior on November 10, 1975.  Lost that fateful night were Captain Ernest McSorley and his crew of 29.  Launched in June of '58, the Fitzgerald spent her seventeen years carrying taconite iron ore from mines near Duluth, Minnesota to iron works in Detroit, Toledo and other nearby ports.  'Workhorse' was a term often used to describe the Fitz as she set seasonal haul records six times in her storied career.

Captain McSorley and his crew, including Fairport Harbor's Ed Binden left one last time on the afternoon of November 9th.  En route to Detroit the freighter and a second freighter the SS Arthur M. Anderson were caught in a sudden and severe winter storm on Lake Superior.  Hurricane force winds and waves up to 35 feet high caused its sudden sinking at 7:10pm in Canadian waters on November 10th.  They were less than two hours from a safe harbor.  At no time was a report of distress or imminent danger reported.  This maritime disaster led to major regulatory changes and practices that included survival suits, depth finders, positioning systems, freeboard increases and more.

Fairport Harbor, Ohio was and remains home to two crew members of the Fitzgerald.  Ed Binden died that fateful eve.  J. William Simko a member on the first crew lives today and recounts the service he and others performed on the mighty Edmund Fitzgerald.

A Tribute and Remembrance Ceremony will be hosted by the Fairport Harbor Historical Society on Monday, November 9, 2015 at 7pm.  The program will be held at the VFW Post 7754 site at 540 New Street in Fairport Harbor.  All are welcome.
Evening's Schedule:
7pm -  "Pride of the American Side: Edmund Fitzgerald Before the Loss" - Chris Gillchrist, The Great Lakes Historical Society will be presenting.
7:45pm - Bill Simko, a member of the first Fitzgerald crew will offer his personal accounts of life aboard the mighty Great Lakes freighter.
8:15pm - Remembrance Ceremony for the '29' -  USCG-Station Fairport

Visit -

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Casement House Highlights Remarkable Lake County Tour Part II

The arrival of Charles Clement Jennings in 1840 began a long and storied history in Lake County.  Arriving the same year as the formation of our county, Jennings purchased 300 acres of timeberland from Colonel Storres of the Connecticut Land Company.  From this modest start the Jennings Farm would become one of the county's most unique histories.

As the years progressed his family grew.  Jennings decided to build a home as a gift for his daughter Frances' wedding in 1868.  Three years and $75,000 later the Casement House was dedicated in 1870 to Frances and her husband Civil War General Jack S. Casement.  It was a Victorian styled home with a unique partitioned floor plan that made all three floors identical in size and structure.  Murals, ornate ceilings as well as heat and light systems were installed.  Even a air conditioning system was made possible.  The work of many skilled men of the day made this a truly impressive estate.  Peter Shelby and Charles W. Heard were the two leading builders / designers.  The home remained in the family thru 1953.  Robert W. Sidley became only the fourth owner of the home and it remains today in his family and is used as a corporate headquarters for his business.  The 300 acres have been repurposed and the history of the property remains intact.  Visitors are welcomed at the Casement House and once there can learn the story of General Jack, Francis a foundling member of the suffrage movement and their famous guest Susan B. Anthony.

The story of the Casement House and a look at important heritage homes in Fairport Harbor, Madison and Unionville are part of a Lake Metroparks Bus Tour on October 13th.  Included on the tour are Ladd's Tavern, The Arcola House, The Huntington site and more.  Visit for tour information about many of the upcoming history events.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Aviatrix Margaret 'Marge' Hurlburt of Painesville

Last weekend's Cleveland Air Show garnered thousands upon thousands of visitors.  I'd bet only a handful at best wandered over to the aerospace museum on the airport property and took in a part of American history seldom told.  It is the history of women's aviation.  It is a history rich in Lake County roots.  Margaret Hurlburt was a graduate of Harvey High School (1942) and local educator at Champion JHS.  Her gold medal approved by Congress in 2009 can be viewed at the Women's Air & Space Museum at Cleveland's Burke Airport.  She is one of nearly 1074 Women's AirForce Service Pilots from WWII and her story is shared today.

'Marge' Hurlburt was recruited in 1942 by famed aviatrix Jackie Cochran to become a member of a pioneering core of women aviators serving the Air Force and General Hap Arnold.  As production of aircraft increased throughout WWII, the lack of male pilots stateside was an issue.  Cochran and Arnold aligned needs and the 'WASP' was formed.  These selected woman pilots would be trained and used to ferry completed aircraft to the military bases assigned.  Hurlburt whose training and licensing occurred at the Willoughby Air Field (current North High School) was now part of a 1074 member women's society who would affect history.  Hurlburt ferried planes, tested new models and towed targets during gunner training sessions throughout the war.  She flew B-24s, B-17s and logged more than 300 hours before the war's end.  In 1946 the WASP was disbanded but Margaret was only one of two females asked to stay on.  She became a valued instructor and key aviator guru.

The year 1946 saw her career take on a new phase as her skills with an AT 6 and the new Piper aircraft were in demand.  She became a fixture on the air circuit and participated in the 1946 Cleveland Air Races.  In 1947 she set a new flight speed record of 292.2 MPH besting her mentor Cochran for the title.  'Marge' was now a reknown barnstormer.  Tragically her career ended July 4 that same year at the Iowa Air Show as she crashed using a borrowed plane.  Her plane had been damaged earlier that week while teaching student pilots.  She was flown home to Painesville and was interned at Evergreen Cemetery.  The woman aviators achieved veteran's status in 1977 and living female aviators were honored with gold medals at a 2010 Congressional program.  Margaret 'Marge' Hurlburt is another member of America's greatest generation and WWII veteran who hailed from Ohio's smallest county but one with the most history!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Nostalgia: How long's that been around?

Never has that quote by Bill Bailey proved so true as in Lake County.  It is a common theme in all sorts of print media and life experienced by ‘boomers’ like myself.  The landscape of America has been steamrollered over by time.  Seven day a week newspapers, hard bound books, LP records, typewriters and more lost to the passing of time.  Despite the new ‘age’ and way of the world, much remains from our past and is visible to us if we only look.  One can simply drive the roadways and follow the Historic Markers in the county and learn / view so much.  Here are just a few of my favorite sites – ones that have been around for how long?

  • Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad Depot – First established in 1848, this depot saw three U.S. Presidents stop here before its closing in the 1970s.  Stop by and visit this museum in progress on Railroad Street in Painesville.
  • Pheasant Run Airport – Now a part of Lake Erie College, this airport located in Leroy Township is home to aviation history.  Over 33 vintage planes may be viewed at this operational airport.
  • Indian Port Fort – Remnants of this Native America fort date back to 1650 and are still visible in this Lake Metropark property located in Painesville.
  • Pleasant Valley Road Bridge – Dating back to 1881 this Whipple Truss structure found in Willoughby Hills was a main thoroughfare until 1952 and was know as the GAR – Grand Army of the Republic Roadway.
  • Rabbit Run Theater – One of the last remaining barn theaters in the U.S., its history began in 1946.  The theater is located in Madison.
  • Grand River Lighthouse in Fairport – From 1825-1925 this lighthouse was at the center of our county’s history.  One of the few lighthouses still open regularly to visitors with tower access welcomed.
  • An 1834 Medical College history, dental history collection and more await visitors to the Willoughby Welcome Center on Spaulding Street.
  • Lake County History Center- The current historical home of all things Lake County, this county poor house was built in 1876 replacing an earlier structure dating back to 1852.
  • Downtown Painesville – A walk on State Street will reveal a hardware and bakery business with histories dating back to the 1800s.
  • Coulby Mansion – Home to one of Cleveland’s famous millionaires from 1900, this Wickliffe site is often missed by the public.  Just walk inside City Hall and relive the Gilded Era of Cleveland.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Beginning this weekend and continuing into early October a Historic Lake County Treasures Tour is available to all.  This family friendly educational tour challenges participants to visit over 14 historic county markers and learn some important history of the area.  Participants who complete the tour are eligible for several grand prizes.  Tour maps may be obtained (two dollars) at the Fairport Harbor Lighthouse, Lake County History Center,  Downtown Willoughby Welcome Center or Outdoor Market during open hours.   More questions - call Barb at 440-639-2945 between 10am-2pm Tuesdays thru Saturdays at the LCHS.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Abridged History of Finn Hollow

As time marches on and cityscapes redefine former properties, it is important to record and remember the past.  Finn Hollow is one such example.  Located in Fairport Harbor, it is but one of many county properties with a story to share.  Today's blog comes from a 2002 book published by Elaine Lillback and an oral history as told by Lempi Johanna Sironen Juuti Tikka - born in 1889 and the oldest survivor of the original families from Finn Hollow.

The Finnish population moved west around the time of 1871 following the railroad constructions of the era.  Moving from Titusville, Pennsylvania they settled in Fairport around 1871 and in Chardon around 1872.  Pockets of Finnish immigrants also called Ashtabula Harbor, Girad and Burton home.  Fairport became an epicenter for the Finns as the village's location connected both the railroad and shipping industries.

Finn Hollow was a tract of land facing east and west on Third and High Streets in Fairport.  Examination of the original 1812 Grandon charter map (found in the Fairport Harbor Lighthouse & Marine Museum) indicates the lots occupied tracts 128-130 and 139-145.  Homes were constructed on these sites owned by the village ore industries and 50 workers called this area 'home'  Most were located adjacent to the ore dock superintendent's office.  The Lawrence store was one of the earliest businesses there.  The Tuuri Bakery and Hart Pinens-fish dealer also were located on that site.  The Somppi Boarding House was nearby and other businesses of note were Wolf Tobacco & Ice and Newman's Store.

The year 1896 changed much in Fairport as expansion needs of the shipping iron ore industry mandated that these original homes be moved.  Moved they were and spread throughout the village.  Many of the homes have been identified with marker status and continue today to recall an important past commercial history in Fairport Harbor as well as allow for preservation of local history for past, current and future generations.

A partial listing of the former original Finn Hollow family homes and their current village locations.
Cooper (Kupari) House is now at 211 Fifth St.
Hietamaki House is now at 344 Eagle St.
Lempi Home is now at 530 High Street
Nieminen House is now at 525 High St.
Walli Home is now at 616 Marine St.
Humppi House is now at 404 New 4th St.
Renttila's House is now at 425 Eagle St.

For a more detailed look at Finn Hollow, its history and the homes visitors should stop by the Finnish Heritage Museum on High Street.  The volunteer staff can share this story and many other significant stories on your visit.