Monday, January 10, 2011

Willowick: Eyewitness to History

Willowick is only 1.75 square miles and its population is rather small totaling a mere 14,000 residents.  Yet looking back reveals a community that was an eyewitness to many notable local historical events.  The area now known as Willowick was first mentioned in 1796 by General Moses Cleveland.  Although no permanent settlement has ever been claimed, Native American tribes of the Iroquois Nation did roam and hunt in the area. From 1788-1839, five different counties including Geauga and Cuyahoga laid claim to this corner of what officially became part of the newly formed Lake County in 1840. Lindus Cody, cousin to Buffalo Bill Cody was a prominent Willowick landholder in the 1900's.  Claud Foster, a local resident invented the Snubbers shock absorber and Gabriel car horn. Even today, some notable citizens are Ohio State Rep Jamie Callender, current State Representative as well as first woman mayor Lorraine M. Fende (1996), and Daniel Troy, a former councilman, council president and current County Commissioner / State Representative.

In its long local history, three merit mentioning today.  First is the story of the G.P. Griffith.  On June 17, 1850 the Griffith became Lake Erie's greatest maritime disaster.  Boarding in Buffalo, NY  nearly 320 immigrants set sail for Cleveland and Toledo.  A fire developed as the ship left Fairport Harbor and soon enveloped the entire vessel.  The immigrants, many of whom had sewn coins into their clothing abandoned ship only to sink off the shores of Willowick.  Lives lost totaled 286 by most counts.  A mass grave was dug near the Willowick shoreline.  The grave was eventually lost to erosion in the 1920's.  The site and a historical marker stand on the Lake MetroParks Cabin property near E. 305th and Lake Shore Blvd.   A second bit of Americana found in Willowick is the old Nike Site.  During the late 1950's, Nike-Hercules anti-aircraft missile sites permeated our North Coast.  Although no silos were in Willowick, housed living quarters and a radar center did exist from 1957-62.  Some residents may remember the quarters being used as kindergarten classes from 1962-64, before the area became Manry Park in 1966.  This leads us to mention another notable event. The famous resident was Robert Manry.  In 1965, Manry sailed in a 13 foot sloop solo across the Atlantic Ocean.  Robert Manry, the 'Tinkerbelle', and Willowick became the news of the season. Once again, Willowick became an eyewitness to history.

These  are just a few of the lost stories of yesterday and the local lore that is Willowick, Ohio.

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