Thursday, November 3, 2011

Lake County History Redux - Some Nuggets from the Twentieth Century

As we examine the history of our county, some topics lend themselves to detailed back stories and lengthy histories.  Today we peruse the annals of Lake County facts for those topics that are somewhat limited in recorded history but equally worth remembering.

Thompson Raceway -  It is the oldest continuous drag strip in Ohio.  It has been in operation since 1958.

Painesville Speedway -  This paved oval / figure 8 configured track has been in operation at its present site since the 1950's.  It is a NASCAR sanctioned site.

Painesville Township Park -  Currently a Lake Metroparks property on Hardy Road, the original park was founded in 1906 some distance west of the present site.  Its old pavilion was later used for a few years as company offices by the Diamond Alkali Company.

Fairport Yachts / Tartan Yachts CC - Long a business staple of Fairport - Nursery Road, its main campus is now located in Painesville.  The company's boat design and boat building roots date back to the 19th century.  The tall ship / schooner Madeline was built in Fairport.

The Burroughs Club -  This club was the beginning of a trend towards park planning and a movement towards preserving natural beauty spots.  Its history dates back to 1916 when a group of nature enthusiasts took the writings of famed naturalist John Burroughs and tapped the skills of new county arrival Dr. C. M. Shipman to make Lake County a horticultural mecca.  Shipman is honored for his efforts with a piece of Mentor Marsh bearing his name.

Wilson's of Willoughby -  The name was first mentioned to me by my uncle.  Sidney S. Wilson Co. of Willoughby had " Everything from Little Wooden Toothpicks to Heavy Lumber Wagons".  The store was located along the west side of Erie Street from Glenn to Spaulding.  The store sold dry goods, draperies, millinery, shoes, books, groceries and vehicles.  Samuel Smart took ownership of Wilson's of Willoughby and saw his company grow to be the largest country store between NY and Chicago.

R. A. Marsh and the Lake County Auto Industry -  A short lived factory located in Painesville, it began in 1913.  It was to be the main production site of the 1914 automobile named the 'Vulcan'.  Inefficiency and poor management strategies ended the company's tenure in 1915.  The Erie Car Company took over the site in 1916 before leaving the county forever.  A car factory in Willoughby existed for a minute in Lake County history.  It was the site of the Ben Hur car.  Only one car was built before it became a footnote in history.

Lewisite Gas - The former Ben Hur plant in Willoughby (see paragraph above) had a most unique role in history.  The plant made the highly dangerous methyl gas used in WWI.  The chemist soldiers were sworn to secrecy and not allowed to mention Willoughby.  The plant was surrounded by barb wire and at first leaving the grounds was forbidden.  The 1919 Armistice saved the German Army from seeing this gas used in combat.  Trains conveyed the toxic gas to the coast and the Atlantic Ocean received its deadly cargo.

Cleveland Crane and Engineering Company -  New trends in industry arose in the 1900's.  New equipment was needed and being developed for homes and stores.  Modern production lines were in their infancy.  Cleveland Crane built a plant in Wickliffe to manufacture overhead cranes used to move heavy equipment.  This brought automation to the docks at Fairport in 1906.  In 1911 The Diamond Alkali company came to Lake County and again Cleveland Cranes provided the labor machinery needed for 'The Diamond' and chemical companies that followed.

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