Monday, February 28, 2011

" The Penny Players" and " Barn Playhouse " of Madison, Ohio

The Rabbit Run Theater, first opened in 1946, is one of the few barn theaters still operating in Ohio.  Its quaint, rustic surroundings have contributed to making live theater a mainstay for generations of patrons.  From its first season that featured 9 plays and 6400 patrons to its current schedule of 4 main stage productions and 8000 patrons, The Rabbit Run Theater is another hidden gem in Lake County's history.

The barn was built in the late 19th c. by Frederick Foster on the Steven farm.  Broccoli, the farm's main crop attracted many rabbits.  The rabbits took up permanent residence near the barn, hence the name Rabbit Run.  In 1918, the Klumps purchased the property and it continued as a working farm.  1940 saw son Will Jr. and sister Rooney form a local theater company.  " The Penny Players " were formed and their venue became known as " The Barn Playhouse."  World War II halted their efforts, but in 1946 the theater company featuring nine WWII veterans as cast members resumed.  Nine plays and 6400 patrons made the return of live theater to Madison a success.  More success followed.  Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy performed at Rabbit Run in 1951.  Jim Backus ( of Mr. Magoo and Gilligan's Island fame ) was a headliner in 1953.  Marge Redmond, a local, took her 50's Rabbit Run experience and landed a role as Sister Jacqueline in the 60's TV sitcom "The Flying Nun."

A building project in 1955 marked the peak of the theater's growth.  Interior changes increased seating by 110 to 300 per show.  The loft was lowered and the stage enhanced.  However, one change led to financial difficulties that would plaque the theater until 2000.  A move to an 'equity' theater resulted in cash flow issues.  The waning of summer tourism to Madison and the attendance shift of actors and patrons to newer performance venues in downtown Cleveland resulted in severe revenue declines.  The theater lights remained dark in 1957, 1960, and 1963.  The year 1967 ended with the permanent closing of the venue.  Twelve years passed before the stage lights would be re-lit.  A lease was secured from Rooney, the founder of the theater and The Friends of the Rabbit Run Theater  reopened the barn in 1980 with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Coat. A merger with the Western Reserve Fine Arts Association in 2000 cemented the community theater's future.  Today, The Rabbit Run Theater continues as a summer site for live community theater.  The Rabbit Run Theater located in Madison, Ohio and its 2011 season are less than a one tank trip away.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lake County Profiles: Margaret Marsh St. John - A woman with a vision.

Sitting on the south side of Mentor Avenue as you enter Willoughby, Ohio lies a boarding school that has a story to tell.  Today, the Andrews-Osborne Academy is situated on 300 acres, is home to a 35,600 square foot Field House, and boasts an Equestrian Center second to none.  The real history of the school began in 1846 with the birth of Margaret Marsh St. John.  She was a woman with a vision.  Her vision was to create a school for educating women.  In 1867, a twenty-one year Margaret married a Wallace C. Andrews (age 34).  Andrews was known in Cleveland for his coal, iron, Standard Oil, and railroad businesses.  In time, he even became President of the New York Steam Company.  A tragic fire on April 7, 1899 at their Fifth Avenue New York City home claimed both their lives.  Her will however set into motion a series of Lake County events that span over 100 years.

At the time of her death, a series of legal battles ensued.  Her will indicated a desire for a charitable enterprise ( the former Andrews School) to be established with their remaining fortune.  Citing NY property law, her will was challenged by the Smithsonian Institution, who stood to gain from this tragedy.  Margaret's brother Gamaliel fought for her vision.  From 1899-1909, these legal issues continued and eventually landed on the doorstep of the U.S. Supreme Court.  The Court held in favor of Margaret's vision and on September 19, 1909 a new Lake County, Ohio school for girls was founded.  Classes were held at the Andrews St. John Homested.  Students numbered 81 that fall and some lived in a dormitory located at 40 Euclid Avenue.  October 13, 1909 witnessed the first school superintendent appointment.  Superintendent Sherwood D. Shankland left the Willoughby Schools for a similar role at this private school.  The original fields of study were business, foods (nutrition), merchandising/retail, cosmetology, clothing/textiles, and college prep.  Just four years later  the current site of school became available from the Ward, Harmon,Page, and Squares group.  Adding vineyards, orchards, and a 60,000 tree nursery to the 125 acres coupled with some World War I delays slowed the transition into an educational setting until the 1922 groundbreaking.  The St. John Building was dedicated in 1924.  Margaret's vision had its final resting spot.

The timeline of Andrews-Osborne Academy follows
  • 1929  Five new dormitories are completed  ( Andrews, St. John, Alice Hanscom, House 4, House 5) and Elijah Ward and Kirtland House are rebuilt. Board is $2 per week
  • 1931  The name is changed to Andrews School for Girls
  • 1939  Administration building is added
  • 1956  Van Gorder family estate becomes an infirmary
  • 1970  Library dedication occurs
  • 1972  A School of Fine Arts is built on the property
  • 1987  A Riding Center is opened
  • 2000  The Field House is dedicated
  • 2007  Jerome Osborne Sr. pledges $12 million dollars and the Phillips School (1972) / Phillips-Osborne School (1992) merges the two educational institutions into one K-12 college prep based boarding school.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Lake County Profiles: Marker #23-43 Cora Gaines Carrel

A Historical Marker ( #23-43) is located on Vine Street between Skiff Street and Freeway in downtown Willoughby.  The name appearing on that marker is Cora Gaines Carrel.  She was the first woman to serve on a city council in the State of Ohio.  Appointed by Mayor Josiah Jordan when the 19th Amendement was first enacted, Cora was a much accomplished woman in her lifetime.

Cora Gaines Carrel began her celebrated career as a late nineteenth -early twentieth century schoolteacher.  In 1901, her book of poems, Buckeye Ballads hailed Ohio's centennial.  She was a member of the suffrage movement leading up to the 19th Amendment.  As mentioned earlier, she was then appointed the first woman to serve on a city council in Ohio.  Cora served from January 1921 through December 1924.  While in office, she pioneered the causes of city planning and zoning ordinances.  Following her tenure as a city official she became President of The Cleveland Press Club and The Cleveland Women's City Club.

As one turns the pages in  Remarkable Ohio's history, it is interesting to note that two women from Lake County made the annals of U.S. political history at roughly the same time with their appointments.  Cora Gaines Carrel of Willoughby is the featured tribute today.  Soon to follow is a former 20th c. Fairport resident who also garnered national attention during the same era.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

"When it rains it pours" - The Mentor Headlands and Salt History

Salt Facts:
  • Ferdinand and Isabella sent Christopher Columbus in search of salt.
  • In 1777, The British captured the Lion's share of General Washington's all important salt supply.
  • Roman soldiers were paid in salt.  Trade routes were established to secure salt.  Empires fell when salt was lost.
  • In 1812, Napoleon's army lost thousands on the Russian Front when salt supplies became exhausted.
  • 15th c. Venice was a mecca of the spice world and salt its most desired commodity.
  • The Morton Salt Company first produces iodized salt in 1924 to use as a relief for goiter.
Travel down Rt. 44 North and a young girl in a yellow slicker greets you.  The slogan 'when it rains it pours' and that young girl in the yellow slicker were created in 1911.  Both first appeared on a blue container in 1914 and since 1959 this young girl and that famous slogan have called the Mentor Headlands home.  The Morton Salt Company began in 1848 in Chicago, Illinois.  Several mergers and a 1910 incorporation followed.  Within a hundred years, J. Sterling Morton's Salt Company had a hand in all companies that dotted the U.S. salt industry landscape.  In Cleveland history, the Union Salt Company that was located on East 65th and Lake Shore Blvd. in Cleveland from 1890-1944 had a Morton connection.  In 1957, The International Salt Company acquired Whiskey Island and by 1961 opened a salt mining operation.  Again, J. Sterling Morton had a presence. 

In Lake County, an area of Mentor known as The Headlands featured some stately homes but was mostly situated on a tract of land that was 40 percent marsh.  Until 1954 the Headlands did not have any important industry.  Then in 1954, '55, and '56 an unexpected industry acquired some 300 acres of land at the east end of the Headlands.  Another 36 acres were purchased in Painesville Township, with some Grand River frontage in Fairport Harbor.  With the development of superhighways in the 1950's it became necessary to develop another new use for salt.  After the test wells were drilled and the Fairport area salt bed extensions verified, a Morton Salt Plant opened up in 1959.  A 2000' mine became the country's deepest and most advanced salt extraction operation in the country.  Twelve concrete storage silos could hold 12,000 tons.  An open area could hold another 250,000 tons of salt.  The company generated $10-20 million in business.  J. Sterling Morton's cylindrical shaped container, an additive that made it pour when wet, and a little girl forever aged 9 to 11 had changed Lake County history.  

Today, The Morton Salt Company (purchased in 2009 and now part of a larger corporation) remains the leading marketer of salt for home, water conditioning, industrial, agricultural and highway use.  Morton Salt is now found in Canada and other countries worldwide.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Lake County Profiles: Frederick Burr Opper - Sunday Comics Innovator

One of Lake County's native sons was Frederick Burr Opper.  Born in 1857 to Austrian-American immigrants in Madison, Ohio, his artistic career would span six decades.  At the time of his death in 1937, Frederick was regarded as one of the pioneers of American newspaper comic strips.  Magazines and newspapers had for many years used cartoons to make fun of political parties, to explain policies, to defend issues, and to expose wrongs.  New was the idea of a series of pictures to tell an amusing story and to depict a colorful character.  The creator of this new genre of media illustration was Frederick Burr Opper.

Despite showing early skill with a pencil, Frederick dropped out of school at the age of 14 and became a printer's apprentice at the local Madison Gazette.  Two years later, he moved to NYC where he worked and honed his drawing skills as a pupil of illustrator Frank Beard.  A brief time as a student at Cooper Union followed.  1876 marked the start of Opper's noted comics career.  His first cartoon was published in 'Wild Oats'.  More cartoons and illustrations followed in Scribner's monthly and St. Nicholas Magazine.  By 1880, Opper was hired to draw for Puck by publishers Joseph Keppler and Adolph Schwarzmann.  In 1899, he accepted an offer by William Randolph Hearst and fame soon followed.  As a cartoonist for the New York Journal, he introduced Happy Hooligan in 1900.  It was the first comic strip of its day.  Happy was a tramp with a little tin can hat.  For the next 32 years, Happy cavorted through one absurd situation after another.  Other characters with individuality soon followed.  Maud, the mule became popular.  Alphonse and Gaston became energetic and ongoing rivals in humorous comic strip plots and children's books.  This led Opper to offer comic supplements to the newspapers.  These creations became the forerunner to the Sunday "funnies."

Opper expanded his career when he consented to become an illustrator for Mark Twain, Edgar Wilson Nye, and Finley Peter Dunne.  Opper entered the children's author market with his own contributions.  He also became a featured political cartoonist for the Chicago Examiner, San Francisco Examiner and Los Angeles Examiner.  Although his satirizing of Cleveland industrialist Mark Hanna and Presidents McKinley and Roosevelt were extremely well known, it was the character Mr. Common Man that stands the test of time.  Mr. Common Man is today known as the famous character John Q. Public.

Whether it is tomorrow morning or next Sunday morning, each of us will once again seek out our newspaper's most enduring inheritance - our favorite comic strip.  Thank you Frederick Burr Opper. You are just another hidden gem in the annals of Lake County's History.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

" House Beautiful " by Frank Lloyd Wright

Mention the name Frank Lloyd Wright and several 20th century architectural masterpieces come to mind.  There is the Robie House in Chicago.  NYC has the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.  Fallingwater is a Wright masterpiece located in Pennsylvania.  Head to Oklahoma and one can find Wright's Price Tower.  Head to Willoughby Hills, Ohio and a noted Wright masterpiece is yours to experience.  It is not a museum, rather it is a residential home.  It is a home that today can be booked for a weekend stay or longer.  The residence is simply known as the Louis Penfield House.  It sits on thirty acres in Willoughby Hills and is located near the Willoughby Hills Metroparks property.

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) designed over a thousand buildings in his lifetime.  Four hundred were built.  Unlike other architects, at the pinnacle of his career he continued to design private residences.  He called them "Usonians" and they were a highlight of his residential work.  Barely 100 were built and completed in his lifetime.  Louis Penfield was a painter and acquaintance of Frank Lloyd Wright.  He commissioned his friend to build him a home in 1955.  The Penfield House adhered to Wright's organic architectural beliefs.  The house was built of readily available materials such as cherry, walnut, and locust trees.  The completed house was then left unadorned.  To accommodate his friend's large 6'8"frame, Wright used high doorways, long windows and a floating staircase.

In the last year of Frank Lloyd Wright's life, he accepted another Penfield commission to design a second home.  Project 5909 was the last residential project of Wright's storied career.  It is also the only unbuilt Wright design with the original plot still available.  Wright had named his new home design 'Riverrock'.  It was to be constructed of stone gathered from the nearby Chagrin River.  Had it been completed as planned, this second home would have stood a mere 350' from the Penfield House.

Except for a brief period of time, the home has remained in the family possession.  Penfield House was entered into the NRHP in 1997.  Penfield's son chose to renovate the home in 2003 and make it available to experience by the public as an overnight residence.  Fees collected from this experience are being targeted for the future build of the 1959 second home project - known simply as number 5909.

A virtual tour and home history may be viewed at

Monday, February 7, 2011

Lake County Profiles: Thomas W. Harvey - Notable Educator

As a youth I grew up a product of the New York City school system.  I attended PS 14, Mark Twain Junior High, and Lincoln HS.  Our schools were mostly numbered and if named, they were tied to famous Americans. As a retired Ohio educator and coach, I had the opportunity to visit many schools.  Many were named after the community in which they were located.  Others were named after U.S. Presidents.  Until its demolition in 2010, I drove by a Painesville High School and never thought much of its name.  My only associations with the school were the facts that their most notable alum was Don Shula and a classmate of mine from Hiram College was a Harvey graduate.

Thomas W. Harvey High School was built in 1922.  It was the fourth school built on that site since its beginning in 1852.  Previous names were Painesville Academy, Old Academy Building, and Painesville High School.  The current name of the high school was chosen to pay tribute to a notable 19th century Lake County resident.  Thomas W. Harvey was an educational pioneer and noted author.  Born in 1821 in New Hampshire, he came to Ohio and began his teaching career in 1845 at Geauga High School in Chardon.  A brief career stop in Massillon followed.  In 1866, Harvey returned to become the superintendent of the Painesville Schools.  In 1871, Governor Rutherford B. Hayes appointed Harvey Ohio State Commissioner of Public Schools.  Harvey followed this appointment by establishing The Ohio State Teacher's Association and Northeastern Ohio Teacher's Association.  A noted grammarian, he wrote several textbooks.  1868 saw the release of an English grammar text.  " First Lessons in Language" and "Practice of Grammar" followed.  In 1875, he released the Graded School Primary Speller.  Before the end of the nineteenth century, Harvey helped revise McGuffey's Readers. Next he contributed to an eclectic book series of geographies.  By the time of his death in 1892, he had added trustee to his resume (Lake Erie Seminary / Lake Erie College).

Although the former Harvey High School is now a vacant lot awaiting development by an expanding Lake Erie College, you can still travel the roadways of Lake County and be an eyewitness to the Thomas W. Harvey legacy.  His former home is located at 143 Mentor Avenue.  His Ohio Historical Marker (11-43) is also available for viewing

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Hellriegel's Inn - another chapter in Painesville's U.S. Presidential History

My first visit to Hellriegel's Inn came in May 1975.  As one of the editors of The Mentor High Log, I was nominated by our advisor Mrs.  P. Williams to receive the Dale Rice Journalism Award.  As I recall, it was a nice day to be out of school. The meal was good and Mr. Rice was a kind host that day.  It was nearly ten years later when I returned.  That occasion was a celebration with my MHS German teacher Frau Schormuller.  Twenty-four more years passed before my next visit.  A Sunday morning buffet with my wife and sister-in-law marked the most recent occasion.  Each visit came with a brief recollection of a young U.S. Senator's visit on September 27, 1960.  That Senator became our next U.S. President. Today in retrospect, it is interesting to note that Lake County has served as an eyewitness to U.S. Presidential history, and Painesville has hosted four such events.  Abraham Lincoln stopped in Painesville on February 16, 1861 to deliver a speech.  James Garfield spoke in downtown Painesville on July, 3, 1880.  George H.W. Bush visited an Oktoberfest at the Fairgrounds on September 5, 1992.  Even First Lady Eleanore Roosevelt's visit to the Mooreland Mansion can serve as another chapter in our county presidential history.

The history of Hellriegel's Inn ( Presidential History stop number 3 ) dates back to Benjamin Blish, a veteran of the American Revolution.  Blish arrived in Painesville in 1805.  Within three years, he bought a farm.  The farm was transferred from fathers to sons through 1897.  The first dwelling and current site of Hellriegel's Inn according to tax duplicates was built in either 1841 or 1863.  George Blish sold the family farm in 1897 to Frank W. Hart.  Hart was owner of a millinery in Cleveland.  The property was destined to become a family summer estate.  Hart named his home " Cherry Farm" for the old orchards still present.  Upon Hart's death in 1910, the property was sold to a Samuel Runner, Vice-President of the Bailey Company.  The Bailey Company was a major department store located in downtown Cleveland.  By 1918 the property had transferred to the Cleveland Jewish Orphan Asylum.  The property was used for summer outings through 1925.  The Lake County Country Club followed with a brief and unsuccessful tenure at that site.  

Meanwhile on the park in Madison, Joseph H. Hellriegel and his wife had opened a Roadside Inn.  Established in 1918,  a fire destroyed their Inn in January of 1927.  The couple relocated to Painesville and acquired the old "Cherry Farm".  The residence was converted into a restaurant and night club in 1928.  The year 1945 saw ownership pass to Mr. and Mrs. Ross McNaughton.  Seven years later, Arthur Covert and William Kochevar purchased the building and eight acres of land.  The building was enlarged in 1954 to its current size.  The Inn and banquet room enjoyed a 55 year run before being sold to Painesville residents Silvio Trifiletti and Albert Dilorio in 1999.  Today, Hellreigel's Inn remains a public restaurant and is also the site of the annual December 7th observance in memory of Pearl Harbor.

* The speeches given in Lake County by Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, G. H.W. Bush and future President John F. Kennedy may be viewed in full at