Monday, August 29, 2011

Do You Remember? The Interurban Line and Willoughbeach Park

April 25, 1895 was the day that the Cleveland Painesville and Eastern Railroad became chartered.  The first train car went into service on July 1, 1896.  Another line along Lakeshore and Vine Street followed in 1898.  From the late 1800's through 1926 this railway line connected Painesville to Cleveland.  At one point the C.P. & E. headquarters and main terminal were located in downtown Willoughby.  Stop 43 was near Erie Street and Glenn.  A car barn was nearby.  The Shoreline created in 1898 had ten stops on its route.  Local landowners Edward Moore and Henry Everett had properties on the north side of the railroad.  The men established Willoughbeach Park on this land.  From this site came an amusement park in the summer of 1898.

Willoughbeach Amusement Park had a dance hall, pavillion, baseball fields, beach, campgrounds and many additional amenities.  The C.P. & E. became the main transportation source to this area resort.  By 1910, annual church and business picnics were booked at the park.  Willoughbeach thrived.  A 25 cent round trip ticket made the amusement park an early equal to Geauga Lake Park, Euclid Beach Park and Cedar Point.  A rollercoaster was added to the park in 1925.

May 1926 proved to be the date in history that led to the eventual demise of Willoughbeach Amusement Park.  The C.P.&E. ended services that month.  It seems the Cleveland 'General' and other auto brands expanded the reach of travelers to more distant amusements and recreational possibilities.  The beach and camping grounds at Willoughbeach remained open into the late 1930's before becoming a footnote in the history of Willowick.  On your next trip down Lakeshore Blvd., try to imagine an era of railroad lines, beachfront resorts, summer cottages and a northcoast shoreline void of residential homes.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Do You Remember? The Original Face of Vine Street

As curator of the FHHS, I often find myself sitting at the desk in the society library room.  All around me are old city directories, tax ledgers, yearbooks, and many more primary sources.  Local residents can draw memory maps detailing buildings that once stood in Fairport.  Business facades on Third Street and High Street give an insight to the village past.  Our society history books and museum archives contain photos of the village's nearly 200 years of existence.  Recently, I had the need to drive into downtown Willoughby.  My stops...along the way included Vine Street.  Today, the face of Vine Street has changed.  However, today's blog is a mini quest to uncover the ethnic origins and early history of Vine Street.

Willoughby, like many Lake County cities, once had a distinctly Irish and Italian neighborhood.  In the mid-1800's, Irish families moved into the city.  They sought jobs felling trees and laying track for the coming railroad.  Mom and Pop businesses, such as grocery stores, bars, and hardware goods stores sprung up.  This was the Willoughby my uncle grew up in.  His house was on the property next to the railroad bridge.  His family were Italian laborers, who like many Italian laborers built homes close to work and church. He walked daily down Vine between Erie and Skiff.  He attended Willoughby Union High School.  He graduated in 1941, served in WWII, returned and remained a resident.  His father recalled the Immaculate Conception Church, a small wood framed structure with a rectory built in 1869.  My uncle remembered the Penfield Brick Yard, located north of Vine near the railroad.  My uncle recalled that as the trains rumbled through downtown Willoughby, the engines used coal instead of wood.  My uncle recalled the Vine Street of the 1920's and 30's as being lined with tidy homes and businesses whose owners were named Angelotti, Borrelli, Carmody, Clair, DeMilta, and Venditti.  My uncle remembered a large clock on the downtown bank facade.  Employment opportunities decreased in time.  The train station closed.  Families moved on.  Even my uncle moved five minutes down the road into Mentor.

Vine Street has been revitalized over the last decade or so.  New businesses are thriving, visitors gather at the local eateries, and special event programming call attention to the city.  As you walk downtown Willoughby, look around Vine Street.  It is one of the entrances into the history of the city.  Notice the tile that spell out hardware store on the corner.  Walk over to see where the CP and E rail system was housed.  Check out the old Union High School and the memories it could share.  Stroll the sidewalks and imagine the Irish and Italian neighborhoods that once were present.  Look into the business windows and imagine the hard-working immigrants who once worked inside.  Each gave so much to the community.

Every city, town, or village has a similar story to tell.  Historical markers share important facts about the Lake County you live in.  Architectural cornerstones exist in many historic districts to remind us of what once was.  Opportunities exist to experience what was handed down to you.  Honor the heritage that is Lake County.  Your local historical society can share its collected knowledge with you as well as suggest programming and events of interest.  Better yet, volunteer in your community or historical society.  Be an eyewitness to the living history that is still evolving today.

Old Vine Street Occupants - just a sampling

Reece Carrell                   1889-1918         largest landowner in county
Asa Cottrell                     1827-1911         wagonmaker
Nathan Clark                   1842-1912         tailor
Charles Jenkins               1840-1920         village clerk and lumberman
Capt. Ranson Kennedy   1819-1887         hardware and Lake captain
J.W.Stewart                     1876-1957        harness maker
Orin Talbot                     1831-1939        wholesale merchant
J.H.Wilber                      1824-1895        jeweler
Richard Yaxley              1835-1917        gun smith and farmer

Monday, August 22, 2011

Lake County Profiles: Claud(e) Foster

Automotive inventor, industrialist, philantropist, and a notable Willowick citizen are just a few adjectives to describe this Lake County historical figure.  His name is Claud Foster.  Born in the Cleveland suburb of Brooklyn, he settled in Willowick and his Cleveland based companies made northeastern Ohio a leader in the automotive industry of the early 1900's.

Foster opened his first machine shop in Cleveland in 1891.  For eleven years, he played the trombone at night for the Euclid Avenue Opera House to keep his businesses afloat.  By 1896, Foster expanded his business interests to include an auto dealership.  He sold the Cleveland built 'General'.  In 1900, he acquired both the Peerless and Ajax auto companies.  His invention in 1904, the Gabriel car horn ( a multitone car horn that used the exhaust gases as a power source) revolutionized the auto industry.  Another patent in 1914 for the "Snubber" (a shock absorber) cemented his fame in the automotive industry.  For the next three decades, leading auto executives sought out Claud Foster with their design issues.  Foster's businesses exceeded one million dollars annually in profits.  Foster created a profit sharing partnership with his employees.  He set aside another $600,000 between 1917-1925 to assist his employees in various causes.  Foster sold his Gabriel Car Horn Company to Otis and Company for $4 million in 1925.  He stayed on as CEO, but spent the remainder of his years as an anonymous benefactor to many Cleveland area hospitals and charities.  In 1952, Foster decided to divide his wealth ($4 million plus).  Sixteen educational and charitable groups were selected and his funds donated to their causes.  Foster passed away in June 1965 and was buried in Riverside Cemetery.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Hiawatha Club

As one drives the roadways of Lake County, you can't help but wonder how streets got their names.  Certainly residents traveling down Heisley or Hopkins Road might have heard of the town ancestors whose names are now local roads.  Morley Road, Casement Avenue, Richmond Street, and even Willoughby Avenue should be historical names known to longtime residents of their communities.  Today, we visit another hidden treasure in local history.  It is a small-in-size, big-in-heart community of 800 persons, or 309 households.  Founded in 1947 as Timberlake, its early history is unique.  What follows is the Timberlake Legend.

Timberlake is located on the northern shores of Lake Erie in Eastlake .  Originally known as the Lakeshore Boulevard Estates, the early residents formed the Hiawatha Club.  The club name was inspired by the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem of Hiawatha.  From its lines came the names of out streets and the current name of the village.

Wenonah, daughter of Nokomis, was Hiawatha's mother.  His mom was deserted by the West Wind, Mudjekeenis, and in her anguish died shortly after the birth of her son Hiawatha.  From this abridged portion of Longfellow's poem, one can see why the club was inspired and why in 1947 they changed the  name to Timberlake.  Take a moment to read the entire poem of Hiawatha if time permits.  That way the next time as you drive east-to-west or west-to-east on Lakeshore Boulevard, you will know the history of the street names as you travel past the roadways of the Timberlake Legend.

Monday, August 15, 2011

What's in a name? - Some local trivia about your howntown.

Collectors of Ohio lore should love getting to know Lake County history.  While the early beginnings of N.E. Ohio and Lake County are filled with range numbers, townships, villages and lots (100), it is generally agreed upon that the Connecticut Western Reserve and Connecticut Land Company had a major impact on the early history of what was to become known as Lake County in 1840.  Below is a brief look back at some of the original names of your hometown.

Willoughby -  At one time or another, Willoughby has been part of six counties (Washington,  Jefferson, Trumball, Geauga, Cuyahoga, and Lake) and has had three prior names.  They were Charlton, Chagrin River, and Chagrin.

LeRoy - This final name was selected for the New York hometown of many of its settlers.  In 1797, its first official designation was Chesterfield.

Painesville -  The area known today as Painesville has a long history.  Many noted people have had a storied part in the development of the county capital.  However, the first name given to Oak Openings (downtown Painesville) was Champion after General Champion.

Mentor -  Surveyed by Charles Parker, Mentor was a name taken from Greek literature.  Mentor was the tutor of Telemachus, son of Odysseus.  Solon, Macedonia, and Euclid are three other nearby cities named from Greek literature.

Grand River -  Its original name was Richmond.  Founded in 1832, Thomas Richmond was the NY businessman who laid out the first plots and harbor plans.

Fairport (Harbor) -  Surveyed and founded in 1812 as Grandon, the name was changed to Fairport in 1836.  Harbor was added in 1959.

Eastlake -  In the beginning, this area was known as the Village of St. John (1849).

Wickliffe - Originally known as Range 10, township 9, it had two other formal designations.  Known as Chagrine (1817) in early history, it was also part of the first Willoughby Township.

Timberlake -  This village was first known as the Lakeshore Boulevard Estates before the 1947 name change to Timberlake.

Willowick -  Many settlers claimed lands in what is today Willowick.  However, the city was originally a part of Willoughby Township.

Perry -  Township 11 of the Western Reserve took its name from Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry (War of 1812).

Madison -  A major portion of early Ohio settlement history occurred in this area of Lake County.  Ellensburg, Unionville, and Chapintown were the three names used to indicate portions of the first settlement.

Concord Twp. -  Township #10, range #8 was first known as Wilson's Corners (1802).

Thursday, August 11, 2011

#43-1 and #43-27 - Native American History and pre-Lake County, Ohio

The Lyman site in Leroy and the Indian Point Fort just east of Painesville are two little known pieces of early American history that are in our own backyard.  While history has much to document about Lake County circa 1800 to the present, it is the existence of these two Native American sites that merit mentioning today.

Historic Marker #43-27    Indian Point / The Whittlesey People

Located at 13165 Seeley Road in Leroy is the old Lyman property.  On its grounds are the remains of a prehistoric Native American earthen enclosure.  Two earthen walls bordered by ditches run along a steep portion of the property.  Archaeological digs have unearthed pottery sherds, tools, pipes and like items.  Analysis indicates that these artifacts belonged to tribes who roamed the area from 140 BC until approximately 1650 AD.  Known as the Whittlesey People ( the name comes from Ohio geologist Charles Whittlesey who mapped their lives), they occupied this Leroy area site from 1200-1650.  They hunted bear, elk, and deer.  They fished and grew corn and squash near their villages.

Historic Marker #43-1   Indian Point Fort

The remains of Indian Point Fort are located just east of Painesville.  Homes built from saplings and tree bark were part of the stockaded Indian villages that flourished in this local around 1200.  Known as the Prehistoric Erie Indians, their culture was destroyed by the Iroquis around 1653.

Visitors interested in these sites or seeking more detailed accounts of this Native America era in history may visit the Indian Museum in downtown Willoughby, Ohio.  The museum is open daily and is located in the old Willoughby Union High School building.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Historic Kirtland, Ohio - A glimpse of the 19th c. frontier awaits you.

Summer travel remains a focal point of many family outings.  A glimpse of the 19th century frontier unfolds in Kirtland, Ohio.  Nestled on the eastern branch of the Chagrin River, Kirtland served as an organizational hub of an infant church from 1831-1838.  An early handful of Mormons arrived and within a few years numbers swelled to nearly 2000 members.  Spiritual leader Joseph Smith was the key figure in this movement.  While in Kirtland, his visions, studies, and teachings provided the early guiding principals of the church.  Before internal issues, local persecution, and financial upheavals of the era forced a mass exodus, a lasting legacy was left for today's visitors to experience.  Whether you visit because of religious, historical, or local interests -  Historic Kirtland, Ohio is a local history site worthy of your time.  A visitors center will welcome you and provide you with a video and some basic history of the era.  The sites listed below will provide visitors with a unique glimpse into a special event in early American history.

Newel K. Whitney Store -  The store served as the economic epicenter of the settlement.  Baskets, crocks, barrels, and bolts of fabric were purchased or bartered for.  Joseph Smith studied and taught in the upstairs portion of the store.

Newel House -  Newel K. and Elizabeth Ann Whitley lived in this house.  It also served as a temporary lodging spot for Joseph Smith and his family.

Schoolhouse -  a replica of the 1819 schoolhouse is on the site for visitors to experience.

Ashery -  The processing plant for 'potash' is open for viewing.  'Potash' was a needed ingredient for many manufactured items of the day.

Sawmill -  Timber for the historic Kirtland Temple was cut on this site.  Other out buildings and homes of the era were constructed with materials cut at the sawmill.

The Morley Farm -  Nearby the historic village is the farm where Joseph Smith spent some of his early days.  The farm is open for free tours and docents can share historic information of the times.

John Johnson Inn -  A research center, this building sits on the original site from the 1800's.  The John Johnson House, located on Pioneer Trail in Hiram, Ohio was where Joseph Smith resided from 1831-1832.

The Kirtland Temple -  Built by Joseph Smith and his followers between 1833-1836, the church was made from local timber and sandstone.  The Temple served as a House of Prayer, House of Learning, and House of Order.  It was the focal point of the settlement and the hub of early church history.

Stannard Stone Quarry -  Sandstone for the Temple's construction was taken from this site.  Construction markings are still visible at the site today.

Historic North Cemetery -  A hillside cemetery celebrates the lives of many notable frontiersmen and families of Kirtland.

Historic Kirtland is an experience that is possible year round.  Open seven days a week most of the year, the historic village, Temple, or seasonal nativity display are local travel gems to be explored.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

USLSS/USCG celebrating 221 years - Guarding our waters, we pay tribute to USCG Station Fairport

Today is a special day for the United States Coast Guard. The agency is celebrating its 221st anniversary and its 40,000 service members, including the 30 members of USCG Station Fairport stand ready to serve. While working or volunteering at Fairport Lakefront Park or the Grand River lighthouse, I am in direct view of Station Fairport and witness daily the service and commitment made to every citizen.  Under the stewardship of the Department of Homeland Security, Station Fairport conducts law enforcement boardings (300 in 2010), answers calls for assistance (58 in 2010), and educates the public on needed boating skills (Spirit of America programs).  Listed below is a tribute and partial timeline of the history of the USLSS and USCG Station Fairport.

USLSS /USCG - Station Fairport
  •  1786     First organized attempt to assist those in peril of shipwreck is made by volunteers living on the Massachusetts coastline.
  • 1848     Congress appropriated monies to volunteer groups to assist in rescue attempts at sea. 
  • 1871     Congress designates $200,000 for lifesaving and rescue purposes.  Sumner I. Kimball becomes the first head of this service.  The service unites two related groups - the National Revenue Cutter Service and the U.S. Life Saving Service.
  • 1875     Date of conveyance  for Station Fairport
  • 1876     On May 3rd at a cost of $1995, the first station opens on the site of the 1825 lighthouse   property.  George Francis Babcock is the first chief.  'Frank' Babcock serves for 22 years and assists in more than 300 rescues.
  • 1876-1877   Four new districts are approved for the Lake.  Fairport joins the 9th District.
  • 1878     Launching and ramping issues result in a move of USLSS Station Fairport to the west side of the channel.  It remains there today.  Station Fairport is currently scheduled for a major makeover in the near future.
  • 1901     Ramp improvements are made.
  • 1915     The USCG is formed as the result of a merger between the USLSS and National Revenue Cutter Services. 
  • 1921     A new station replaces the original one.
  • 1930     The USCG is enlarged to include the Lighthouse Service.
  • 1934     On Second Street in Fairport, a north side of the street brick dwelling is built.  The duplex is used as a home for the USCG chief and lighthouse keeper thru 1939.
  • 1938     Additions, channel widening, and a relocation of the station site occur.
  • 1940 era   Station Fairport is used as a training center during WWII.
George Francis Babcock (1876-1898) and Niels M. Rasmussen (1899-1915) were two local Fairport residents to serve as chief in the service.  A roster of crews appears on page 136 of the FHHS book Fairport Harbor, Ohio (1976) and may also be found in the USCG archives. The Fairport Harbor Lighthouse and Marine Museum is open to the public and devotes an entire room to the USLSS and USCG history.  Artifacts, photos, relics, an original foghorn and lifesaving car are just a small sampling of their collection.  Today's Coast Guard may be smaller than the NY Police Department, but to the 30 who serve at Station Fairport and to all other active guardsman the message is clear -  Happy Anniversary and Thank You for your service.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Do You Remember? Painesville Beach State Park

Lake Erie was originally much larger than it is today.  An eastern outlet via the Niagara River drained the lake down to its current size.  Swamp lands adjacent to the shores were once part of the lake itself.  Lake County, the state's smallest county, covers only 231 square miles yet its trademark one mile long natural sand beach is the largest in Ohio.  Lake County, founded in 1840, was once a principal transportation route for Indians and frontiersmen.  By the early 1800's, Fairport Harbor, Painesville, and Madison were major lakefront destinations.  Nurseries, fishing, and ore unloading became mainstays commercially.  The trademark beach, swamplands, nearby dunes to the west remained.  Untouched and a nature preserve for wildlife, an idea in 1951-1952 preserved this lake jewel for future generations.

The state of Ohio began acquiring land in the Mentor, Painesville, Grand River, Fairport quadrant.  Their goal was to create a state park.  Opened in 1953, the park was named Painesville Beach State Park.  Renamed Headlands Beach State Park in 1955, the beach attracted thousands of visitors from the start.  By 1957, the park closed as waves and undertows carried too great a risk to the public.  Locals swam in the creek that ran through before it too closed.  1967 saw a capital improvement campaign begin and the state park experienced a renaissance.  The trademark one mile long natural sand beach remains intact.  Still the largest beach in Ohio, Headlands Dunes and a State Nature Preserve are maintained by the park service.  A 1.5 mile  Buckeye hiking trail is available.  A 0.4 mile fishing trail is open to sportsmen.  The State Nature Preserve features unique plant life.  Canadian wild-rye and wafer ash are species seldom found in NE Ohio.  A federal breakwater is located on the far end of the beach.  A 1925 lighthouse can be viewed up close.  The beach is available for recreational purposes and some guarded swim areas are offered.

For those of you who remember Painesville State Beach Park, it is a part of your Lake County history.  To those of us who only know 9601 Headlands Road as Headlands Beach State Park, you are now a part of the evolving history that is Lake County.  The summer still remains, experience a new chapter in local lore as you visit Ohio's largest sand beach.