Monday, February 27, 2012

Lost Stories: Yesterday and Today - Leroy Township's Hidden Gem - Hell Hollow

Located at 14435 Leroy Center Road, 'Hell Hollow' is a 783 acre Lake Metropark property.  Named for its deep ravines, the park features hiking trails, picnic facilities and a high cliff top loop trail with 262 timber steps  descending into a deep hollow.  A 360 million year old Chagrin Shale Cliff is another notable remnant from the Glacier retreat that once passed through.  Located nearby is another Metropark property known as Paine Falls.  Both parks are linked in the 19th century history of Lake County.

Leroy Township was a rural agrarian based economy at the time.  Resource extraction and processing commodities were the main commercial businesses of that era.  In 1850, eleven sawmills were part of the Leroy landscape.  Over 400,000 feet of lumber were processed annually.  1865 saw oil exploration find its way to the area.  It seems Edwin Drake's 1859 oil drilling in Titusville, Pennsylvania encouraged site exploration in Hell Hollow.  Commerce led to homes and even two schools being located in the vicinity.  One school was located on current park property.  Time depleted natural resources and industrial advancements made newer county settlements more desirable for these original landowners.  Today some foundations are still present.  The stonework still survives.

Leroy Township remains as a hidden gem into the early industrial development of the Western Reserve and Lake County.  'Hell Hollow' and nearby Paine Falls offer visitors remnants of a by-gone era.  Visiting the 'Past' requires nothing more than just a walk in the park.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Bicentennial Program Highlights Fairport History Tonight at 7pm

The Bicentennial of Fairport Harbor is officially three months away, but the celebration continues tonight with its second installment.  An ecumenical choir performance in January featured the musical talents the many original churches of Fairport.  Tonight at 7pm, three speakers from the FHTC will present a multi-media presentation on the origins and history of Grandon (1812), Fairport(1836), Fairport Harbor(1959).  The hour-long lecture will be held in the Harding High School Auditorium.  Laminated Poster Boards will be on display in the hallway showing some early photos of the village.  The photos are from the archives of the Fairport Harbor Historical Society.  A commemorative village calendar will be available for residents to pre-order.

More Abridged Chapters in Fairport History... 

'Taking Ice'
A major industry in Fairport occurred each winter.  Known as 'taking ice', hundreds of men were employed on the river and lake in this capacity.  During the ice harvest thousands of tons of ice were stored.  Horses pulled markers onto the ice.  Men sawed through the 18-20 inch thick ice.  Other men using long piked poles moved the ice through cut channels up to the ice house on Water Street.  In the late 90's a huge 'Ice Palace' was built on the lake opposite the present Water Plant.  The pinnacles, turrets, battlements, and drawbridges were fabricated by nearly 150 laborers.  The palace was even studded with a thousand electric lights.

Eber Howe founded Lake County's first newspaper in 1822.  He called it  The Painesville Telegraph and it survived until 1976 .  The first newspaper to be published in Fairport was known as the Harbor Gazette. Founded in 1921, Saul Olila was the driving force behind its inception.  1923 saw the Finnish newspaper Ammerikan Sanomat begin. John Hinkkanen and John G. Aho were the founders.  Another newspaper, The Fairport Beacon was published by Neal Katila beginning circa 1947.

Water Street
There was little water drunk on Water Street in its early days.  After the completion of the local ore docks , many hotels (saloons) sprang up on Water Street as part of the newly formed business district.  These saloons and dance halls were part of the early local lore.  Frisco's Barbary Coast, Brick Hall and Jones' Hall were well known establishments.
Many legit businesses were part of Water Street.  In its hey-day thirteen warehouses were located on Water Street.  A pump house, a machine house, and large Icehouse stood near the lake.  Two stores, E.E. Lawrence and The Marine Supply Company were also located on Water Street.

Plank Road
In 1849 an all plank road road was built over a new route from Fairport to Painesville.  Today the route is known as Richmond Street.

Perry's Victory Celebration
Perry's Victory on Lake Erie, in the War of 1812, was celebrated at Fairport on July 14, 1913.  The celebration, gigantic in scope, lasted all day.  A naval parade in the harbor and on the village streets took place.  The Perry battleship, Niagara was moored at the local dock.  A tent city, beach concessions outlets, and dedication of the Perry Memorial on South Bass Island highlighted the year's festivities.

The Light that Shone for 100 Years
Lake Erie and The Grand River made the area originally known as Grandon an important commercial hub.  An Act of Congress in 1825 commissioned the building of The Grand River Lighthouse at Fairport.  For the next one hundred years Samuel Butler, Joseph Smith, Joseph Babcock, a Civil War, immigration, and many other episodes in early American history allowed Fairport to witness first-hand the events of time.  Eight civic minded Fairporters elevated the village's history when their FH Historical Society, established in 1945 became the first-ever group to save a lighthouse from the wrecking ball; establish the first lighthouse museum on a lighthouse reservation; maintain the nautical sentiment and history of Fairport and The Great Lakes for the public using village volunteers for the last 67 years.  The lighthouse tower and museum (129 Second Street) remain open to the public today, a link connecting our current history with that of a by-gone era.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Lost Stories: Yesterday and Today - 'Paine's Hollow'

Located in Leroy, Paine Falls Park has been a scenic 377 acre Lake Metroparks property since 1974.  A spectacular waterfalls, grills, and hiking trails make it a unique destination for outdoor enthusiasts.  For those with a local history interest, Paine's Hollow' is another chapter in the early American history that is Lake County.

Colonel Hendrick Paine moved his family from Parkman, Ohio in 1818 to this valley.  Colonel Paine, nephew of Edward Paine and founder of Painesville, built his log cabin on the north side of the terrace overlooking the falls.  With the financial help of his son Elazer A. Paine and father-in-law Samuel Phelps, he opened a sawmill.  The location proved to be ideal.  By 1840 an iron forge and furnace, tannery, shoemaker, blacksmith, and wagon maker had established businesses in the hollow.  A local school and several homes soon followed.  For the next decade 'Paine's Hollow' thrived.  Prosperity declined in the 1850's as newer industries and technologies grew.  Deforestation led to the demise of the area businesses and they left for other parts of Lake County.  'Paine's Hollow' fell into ruin and for the next hundred plus years became a footnote in the history of Lake County.

Today, thanks to the Lake Metroparks acquisition of the former Paine property in 1974, visitors may 'hike' into the past and share in the scenic vistas and natural diversities that first attracted the settlers to this hidden gem located at 5570 Paine Road in Leroy, Ohio.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Bicentennial Moment: Abridged Chapters in Fairport History

Hon. John Walworth
Lake County's first settler was the Hon. John Walworth, who settled on Fairport Road.  A saltwater sailor, he settled on land first deeded to him by Samuel Fowler in 1798.  He bought 1,000 acres of land from Fowler in 1799 and moved to Fairport and remained there until 1806. When President Jefferson made him the Collector of Customs, he left Fairport for Cleveland. He transferred his property to another notable figure in Fairport and Ohio history by the name of Samuel Huntington (April 2011 blog).

Docks Started
An Act of Congress in March, 1825 appropriated nearly $1000 for the construction of a pier at the mouth of the Grand River.  Grandon and later Fairport would both realize the benefits of this initial enterprise.  In 1885 Henry W. Oliver, representing the steel magnates of Pittsburgh visited Fairport.  The result was the establishment of ore docks in Fairport.  Dock construction and immigrant labor campaigns began as early as 1887.  Narrow track gauges in Painesville were rebuilt in 1896 and 52 miles of track connected Fairport to Niles, Ohio.    By 1890 the ore and coal slips reached out 1000 feet and were 300 feet wide.  Five sets of Brown Hoists, 37 McMyler hoists, two steam shovels, two locomotives, and a machine shop helped the newly founded port industry accomodate six vessels at a time.

First Steamboats
In 1818 the Walk-in-the-Water became the first steamboat to traverse Lake Erie and reach Fairport.  She was a sidewheeler and put in for fuel.  She was on her way to Detroit.  The steamboat 'Fairport' was built on the east bank in 1838 from native timber.  Equipped with a 30 hp engine from another vessel the 'Fairport' was 135 feet long; breath of beam 22 feet; depth 9 feet.  J.C. Oliver was master.

Early Hotels
Fairport's first hotel was the Eagle Tavern located on the corner of High and Second Street.  The growth of the ore docks and shipping industry allowed for the rapid growth of the hotel industry, aka. 'Saloons'.  A large, ornately furnished Jones' Hall was a more infamous hotel.  It was located on the N.E. corner of Water and Third Street and featured a gilded bar and huge mirrors.  Another famous Grand Hotel of Fairport was The Arlington.  Featuring steam heat and electric lights, it was located at the corner of High and Third Street.  The Arlington was destroyed by fire March 8, 1931.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A 'Hike' into the Past - The Girdled Road and Girdled Road Reservation

The early pioneers of Lake County were more fortunate than many frontiersmen.  Lake Erie, ridges parallel to the shoreline and marked trails from Native American tribes provided a rudimentary transportation system.  By the summer of 1797, the early surveyors Seth Pease, Moses Warren and Theodore Shepard had called for a route from the western Pennsylvania line to the newly founded Cuyahoga River tract.  A year later $6000 in cash was secured and a contract signed with General Simon Perkins for a 'girdled' road.  The road would have  a width of 20' to 33' and bridges in areas unable to be forded.  This newly named 'Girdled' Road would connect the future European Settlers and present Western Reserve settlers with the newly formed city of Cleveland.  It would pass through Conneaut, Kingsfield, and Plymouth Townships.  It would cross the Grand River in Austinburg, and proceed through Thompson, Leroy, Concord and Kirtland Townships.  It would follow the Chagrin River's Indian trails and end in Cleveland.

Small paths had been used by the first settlers.  However the Harpers, Paines, Walworths, and Austins all realized the need for these 'Girdled' roads.  'Girdling' a tree meant cutting through the bark around the tree.  This cut off the nutrients and the tree eventually died.  In this way the next spring saw no leaves come to the tree and shade plants beneath.  Brush was removed, trees cut down for lumber, and uprooted stumps were turned into rough fences.  By 1802 Old Girdled Road was now a wagon path to what is now Route 84.  Eventually Girdled Road -Rt. 84 connected Route 20- Mentor Avenue and in time Chillicothe Road radiated from the early capital of Ohio - Chillicothe.

Today this early road and mosaic of woodlands, meadows and wetlands is preserved.  Over 932 acres encompass the Girdled Road Reservation in Concord Township - the site of General Simon Perkins' original construction camp.  Acquired by Lake Metroparks in 1965, the park has been historically accessed from Radcliffe Road in the South, Girdled Road in the North, and now Concord -Hambden Road at Skok Meadow.  The reservation features over a one mile loop of trails.  One can wander Skok Meadow, view the pond and experience Big Creek Valley.  In winter, trails are groomed and snow shoeing and x-country skiing are permitted.  The woodlands, animal, aviary, and bio-diversity allow for a 'hike' in history year-round.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Bicentennial Moment: The Nitro-Glycerine Explosion in Fairport

The heads of two families, now famous in American chemical manufacturing were business partners in Fairport, during the Civil War era.  Fairport's prosperous ship provisioning business had dropped off by the mid-1800's.  The loss of import and export revenues and the coming of the Lake Shore Railroad had led Fairport into a period of economic decline.  On the eve of the post Civil War Era arrived a new chief industry in Lake County. Two business partners in this new factory were synonymous with the explosives industry.  One was named  Caesar A. Graselli and the other was Lammot Du Pont.  Both men had long histories in Europe in the chemical industry.  Graselli's ancestors had manufactured sulphuric acid in Italy before expanding into the Rhineland.  DuPonte de Nemours early history in France (c.1789) was second only to Graselli in European chemical manufacturing.  Their business partners in Fairport were warehouse owners J.H. King, C.M. Wheeler and H. Hinkley.  These five men established a huge nitro-glycerine factory on the west bank of the Grand River. The Lake Shore Nitro-Glycerine company was established in 1868.  Storage facilities were built and explosives were shipped  to the ore mines on Lake Superior as well as to the oil fields in Pennsylvania.

Although economic times were slow, the nitro factory was not very welcome in Fairport.  Complaints of the effluvia(fumes) were lodged.  Close proximity to resident homes (189-400') caused unrest.  Three residents were arrested for the threat of violence to the establishment.  The perceived danger found an ardent spokesman in Samuel Butler, former keeper of the light and local businessman. Petitions to legislators proved futile. The inevitable happened, first on September 18, 1870 at 10p.m.  The Sunday night explosion in one of the magazines left 15' trenches in the sand.  Considerable damage was reported throughout the village as windows were smashed, doors burst open and homes badly shaken.  The September explosion was a mere foreshadowing of what was to come.  Despite the public outcry to desist and disband, the nitro company continued to manufacture explosives.  A worst disaster soon followed.  A terrific explosion was reported on November 1, 1870.  Both magazines exploded.  The factory was wrecked, many village homes ruined and nearly every town window was broken.  Four men who were at work were blown to atoms.  The concussion of the blast was reported in Painesville and Chardon.  The explosion had leveled both sides of the Grand River.  All was lost.

The business partnership was dissolved as a result of the event.  The owners made good on the damages and it was reported that settlements were quite generous to those affected.  The factory never reopened.  A chapter in Fairport's early history was now officially closed.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Random Act of Kindness - The LCVB, a Nursery, and a Lighthouse

In 2000, Catherine Ryan Hyde's novel 'Pay It Foward' was released as a movie with the same name.    Set in Las Vegas, Nevada, the main character Trevor (Haley Joel Osment) is challenged by his social studies teacher to develop an idea to better the world.  'Pay It Foward' becomes a connecting theme of charitable good works that moves the story foward.  Another work by Jason Wright was released in 2005.  Titled 'Christmas Jars', its main character is reporter Hope Jensen, who learns that a mysterious jar of coins and a random act of kindness can affect lives in totally unexpected ways.

Two weeks ago, a random e-mail said "call me".  Bob, the Director of The Lake County Visitors Bureau wanted me to call Craig of Maple Ridge Nursery and Discovery Den ( Ravenna Road, Concord Twp).  Their idea was to involve the Fairport Harbor Lighthouse and Marine Museum in their exhibit at The Great Big Home and Garden Expo this week.  One of 650 exhibitors at the IX Center, their garden and LCVB kiosk was to feature our non-profit historical society as its central theme. " Everyone loves a lighthouse" said Craig.  A nautical kiosk and garden were born.  An initial meeting at the lighthouse was followed by society members approval.  A box truck arrived last Thursday afternoon and Craig and I muscled two lyle guns, 9 laminated photo poster boards, and one heavy Steamer Tomlinson porthole display onto a box truck.  My back still hurts today.  The end result of this endeavour is that of the nearly 100,000 visitors expected at the show, maybe 1-2% will remember the lighthouse display and travel to Fairport this summer.  The display is located near the IX Ferris Wheel.  Volunteers man the vistor bureau's booth and brochures are available to all Lake County sites.  Lake County may be Ohio's smallest county but it is big on history.  Our 69 steps to the top of the tower, the museum displays, and the nautical artifacts and stories make for a great visit.  Your summer 2012 visit and admission donation fee will save the 1871 site for another generation of visitors.  A village bicentennial celebration, two museums, public boat launch and a pristine beach are added bonuses. 

Like Trevor in 'Pay It Foward' and Hope in 'Christmas Jars', this random act of kindness by Bob and Craig has affected the volunteer members and the Fairport Harbor Lighthouse and Marine Museum in a meaningful way.  Their idea, good will and donation of time to our society mission is a gift not soon to be forgotten.  Thank you gentlemen!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Bicentennial Moment: The Indian Era at Fairport

History has long recorded the conflict between England and France over the control of the Ohio Country.  Agriculture versus fur trapping interests led to a French and Indian War that was not resolved until 1763.  France ceded her claims to Canada and names such as LaBelle Riviere and La Grande Riviere became the Ohio and Grand Rivers.  Fairport's location on the shores of Lake Erie allowed it to share a small chapter in this history of Lake County and early America.

An Indian village was situated on the banks of the Grand River in Fairport.  The village was located on the east side of East Street, south of the current railroad crossing near the edge of the river bluff.  Over a two month span from August to September 1937, this area was partially excavated by a Field Archaeology Team from Ohio State University alongwith Fairport Harding High Principal Elijah H. Brown and seven FHS students.

Indian cultures are classified in three basic eras.  First is prehistoric (no contact with white man).  A second is historic (contact) and the third is designated as a transition period between the two eras.  The Fairport site was deemed a transitional site.  The black soil consisting of animal and vegetable organic material led to a conclusion that the village site was occupied for some years. The 'Jesuit Relations of 1647-48' recorded mention of Erie Indians living along the shores at this time.  The Erie Indians were sometimes referred to as the 'Cat' Indians and spoke the same native language as the Hurons.  This 'Cat' / Indian Village was believed to have been active from 1650-54 at which time the Iroquois were thought to have destroyed all area villages. 

The Historic Era that followed the destruction of the Erie / Cat Indian Villages in Fairport suggested that the area became a neutral hunting ground.  According to historical documents, tribes believed to have passed through included the Chippewa, Seneca and Cayugas from the east.  From the west, the tribes who passed through included the Wyandottes, Ottowas and Shawnees.

Though the site was not fully excavated, artifacts collected numbered 1,950.  Another 11,603 postherds and bones were found in the village.  Besides some private collections, many of these artifacts are on display in the Fairport Harbor Lighthouse Marine Museum.  The Indian Museum located in downtown Willoughby offers a larger collection of area Native American artifacts for viewing and an extensive library documenting the history of this era in Lake County.  Both museums are open to the public and welcome your visit in 2012.