Monday, April 30, 2012

Mentor's Other National Landmark- Bardons & Oliver Inc. & Wildwood Cultural Center

The John G. Oliver House was built at 7645 Little Mountain Road in 1908 as a summer residence for early Cleveland industrialist Oliver, co-founder of Bardons & Oliver.  George Bardons and John G. Oliver founded their machine tool firm in 1891 and operated it in various downtown Cleveland sites thru 1988.  Oliver made frequent visits to England and it was his love of the English Tudor Revival style that led to his Mentor summer home design.  The 25 room mansion situated on 35 acres was built by Abram Garfield, youngest son of our twentieth U. S. President.  The hey-day of Oliver's summer estate ran thru 1924. John Oliver hosted small parties on the top floor and used the oak floorboards as his dance surface.  'Wildwood' was willed to his daughter Margaret Oliver Collacott as a living trust for her daughters.  The granddaughters sold the property in 1980.  The City of Mentor turned the former Oliver House into a cultural center and secured National Register of Historic homes status on the structure in 1981. 

2012's calendar of events at Wildwood will follow its usual pattern.  The Wildwood Singers will present their "Love is in the Air" concert this Friday, May 4th.  The Annual Plant Sale follows May 19th.  June 27th features a unique comedy club event and July 15th is reserved for a family fun day and picnic.  Since 1984, Wildwood's Garden Club manicures and maintains flower beds on the grounds as well as sponsoring various school / community events.  Hiking trails ring the mansion and may be experienced by park visitors daily.  Wildwood paints a vivid picture of life in the first half of the 20th century. Do stop by and experience still another hidden gem in our county history.

Some facts gleaned from 2011's  Roses to Retail - Barbara Snell Davis-author

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Bicentennial Moment: Fairport Presents 'Mardi Gras' Program Tonight

Service to the community has been a time-honored tradition in the Village of Fairport.  Tonight at 7pm in the Harding High Auditorium, this spirit of activism will be featured as the fourth installment of the bicentennial lecture takes place.  The topic is the Mardi Gras, a 'one of a kind' event that had its origins in 1938 and has been an annual event since 1941.  Not only will the lecture highlight this 'Slice of Americana' but those who come thirty minutes earlier will be able to partake in some Mardi Gras contests or purchase some FHHS bicentennial issue calendars, t-shirts, and keychains.

                                              Mardi Gras - A Retrospect

The Village of Fairport's Mardi Gras takes place on the shores of Lake Erie.  It is more than a few days of gala festivities, parades, queen pageants, contests, amusement rides and games.  It is unique.  It is 'one of a kind.'  It is a strictly local event that has maintained its original formula of allocating dollar proceeds to causes  that benefit the community. Revenues accruing have been disbursed to beach erosion efforts, assisting the 'Skippies' bantam football program, donating to local civic organizations, school projects, fire and police equipment et al.

The most significant event in the birth of the Mardi Gras was a 1938 Street Party to celebrate the paving of Chesnut Street.  The first Mardi Gras which was held on July 4, 1939, was an outgrowth of Fairport Civic Club Street Parties and Water Carnivals dating back to 1925 and 1934 respectively.  At the urging of residents, Mayor John O. Rendrick was asked to start an annual Fourth of July celebration in the village.  On April 22, 1941 the work of this event committee attained Articles of Incorporation status and the Mardi Gras era had begun.  Hoping for a modest start, the first event swelled to in excess of 10,000 attendees.  Programs that first year featured the Diamond Band, USCG capsize drills, softball games, a parade, a Mentor Harbor Yacht Club fleet parade and many other contests and family events.  July 4-8, 2012 will continue this time-honored tradition as amusement rides, a parade featuring the Fairport Harbor Historical Society lighthouse foghorn and Lake Metroparks Horse-drawn wagon, and a return of the boat parade promise to make this one tank trip to Lake County's hidden gem in Fairport a memorable experience.

Monday, April 23, 2012

City of Mentor Prepares to Celebrate 50 years

2012 is the bicentennial year for two area communities.  Fairport Harbor celebrates its 200th year in mid- May, while Chardon will acknowledge its anniversary in late-July.  Following in 2013 is the 50th anniversary of the City of Mentor.  Drive through Mentor and one notices the water tower claims Mentor was settled in 1797 by Charles Parker.  One might even know the name Mentor came from Greek Literature ( as did the city names of Solon, Euclid, and Macedonia).  Mentor Township dates back to 1815.  The year 1855 saw Mentor incorporated as a village.  However, it was December 18, 1963 that saw the City of Mentor come into existence.  Today's blog highlights a few of the events that have shaped Mentor since 1963.  Let's see how many events you recall?

The Mentor Timeline since 1963-
  • 1965    The new Mentor High School opens
  • 1966    Perkins opens on Rt. 615, one of only two eating establishments in the vicinity
  • 1969    Tyler Blvd. opens
  • Population is 39,000
  • 1971    Caterpillar, a 1 million square foot plant opens up
  • 1971    Old Mentor Foundation forms - 102 historic buildings and Old Council Hall saved
  • 1973    Cleveland Museum of Natural History dedicates 619 acres of Mentor Marsh
  • 1980   Mentor acquires Wildwood Estate ( John Oliver summer home) on Little Mountain Rd. and Mentor Recreation Park( former Garfield family member site) on Mentor Ave.
  • Population now exceeds 42,000
  • 1982    Reynolds Road underpass opens
  • 1986    Center Street Mill is razed
  • 1993    Mentor Schools Fine Arts Bldg. opens
  • 1996    City acquires Mentor Lagoons
  • 2004   Heisley Road overpass completed
  • 2005   City purchases Black Brook Golf Course
  • 2008   Population exceeds 53,000 - largest in Lake County
Coming blogs will highlight some of Mentor's early history.  Until then, if you would like to learn more about Mentor's history these books may be found in the public library, local historical societies or about town.

The First 200 Years - 1997 release date
History of Mentor Headlands and Vicinity - 1952 release date
By the Buckeye - 1984 release date
Mentor - A Retrospective  - 1988 release date
Roses to Retail by Barbara Snell Davis - 2010 release date

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Bicentennial Moment: Colorful Men of the Sea

History shows us that Fairport's location at the mouth of the Grand River resulted in many maritime moments.  The USLSS established in 1876 at Fairport is unique in that only two chiefs, both from Fairport served. Their names Babcock and Rasmussen still live on.  USCG - Station Fairport has served the lake shipping needs since 1915.  The explorer LaSalle, The Griffith, Samuel Butler,  and Ed Binden all share local sea-faring chapters in maritime history of Fairport.  Even the legend of a 'Great Water God' has a place in local Indian lore.

Two of Fairport's most unusual sea faring men were Mr. (Frenchy the Pirate) Thompson, and Tom (Sundown) Bowden.  'Frenchy' was a recluse and lived in a drift-wood shack on Huntington Beach.  Lore has it that he arrived in Fairport during a shipwreck, having swum ashore.  'Frenchy' earned his living peddling Lake Erie waters in barrels.  A familiar site in town, he was seen plodding about town on his riggety horse-drawn wagon.  The arrival of the water plant at the turn of the century forced 'Frenchy' into a new endeavour as a sand vendor.  He continued in that trade until his death in 1914.  He was found dead in his familiar beach shack.

'Sundown' lived in Richmond (now Grand River) but spent his days visiting Fairport.  Tom Bowden was a sailor of the old school, it was said he rounded the 'Horn' six times and sailed the Cape of Good Hope five times.  Born on the Brooklyn waterfront in 1839, he shipped out at the age of ten.  He was in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War.  Tom was also a crew member of several convict ships that traveled down under.  He remained a daily fixture in the village spinning yarns until his death at the age of 94.

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Historic Lake County Alliance Signature Event debuts May 5, 2012

" The smallest county in Ohio with the most history!"  Travel the roadways of Lake County and one will find no qualms with the accuracy of this statement.  Visitors seeking a historical based experience need only to 'Think Lake County'.  Native American sites, nautical sites, Mormon sites, pioneer and early industrialization era structures are a one tank trip away.  A U.S. Presidential residence, Civil War sites, and immigrant themed museums are mere minutes apart. 

A Progressive Dinner is being held in less than three weeks that will introduce the community to the many sites and historical gems that may be found in Lake County.  The evening begins in Willoughby at the Indian Museum of Lake County.  After appetizers and some locally grown beverages, attendees will share a dinner experience at the Lake County History Center (the former County Poor House) in Painesville Township.  Dessert will be served up in Fairport Harbor.  Not only is Fairport celebrating its bicentennial this May, but it is home to two distinct museums.  Both the Finnish Museum and Lighthouse and Marine Museum will be open for visitors to browse.  This event can accomodate up to 80 guests.  Guests electing to travel by bus will receive a narrator led evening into history.  Guests may also elect to 'drive it yourself' that evening.  Reservations must be made in advance.

A detailed flyer may be found on the Lake County Historical Society website or by stopping by a museum site.  One may also contact the LCHS directly at 440-639-2945 for more information. Space is limited, reserve your spot today! This event benefits all members of the HLCA and assists the alliance in promoting all members 2012 calendar of events.

Historic Lake County Alliance Members-          

Eastlake Historical Society, Fairport Harbor Historical Society, Historic Kirtland, Indian Museum of Lake County, James A. Garfield NHS, Kirtland Temple, Lake County History Center, Madison Historical Society, Perry Historical Society, St. Hubert's, Wickliffe Historical Society, Willoughby Welcome Center, Willoughby Hills Historical Society, Willoughby Historical Society
alliance website -

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Bicentennial Moment: The Legend of 'The Big Water God'

About fifty feet from the east shores of Fairport's Huntington Beach flows a bubbling gas that comes to the surface.  Fishermen know the spot.  Recreational boaters often pass by the spot and glance at this watery brew.  Many tales have been told regarding the origins of this anomoly.  Today we examine the legend of 'The Big Water God'.

A legend of the early Ohio Native Americans spoke of a bubbling flow of gas which came to the surface of Lake Erie about fifty feet off the shore of what is now Fairport.  Although the Indians were unfamiliar with the scientific cause for this site, they did know that this spot swarmed with fish and was an excellent location for the hunting of fish.  Thus, they attributed the bubbling waters to a God.  The harvest was therefore a gift of the Gods.

Fairport fishermen of the Eighties and Nineties, and again in 1910 reported a 'bubbling water-hole' where fish were plentiful.  The 1946 publication 'The Story of Fairport' contains excerpts from a 1796 journal entry of Mr. John Holley  (Surveyor - Connecticut Land Company).  The entry spoke to a site about 27 miles from Cuyahoga Creek near the Grand River.  He mentioned a navigable sandbar of twenty rods that graduates to a depth of one mile.  He also mentioned a burning spring in the lake about three rods from the shore.  Holley and his partners General M. Cleaveland and Mr. Porter even conducted rudimentary tests to see if the gas was flammable.  It was not.

The bubbling springs are still apparent today on the east shores of Fairport Harbor.  Founded by the Erie Indians over four hundred years ago, celebrated by the fishermen of Fairport nearly 110 years ago, the legend of "The Big Water God' remains today as part of the ongoing history of Lake County.  As you travel the roadways of Lake County in 2012, visit Fairport Harbor Huntington Beach. Once there rent a kayak or paddleboard from Lake Metroparks, it is just a short paddle to Lake Erie's bubbling waters.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Lake County Mini Profiles - Dr. Jared Potter Kirtland

What's in a Lake County city name?  Mentor took its name from mythology.  Painesville and Perry were named after famous people .  Willoughby was named after the founder of its 1830's medical college.  Kirtland took its name from the famous civil servant Turhand Kirtland, yet it is his son that may have the most everlasting impact in history.  Dr. Jared P. Kirtland was born in Wallingford, Connecticut in 1793.  After earning his degree from Yale Medical School, he moved to Ohio in 1823.  Kirtland served in the Ohio legislature from 1828-34.  However, it was a childhood experience that led him to his eventual fame.  As a child he managed an arboretum of mulberry trees.  This experience led him to two important discoveries.  In 1829, he took an interest in malacology and corrected the scientific communities false identifications of freshwater mussels. His claims affected nearly 50% of the species at the time.  In 1845, he co-founded the Cleveland Academy of Natural Science ( today known as the Cleveland Museum of Natural History).

A man of many talents, Jared Kirtland also practiced medicine at the Medical College of Ohio starting in in 1834.  By 1842, he joined the faculty of the Medical College of Willoughby and served as a faculty doctor throughout NE Ohio until 1864.  During the Civil War years,  Dr. Kirtland offered medical attention to northeastern Ohio's recruits.  The Ohio Geological Survey of 1837 even enlisted the help of Dr. Kirtland.

Dr. Jared P. Kirtland made lasting contributions in the fields of medicine, malacology, and natural sciences.  A faculty professor at NE Ohio's first medical colleges and a founder of our museum of natural history, Kirtland's warbler and snake are two birds named in honor of this early Lake County pioneer.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Road Less Traveled - The Village of Waite Hill, Ohio

Travel down Eagle Road in Kirtland and you'll pass through Waite Hill.  Heading south down SR 306 towards Kirtland turn right onto  Markell Road and you'll pass through Waite Hill.  Return from the Pine Lodge Ski Center in Chapin Forest any winter day and chances are you'll pass through Waite Hill.  I had an uncle who lived there in the 1970's.  I've passed through there for more than thirty years.  What do I know about it?  Very little and maybe that is the beauty of Waite Hill.  It is only 4.3 square miles total.  Fancy topiaries, rolling hills, and tree branches that shield the view of many of its 183 households are the norm.  The 2011 census data  attached a population total of 547, a nearly 23% increase since the last official tally. Most homes are generally less than 10,000 sq. feet.  According to former Mayor Arthur Baldwin, " architecturally any style house is permitted as long as it remains true to that style."  Notable residents include Jerome Osborne, Rich Osborne, and former Cleveland Browns coach Sam Rutigliano.  A notable ex-resident of Waite Hill was Art Modell.

Historically much is known about neighboring Kirtland and Kirtland Hills.  What is known about Waite Hill is that in 1830 a Disciple Church was located there.  It was an offshoot of a nearby Congregational Church in Mentor.  In 1895 as transportation improved an influx of residents moved into Kirtland and the Waite Hill area.  The 1920's was the heyday of the summer people and Waite Hill was incorporated.  Waite Hill lies at the crossroads of many roads less traveled in Lake County.  A 1915 poem by Robert Frost talked of a road not taken.  I encourage you to travel down that road less taken and pass through the small Village of Waite Hill, it will make all the difference.