Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Bicentennial Moment: Fairport Harbor Hometown Sketches

Fairport Harbor's location on Lake Erie has allowed it to witness not only nature's fiercest tempests but to participate in its maritime history.  Today's blog features three men of the lake, all from Fairport.  Two of them G. F. Babcock and N.M.Rasmussen served as commanders of the USLSS - Station Fairport, the third Edward Stange and his tug 'Ohio' safeguarded the harbor.

                                                  George Francis Babcock
Born in December 1845, George Francis Babcock and his older brother Joseph C. are well known maritime names in Fairport lore.  George Francis or 'Frank' had humble beginnings.  His parents owned a grocery and supply store near the local docks.  In 1863, Frank began his sailing career.  Various commissions and appointments on sailing vessels led to his being appointed asst. lighthouse keeper at Fairport Harbor in 1871.  In September 1876, the US Lifesaving Station at Fairport was built and Frank was tendered the office of keeper.  He served in this post for twenty two years, participating in more than 300 rescues and nearly $3,000,000 of cargo retrieval.  He died in September 1898.

                                                 Niels M. Rasmussen
Capt. N. Rasmussen ( Eagle Street) was one of the first US Coastguardsmen, when that branch of government service was established in 1915.  Previous to his government experience, he sailed on the Lakes as quarter-master for numerous schooners.  His first visit to Fairport was in 1872.  Rasmussen served in the US Navy on the USS Wolverine/ Michigan, served six years as surfman at Station Erie, Pa. and took command of USLSS-Station Fairport in February 1899 until its end in 1915.  Rasmussen and Babcock, both of Fairport were the station's only keepers in its history.  Rasmussen even served as Mayor of Fairport in his lifetime.

                                                Edward Stange
Capt. Edward Stange was born in Fairport in 1892.  At the age of 16, Edward had begun his maritime career.  From steamers to stationary engineer his experiences grew.  Finally in 1929, Edward accepted a position with the Great Lakes Towing Company.  Given 'command' of the tug 'Ohio', his adept handling of the giant steamers benefited the entire harbor communities he served.  Stange served Fairport as a member of Village Council.  His tenure also saw the construction of the village water plant and other civic projects.

The stories of all three captains are shared in archival photos, artifacts, and primary sources.  They are housed at the Fairport Harbor Lighthouse and Marine Museum which is open Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays thru September..  2012 celebrates the 200th anniversary of the Village of Fairport Harbor.  Fall lectures, museum collections, and special programs will share the stories that are part of the ever evolving history of Lake County's hidden gem- Grandon (1812), Fairport(1836), Fairport Harbor (1959).

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Bicententennial Moment: Fairport Harbor Remembers...

In the center of Fairport Harbor Memorial Park stands one of the finest honor rolls in the State of Ohio, honoring the heroes of World Wars I and II.  Dedicated on Sunday, November 26, 1944, twenty seven panels, each with evening lighting capability surround this circular memorial.  Name plates are in alphabetical order without rank or title.  As Memorial Day weekend looms, we list and remember the Fairporters who gave their lives for their country.

Fairport Harbor's Roll of Honor

World War I Dead
John E. Cooper                          
Matt Jacobson                            
August M. Luoto                       
Thomas A. Praskis

World War II Dead
Robert G. Aho                     Edwin A. Manninen               Joseph T. Svigel
John B. Bodak                    Donald W. Mattson                 John J. Toth Jr.
Arthur B. Congos               Leighton P. McCormick          Steven Urban
Delmar Gray                       William S. Ode                       Toivo Wasara
Wilho Hill                           David J. Orris
George E. Katila                Adelbert E. Pohto
Albert G. Kiikka                Daniel J. Reboczi
Norman R. Luoma            Arthur R. Sekki
Oswald E. Mackey            Arnold W. M. Stuuri  

Source -  The Story of Fairport - July 1946   No listing is ever 100% complete, if an omission has been made please let us know.  Watch for the names of those Fairporters who served in the Korea, Vietnam, and recent wars on terror.  They will be remembered in a blog this coming November.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

WHHS Program to feature G. P. Griffith Disaster

The Willoughby Hills Historical Society May Meeting is this Wednesday, May 23.  Noted author Jim Hopkins will be the keynote speaker that night.  His program will examine Lake Erie's worst boating disaster, the wreck of the G.P. Griffith.  The month;y meeting and program begin at 7pm.  The Willoughby Hills Community Center is located at 35400 Chardon Road.  For more information, please call 946-5557.

                                               The Wreck of the G.P. Griffith

 June 17, 1850 will always be remembered as Lake Erie's Day of Infamy.  On that day the wreck of the sidewheeler G.P. Griffith claimed the lives of 320 immigrants.  Approximately 40-87 passengers survived.  The immigrants had boarded the vessel in Buffalo and were bound for Sandusky.  Around 3am a fire started near the smoke stacks after the ship had departed Fairport Harbor.  By the time the steamer neared Willowick the flames were beyond control.  An attempt to ground the steamer left the vessel 600' off shore.  The immigrants, most of whom had coins and valuables sewn into their clothing jumped overboard.  Weighted down, they quickly sunk to their watery graves below.  News of the tragedy resonated throughout Cleveland and N.E. Ohio.  A mass grave was dug near East 305th Street in Willowick.  Sadly it was lost to erosion in the 1920's.  Local author Jim Hopkins will share his research and historical book on this fateful event this Wednesday.  The public is invited to attend

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Bicentennial Moment: Professor Jake and The Early Bands of Fairport

Mention of the name Fairport brings to mind a myriad of associations.  Residents mention 'The Diamond', Docks, Mardi Gras, Harding High memories, ethnic histories, Isalay's, Thall's, The Lyric Theater, village sports successes and so on.  Non-residents will mention the lighthouse, beach, recent Skipper baseball accolades or the village's lake access.  Music may not be one of these first associations to come to mind, but it is a rich patch in the cultural quilt that is Fairport's history.

History tells us that Fairport's 'Sulo' Band of 1893 was the first organized concert band in the village.  A Kasvi Temperance Society band under the direction of August Albert of Fourth Street, it existed for nearly a decade. History also tells us that none of the members had any previous formal musical instruction.  With no knowledge of reading notes, a director who only played a coronet, and armed with only a fondness for music garnered from their past experiences, the band was formed.  Parts were learned from memory after the director sampled the tunes on his reed organ for them.  Another interesting nugget about this band was the fact that instrument variety was not a factor.  Baritones seemed to be the instrument of choice.  Still the band's performance at the 'Torch Light' parades of the gay nineties in Painesville celebrating William McKinley election were chronicled successes in the local newspapers.

Another band that followed closely at the heels of the 'Sulo' start-up was the Imatra Band which performed in the early 1900's.  From the Telegraph, March 11,1896 mention was made of a Fairport Marine Band giving an opening performance at Foster's Hall on March 10.  The Citizen's Band - 1902 met in the old school building.  C.E. Miller was the instructor.  Henrey Werbeach, Frank Stange, Joe Hungerford and Mike Locotosh were some of the members of that band.

The J.F. Jacobson Concert Band Era does not have an exact start date recorded but primary sources dating to 1927 recall Professor Jake and the band.  The wooden bandstand on the village park became the focal point of entertainment every Sunday afternoon.  Monetary support from the Diamond Alkali and P&L E Dock Company took care of the purchase of uniforms and music.  Even the Great Depression did not deter Professor Jake from rehearsing each Wednesday night at Plum Street School for the June-September concert series.  In a fitting tribute to John F. Jacobson, sixteen members of his band played at his Evergreen Cemetery internment on January 13, 1941.

A band uniform (1899), uniform belt buckles (1934) and archival photos housed by the FHHS at the Fairport Lighthouse and Marine Museum stand as a testimony to the village's storied musical past.  Fairport celebrates its bicentennial in 2012.  Concerts on July 7 at Veteran's Park and August 19 at the lighthouse will allow visitors and residents alike to reconnect, rediscover, and renew village memories.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Lake County Fairgrounds Begins 2nd Century

I drive past it nearly every Sunday morning as we go food shopping.  I have ridden my bicycle throughout the grounds when I lived on Mardon Drive.  I have attended Oktoberfests held there long ago.  I even watched our 41st U.S. President make a visit to the Fairgrounds in the late 1980's.  Today's blog examines the history of the Lake County Fairgrounds, a local county landmark that is beginning its second century.

The Lake County Agricultural Society was formed in 1840, the same year as the county itself.  It was an offshoot of the nearby Geauga County Fair group.  Fairs occurred from 1841-1846 but the first inaugural fair was in 1850.  The Lake County Fairgrounds was located then on Cummings allotment on Bank Street in Painesville.  One dollar bought eight tickets to the event.  Free admission for horses and carriages were included.  On the last day of the event, one could partake in the exchange of livestock.  The Fair continued until 1894 when financial woes led to the disbanding of the society and annual event.

1911 saw the resurrection of the fairgrounds and the society. Lands were purchased on Mentor Avenue, its current home and within a year the first new era Lake County Fair was held.  28,000 visitors strolled the 65 acres that first year.  The Gentlemen Farmers and Cleveland Industrialists who called Lake County their summer home had much to offer to the annual event.  In excess of $500,000 of livestock exhibitions were now on display.  A Grandstand was built in 1913 and survived until the fire of 1964.  Since rebuilt it is still used for events today. A Log Cabin was added in 1915.  Built from donated supplies of the original descendents, this cabin structure and other warehouse buildings  still remain and reminds visitors of a bygone time.

The 2012 Lake County Fair will be held August 14-19th.  One need not wait until then to experience the Fairgrounds, events are held there every month.  As you pass by or travel the roadways of Lake County, remember this bit of local history located at 1301 Mentor Avenue, Painesville, Ohio.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

May 12th Bicentennial Celebration in Fairport Highlights May Festivities.

The Village of Fairport can trace its originals back to May 16, 1812.  The Village's Bicentennial Year has to date celebrated this important event with an ecumenical choir event and three historical based programs.  This Saturday, May 12th will be the official Village Birthday Party.  This Saturday and the rest of the month of May promise to hold many unique tributes to the village history.

Saturday's celebration begins with baseball and softball games being played at Urbanski and Cardina Fields respectively.  Both sports have steep traditions in the village annals.  A 'Ball Caps from the Past' display will be on site during the contests.  At 2pm, local and state dignitaries will kick-off the official program for the bicentennial.  Cake will be served and various tributes to village events and personalities will be featured.  A Bicentennial U.S. Postal Station will be in place for part of the day for residents and visitors to obtain historical cancellations noting this signature event.  On the hill at the Fairport Lighthouse at 7pm, residents are invited to a flying sky lanterns launch.  This evening event is sponsored by the Fairport Harbor Historical Society.

Memorial Day Weekend continues the month long celebration festivities with a Progressive Tour Weekend.  May 26th will feature a morning tour of the Grand River Lighthouse at Fairport.  The afternoon will feature a historical tour of the Fairport Schools.  On May 27th, a program is planned at Huntington Beach.  Lake Metroparks and the Village will collaborate.  Monday, May 28th ends the Progressive Tour Weekend with a morning tour of the Village Churches.  Late afternoon will feature two historic walking tours.

Additional bicentennial programs will be occur July 5, July 7, August 23, September 27, and October 25th.  A  time capsule dedication on October 27th will conclude the year-long celebration.  All visitors and residents of Lake County are invited to help the community of Fairport recall, reconnect, or rediscover their hometown.  For information on all village bicentennial events, stop by the Fairport Public Library during open hours or visit or

Monday, May 7, 2012

Roses to Retail - Growing up with Mentor

Several weeks back, Editor emeritus Jim Collins wrote in his weekly News-Herald column of the upcoming anniversary of the city of Mentor.  As Mentor prepares to celebrate its fiftieth, Collins wondered who would be the local historians that could paint a portrait of the transformation of Mentor, Ohio from a small rural based village to a rose capital of the nation, to its current expansive self.  Without a specific historical society and with many of its original history books celebrating the Mentor of decades earlier, I found an answer to Jim Collins inquiry when I met Barbara Snell Davis in March.  As current president of the Fairport Harbor Historical Society, I witness our accessions volunteers Julia and Louise catalog new library and artifact additions monthly.  Our collection of local history books about Lake County grew by one in March and in my short skims and scans into her book chapters, it is apparent that Barbara Davis' narrative of growing up in Mentor parallels the growth of Mentor.  Roses to Retail - Growing up with Mentor (2011) can be that definitive anniversary history book.

Mentor is examined in its early years prior to WWI.  Chapter III in her book celebrates the beginning of another form of wealth to Mentor, the rise of the 1920's nurserymen to the area.  Chapter V revisits the old village streets and businesses.  West Mentor's Strip Mall housed Shurk's Dime Store, Jackett's Confectioners, Swaine's Hardware, and Cash Market over time.  Other chapters recall the original schools, first churches, and local personalities of early Mentor days.  Roses to Retail is a narrative that uses the many references readily available to collectively take the reader on a still evolving journey into a city's history then and now.

As Mentor, the City of Choice  prepares to celebrate its fiftieth in 2013, Barbara Snell Davis' personal narrative should be on this summer's reading list.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Little Known Bicentennial Moments in Fairport History

In the history of any village, town or municipality certain facts are common knowledge.   Certain persons, events, or stories have been remembered and become a thread of fabric in their civic quilt.  Other little tid-bits of history become footnotes and lie dormant until some moment of opportunity revives them.  Today's blog gleans from two historical periodicals of long ago, Hometown Sketches- 1936 and The Story of Fairport -1946 for little known gems in the village history.

                                          Twelve Gems from Fairport's Past
  • Stadium Lights - the first game of football to be played at night took place on October 8, 1936.  Fairport's gridders played Ashtabula to a scoreless tie.
  • Old Ordinances on the Village Books in 1936 included Section 89 - unlawful kite flying and ball playing on village streets or public grounds, Section 167 - village convicts must wear a ball and chain when performing labor or out in public, and finally Section 91A - it is unlawful to drive any horse or animal in excess of 8 mph on village streets.
  • The first paper to be published in the village was the Harbor Gazette.  The year was 1921 and the editor was Saul Olila.  The Ammerikan Sanomat (1923) and Fairport Beacon soon followed.
  • Walnut Hill where the former Village Hall once existed was named for the large number of trees which grew there.
  • Fairport has been in three counties over its history.  Fairport was first in Trumball County (1800), then Geauga (1805), and finally Lake (1840)
  • Stigwanish lived in the vicinity of Fairport circa 1796-1810.  This friendly Indian was called 'Seneca' by the locals.  Chief Wanbermong and his clan were also frequent visitors to Fairport.
  • Grand River's early names included 'Sheauga sepe' and 'Kichisibi.'  Both were Indian words and meant raccoon river and big river respectively.  Geauga County came to be from the 'Sheauga' derivative.
  • Exports in 1822 were sent mostly to Detroit and Mackinac.  Fairport's leading export that year was whiskey distilled in the county.
  • In 1849 an all plank road was built from Fairport to Painesville.  The route is now named Richmond Street.
  • Hon. John Walworth, Fairport's first settler, called his place 'Blooming Grove.'
  •  James Fenimore Cooper, the famous Leatherstocking Tales author visited Fairport in 1820.
  • Election Winners in 1901 were pulled from a hat.  Jack Mitchell became the Mayor-elect in this most unusual bit of election history.
The Village of Fairport Harbor will be celebrating their 200th Anniversary next Saturday with a day of special events. Additional unique bicentennial programs will be held through late October. For more information on all planned events, visit or  Without computer access, just visit the Fairport Public Library.  A year-long program guide is available at the front desk for the asking.