RICH HERITAGE, POOR PIONEERS: The not so nice photograph accompanying my essay this week is that of a house that still occupies the southwest corner of Washington and Columbus streets in Vermilion. [F.Y.I. Columbus Street is the street just north of the railroad tracks in the old section of town. It runs parallel to those tracks east-to-west between Decatur and Washington streets.] The house was, once upon a time, the home of Art and Gerry Wilkes. Their son Dave, my brother-in-law, recently let me copy the aged picture. I’ve been told that it is one of the oldest homes in town. But setting that story aside for another time, one of the things that Dave told me about the place is that it was built with hand-hewn beams of black walnut. Those beams, he ventured to say, “Have so hardened over the years that it would be nearly impossible to drive a nail into them.”
Coincidentally, I’d been reading a thing called “Early Settlement and History of Brownhelm” (Ohio) that a Brownhelm historian named Bill Cutcher had recently loaned me. This little publication is one of the most informative pieces of native Ohio history that I’ve ever encountered. But again, setting the larger picture of that particular story aside for now, it is the detail of pioneer life in it that really caught my attention. In short, the men and women who initially settled in our region were not only extremely talented – they were also an extremely ambitious and enduring bunch. In short, a person lacking those qualities does not fell a black walnut tree, fashion large beams from it to construct a house and then build a house with them. I don’t know about anyone else, but I view the building of any house in the wilderness as being a colossal undertaking. But the fact is that it was done – and a whole lot more.
A fella who had “lived it” wrote the Brownhelm history: J.H. Fairchild, who by the time he wrote and presented it (c.1867) was the President of Oberlin College. And in reading it many questions come to mind. Who, for instance, thinks about what it took to clear the forests on the land we now call home to make way for the fields and orchards that provided sustenance for past, present and future generations? Who thinks about those persons who actually walked from places like Stockbridge, Massachusetts with only a white knapsack on their backs to settle in the wilderness that was once Ohio? Who thinks about those who lived day after day on a diet of venison, roasted Raccoon and baked Opossum? And who reflects about living at a time when new – even used - clothing was scarce?
Mr. Fairchild further explained that the clothing brought here by those early settlers soon wore out or was outgrown; and though flax was raised and used to make linen clothing that was good for warm months; sheep, and the wool they would provide, were scarce. Owing to the fact that the cattle that came with the settlers were few, they were used for other necessities. Ergo, leather was hard to come by. And even when a hide could be obtained tanning took months. Moreover, after a tanned hide got to a person who could fashion shoes – a shoemaker was also a scarce commodity – he too had his fields to attend to. Those factoids married to the additional reality that required four or five fittings before the shoes could be finished, it was not uncommon for folks to find themselves wading through winter snow in shoes crudely fashioned from the skins of hogs, dogs, deer and wolves.
An interesting anecdote in Fairchild’s treatise tells of a box of used clothing, some new cloth and a string of dried apples that arrived for one of the pioneer families from the East. Three little boys from the recipient’s family met up with some neighbor boys after the box had arrived. The boys told their buddies, “Mother says we are rich now.” The neighbor boys replied, “ Well, we are not rich, we are poor, and poor folks go to heaven, and rich folks don’t.” Fairchild further writes that “This was a new view of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus”, and that “the boys went home quite crestfallen”. However…
Mr. Fairchild went on to point out that regarding the hardship and poverty among those early settlers it was shared. Even if the youngsters didn’t realize it most all the adults did. And yet they persevered; they survived; they fell black walnut trees; fashioned great beams from them; and built houses like the Wilkes’ home in Vermilion that would last for a hundred years and many, many more.
Ref: Early Settlement & History of Brownhelm, J.H. Fairchild, 1867; Special Thanks To: Bill Cutcher and Dave and Ginny Wilkes; Published in the Vermilion Photojournal 02/02/17.
Vol. XII, No.37. - VERMILION, OHIO, THURSDAY, February 18, 1909
Dr. Hill’s Residents Burned – Storm Made Hard Work For Firemen
At about midnight Sunday night, a fire alarm was turned in. The firemen responded as promptly as possible considering the condition of the streets owing to the ice storm. It was the residence of Dr. E. J. Hill,. The light hose cart was brought out and one length of the hose laid. It was only a short time until the fire, which originated in the partition in the kitchen chimney, was apparently subdued. In a few minutes it broke out again and having gone all through the upper portion of the house, and another lot of hose was sent for, it being next to impossible to take out the big wagon. This time the building was completely gutted.
The firemen worked to disadvantage all through the fire on account of the house being located on the lake shore rendering it difficult to get at the fire from that side. Another thing was the fire being between the walls and could not be fought successfully until it broke through. The property was owned by Mr. H. Black and the building built for C. C. Baumhart who resided there previous to his removal to Oberlin. The fire was discovered by Dr. Hill who immediately gave alarm by telephone and the firing of a gun. The screams of Mrs. Hill and the gunshots thoroughly aroused the neighborhood. Both Mr. Black The doctor and his wife are at present making their home with Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Penning.
WORST STORM OF THE SEASON
The sleet and rain storm of Sunday, Monday and Tuesday is one of the worst of the season and probably one of the worst ever experienced in this section. The rain freezing upon the trees and wires as soon as it touched them, loaded them down to such an extent that the weaker branches of the trees began to break and fall, and now some of our most beautiful shade trees are ruined. The telephone wires began to break at an early hour and a great many phones were soon out of commission and every hour adds to the number. In the country a large number of poles are down. All long-distance wires are down. The telegraph station at the Lake Shore was closed as the lines were all down, so Sunday and Monday there was no communication with the outside. The electric line was crippled and no regular cars were run. The breaking of a tower where the power cable crosses the river at Lorain further crippled the line. The Nickel Plate Road is also crippled on account of the telegraph lines being down. It was useless to attempt to repair any of the lines on account of the continued storm.
The town is in darkness on account of the power being shut off, but it just as well as the danger of “live” wires is not been so great.
The damage to fruit will not be great accepting where the trees were weak and the weight of the ice has broken them down, but the outlook at present is not very encouraging.
One Of The Best If Not The Best Ever Asked Attempted In Our Town – Program Is Printed In The News Rendered In Full.
It is said that so larger crowd never gathered in our Opera House as that of Thursday afternoon and evening. The occasion was that of the rendering of the Lincoln Day program by our Public Schools. During the afternoon the grades below the High School gave their exercises in the verdict of all present is “splendid."
In the evening seven hundred were in the hall and about one hundred turned away. The closest attention was given by all and each participant in the Recitation, song, drills and play deserves special mention. All did their very best and teachers, parents and friends are decidedly proud of them.
The High School orchestra made their debut and acquitted themselves creditably.
Miss Hull, Asst. principal had a charge of the scarf drill, Mr. Croninger, principal of the Tennis Drill and Mrs. Elizabeth Kane of the Play and speakers, while Mr. Seemann and superintended generally.
Rev. Geo. E. Merrill said in part at the service Tuesday morning at the house of Mr. and Mrs. Geo. M. Naegele: the beautiful babe that came from Somewhereland on a Sunday morning into this home wept a little and smiled some, on another Sunday in the early evening flitted out and went to heaven. Though only two score and two days was the visit the darling baby threwh around its mother and father, and others too, the clinging grasp of innocence and promises that will not let go in all eternity. The Savior tarried only briefly in this world and one Sunday he arose from the tomb and God the all father just told that death is but not the end of the beings so near to him that he calls them sons.
This resurrection day of the week we also call the Lord's day. It is our weekly Easter. Longfellow has given the imperishable name of “A smile of God" to the babe. We associate pleasant things with a smile. John William is a smile of God! The greater the being to greater is his smile. And thus do we get a tiny hint of the greatness of the blessed little one that has just flown out of the form we are about to lay away. Quietly the baby fell asleep and awoke in the eternal land where love’s greeting was given.
“More tender eyes, dear friends, we held that waking
That ever mother beat on him or thee
For him most blessed arms were opened wide.
The Savior took him on the other side."
And sometime in the glory of great development beyond anything it is possible to dream of as parents look hopefully into future years for a child, this babe will be beheld again. The Father’s celestial grace is his and the soul's eternal expansion is sure.
The News phone is one of those knocked out of commission by the storm and if we lack news in some departments this week, the reader will know the real reason.
Nine and Ella Schaffield are both on sick list.
BORN – to Mr. and Mrs. John Dust of S. Amherst the daughter Saturday.
Mrs. O. Barney is quite ill at the home of her daughter.
Mrs. Lawrence Harmon is recovering from a long illness.
Mrs. Chris Ehert age 75, died at her home here Wednesday.
Mrs. Robert Cromwell who underwent an operation at St. Joseph's Hospital at Lorain is recovering nicely.
The Amherst home telephone company plant is badly crippled on account of the severe storm. About 200 phones are out of commission and a damage of about $700. It will probably be about two weeks before the all phones will be in operation again. It was found necessary to cut the wires at Johnson’s so as not to blockade the road. All communication to Brownhelm and S. Amherst are cut off and to the North West and South. The arc lights were not operated for fear of the falling of live wires on the sidewalks, thus endangering that pedestrians. Considerable damage was done to the fruit bearing and shade trees. Workmen were unable to reach their daily labors.
Mrs. Anna Kemp has been quite ill for several days.
Early Saturday morning Mrs. Catherine Mauer, age 75, passed from life after a long illness. Three sons, Michael of Cleveland, Andrew and Edward of this place three daughters, Mrs. McVey of Franklin, Pa., Miss Barbara of this place and Mrs. Tunko of Elyria survive.
A.E. Stilwald was present at the Lincoln commemoration exercises held in the town hall Friday evening and gave the address of welcome which was very interesting. He told of his experience on the night of Lincoln's assassination and how he in company with fellow soldiers were to attend forth Ford's theater, where the fatal shot was fired at Lincoln. But by the urgent request of his sweetheart, persuaded him to attend another theater he did so. He also told of visits that Lincoln and himself had on the battlefield and how one day Lincoln placed his hand upon his shoulder, and urged him to apply his utmost endeavors in winning the battle of Appotomax. The next day the battle was fought, all of the soldiers remembered the encouraging work and fought like demons that resulted in Lee’s surrender and great victory, for them.
Mead Petty has been confined to the bed for the last two weeks.
Frank Miller has bought him a valuable horse of V. Leimbach.
Mr. Damon was unable to get to a school on account of the streetcar tie-up.
The storm is doing quite a bit of damage. People are unable to use their telephones.
The R. F. D. Man of North Amherst was obliged on last Wednesday to leave his team at Strong's Corners on account of the bad roads.
Owing to the severe ice storm there were no services at the M.E. church Sunday.
M. J. Trinter, Lilla and Edna attended the High School entertainment at Vermilion Thursday.
We cannot help publicly condemning the practice of passing around liquor promiscuously at fires as has been done. Results show that it does no good and may be productive of considerable harm, especially to those whose appetites crave for more after they have once tasted. We believe there is no call for especially where good strong hot coffee is used as a substitute, no matter how cold or wet the weather.
[NOTE:I’ve no real idea who wrote this comment, but I am curious. Was it my grandfather or my grandmother – or both? I, unfortunately, never knew either so I don’t have a clue as to their view re: alcohol.]
Jacob Baumhart Christ Sprankle have joined together a suit against the N. Y. C. St. L. and the Lake Shore Electric companies, to recover the sum of $213 for the loss of 13 hogs which were drowned in Brownhelm a few months ago.
According to the particular petition the hogs weighed about 300 pounds each and were worth seven cents a pound at the time the deluge bore down upon the pen in which they were confined.
The companies are accused of constructing a 25 foot roadbed along the property where the hogs were supposed to root for a living and that when the companies failed to provide a proper outlet for the water the hogs sought protection in the sty, where the rising water soon sealed their doom.
Such advances to school entertainment of Thursday has a tendency to make busy people quote take notice" and gives all sense of pride and pleasure in our public institutions which are prone to be forgotten in the quote race for money."
Washington's Birthday Monday – no school.
BORN – to Mr. Mrs. Chas Knittle a son, Jan. 25, 1909.
The electric cars will probably be placed in operation probably on regular schedule today.
Geo. P Krapp one of our hustlers sold more than a thousand pounds of meat on Saturday. This must be a meat eating community.
A sleigh load of young people drove over to M. J. Trinter’s last evening and report a fine time. Another load went to Berlin Hts.
Capt. Charles Hahn has received his appointment as master of the Gilchrist steamer Hecker and Capt. Peter Full will have the J. L. Weeks of the same line.
Fire was discovered on top of a telephone pole at the Andrews corner this morning. It was it was extinguished with some danger to the telephone property. It was probably caused by crossed wires.
Among the soldiers at the Sandusky home who voted for Abraham Lincoln, we notice those of Ozias Schaffer of Cottage A., and John Parsons of Ward D. Hospital both formerly of Vermilion.
Telephone crews and electric line crews are busy straightening out that tangle of wires caused by the storm. The phones that are out will be connected as soon as possible but it will take some time to get things into running order again. Electric lights will be turned on as soon as there is no danger from cross wires and as soon as damage damages to the line can be repaired.
The Maxwell auto garage of which Charles L. Blatz is the proprietor is a new Sandusky institution. The advertising will be found elsewhere, containing pictures of the famous Maxwell automobiles. If you desire anything in the motor carriage line, repairing supplies and storing, etc., we are sure that Mr. Blatz will be pleased to have you communicate with him or call at his place of business, 913 – 917 Market St., Sandusky.
Levi Cable, a former resident of Florence Twp., O. died Wednesday, Feb. 2nd, 1909 at the home of his son, D. C. Cable of Sterling, O. Mr. cable was an old pioneer and widely known throughout this section. Deceased was born November 17th, 1829, aged 79 years, 2 months and 10 days. – Wakeman Press.
The reports are that the Taft inauguration is going to be the biggest thing of the kind the country has ever seen, and as Mr. Taft is a pretty big man, the propriety of it is not disputed.
THE AMERICAN EAGLE ON LAKE ERIE: This same story appeared herein just a few weeks back. I want to reiterate it because after a facsimile of it appeared in the local paper a Vermilionite named Rick Van Den Bossche called me and told me that he had a great-uncle who worked as a boiler man on this vessel. It was, of course, after the boiler explosion – but nonetheless it was a surprise.
Normally I don’t write too much about things outside local history. But in the particular case I thought the story so compelling I wrote of it.
Anyway, one of the other things Rick told me was that his family have this diorama of the vessel. He sent me a pic of it, and it’s the inset pic here.
It certainly is a small world.
Interurban historian Dennis Lamont sent me this pic of the tourist steam vessel / icebreaker with the racing bicyclists last week. It’s an interesting pic and it, of course, piqued my interest.
Looking about I found that the Eagle was a rather well known vessel on the lake with a very intriguing history.
A man named John Monk built the American Eagle for Middle Bass winery owners Wehrle and Work in Sandusky, Ohio in 1880. She was sheathed with ice iron capable of breaking 8 inches of ice, and bucking the ice she could break through 2 feet of frozen lake ice.
During the spring of 1882 she left Sandusky with three other vessels at 3 o’clock in the afternoon taking some sport fishermen to Pelee Island. During the journey the "Eagle" got into a race with the steamer "Jay Cooke." Forty minutes later when somewhere between Cedar Point and Carpenter's Point on Kelleys Island, the "Eagle's" boiler exploded.
The engineer, J.W. Johnson, was terribly scalded. Frank Bittel, fireman and frank Walter, deck hand, were killed instantly. John Lutes. Mrs. Lutes, Miss Lutes, of Middle Bass; J.W. Gilbert, Wm. Dilger, James Fulton, Charles Kramer, B. Carstensen, Lorenz Neilson, were all badly scalded. Two were expected to die.
Before engineer Johnson died he made a said that he was carrying 110 pounds of steam, when he was allowed only 106. He also denied that they were racing, but admitted that five minutes before the explosion Captain Magie had come to him and said, "I Guess we'll stop and let the COOKE go by, and then go on." He replied, "Well I'll check her down in a few minutes. That was, of course, too late.
Afterward the tug "Mystic" towed her back to Sandusky, where her boiler was rebuilt.
And then, in 1884, during an excursion run from Lakeside to Put-in-Bay, she struck a reef about 1 1/2 miles west of Kelleys Island. That shoal still carries the vessel’s name. After being repaired at a Detroit Dry-dock, she was chartered by T. F. Newman for the "fruit run" from the Lake Erie islands to Toledo and Cleveland. The "Eagle" transported tons of peaches throughout the 1890s. During the summer months, she continued to run excursions.
In June of 1891 she collided with the tug “Alvah” 2 miles off Cleveland and sank. The crew was all saved. She was, of course, refloated and rebuilt.
And then, during the winter of 1892, sixty people were skating on the Sandusky Bay when the ice broke loose and began drifting out into Lake Erie. Captain Fred Magle and the "Eagle" came "to the rescue." The "Eagle" succeeded in getting alongside the ice field and then put a line on the field and towed them back to the Bay while the skaters continued to skate all the way home.
And what a sight that must have been.
In 1907 she burned in Toledo, Ohio off Riverside Drive. In 1910 she was rebuilt at Wallaceburg, Ontario to be used as a Canadian tug or passenger vessel. But the work was never finished.
And then – in 1944 she was broke up at Wallaceburg. And that, in a nutshell, is the story of the American Eagle on Lake Erie.
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