Friday, February 24, 2012

Reminders of the Past: The Fox Road Schoolhouse, Huron Township, Ohio

One-room schoolhouses dot the landscape of Ohio and provide a reminder of what life was like for the children of rural areas, including Huron Township, at the beginning of the 20th century. Sadly, only two of the more than eight, one-room schoolhouses that once stood in Huron Township remain.

As early as 1841, a schoolhouse stood on Fox Road just west of Camp Road in Huron Township. In September of 1841, Squire Barrett sold a small plot of land in the north part of Lot 9, Section 3 to Huron Township for school purposes. As the population of Huron Township grew, so did the number of children attending the rural schools. In the early 1860s, there was an average of 25 students attending the school on Fox Road, known as the Sub-district No. 8 School. Hence, a new and improved schoolhouse was needed to accommodate the growing number of students.

In 1868, the director of the Sub-district No. 8 School, George W. Harris, suggested that a new schoolhouse be constructed in his district just to the west of the original schoolhouse. Hence, in May of 1868, the Board of Education of Huron Township resolved that a tax would be levied on all of the property of Sub-district No. 8 in the amount of $500, and a tax would be levied on all the taxable property of the Township (village exempt) in the amount of $700 for the purpose of purchasing a lot, building a 24’ x 30’ brick schoolhouse, digging a well, and fencing the ground in Sub-district No. 8. By April of 1869, the new schoolhouse was well underway. Unfortunately, the $1,200 in taxes that was collected from the residents of Huron Township was not enough to complete the new schoolhouse. Therefore, the Board of Education levied another $900 tax. The new schoolhouse was likely ready for use by the fall of 1869.

In 1868, a vote was put to the people of Huron Township and Huron Village to decide whether or not to build a central high school. The voters in the township voted against the measure; however, the people of the village voted in favor of it. Though defeated in 1868, efforts to centralize the schools continued nonetheless. In 1886, Huron built a large school in the village on the corner of Williams and Shirley streets. The younger grades were composed primarily of students residing in the village, but high school students came from all over the township.

In the early 1900s, August Scheid was appointed director of the school in Sub-district No. 8. Mr. Scheid, who had several children in the district, was a strong proponent of centralized schools. In 1911, Mr. Scheid personally provided the means for children to be brought into the village for school by purchasing a bus to transport students from Sub-District No. 8 into Huron each day. Mrs. Scheid designed the bus, and it was manufactured in Sandusky. Further, the Scheid’s son, Lyndon, who was to attend Huron High School, would be the bus driver. Hence, the schoolhouse in Sub-district No. 8 was no longer in use after September of 1911. A few of the other one-room schoolhouses survived the centralization effort for a short time, but all eventually succumbed.

From 1911 until 1941, the schoolhouse in Sub-district No. 8 sat vacant, but was still under the ownership of the Huron Township Board of Education. During the 1930s, the owner of the land upon which the schoolhouse sat allowed their pigs to use the structure for shelter. The once lovely schoolhouse was now in shambles. In March of 1941, Thurman, Katherine, and Emory Fox purchased 196 acres of land, including Lot 9, from the People’s Loan and Savings Company. The People’s Loan and Savings Company had recovered the property in 1931 in a suit against August Scheid who owed them $47,535. The Fox family likely challenged the Board of Education of Huron Township for ownership of ‘the schoolhouse lot’ since the schoolhouse was obviously not in use as a school, and, therefore, the land upon which the schoolhouse sat was supposed to revert back to the land owner. In June of 1941, ‘the school house lot’, containing 0.65 acres, was subsequently sold to Dennis C. Fox. By the time Dennis Fox came into possession of the schoolhouse, all of the windows and doors were gone. Yet, Mr. Fox had a vision for the old schoolhouse which included rehabilitating it and making it his home. Since that time, many others have made improvements to the schoolhouse and have called it home, but yet have lovingly respected the house’s unique past.

NOTE: Historical Research Partners was hired in 2009 to research the history of this great schoolhouse, now a home.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Vaudeville and Kelleys Island, Ohio

Toward the end of the 19th century, Kelleys Island was a playground for the wealthy, whose visits often lasted several weeks to several months of the summer. Many of these wealthy visitors to the island stayed at the Himmelein Hotel. The Himmelien, like other former hotels on the island, offered exclusive amenities that enticed the elite, such as third-floor accommodations for patron’s servants.

John Himmelein, born on the island in 1868 to hotel proprietors, Johann and Johanna Himmelein, helped with his family’s hotel until approximately 1886, when he left home to attend business college in Evansville, Indiana. Upon completion of his studies, John returned to the island to assist with the hotel operations. There, he was introduced to various Vaudevillian acting companies that lodged at the Himmelein Hotel during visits to the island to practice their repertoires. John’s growing intrigue with the entertainment industry would eventually lead to a new career.

In 1890, John left the family hotel business and began working with Howard Wall’s Ideals Stock Company as the company’s agent. Soon, Wall and Himmelein formed a partnership with Wall focusing on the shows and Himmelein focusing on the business. By the start of the 1892-1893 season, Howard Wall and John Himmelein had organized two complete acting companies, the Robert Wayne Theatrical Company, managed by John, and The Ideals, managed by Wall.

By December of 1892, Himmelein’s company was faltering, and John decided that he needed to hire a soubrette. He learned of a young actress named Bertha Wiles, whom he hired. Bertha Wiles, born in 1869 in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, graduated from the Cincinnati College of Music and first pursued an operatic career with the Spencer Opera Company of St. Louis. Using the stage name of "Beatrice Earle," Bertha soon expanded her repertoire and performed as a dramatic actress, comedian and vaudevillian. Her contributions to the Robert Wayne Theatrical Company, beginning in the 1893-1894 season, resulted in great success for John Himmelein and lead to a life-long partnership. On June 6, 1894, John and Bertha were married at the English Hotel in Indianapolis, after the company’s regular evening performance. By the start of the 1894-1895 season, John Himmelein had purchased Howard Wall’s company and thus began John A. Himmelein ‘s Imperial Stock Company, also known as The Ideals.

Despite his travels, John Himmelein never lost his love for Kelleys Island. In 1905, John and Bertha purchased a choice lakefront lot on the island and constructed a grand home. Bertha christened the home, Cricket Lodge, after one of her favorite stage portrayals from the children’s play, Fauchon The Cricket. While most of the year was spent traveling with their stock company, the Himmeleins always summered at Cricket Lodge.

On December 28, 1909, the Himmeleins only child, Dorothy, was born in Sandusky, Ohio. Thereafter, Bertha left the stage as a full-time actress. Also in 1909, John Himmelein began directing operations of his stock companies, then considered the largest stock-show operation in the country, from New York City. On November 28, 1930, Bertha gave her final stage performance as Mrs. Schultz in the Robertson Young Players rendition of Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch at the Sandusky Theater. However, despite her retirement from the professional stage, Bertha continued to entertain family and friends for the rest of her life. She was often known to begin performing at any given moment, an attribute much enjoyed by her grandchildren.

At the end of 1930, John Himmelein shut down his stock companies, and his reign as “King of the Repertoire” ended with the advent of the movies. Several of the theaters owned by the Himmeleins were subsequently converted to movie houses. In 1942, after 52 years in the theater business, John Himmelein officially retired.

Throughout his life, John Himmelein owned 10 stock companies, five of which were traveling companies, while the other five were permanent companies in Arizona, Colorado, Washington, Texas and Maryland. He also owned two theaters in Sandusky, one in Elyria, Ohio, and financed the building of a theatre in Tiffin, Ohio. In addition, he served as a Sandusky City Commissioner, an officer in Sandusky’s Commercial Bank, and as Vice President and Director of Sandusky’s Western Security Bank, which he helped to found. Bertha Himmelein was an accomplished singer and actress who garnered glowing reviews and was behind much of the success of her husband’s first stock company. On October 6, 1955, Bertha Himmelein died at the age of 86. John Himmelein died on July 23, 1956 at the age of 88.

After John Himmelein’s death, ownership of Cricket Lodge was passed to the Himmelein’s daughter, Dorothy Himmelein Sun. In 1984, a year after her husband’s death, Dorothy Sun sold her treasured family home to Frank and Christine Yako. In 1985, the Yakos opened the doors of their home as Cricket Lodge Bed and Breakfast. Over the past 26 seasons of operating the bed and breakfast, the Yakos have become year-round residents of Kelleys Island, welcomed guests who now return as long-time friends, and continue to host visitors to their fine, historic home. Throughout this time, the Yakos have always respected their lovely historic home and have embraced its history, while becoming part of its history themselves.

Photos of Cricket Lodge and the Himmeleins can be found on the Kelleys Island Historical Society's website: