Monday, July 1, 2013

Celebrating the Fourth of July

Each year on July 4th, we celebrate the birth of our republic.  On July 2, 1776, our founding fathers took a stand and voted to legally separate the thirteen Colonies from Great Britain’s rule.  Thereafter, these courageous men hammered out the details of the Declaration of Independence which officially stated the intentions of the separation.  On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was officially adopted by the Second Continental Congress.  Hence, it is on this date that we celebrate our country’s independence; yet, the fight for independence would continue for another seven years.  In a letter to his wife, Abigail, dated July 5, 1776, founding father, John Adams, predicted the significance of the day upon which the vote to legally separate from Great Britain occurred as follows:
          “The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”
          Adams' prediction was accurate, but the date of celebration falls on July 4, not July 2.  Hence, from 1776 until today, Americans have chosen to celebrate the Day of Independence in much the same fashion. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Huron Suffers Severe Loss From Big Fire

From the Sandusky Evening Star, Saturday, April 18, 1903

The Losses:

Hermes & Scott, fish warehouse, $5,000; no insurance

W.C. Heyman, fish warehouse and contents, $6,000; no insurance

W.C. Heyman, ice house, $500; no insurance

C.A. Weichel, stock of ice, $500; no insurance

V. Fries estate, barn and lumber, $1,000; fully insured


            For a time, Friday afternoon, the village of Huron was threatened with a most disastrous fire, which seemed likely to sweep the river front and spread to business blocks.  The dying down of the wind, however, prevented such a disaster, and the blaze was practically confined to four buildings, the lumber yards being saved.  The total loss is estimated at about $12,000 or $13,000, with but little insurance being given above.

            The fire broke out in the fish and twine warehouse of Hermes and Scott, on the river front, near the Fries lumber yards, and spread rapidly.  A half dozen people saw the blaze break out about 4:30 and turned in the alarm.  How the fire started no one knows.  A puff of black smoke suddenly burst out of a window on the first floor, and in another moment the building was a mass of flames.  No one had been near the building, and no fire was near the place, so far as is known.  The day before, a large quantity of nets and twine had been freshly tarred and stored in the building, and this burned like tinder.

            Huron has no fire department to speak of.  There is one little hand engine and a supply of hose, and a volunteer company, of which Henry Shaffer is chief.  The firemen turned out in good order, and soon had the little engine manned, but the sickly stream of water thrown was of no avail.  The flames rapidly spread to the large fish warehouse of W.C. Heyman, and also to Heyman’s ice house.  When it was seen that the fire was likely to spread to the lumber yards, an urgent appeal for help was sent to Sandusky.  It required time to make up a special train and get the big steamer loaded on, but a quick run was made and by 5:45, the Sandusky firemen were on hand and ready for business.  By that time, however, the fire was well under control, and there was nothing to do but turn a stream onto the ruins and keep the fire in check as a precaution against a possible high wind.

            Huron will feel the loss by fire severely.  In both fish houses, there were quantities of twine which were destroyed.  The ice, owned by C.A. Weichel, was considerably damaged and may be worthless.  It is not likely that the warehouses will be rebuilt, and this makes the loss the more severe for Huron people.  They consider themselves fortunate; however, in that the fire came at a time when there was little wind, for had the strong north wind of the last few days been blowing, nothing would have saved the lumber yards and many buildings in the vicinity.

            It was the hard work of the Huron firemen and citizens that saved much loss in the lumber yard.  Before the steamer arrived from Sandusky, the blaze had spread to a barn adjoining the lumber piles.  On the second floor of this barn was stored a quantity of fine lumber.  As the lower part of the barn was burned away, the floor fell.  Then men went to work tearing down parts of the burning building and removing the lumber.  One pile of lumber was also torn down, and this prevented a further spread of fire.  At one time, the large lumber ware house was on fire, so great was the heat, but this blaze was extinguished.  The loss to the Fries estate will not exceed a thousand dollars.

            Two vessels, the tug Industry and the barge Columbia were lying in the river adjoining the fish houses, but they were not in much danger at any time.

            The fire attracted a great crowd of people, and cars running to Huron from both east and west carried many people.  When the Sandusky steamer was started, there was a novel sight for the Huron folks.  Their chief regrets that the firemen did not reach them earlier.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Building Doctor Program Coming to Vermilion on April 11

         Due to a general lack of proper maintenance, historic structures often come with a host of unforeseen problems.  Nonetheless, the integrity with which these structures were built and the quality of the craftsmanship is often unparalleled in today’s world.  If you own an older house or building or are simply interested in the preservation of historic structures, you can gain valuable information by attending the upcoming Building Doctor Clinic in Vermilion.  The Ohio Historical Society’s Building Doctors are specifically trained to teach those who own historic structures how to recognize and solve some of the most common problems associated with maintaining those structures and how to make informed decisions about repairs and improvements. 

According to the Ohio Historical Society’s web site, “Each Building Doctor clinic begins with a free seminar on topics like peeling paint and failing plaster, wet basements, deteriorating masonry, windows, wood issues, and bringing buildings built before 1955 up to date without sacrificing historic integrity.  On the following day, the Building Doctors make the rounds of ailing buildings within five miles of the city center where the seminar is held to examine problems and prescribe cures.”  The site visits are free, but only about 10 inspections will be performed.  Hence, it is imperative that interested parties register for the seminar and then make an appointment with the Building Doctor for a site visit.  The Building Doctors will visit any pre-1955 building including schools, churches, factories, stores, offices, farm buildings, and homes.

The Building Doctors only give six programs per year.  On April 11, they will be visiting Vermilion and presenting their program at the Ritter Public Library at 7:00 PM.  Site visits will take place on Friday, April 12 from 9:00 AM until 3:00 PM.  Registration for the seminar and the site visits is can be completed online at or by calling 1-800-499-2470.  The Building Doctor Program is being co-sponsored by Main Street Vermilion, Inc. and the Sandusky/Erie County Community Foundation.  Further information about the program in Vermilion should be directed to Linda Tallitsch at 440-963-0772.  If you cannot attend the program in Vermilion, the Building Doctors will be visiting Port Clinton in September.  Alternately, the Building Doctors will make a ‘Virtual Site Visit’ if you have one or two technical questions that you would like to ask.  Questions should be directed to the Building Doctors at 

Friday, March 15, 2013

St. Patrick and St. Joseph

Here is the link to an article that I wrote for the Huron Hometown News.  In the article, I provide an overview of who St. Patrick and St. Joseph were and why and how their feast days are celebrated.  I hope you enjoy this article!  Link:

Monday, March 11, 2013

More on Captain Fairbanks Church

The July 19, 1836 edition of the Norwalk Reflector details the near completion of Fairbanks Church's second ship of the season, the DeWitt Clinton.  As previously stated, Captain Fairbanks Church was a prolific ship builder in Huron, Ohio, in the late 1820s and 1830s.  Further information on the eventual fate of the DeWitt Clinton, can be found here:

Here is a great article on the fate of another ship built by Fairbanks Church, the Great Western:

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Huron’s Port was Important to the Town’s Development

Mouth of the Huron River
Huron, Ohio, May 26, 1832 from the Norwalk Reflector

            The rapidly increasing business of this place begins to arrest the attention of our own citizens, as well as travellers and emigrants, who feel an interest in the settlement of Huron County.  Since the Steam Boat Sheldon Thompson was built at this port in 1830, it has been noted as one of the best places for ship building on the western Lakes.  Since which, the following large Schooners have been built and fitted out at this place, viz. the Marengo, launched in June, 1831- burthen 105 tons;- the Austerlitz, launched in April, 1832- burthern 131 tons, built by Capt. Church and owned by O. Newberry, Esq. of Detroit;- the Prince Eugene, launched in May, 1832- burthern 101 tons, built by Capt. Parsons, and owned by Mr. T. Jackson of Huron;- the Buffalo, launched in May, 1832- burthern 161 tons;- and a new Schooner, now on the stocks, which will be launched about the 20th June- burthern 130 tons;- the two last vessels owned by Messrs. Standart & Hamilton of Milan, and built by Capt. Church.  They are all built of the best materials and after the most approved models, and by first rate ship builders;- any country may well be proud of either of them.
            The above mentioned vessels, together with the well know Lady of the Lakes, Louisa Jenkins, Cincinnati, Mary of Milan, Eclipse, and a number of small vessels, too numberous to mention, are owned at this port and Milan, and employed in exporting produce to Detroit and the upper Lakes, as well as to Buffalo and Oswego; and in return bringing merchandize and emigrants from Buffalo;- give to the Port of Huron a name abroad and at home of increasing importance.  It is a well known fact, that this place began its date as a port in 1824; at which time waggons were frequently driven across the mouth of the river on a sand bar, which obstructed the waters of the Huron, and caused them to set back in the low lands of the adjoining country, occasioning innumerable and complicated diseases.  These evils the fostering hand of Government not only removed, but converted the harbor into one of the best and safest on the Lake, by extending piers a quarter of a mile into the Lake, preventing sand from washing into the channel.  To the country generally it is of vast importance, as good roads lead to Milan, and from that village to all surrounding country.  The merchants of Milan and Huron have gone into competition with those of Sandusky city in vending salkt, and purchasing produce, which has reduced the price of the former, and advanced the latter to unreasonable rates.  The farmers feel the effects of this competition to a great extent; many of whom are rapidly increasing in wealth.

            The town of Huron, in a great measure, owes it flattering prospects to the enterprising citizens of Milan; through whose influence and exertions appropriations were made for the improvement of the harbor.  The village of Milan is well situated for trade, and by its connection with Huron by the Huron River, which is navigable up within three miles of Milan, together with its healthy location, will soon become a place of extensive business.  It is in contemplation to connect the two villages, at the head of navigation, by a canal, which will no doubt ere long be carried into effect.  A daily line of Steam Boats, from Buffalo to Detroit, now call at Huron, both on their upward and downward passage, landing and receiving passengers, freight, & c.  A daily line o f Stages has also been recently established, running from Huron through Milan, Norwalk, Mount Vernon, to Columbus.  The large amount of business already brought to the Lake, by this route, exceeds the expectations of its most sanguine friends.

Note: The Milan Canal, which was completed in 1839, brought a period of prosperity to Milan.  The Canal linked Milan to the Huron River and, subsequently, Lake Erie.  Ships traveled along the three-mile canal, and then proceeded to the Huron River and eventually traveled another seven miles to Lake Erie through the town of Huron.  Farmers could bring their grain, hogs, and other goods to market in Milan and save a day’s travel time over less than ideal roads.  Farmers from a 70-80 mile radius to the south, east, and west took advantage of Milan’s Canal.  In its heyday, 600-700 wagons arrived in Milan per day, and as many as 20 sailing vessels were loaded with upwards of 35,000 bushels of grain.  The population of Milan surged from around 280 residents in 1824 to 500 in 1840 to 1,500 in 1850.  Ultimately, the Milan Canal resulted in a major decline in the shipbuilding and exports from Huron. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

The History of Milan, Ohio, the Milan Canal, and Squier’s Inn

     The mid to late 1830s was a period of great prosperity in Milan’s history.  Construction on the Milan Canal began in 1832 and was completed in 1839.  The Canal linked Milan to the Huron River and, subsequently, Lake Erie.  Ships traveled along the three-mile canal, and then proceeded to the Huron River and eventually traveled another seven miles to Lake Erie through the town of Huron.  Thus, farmers could bring their grain, hogs, and other goods to market in Milan and save a day’s travel time over less than ideal roads.  Farmers from a 70-80 mile radius to the south, east, and west took advantage of Milan’s Canal.  In its heyday, 600-700 wagons arrived in Milan per day, and as many as 20 sailing vessels were loaded with upwards of 35,000 bushels of grain.  The population of Milan surged from around 280 residents in 1824 to 500 in 1840 to 1,500 in 1850.  All of this activity in Milan allowed for a variety of businesses to flourish. 

     One of the businesses that was created due to the increased number of visitors to Milan was the Squier Inn and Tavern which was constructed east of Milan by Whitney Squier.  Though no evidence in the form of newspaper ads or articles or other stories in written histories concerning the Squier’s Inn could be located, Milan historian, Wallace B. White, discussed the inn on several occasions during a 1976 interview that was transcribed by Ruth Vogt.  In speaking of the dance floor at the Squier’s Inn, Wallace stated “The dance floor in there is said to have been built so it was springy, and sprang.  Also on the dance floor, they had tracks so that the partitions could be pulled up to make the bedrooms, or pulled back again to make the dance floor.”  The Squier’s Inn was apparently a popular stop for farmers hauling large loads and especially for those farmers who were driving herds of hogs.  The Squier family owned a large property and likely had corrals for the hogs.  According to Wallace “…hogs were quite a commodity.  This old Inn (Squier’s), over there, the drovers used to stop there.  The drovers would come in at night, feed the hogs salt and water them hard, so it would increase their weight when they sold them down here (in town).”
     Whitney kept the Inn with the help of his unmarried daughters.  With the sheer number of wagons arriving in Milan each day and the large number of hogs being driven to Milan, Whitney was able to prosper.  As evidence of Whitney’s prosperity, on the 1850 census he stated that his real estate was valued at $11,000 which roughly corresponds to $323,000 today.  However, the prosperity of Milan soon began to diminish, first due to an outbreak of cholera in 1851.  The town tried to limit the number of visitors, especially to the taverns, because they feared the visitors were bringing cholera with them.  But, the biggest blow to Milan’s economy came with the expansion of the railroad in 1854.  The railroad made transportation of goods much easier and cheaper for farmers who lived in remote areas.  Hence, the Milan Canal was no longer a necessary means of transport.  Though only traces of the Milan Canal can be found, the Squier's Inn still stands as a testimony to the once prosperous period in Milan's history.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The History of Valentine's Day

           February 14 marks the official celebration of love.  According to a study completed for the National Retail Federation, Americans will shell out $18.6 billion on candy, flowers, jewelry, and other gifts for their sweethearts this Valentine’s Day.  Americans are not the only ones who choose to express their love on Valentine’s Day.  The day is also celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Italy, and Denmark.  But why do we do spend money in buying gifts on this particular day?  What is the significance of Valentine’s Day in the first place?  Is it simply a ploy by retailers to get us to spend our money?

            Valentine’s Day has been celebrated as a day to show affection to the one you love since at least the 14th century.  Yet, the history of the man (or men) for whom the day is named is a little sketchy.  Legend has it that there were at least three different men named Valentine for whom the day is dedicated.  All were said to have been martyred for their faith on February 14.  Interestingly, the confusion over who Valentine actually was and what he did led the Catholic Church to drop St. Valentine's Day from their official calendar of feast days in 1969.  Yet, the celebration of Valentine’s Day remains prominent in our culture.

The most well-known of the three men named Valentine was a priest who lived in Rome in the third century during the reign of Claudius II.  Claudius wanted to strategically build his military, so he declared that young men were no longer able to get married.  Valentine defied the Emperor’s edict and secretly married young couples.  Unfortunately, Valentine was caught and was imprisoned.  In the end, he was condemned to death and was beheaded outside Rome’s Flaminian Gate around 269 AD, allegedly on February 14. 

Several legends were associated with Valentine and the circumstances of his death.  In one story, Valentine is credited with restoring the sight of his jailer’s blind daughter.  This story goes on to claim that on the night before his execution, Valentine penned a letter to the jailer’s daughter and signed it, “From your Valentine”.  Whether these stories or any others associated with Valentine are true, there indeed was a man named Valentine.  In 1836, some relics that were exhumed from the catacombs of St. Hippolytus near Rome were identified with Valentine. 

The association of St. Valentine’s Day with love and romance is rooted in the Roman festival of Lupercalia which was celebrated on February 15.  On this day, the Romans honored the god, Lupercus, and picked a romantic partner for the year.  The Catholic Church commonly chose to offer Christians an alternative to pagan celebrations.  Hence, in the 5th century Pope Gelasius I established February 14 as a day to honor St. Valentine.  Nonetheless, Roman men continued their former traditions in seeking out the affections of women.  Expressing love and affection on Valentine’s Day has been widely popular since the Middle Ages, though written notes were not commonplace until around 1400.  In the United States, written Valentine’s were shared amongst the earliest settlers.  Around 1840, Esther Howland began producing and selling the first mass-produced Valentines in America. 

Hence, whether the legends associated with St. Valentine’s Day are all true or not, this day has long been associated with love.  The tradition of expressing love through the written word and/or gift giving has been in place much longer than retailers and greeting card companies.  So do not feel that in celebrating your love on this day you are simply falling victim to commercialism.  All things considered, we truly need something to brighten up these long Ohio winters, and Valentine’s Day offers us the opportunity!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Value in the Past

I came across this great quote yesterday while doing some research on the history of Lakeside, Ohio, for a chapter in my book on the Hoover Potato Digger and its inventor, Isaac W. Hoover.  This quote sums up why I enjoy doing historical research so very much!

"There is a tendency for the present to disgard all the past and keep only the new. However, backgrounds are fascinating entities as are characters, which have all the illuminating facets of a diamond."
~Eleanor Durr, from Lakeside, Ohio: First 100 Years