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!