Saturday, January 29, 2005

Giant electric dairy billboard

Back in the Fifties, when I was a kid, we’d drive out from Willoughby-on-the-Lake to my grandparents’ house in East Cleveland, and somewhere along the way (or perhaps on a trip downtown) we’d pass a giant electric billboard, showing a bottle pouring milk into a glass, over and over. There were hundreds of light bulbs involved in the sign, but I don’t remember where it was located.

I mentioned this in the December issue of our News from Cleveland Memory e-newsletter, but the one person who responded couldn’t answer the question about which dairy it advertised or where it was. At one point I thought it was out at the Westinghouse Curve, but later realized that my family never traveled on the west side, so it had to be an east side landmark, perhaps somewhere along Lakeshore Boulevard, East 152nd Street, or the East Shoreway.

I’d like to know where it and whose sign it was. I’d love to have a photo or home movie of it for Special Collections. *

Maurice Fox Map Collection, Hiram College

The Maurice Fox Collection is a terrific assemblage of rare old maps of North America, the United States, Ohio and the Western Reserve, which are kept in Special Collections at Hiram College. I’d heard about this collection from Joanne Sawyer, then the College Archivist, back when we first formed the Northern Ohio Map Society a decade ago, but I’d never gotten around to seeing it until last week.

On Wednesday, I traveled down to Hiram, in the company of Tom Edwards, Map Librarian with the Cleveland Public Library, to meet with History professor Robert Sawyer, (Joanne’s husband), Joanne herself and Lisa Johnson, who took over as archivist when Joanne retired. Tom and I were quite impressed with the Fox Collection, particularly the dozen they had on exhibit, showing the evolution of Western knowledge of the Great Lakes, between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries and the progressive settlement of Ohio thereafter.

Dr. Sawyer is organizing a conference, “The Idea of the Map,” scheduled for March 20th at Hiram and I will be presenting on the topic of the history and digitizing of the maps of Ohio and the Western Reserve at that conference. For more information, he can be reached at

Greater Cleveland History Digital Library Consortium

The Greater Cleveland History Digital Library Consortium was formed 2004 to coordinate the local history digitization efforts of its members, to investigate new technologies and standards, to educate its members in best practices and to investigate and conduct collaborative projects. It grew out of an informal meeting between representatives from the libraries at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland State University, who were coordinating their individual e-book projects (CSU, CWRU). That meeting showed enough benefit that they decided to invite more of their colleagues to a larger meeting, including recently hired catalogers at both libraries.

Since CWRU and the Cleveland Public Library had done an earlier e-book project together, and CPL and CSU had done a joint Cultural Gardens of Cleveland site more recently, CPL was invited to join, as well. Before the organizational meeting could be held, the invitation list had grown to include the Western Reserve Historical Society, the Cuyahoga County Public Library, the Cuyahoga Community College, the Shaker Heights Public Library, and historians from some of these institutions. In all, two dozen people came together from these organizations.

The organizational meeting was held in Special Collections, at the Kelvin Smith Library at Case, on July 28th. There the attendees introduced themselves, reported on projects they were undertaking, or wished to, and discussed how forming a consortium could benefit their endeavors and the public generally. They decided to create two committees: a Content Committee, to inventory the existing digital and paper-based historical collections that should be brought together on the Web, and a Technical Committee, to determine how best to catalog, present and provide access to such materials. These goals were incorporated into an LSTA mini-grant proposal in a subsequent meeting and over the balance of 2004, those committees have been preparing to further these goals of the consortium’s.

Since the organizational meeting, other organizational representatives have joined the consortium. The Bay Village High School librarian saw the benefit of providing historical information to her social studies teachers and her school media library colleagues in the K-12 world, as did social studies professors from Tri-C, Lakeland C.C. and the Intercollegiate Social Studies Association. Other public libraries, such as East Cleveland’s have joined, as has the Tremont neighborhood association, in order to help make historical information about local communities and neighborhoods a part of this consortium’s programs. By the time the second meeting of the full consortium took place on January 27th, at CSU, these new members were on-board and the two standing committees had each formed three subcommittees to further their work. Four representatives from OCLC come up from Columbus to participate and added a valuable state-wide perspective to the deliberations.

At this writing, the membership of the GCHDL Consortium stands at three dozen, the committees’ agendas are set out for them and we await word on the LSTA mini-grant application, although work will go on regardless. This is an open process and other libraries, historical societies, professional organizations, neighborhood groups and individual historians are welcome to join us by writing to me, as Chair.

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Saturday, January 15, 2005

Three houses: a Lake County residential history

Thanks to our mother's love of interesting houses, my brothers, sister and I were lucky to grow up in three very unique houses in Lake County. I think they played a big role in making us rather romantic and sentimental, but I want to mention them now for what they say about Lake County History.

The first was a small Spanish Colonial on Granada Drive, off Lake Shore Boulevard, in Mentor-on-the-Lake. We'd moved out from downtown Cleveland in 1949 and spent the summer in a cottage a couple of blocks over. My parents both worked downtown, but wanted the ambiance of living along the lake and after that first summer, began looking for permanent digs. The Granada house was one of four built by the Mentor Harbor Company, as part of a huge proposed development, a "Venice on the Lake," which would have installed hundreds of such homes, centering on a yacht club. Some of the homes would be built up over a cleared section of the Mentor Marsh and have attached boat houses so residents could sail or motor from their home right out to the lake. The Depression killed that plan, but the clubhouse and four houses were built and we lived in what was probably the smallest model. Samuel Livingston Mather, the head of the development syndicate (which had originally intended to turn the Marsh into a steel mill), had another of the four, but never lived there. We lived in this house for a few years, which I later decided was why I liked the architecture of Tucson, Arizona, when I lived there.

The second of the three was the "Swisscott," in Willoughby-on-the-Lake, a four-story, dark brown monster of a house, built amidst a neighborhood of one-story converted summer cottages between Lake Shore Boulevard and the Arrowhead Shore Club, on the lake's edge. A couple named the Scotts had visited Switzerland, fallen in love with the chalets there and decided what Lake Erie needed was its very own example of this style. The ground floor was an enclosed garage, the laundry facilities and a small apartment which was rented separately. The first floor was a huge living room, open all the way to the third floor ceiling, and containing a huge stone fireplace; the kitchen; a half-bath; and some odd, narrow, side rooms off the living room. The third floor was the master bedroom, a half-bath and a separate tub room in the rear and four small bedrooms arranged in a circle in the front part of the house, all opening onto a circular balcony that looked down into the living room. The fourth story was a full attic, accessed via a hidden, pull-down staircase. The house had two front doors, one at each corner, and since the living room was on the second floor, they were accessed by a pair of large, brick stairways, angling up from the driveway. Across the second floor in the rear and the third floor in the front were full porches. This was a wonderful house to grow up in, as all the porches, balconies and staircases, inside and out, lent themselves to all manner of imaginative venues. The entire house was made of dark-stained wood and was heated by a coal furnace in the garage which had only one outlet into the house, in the middle of the living room floor. On cold mornings we'd run downstairs, teeth chattering, and stand on the register, waiting for dad to get the fire going and some heat to rise up to us.

The third house was what my mother thought was a normal Ohio farmhouse, albeit one that had been moved and left at an odd angle in the woods off Chillicothe Road, in Mentor. It had a classic Greek or Federal Revival styling, one small wing with a formal porch and nice detailing around the parlor window. Later we learned that this was built for an early Mentor family, the Joseph Sawyers, by famous master builder Jonathan Goldsmith, sometime in the 1820s. It was already then about 140 years old and listed in Elizabeth Hitchcock's book Jonathan Goldsmith, Pioneer Master Builder in the Western Reserve (page 58). In the twentieth century, it was the summer home of Luetkemeyer, a Cleveland hardware merchant, and Hawgood, who owned a small fleet of lake ore carriers. Richard DeFranco, a Lake County real estate developer, had moved the house in the mid-1960s, from its original location on the southwest corner of Mentor Avenue and Chillicothe Road, several blocks south, dropped it on a new lot in an acre of deep woods, did some remodeling and went bankrupt (or so the story goes). It had been vacant for a year when mother's Realtor (who she'd met when that person was a young-married, living in the Swisscott's apartment) discovered it and put mother together with the bank holding the deed. I'd gone off to college by then, but visited it often over the 17 years I lived in Tucson and eventually moved back to it in 1989 for a few years.

The Granada Drive house is still standing, though it's boarded up again and surrounded by more houses than when we lived there. The Swisscott burned down several years ago and was replaced by two modern houses that make it all seem like a highly-improbable dream. The Sawyer House still stands, owned now by my brother, who'd done much to talk mother into buying it in the first place. I've lived in many houses and apartments in my 59 years, but these three stand out strongly in my mind. Perhaps everyone remembers best the houses they grew up in, but I doubt many have lived in landmarks like these three unusual Lake County historic structures.

(As an aside, I think that Virginia Lee Burton's classic children's book, The Little House, was to the historic preservation movement what Bambi was to the anti-hunting movement. It worked that way for me, at least!)

Adelbert Road Bridge: then & now

The recent closing of the Adbelbert Road Bridge, linking CWRU with Little Italy, across the old Short Line, Nickel Plate and Cleveland Union Terminal railroad tracks, reminds me that we have photographs of its construction in 1929-30, in our Cleveland Memory Project's C.U.T. Construction Photograph Collection. Looking at these shots, there apparently was an earlier bridge, which was demolished and replaced with a longer, concrete span. It will be replaced by mid-2006, according to the city.

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East Cleveland Public Library's local history collections

On the way home from giving a presentation on campus this morning, I stopped by the East Cleveland Public Library on a whim. I'd been meaning to visit, ever since reading in the Plain Dealer that the late Icabod Flewellen (founder of the African American Museum) had donated a collection of African American materials to the library. Eric Linderman, a member of their staff and their representative on our local history consortium, has been processing the collection and I was lucky enough to find him in on a Saturday.

The library is on Euclid Avenue, housed in a lovely old building with a barrel-vault ceiling over the main reading room and with two front rooms sporting original fireplaces. Neither of them are in use now -- one has even been converted into an aquarium for the children's room -- but the building's architecture, with its wood paneling, bespeaks the grace of East Cleveland's past. Eric showed me a series of vintage photographs of the building in earlier decades and it was, as still is, really quite charming. There has been at least one addition to the building, to the east, which fits in well enough and there is currently a major addition being constructed to the west side of the building. It will house a new auditorium, I understand, and is due to open sometime this spring.

Of particular interest to me were their historic photographs of the buildings and neighborhoods of East Cleveland, as they included a picture of Carlyon Avenue, showing a house my grandparents lived in before it was torn down for the expansion of the Nickel Plate Road railroad tracks in the 1920s.

Friday, January 14, 2005


On the way back from Helen's tonight, I had to drive through 20 miles of snow squalls, remembering how warm it had been this afternoon, when the temperature hit 70 degrees and people were walking around in short sleeves. That, in turn, reminded me of the infamous "Children's Blizzard" of 1888, 126 years ago yesterday (Wednesday), when 500 people lost their lives in a killer blizzard that followed an unseasonably warm day in Kansas.

Still driving through the flurries, I then got thinking about another terrible blizzard, the 1913 storm that paralyzed the Great Lakes and sank many lake freighters trying to get one last run in before the lakes froze over. David G. Brown has written about this storm in his 2002 book, White hurricane : a Great Lakes November gale and America's deadliest maritime disaster, and what I like about it in particular is his departure from the maritime narrative long enough to slip a chapter in about the storms crippling effect upon the city of Cleveland. That chapter alone makes it worth reading by students of local history.

Now I need to go shovel my driveway.

The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread, and other fading memories

My Aunt Helen grew up between League Park and East Cleveland in the period 1925 to 1964, then she followed her employer out to Jefferson, in Ashtabula County. Three years ago she fell and now lives in an assisted living home in Mentor. The only family she’s ever had were me and my siblings, her only brother’s kids, so I visit her twice a week.

During one visit last spring, she remarked that there was a book she'd read decades ago and wanted me to find and read to her sometime, as macular degeneration prevents her from reading any more. She couldn’t recall the title, but it was about a boy and his wagon and the “big fire or something, in Cleveland.” Helen has always been a bit vague about details and in the past year, as she approaches her 91st birthday next month, her memory of the past has almost completely vanished, except for some key family people and events. Fortunately I was able to make a lucky guess and identify that “big fire” as the East Ohio Gas Company explosion, probably because the 60th anniversary of that tragedy was coming up on October 20th and it was on my mind. But beyond those details, I was stumped.

Doing what most everyone does these days, I fired up the computer and Googled “East Ohio Gas” and “boy” and “wagon,” and got several hits. One turned out to be the Past Winners page for the Cleveland Arts Prize, but that didn’t seem promising for some reason, so I moved on. I shouldn’t have, as the book turned out to be The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread, a novel by former Cleveland Press writer, Don Robertson, who won the prize for literature in 1966. This is a largely forgotten book today, but it shouldn’t be and I’ve been plugging the story for the past few months, in the News from Cleveland Memory e-newsletter and anyplace else I could. I’m doing it again here.

The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread, is the fictional account of young Morris Bird III and his expedition across Cleveland’s east side to visit his friend Stanley Chapulka, who’d recently moved from the old neighborhood to one next to the gas company plant. Morris has several adventures along the way, which don’t begin to compare with what happens as he reaches his friend’s house in time to witness the explosion of the company’s huge liquefied natural gas tank, the part of the story which is not fiction.

Each time I visited Helen last fall, I’d get the book off her shelf and put it on the bed, where I could later reach it from the couch. Then I’d read a dozen pages and we’d journey together with Morris Bird III (Don never shortened it or use a pronoun for his hero) from East 91st Street and Hough to East 63rd and St. Clair, as he dragged his kid sister in a red wagon across city block after block. It’s not a long book and we finished all too soon. Helen’s memory of the details has faded again, but she regularly looks at her bed and asks what was it about her bed that she’s trying to remember. It’s the anticipation she’d feel last fall, looking at the book on the bed and knowing I was going to read it to her before much longer. We’ve since tried The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and M*A*S*H, but nothing satisfies like Morris Bird III and his wagon, on the way to adulthood.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

NOCSIA: Industrial archeology in Cleveland

The Northern Ohio Chapter of the Society for Industrial Archeology has been in existence for five years and is slowly defining what it wants to accomplish and how. Originally set up to tour factories, railroad facilities, bridges, quarries and other industrial venues in the region, it has recently been implementing other educational programs. Last year NOCSIA began a series of dinners with speakers, modeled after the long-running "NOBS Nights" of the Northern Ohio Bibliophilic Society, with lectures on the National Road and the history of ore-unloading operations along Lake Erie's south shore. Plus there has also always been an annual meeting and speaker, last month being Steve Gordon, from the Ohio Preservation Office, talking on designing industrial landmarks to the National Register of Historic Places.

This month NOCSIA is trying something new. Sunday, the 9th, the group held the first of what may become monthly discussions on IA themes. From this came the decision to focus the February meeting on a concerted program of nominating industrial landmarks to the National Register, following up on Steve Gordon's suggestions in December.

Cleveland's approach to preserving its heritage is too often characterized by eleventh-hour attempts to save some structure that is slated for demolition and better advanced planning is necessary to break out of this unsatisfactory mode of response. That requires a better understanding of which properties are important to the city's (or the region's) identity and character, whether for the industrial heritage, or for any facet of local history. The National Register and the Cleveland landmarks designations are fine, but they're often driven by the owners of historic structures seeking tax breaks, or residents of particular districts, and do not reflect a community-wide assessment of all the possible candidates. This is a good step in that direction.

For more information about NOCSIA, contact me.

Dave McKay memorial services

Memorial services for Dave McKay will be held at 10:30 a.m., on Saturday, January 22nd, at the Noble Road Presbyterian Church, 2780 Noble, Cleveland Heights. This is north of Mayfield Road, up near the CHUH Public Library branch.

Dave was a founding member of the Northern Ohio Association of Railway Societies, an avid model railroader and a talented photographer of railroad trains and facilities. He died just after Christmas, not many days after joining fellow NOARS members for their annual holiday dinner at the Pufferbelly, in Berea.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Balto the sled dog, in Timeline

Local author and History Day coordinator, John Vacha, has written an interesting article for the recent issue of Timeline, the glossy magazine of the Ohio Historical Society. I knew the basics of the story, about how Balto had been the heroic lead dog on the sled team that had dragged driver Gunnar Kaasen and 300,000 doses of serum through a blizzard and into Nome, Alaska, where a diphtheria epidemic raged. However, his article made fascinating reading about details I'd never known, concerning the role played by the other 150 dogs and 9 drivers in the 6-day, 674-mile Fairbanks-to-Nome dash and the subsequent campaign by Clevelanders to rescue Balto and his team from a miserable side-show fate they'd suffered in the following years. I found the photographs John provided -- some I knew of from our Cleveland Press Collection, but not others from Cleveland Public, the Library of Congress and the Ohio Historical Society -- particularly noteworthy. January 22nd will be the 80th anniversary of the initial telegraph from the Nome doctor in 1925, calling out for help, February 2nd is the anniversary date when Balto and Gunnar arrived in Nome and March 19th will be the 78th anniversary of the festivities welcoming Balto to his new home at the Cleveland Zoo, two years later. Balto died, was preserved by taxidermy and is now either at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, or out on loan to Alaska (I'm not sure which). [P.S. The Museum reports that Balto is home from Alaska and will be on display for this month's festivities.]

The Museum is planning a series of events around the Balto anniversary, which you can read about here.

You might also enjoy: (the author has provided some others)

  • Timeline, January/March issue, 2005, 54-69.

  • Balto article in the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

  • Balto images from the Cleveland Memory Project

Getting started -- Hi!

This is a little experiment in blogging, to determine whether there's an audience for information and musings on the local history scene in Cleveland, Ohio. While Cleveland-centric, I expect to discuss things over the entire historical Western Reserve region of Northeast Ohio, particularly Lake County, where I grew up. I expect that there will be some emphasis on topics near and dear to me in my role as Special Collections Librarian, at the Cleveland State University Library (imagine an approprate disclaimer here about how this doesn't reflect the opinions of CSU, etc.), such as railroads, bridges and other industrial archeology topics; the layout and mapping of Cleveland and the Western Reserve, an area of personal interest; and our on-going work with the Cleveland Memory Project ( . Indeed, I expect to be digging up material for this blog which will be recycled in the News from Cleveland Memory monthly e-newsletter. But first I need to figure out how to build and feed a blog, so stand by....


From time to time I may make reference to Special Collections at the CSU Library, where I work, or to our Cleveland Memory site, our News from Cleveland Memory e-newsletter, or other people and events stemming from my employment at CSU. This blog and the opinions I express in it, however, are entirely mine and reflect in no way the policies of the CSU Library. I don't know that I have to say this, but I want to be particularly careful, in case a casual comment unintentionally causes some friction.