Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Earl Gurney Mead, Cleveland map maker

A dozen years ago, while working on a historic Cleveland maps project at the Western Reserve Historical Society Library, I encountered the name Earl Gurney Mead on a series of interesting, large blueprint maps from the early 1960s. These maps showed the Western Reserve region at four different periods: 1) "The Ohio Western Reserve, 1800-1850, in the Log Cabin and Canal Days," 2) "The Ohio Western Reserve, 1800-1850, in the Railroad and Horse-and-Buggy Days," 3) "The Ohio Western Reserve, 1900-1850, in the Interurban, Movie, Radio and Auto Times, and 4) "The Ohio Western Reserve, 1950-2000, in the TV, Nuclear, Jet and Space Age." They varied slightly in size around 36 inches by 50 inches and were drawn to a scale of 1 inch equaling 2-1/2 miles. Besides being created by a blueprint process, what is notable about these maps is how Mr. Mead characterized the Western Reserve in each of his half-century eras and how he covered large portions of the faces of the maps with blocks of text interpreting and explaining his views. The whole effect was rather quaint and the maps may have had more appeal as decorating curiosities than traditional maps, although he went to some trouble to portray what he did provide accurately. In addition to these four titles, he also created similar maps about Ohio, the U.S. and two areas in eastern Cleveland.

This morning I attended a meeting at the Shaker Historical Society and discovered that they have quite a bit of information about Mr. Mead. In addition to having many of his maps, they also have his papers, including a bound set of his handwritten letters. I have not yet read these letters, but just examining the bundle makes me eager to look more carefully, as he was on the drafting staff of the Van Sweringen companies and was actively associated with some real estate and railroad projects I care very much about. He was a young man during the early days of Shaker Heights and, according to the Cleveland Necrology File, died in 1970, but until today I've known very little about this memorable cartographer and his unusual maps. Here is a list of ten maps by him.

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Public art to identify Cleveland's past and neighborhoods

Last summer I went to New York on business and while touring Manhattan, I noticed that several districts had iconic art pieces, representing their function and/or their history. The large black bull of Wall Street is the best known example, but I also saw a oversized spool of thread and needle sculpture in the garment district and several other neighborhoods had site-specific art. I say this because recently I was looking at photographs of Playhouse Square and despite the prominence of the theater marquees, historic black-and-white shots of the whole block don't really dramatically capture the idea of what is going on there (though maybe modern color ones do better). The marquees are surprisingly hard to detect against the background of the large buildings. Consequently, I'm imagining some sort of public art (Janus masks?) hanging suspended over Euclid Avenue at East 14th, as a means of announcing the location of the theaters from many blocks either way up Euclid.

That Manhattan trip was to talk to a library group out on Long Island and I started off telling them I was there to rescue some native Clevelanders who'd been captured by New York and take them home. One was John D. Rockefeller, another was Superman, and the third was Hart Crane, who while probably not a native, nevertheless probably started writing "The Bridge" while looking at the Detroit-Superior Bridge, not the Brooklyn Bridge as it became later. Then last week, looking at the opening credits of the movie "Trading Places" I saw a montage of shots of Philadelphia neighborhoods and sculptures. A big one of Ben Franklin operating his printing press, the Rocky Balboa statue on the steps of the art museum, etc. All this tells me that we need to do more about our favorite sons and daughters than putting them in chairs in parks (Hanna and Johnson). I'd love to see a dynamic Superman statue somewhere* (I realize that this has been proposed before) and one of crafty JDR, probably down by the river where the oil business started, although several other places around town are associated with him. Margaret Bourke-White and Garrett Morgan are a couple other names that come to readily to mind. Perhaps outdoor sculptures of people is passé, artistically-speaking, but the city needs something besides some of the abstract sculptures I see around that could be explaining more about Cleveland's history and operations.

* (Perhaps a spot along Euclid Avenue on the CSU campus would be a better spot for Superman than Playhouse Square, as it would be a better fit with the student population and would symbolize success though personal effort.)

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

Tour the St. Colman & St. Stephen Churches

In light of the pending closure of many of the region's Roman Catholic churches, tours of several of the most significant ones are being organized by the Ohio and Erie Chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America.

On April 18, meet us for the first tour at St. Colman Church at 10 a.m.; the second tour begins at 11:30 a.m. at St. Stephen Church. You are welcome to one or both. RSVP appreciated at or by calling 216 631 0557. The event flyer is HERE.

Architectural historian Tim Barrett, who described St. Colman and St. Stephen as “the two most important church interiors in Cleveland”, will lead the tours. These two churches went through the diocese-wide reorganization process as part of the same cluster. St. Stephen is to stay open and St. Colman is to be closed. The tours promise to be an enriching experience to all interested in architecture, historic preservation and local history.

The Sacred Architecture Tours will continue over the next few months to view and record architecturally significant interiors of Cleveland's Catholic Churches before they are permanently closed and dismantled. Look for the next tour announcement in your email soon.

The tours are free of charge. Architects can earn Continuing Education Credits (1 HSW unit per church). Please see attached flyer for details.

The Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America, Inc. is a non-profit organization dedicated to Classical Architecture and the allied arts. It provides a broad array of educational opportunities to students, patrons, architects and artists. The Ohio and Erie Chapter of the ICA& CA organizes these tours. It has its headquarters in Cleveland and includes all of Ohio, and the cities of Buffalo, Pittsburg, and Detroit. You can find out more at

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Monday, April 06, 2009

John Brown symposium in Hudson

The Hudson Library and Historical Society will host a symposium on the life of noted American abolitionist John Brown on May 2nd, 2009 at 1:00 pm. This program marks the 150th anniversary of Brown’s unsuccessful raid on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. John Brown, who grew up in Hudson, was one of the most controversial figures of the 19th century. His advocacy and active participation in extreme abolitionist activities in Kansas and later at Harper’s Ferry earned him a pivotal place in American history. Many historians believe the Harper’s Ferry incident escalated tensions between the North and South, ultimately leading to the American Civil War.

The symposium will feature presentations by Brown scholars as well as a question and answer session for the public. Moderating the panel is Dr. Kenneth E. Davison, Emeritus Professor of History and American Studies at Heidelberg University and author of the prize-winning biography, The Presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes.

Panelists include Professors Paul Finkelman, David S. Reynolds and Louis A. DeCaro. Professor Finkelman is the President William McKinley Distinguished Professor of Law and Public Policy at the Government Law Center at Albany Law School in Albany, New York. He is the co-editor of Terrible Swift Sword : The Legacy of John Brown. Professor Finkelman has published widely a number of scholarly journals and his essays have appeared in publications including the New York Times and USA Today.

David S. Reynolds in Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His books include: John Brown, Abolitionist, winner of the Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award; Walt Whitman’s America, winner of the Bancroft Prize; the Ambassador Book Prize and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and Beneath the American Renaissance, winner of the Christian Gauss Award from the Phi Beta Kappa Society.

Louis A. DeCaro, Jr. is Assistant Professor of History and Theology at Alliance Theological Seminary in New York City. DeCaro’s works on Brown include: John Brown – the Cost of Freedom; and ‘Fire from the Midst of You’: A Religious Life of John Brown. He also contributed to The Afterlife of John Brown, edited by Eldrid Herrington and Andrew Taylor.

Library Director and Curator E. Leslie Polott is “delighted to bring these noted Brown scholars to Hudson to commemorate this important period in American History. The Hudson Library and Historical Society is especially pleased to do this since its Archives contain one of the most significant Brown research collections in the nation.”
Following the panel discussion the Library will host a book signing and dessert reception. This program is free to the public but registration is required. Please contact the Reference Department at 330.653.6658 extension 1010 or For more information visit our website at

Saturday, April 04, 2009

William James Barrow, paper preservation pioneer

I was just asked if I'm related to William James Barrow, a pioneer in research into paper preservation, and that reminds me of a story. Back in the Sixties I was attending Bowling Green State University and wondering about family genealogy. I went to the public library and checked some of their resources, finding a William James Barrow listed. I got really excited, as that was my father' name, until I saw that it was some fellow in Virginia who studied paper acidification. Boooring, I decided. This was the Sixties, remember, and everything had to be relevant to Saving the World, not old paper, so I rejected that as something I'd ever care about. Now, of course, I'm Special Collections Librarian at the Cleveland State University Library, and very much concerned with old paper preservation. This is one of all too many examples of how I should have kept my mouth shut in my youth, as I'm eating those words today.

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