If you are a lover of history, you know the feeling: You are driving with purpose and suddenly you see a large, brown marker on the side of the road. Even if you are in a hurry, you pull over or make a U-turn. Those brown markers indicate something historical happened on that spot and you have to know … what happened?
A recent speech sponsored by the Avon Historical Society and held in the city’s old Town Hall about those ubiquitous markers drew a small but interested crowd. Audience members learned that Lorain County has 34 markers: It’s home to a groundbreaking college, has an active history of civil rights that includes being a hotbed for the Underground Railroad, and boasts a history of thriving lakefront industry, according to Jim Smith, education coordinator of the Lorain County Historical Society.
“I should note that the number 34 is a bit misleading,” Smith said at the beginning of his presentation. “We couldn’t find markers 11 or 19. Nor could any of our researchers. So if you know what happened to them, please let us know.”
The area is relatively small: Lorain County covers 493 square miles and averages 577 residents per square mile. The county was authorized by the Ohio government on Dec. 26, 1822. It originally was a portion of Huron, Medina and Cuyahoga counties, according to the Ohio History Connection website. It is named for the Lorraine region of France.
As seen by many of the markers, particularly those in Oberlin, many of the county’s earliest white settlers were opposed to slavery. Oberlin College was the first institution of higher education in the United States to admit women and African Americans into the same classes as white men.
The county has grown in recent years, as Cuyahoga County residents have moved there to city living. Between 1990 and 2000 alone, Lorain County’s population increased by 5%.
Lorain County is still largely rural, with only about 7-10% of the county deemed urban. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, steel was a major industry in Lorain County. The county’s average income was approximately $25,700 in 1999, with 10.4 percent of the population living in poverty.
Smith concentrated on markers because they are an indicator of the “big picture” history of the county. The Ohio Historical Marker program is administered by the Local History Services Department of the Ohio History Connection. Since 1957, the program has placed more than 1,700 markers to share our state's history. Partnering with community sponsors, they “help tell the unique stories of the people, places, things or events that helped shape individual communities as well as Ohio and the nation.” Statewide, about 20 to 30 new markers are accepted into the program each year.
Here are the markers within West Life’s readership area. For a listing of the total markers, visit remarkableohio.org, which is the source of the text below.
5501 E. Lake Road
103rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry
The 103rd O.V.I. was recruited for Civil War service from Cuyahoga, Lorain and Medina counties. The Regiment was organized at Cleveland in August 1862 and served until 1865 in campaigns at Cincinnati, Knoxville, Atlanta, Franklin, Nashville, and the Carolinas. 103rd O.V.I. veterans and their descendants have held continuous, annual reunions since 1866. The organization is believed to be unique in the nation. Descendants live on these grounds today.
Avon Town Hall
36995 Detroit Road
Norton S. Townshend, M.D. (1815-1895)
A progressive farmer, physician and legislator, Norton S. Townshend lived in Avon from 1830 until his death. His introduction of field drainage tile significantly increased the productivity of Avon farmland. A well-educated country doctor, he served this district as a U.S. congressman (1851-1853) and later as an Ohio state senator. As a legislator Townshend, a member of the antislavery "Free Soil" Party, espoused civil rights for women and free blacks. Later he was instrumental in the founding of the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College in Columbus, serving on the first board and as its first professor of agriculture. In 1878, this land-grant college became Ohio State University, where Townshend Hall stands in honor of his founding role. He is interred in Avon's Mound Cemetery.
Shell Cove Park, Lake Road, Sheffield Lake
Jay Terrell and his "Terrible Fish"
Around 1867, along the shale cliffs of the lakeshore of Sheffield Lake, Jay Terrell found fossils of a "terrible fish" later named in his honor as Dinichthys Terrelli. This animal, now known as Dunkleosteus terrelli, was a massive arthrodire (an extinct, joint-necked, armor-plated fish) that lived in the Devonian sea, which covered much of eastern North America some 354 million to 364 million years ago. Dunkleosteus was armed with an incredible set of shearing jaws and was clearly the top marine predator in the Devonian Period (the "Age of Fishes").
33740 Lake Road, Avon Lake
Peter Miller House Museum Board of Trustees and The Ohio Historical Society
The Peter J. Miller House was built around 1830 and is one of the last remaining pre-Civil War lakefront houses in Lorain County. The architecture is Greek Revival. Peter Miller married Ruth Houseworth in 1828. They had five children. In 1851 Peter Miller died and it's believed that his family continued to reside on the property until 1925. The city of Avon Lake purchased the property in 1962. The house was opened for tours, and restoration proceeded as funds were available. In 1975 the water heating system burst and caused extensive damage. In 1985 a new committee took over and was successful in restoring the house. Volunteer trustees have overseen the operation of the house as a museum since September 1989.
Peter J. Miller's father, Adam Miller, was one of the first non-Native permanent settlers in what is now the city of Avon Lake. Immigrants from New York, Adam and Anna Teamount Miller, settled in Avon Township in 1819. The couple had 10 children. The oldest known child was Alexis Miller and the youngest was Peter. A story in the 1844 edition of William McGuffey's Second Reader is believed to be about an incident from Peter's life. The story relates how as he walked home through a swamp, a bear chased Peter up a tree and bit at the young man's shoes as he tried to defend himself. After three attempts by the bear to reach Peter, they tumbled to the ground. Peter ran for his life and the bear gave up the chase.
33479 Lake Road, Avon Lake, in Avon Lake (Beach Park Station) Shopping Center
Beach Park Station
From the 1890s to the 1930s, interurban railways were an important form of travel in the Midwest. Beach Park Station had an interurban carhouse, where repairs were performed and passengers boarded. The Lorain & Cleveland Railway (L&C) built the 65½-by-200-foot brick station in 1897. By 1901, the L&C became part of the Lake Shore Electric Railway (LSE) and Beach Park became stop 65 on a line that ran from Cleveland to Toledo and then to Detroit. Requiring power and water, the LSE built an electric plant and water tower at Avon Lake. This infrastructure spurred the community’s development and growth. Some considered Beach Park the LSE’s most impressive passenger station. The LSE owned Avon Beach Park, which offered guests a dance hall, beach and picnic and camping grounds. Many passengers came here to take a break from the city. Sold in 1923, the park became the site of a Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. power plant. The LSE stopped running in 1938 because it could not compete with the convenience of the automobile. The station was sold in 1940 and has since been a motel and restaurant (the Saddle Inn), a movie theater and commercial, office and retail space.
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