“A New and Most Commodious Route of Travel”

"The Oberlin Evangelist," July 17, 1850, pg. 7.

“The Oberlin Evangelist,” July 17, 1850, pg. 7.

I must apologize to regular readers of this blog for my recent lack of posts. Workaday life has kept me rather busy since the holidays. But I ran across something while researching another topic that I thought was too good not to share. I learned that the complete run of a periodical called The Oberlin Evangelist–more than six-hundred issues dating from 1838 to 1862–has been digitized by Oberlin College and is available, free of charge, online. While digging through search results related to Wellington, I found the above notice, which announced in July 1850 that the new railroad line through the village was finally operational.

For a fare of $1.12 1/2, travelers could make their way from Cleveland to Oberlin, via Wellington, in just three-and-a-half hours. That journey included both a thirty-five-mile train trip southwest and a subsequent leg of nine miles north via carriage. (Today, travel from downtown Cleveland to Oberlin via motor vehicle takes approximately forty minutes. The highway, unlike the railroad, takes one to Oberlin before Wellington.) William H. Plumb was initially designated by the railroad company as the purveyor of carriage rides at no additional charge between Oberlin and Wellington, for both the arriving and departing schedules (Plain Dealer, 7-1-1850, pg. 2). By the end of the century, several companies based out of Wellington were providing transportation and parcel delivery, including Smith’s Omnibus and Transfer Line, which in 1890 reported carrying nearly 5,000 passengers over the course of the preceding year.

GoogleMap image showing the geographic relationships between 1) Cleveland; 2) Wellington; and 3) Oberlin, Ohio. Distance from downtown Cleveland to Wellington is thirty-five miles; the centers of Oberlin and Wellington are nine miles apart.

GoogleMap image showing the geographic relationships between 1) Cleveland; 2) Wellington; and 3) Oberlin, Ohio. Distance from downtown Cleveland to Wellington is thirty-five miles; the centers of Oberlin and Wellington are slightly less than nine miles apart.

In trying to pin down the precise date of the first train through Wellington, I subsequently looked at some mid-century Cleveland newspapers. Though regular daily service between the two locations officially commenced on Monday, July 1, 1850, I found a notice from The Cleveland Herald–reprinted in the June 21 edition of The Lancaster Gazette–which noted that two powerful locomotives from the Cuyahoga Works “run daily to Wellington; and already quite a business in passengers and freight has been turned to the rapid iron way” (pg. 2). That suggests that trains were routinely running through the village by at least mid-June.

The Plain Dealer noted with some amusement on July 4, 1850 that “a new feature presented itself in our Cleveland celebrations. The morning train of cars from Wellington brought in from a thousand to fifteen hundred people, strangers, who mingled with our citizens in the festivities of the day; and the 2 o’clock train brought nearly as many more.– It was a novel sight to see a train of thirteen cars, (eleven of them platform cars arranged with benches, to accommodate passengers, ‘Thick as leaves in Valambrosia,’) all entering our city, filled to their utmost capacity with the belles and beaux of the country” (pg. 3). If, as the paper facetiously suggested, Wellington and its environs sent upwards of three thousand people north that Independence Day, it was an impressive feat indeed. According to the 1850 federal census, there were only about 1,500 residents of the township, including a lingering community of young, male laborers characterized as “Rail Road Contractors” and “Irish Shanty” dwellers.

Detail from article printed in "The Plain Dealer," 7-1-1850, pg. 2.

Header illustration from article printed in “The Plain Dealer,” 7-1-1850, pg. 2.

In the August 14 edition of The Oberlin Evangelist, a report on the college’s upcoming commencement celebrations concluded, “We are requested to state in this connection for the encouragement and benefit of those friends of ours who come from the East, that the Rail Road fare from Cleveland to this place, (via Wellington) is only one dollar, it having been reduced since our former notice” (pg. 7). The piece did not explain why rates were reduced after only one month in operation. The same paper pronounced the CC&C line finished in February 1851, with trains speeding “from Lake to River daily, Sundays excepted.” In fact, only the Cleveland to Columbus run was open at that time; the full connection to Cincinnati was ultimately accomplished by a series of corporate mergers and acquisitions that culminated in 1872.

When The History of Lorain County, Ohio was published in 1879, trains had been passing through the village for thirty years. That publication referred to the railroad’s construction as “the turning point to the fortunes of the place” (pg. 352). And so it must have seemed: nearly eight million pounds of cheese and more than one million pounds of butter were shipped through Wellington that year, the high-water mark of export. But thirty years more saw cheese production dry up and a new mode of transport poised to dramatically transform the country. In 1910 there were already 468,500 registered vehicles in the United States; by the time we entered World War I in 1917, that figure had skyrocketed to more than five million. In the span of a human lifetime, Wellington both gained and lost its chief industry, as well as the cachet of serving as a regional economic and transportation hub; one could argue that it is still dealing with the consequences of that seismic shift to this day.

Program Announcement II

Preservation materials. Photo by author.

Preservation materials. Photo by author.

A brief programmatic announcement that may be of interest to local folks. For those who are not already aware, your humble blogger is the presenter…

“On Tuesday, January 26th at 2:30PM the Wellington Genealogy Group will offer a special ‘working session’ on appropriate housing for your treasured family keepsakes. Nicole Hayes will be the presenter. Hayes has fifteen years work experience in museums and archives, and in her last position was responsible for teaching workshops on this topic to museum staff. There will be free catalogs available but attendees are encouraged to bring laptops. Hayes will show some of the different vendor sites and explain how to identify and order what you need. Please DO NOT bring fragile or valuable items to the session. If you have something unusual that you would like to house, bring a digital photograph and measurements. The session will be held at the LCCC Wellington campus, and is free and open to all.

A Journey to Lee

The Lee Congregational United Church of Christ, Lee, Massachusetts. Photo by author.

The Lee Congregational United Church of Christ, Lee, Massachusetts. Built in 1857. Photo by author.

For the past several years, as I made the journey home to Massachusetts from Ohio, I drove right by the town of Lee. Regular readers of the blog well know that many of Wellington’s earliest settlers came from Lee and surrounding communities in the Berkshires. I have long wanted to stop and take a closer look, and this year I was finally able to plan a visit.

I did a bit of preliminary research to try and identify eighteenth-century landmarks in the area. I was interested to see any buildings or structures that might have existed when the Howk family–1818 immigrants to Wellington–lived in Lee. There are not many left. The church at the center of the town was erected in 1857, though there is a marker on the adjacent green indicating where an earlier meeting house was built in 1780.

Marker indicating site of 1780 meeting house, Lee, Massachusetts. Photo by author.

Marker indicating site of 1780 meeting house, Lee, Massachusetts. Photo by author.

Illustration of Lee's first church, built in 1780. From "Lee: The Centennial Celebration and Centennial History of the Town of Lee, Mass," opposite pg. 226.

Illustration of Lee’s first church, built in 1780. From “Lee: The Centennial Celebration and Centennial History of the Town of Lee, Mass,” opposite pg. 226.

The church and town green are at the base of Howk’s Hill, and I was able to drive around the golf course that today occupies the 125 acres which once comprised Isaac Howk’s homestead. There is a lovely parsonage on the same road (now West Park Street) that the Howks would have passed on their way to meeting each Sunday. Hyde House was erected in 1792 and is still a private residence today.

Hyde House, Lee, Massachusetts. Built in 1792. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

Hyde House, Lee, Massachusetts. Built in 1792. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

I then made my way to Fairmount Cemetery. What a strange experience it was, to wander around this Massachusetts resting place and and see so many familiar Wellington names: DeWolf, Foote, Bradley. I had no precise information on whether any stones stood for the people I have researched, but I was extraordinarily lucky. One of the very first markers I saw after parking belonged to Sarah Foote Sherrill (1808-1885).

Headstone of Sarah Foote Sherrill and her husband, Reverend Edwin J. Sherrill. Photo by author.

Headstone of Sarah Foote Sherrill and her husband, Reverend Edwin J. Sherrill. Fairmount Cemetery, Lee, Massachusetts. Photo by author.

As I made my way on foot further back into the cemetery, I passed further back in time. By the time I reached the area farthest from the street and main gate, I was in the eighteenth century. I discovered an older back road, now grassed over, that led to the oldest stones on the grounds. At first, I could not find any stones belonging to members of the Howk family. But I did discover a large marker for an Ingersoll relative of my husband’s. When I brought him back to show him the stone, I found to my astonishment that it was just feet from the final resting places of Isaac Howk and his daughter Catherine.

Headstone of Isaac Howk (1757-1805), Fairmount Cemetery, Lee, Massachusetts. Photo by author.

Headstone of Isaac Howk (1757-1805), Fairmount Cemetery, Lee, Massachusetts. Photo by author.

Catherine, called Caty by the family, died of consumption at age seventeen and is interred next to her father. Her stone is not as legible as Isaac’s. I could not help but imagine the rest of the Howk family taking leave of these stones before departing Lee for the Ohio country, never to return.

Headstone of Catherine Howk (1788-1806), Fairmount Cemetery, Lee, Massachusetts. Photo by author.

Headstone of Catherine Howk (1788-1806), Fairmount Cemetery, Lee, Massachusetts. Photo by author.

It was a too-brief, but nonetheless thrilling, visit. I hope to return again and delve deeper into the historical connections between these two towns.

Disused rear gate that leads to the oldest part of Fairmount Cemetery, Lee, Massachusetts. Photo by author.

Disused rear gate that leads to the oldest part of Fairmount Cemetery, Lee, Massachusetts. Photo by author.

History Happening

The newly opened Wellington underpass. Photo by author.

The newly opened Wellington underpass. Photo by author.

There is an oft-repeated story which tells of Britain’s King George III writing in his personal diary on July 4, 1776, “Nothing important happened today.” The story is false; George never kept a personal diary and the anecdote probably has its origins in a similar sort of remark written by France’s King Louis XVI on July 14, 1789, the date of the storming of the Bastille. But still the tale is told, I think because people are drawn to the idea of a hated monarch not yet realizing that his world had changed so profoundly.

History is not the past. It is today. The seemingly inevitable events we read about in textbooks, carefully labeled and separated into neat time periods, were experienced by people as an ongoing series of small and chaotic moments. It was as impossible for them to judge what would be considered “important” in the future as it is for us.

I am reflecting on this because a small but historic event occurred in the village this morning. The Wellington railroad underpass finally opened, after several years of construction. This may seem unimportant, and unrelated to the subject of this blog. But consider that for the first time since 1850, vehicular traffic is tonight flowing through Wellington unobstructed by trains. Something that has been a norm of life for 165 years silently ended.

I find myself thinking about our mid-nineteenth-century counterparts, those who were here the day the first trains ran through. Did they hold some sort of celebration? Were remarks offered by notable townspeople, commenting on how the railroad would undoubtedly spur the town to grow and change? They had no way of envisioning what a Wellington of 2015 would be like, any more than we can foresee Wellington in 2180.

History is today. Remember that while you are living it.

Decorative vignette inset into the wall of the new Wellington underpass. Photo by author.

Decorative vignette inset into the retaining wall of the new Wellington underpass. Photo by author.

Our Great National Feast of Thanksgiving

"A Thanksgiving Toast." Undated holiday card (likely early twentieth century).

“A Thanksgiving Toast.” Undated holiday card (likely early twentieth century).

Thanksgiving is upon us once again. Hard to believe this is my third annual Thankgiving post. I want to start off with a heartfelt, “Thank you!” to all those who attended my recent talk. I was surprised and gratified by how many people attended, and by the kind comments of all who took a moment to speak with me after the program. You have inspired me to get back to work!

Often, when we read about the history of the American Thanksgiving holiday, the year that is offered as the “first” official Thanksgiving (after 1620 in Plymouth, of course) is 1863. We have all heard the story of how President Abraham Lincoln, at least partly in response to a twenty-year-long campaign by author and magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale, proclaimed a federal holiday of thanks for recent Union victories including the battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg. What is less often noted, however, is that for decades prior, Thanksgiving had been proclaimed as an annual holiday by the governors of America’s individual states. In 1847, for example, twenty-four of the twenty-nine states celebrated on the last Thursday in November. Thanksgiving was by no means a novel concept in 1863.

The Lorain County News, which was Wellington’s only local newspaper at the time of the Civil War, commented on November 25, 1863 that Thanksgiving was “a venerable day of family reunions, joyous meetings and congratulations, tender reminiscences and emotions, praise and prayer.” The paper reflected on how especially sad this particular Thanksgiving would be in light of the year’s massive loss of human life, but added, “In all the past visitations of this joyous anniversary we have never had greater occasion than now for hearts full to overflowing with gratitude…since last thanksgiving [sic] day the rich prospect has dawned upon us of a redeemed nation, a people loyal and true to the government and a proclamation of freedom to millions of human beings” (pg. 2).

On that federally-appointed Thanksgiving of 1863, all Wellington businesses were closed and the village joined as one for a single religious observance at the Congregational Church in the morning, followed in the evening by a “well-attended thanksgiving [sic] prayer meeting at the M.E. Church.” The townsfolk had previously subscribed $50 to provide Thanksgiving food to soldiers’ families. Each of the twelve that had a young man at the front received “a good wheelbarrow load of edibles” including flour, potatoes, sugar, tea, crackers, beef, and “a pair of dressed chickens.” This admirable donation was valued at more than $4 per family. In addition, Rev. Mrs. Shipherd spearheaded the collection of “greatly needed articles” that had already been forwarded “to the suffering contrabands, the freedmen, women and children of the South” (LCN, 12-2-1863, pg. 3).

A very joyous holiday to you all. May we count our blessings and be truly grateful all the year ’round.

Farewell, Union School

Architectural detail of the old Union School, now part of McCormick Middle School, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Architectural detail of the old Union School, now part of McCormick Middle School, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Back in January 2014, I wrote a post about the Union School, built in 1867. Over time, the stately brick Italianate was obscured behind multiple additions, and the overall structure is today known as McCormick Middle School. When I wrote that post nearly two years ago, plans were afoot to construct a new middle school and demolish this building. That plan has now come to fruition. The new building is complete on the north side of town, and the old one is due to be torn down by year’s end.

Today, the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, i.e. The Spirit of ’76 Museum, sponsored an open house at the school that they called, “The Last Lunch.” They opened the building up to the public for self-directed and guided tours, while serving a free final lunch to the community in the cafeteria. Tonight there is a farewell dance in the gymnasium. It was a wonderful event and the school was full of people, taking photographs of their former classrooms and reminiscing over childhood adventures.

Exterior view of the old Union School, now part of McCormick Middle School, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Exterior view of the old Union School, now part of McCormick Middle School, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

I am not a Wellington native and never attended McCormick. Instead, I was hunting for evidence of the nineteenth-century core of the complex. While the original Italianate structure is clearly identifiable on the exterior, there is virtually no evidence of it inside. All architectural details, including a central, curving wooden staircase, have been eradicated or hidden behind drop ceilings, drywall, and decades of paint.

Architectural detail of the old Union School, now part of McCormick Middle School, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Architectural detail of the old Union School, now part of McCormick Middle School, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Though the Italianate section of the building looks rather large from the outside, it is comprised of only two floors: the ground level is almost entirely filled by the cafeteria, and the second story has two large classrooms, with curving walls that proved impossible to effectively photograph. The central staircase was apparently entirely enclosed in stages over the course of the twentieth century due to fears of fire.

Former exterior wall of the Union School, now enclosed in the basement of a later addition. Photo by author.

Former exterior wall of the Union School, now enclosed in the basement of a later addition to McCormick Middle School. Photo by author.

McCormick Middle School is scheduled to come down in the next two to three months. For the first time since 1867, that plot of land on South Main Street will sit unoccupied. At about the same time, the new railroad underpass will open; for the first time since 1850, vehicles will move unobstructed by train traffic through the center of the village. It is the end of a Wellington era, in more ways than one.

Exterior view of the old Union School, now part of McCormick Middle School, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Exterior view of the old Union School, now part of McCormick Middle School, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Program Announcement

Winter image of the 1868 Methodist Church, located at 127 Park Place, Wellington, Ohio. This photograph must have been taken after the 1885 construction of the Town Hall and Opera House, visible to the left of the church. Note the wrought iron fence around the park, no longer extant. Photo 970089 of "Wellington Family Album" Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

Winter image of the 1868 Methodist Church, located at 127 Park Place, Wellington, Ohio. This photograph must have been taken after the 1885 construction of the Town Hall and Opera House, visible to the left of the church. Note the wrought iron fence around the park, no longer extant. Photo 970089 of “Wellington Family Album” Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

I have been asked to deliver the talk at this year’s Annual Meeting of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, i.e. the Spirit of ’76 Museum. If you are interested in attending, it will be held on Thursday, November 12th at 6PM, at the First United Methodist Church of Wellington. There will be a dinner, a brief review of the year’s accomplishments, then…well, me. I’ll be speaking on the Howk family and their journey from Massachusetts to Wellington in 1818 with an emancipated slave called Dean. My working title is, “Into the Wilderness: A Massachusetts Household Emigrates to Ohio.”

Tickets are $12/person and that is for the dinner (your choice: chicken or pork with vegetables, salad and dessert). Reservations are requested no later than November 6th. Full details will soon be coming to museum members in their October newsletter, including a form to complete and mail in with check payment. If you aren’t a museum member but are interested in attending, contact the museum directly or leave me a message below and I will put you in touch with the appropriate parties. Hope to see you there!