Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Oak Point Mystery

Most Lorainites are probably familiar with Oak Point Road west of town. It begins at its intersection with Route 6 (West Erie Avenue) near Lake Erie and heads due south to Amherst where it becomes N. Lake Street. Although its corridor has experienced much growth and development in the last ten years, for a long time it was a lonely road in very poor shape. I still remember its dangerous intersection with Route 2, before the overpass was constructed.

Anyway, I keep running across references to an Oak Point mystery in Lorain history books. No, it is not a scary story like that of Gore Orphanage Road – it's another kind of mystery, a story of what might have been. You can read about it in this interesting article that appeared in the Lorain Journal on June 21, 1955.


Oak Point 'Mystery' Unsolved

An interesting fact not generally known is that Oak Point, the vacation, boating and fishing resort four miles west of Lorain, once played a role in the rebuilding of Chicago following the Chicago fire.

The story was told by J. J. Meyer, one-time Lorain editor, builder and realtor, in his fine historical summary, "Lorain in Retrospect," prepared originally as an address before the Lorain Real Estate Board.

Clouds of Smoke
The great Chicago fire occurred in the fall of 1871. "Great clouds of smoke," Meyer reported, "hovered over this vicinity, completely obscuring the sun for several days following the fire, a fact fresh in the minds of some now living among us.

"The rehabilitation of the mid-west metropolis stimulated the stone industry at Amherst and created additional demand for Lorain's vessel tonnage.

"The success and volume of this enterprise rested on cheap transportation, which was provided by constructing a railway from the quarries to Oak Point and a stone landing pier, projecting into the lake, from which to transfer stone from tiny cars into vessels Chicago-bound."

Basic Document
In 1926, when Meyer told his story, which was printed in booklet form and remains one of Lorain's basic historical documents, there was still an "iron streak" in the woods north of Amherst as evidence of the railroad.

Meyer recalled that his maternal grandmother used to give vivid descriptions of the fire. She was widowed and resided in the fire-swept district with her youngest son. They were compelled to flee for their lives, losing whatever earthly goods they possessed.

The "Chicago Fire" episode was only one of several in which Oak Point and Beaver Park have figured.

Mystery Center
Shortly after the turn of the century, Oak Point first became the center of a mystery which was the source of prolific rumors and newspaper stories for decades.

In 1905 a party of strangers invaded the community and quietly obtained options on 3,200 acres for the Knox Syndicate, headed by Francis Stewart Knox. Behind the scenes was H. H. Rogers, a capitalist.

Rogers had a "dream" of some gigantic project which was never clearly defined. It was known that it involved a huge harbor at the mouth of Beaver Creek, and a direct railroad connecting the railroad with Norfolk, Va., thus providing shipping facilities between the lakes and the Atlantic ocean.

More than 20 engineers established headquarters in Lorain and surveys were conducted for more than two years, with expenditures of a million dollars. Then Rogers died and the project fell through.

Site Selected
Periodically there were reports that this or some similar project was being promoted again, but nothing materialized.

More recently, within the past few years, concentrated efforts were made to have the Oak Park location selected as the site for a new lake shore state park. It was proposed to call the spot "King Park" after Lorain's Admiral Ernest J. King. However, the state commission working on the park plan preferred other locations.


Wow, Admiral King was being snubbed back in the 1950's too! Some things never change.

Anyway, it's certainly interesting to consider what might have been out there. Here's a current aerial map (click on it) showing what the area looks like today. You can see part of Old Lake Road making its way down into the marina area on the south side.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

This is very interesting, especially the information about Francis S. Knox. I would appreciate any information you could provide (articles, &c) regarding the Knox project. That names shows up on some of our earlier deeds (we live in the Jacob Shupe House - first house in Amherst and just south of Oak Point Road.). So, I'd be very interested in seeing what more you have on Knox. Thanks very much.