Monday, July 21, 2014

July 1967 Article on Avon Lake

It's summer time, so it's a good time to look back at the old days – when city dwellers would leave the hustle and bustle of the big Northeast Ohio cities and rent a cottage along the lakeshore to enjoy the cooling breezes and just plain relax.

Here's an interesting article that looks back at those days. It appeared in the Journal on July 13, 1967, and explains how Avon Lake evolved from a cottage community to what it is today.

I'm sure the historic and nostalgic information in the article about cottages applies to Sheffield Lake, as well as those cottage camps that used to be on the western outskirts of Lorain.

The article was written by Staff Writer Sandy Rider.

How Avon Lake Changed from Resort to Small City
Staff Writer

AVON LAKE – Avon Lake was transformed from a summer resort of transients looking for fun to a suburban city with permanent residents willing to take on responsibility. It took less than 50 years.

Then the cottages cost $500. Now a new house costs at least $25,000.

Foresight brought about this change. The village planners threw code restrictions in the way of the rapid resort growth. They knew Avon Lake could be more than a playground for the cities around it.

The men with foresight could envision Avon Lake becoming a honky tonk town. So the village officials enacted a code that would force builders to construct higher cost year-round homes.

THEY STUCK to their guns and the summer village transformed into one of the leading cities in Lorain County.

Now Avon Lake residents realize what they have. They are willing to work to protect it and improve it.

There are still some cottages left to remind Avon Lakers of the past.

Here is how some of the oldtimers remember it:

The cottages were lit by kerosene lamps. They had no foundations undergirding them. The bathroom and stove were outside. The small rooms were divided by cloth partitions.

City-weary folks rented them for the summer. They got up at dawn and draped their tanned legs over the side of a small boat and fished. They caught pike and perch.

At night they congregated on the front porch or steps and talked into the late hours. No one wore a watch. Or they got all dolled up, knocked three times, whispered, "Joe sent me" and danced all night at the speakeasies.

THE AVON BEACH PARK was a big drawing card. The city dwellers often came for a day or weekend at the beach. They left the congestion of the city for the congestion of the beaches along the western shore of Avon Lake. They danced on the big dance floor until late and piled on the interurban and headed east.

The place was really hopping then. Avon Beach Park was the largest on the southern lake shore.

The Lake Shore Electric Railway ran to the Park from Cleveland along the lake shore.

Mixed in with the vacationers were the farmers. The farmers quietly grew their grapes on large farms all over the village.

When winter came all activity ceased except the farmers' battle against the land. There was nothing to do here in the winter. The bands traveled on. The cottages were boarded up.

Then it happened. The codes came in. It became difficult to build small cottages with no improvements in them.

BY THIS TIME investors had realized buying property in Avon Lake would be profitable. They rushed in and bought land with all kinds of promises for water and sewage, according to Dan Straka, building inspector. The farmers realized their land was too valuable to grow grapes on so they started selling it to developers.

The tourist trade slowed down considerably when the Avon Beach Park burned down and prohibition was ended. The city dwellers that had used Avon Lake as a playground woke up to the fact that Avon Lake was determined to be a full fledged, mature city.

The interurban line was discontinued in 1938 when car and bus competition became too much for it. The car barns were sold and transformed into a motel and restaurant, the Saddle Inn, which is still in operation.

Industry started to look west at the open land in Avon Lake. The Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. bought most of the old beach by the Avon Beach Park.

NOW THE COTTAGE owners had to make a decision – whether to convert or tear down their cottages. To make these cottages suitable for year round use the owners would have to put in a foundation and basement, insulate the walls and install plumbing inside. Sometimes it was worth it. Sometimes it was cheaper to knock the thing down and start all over again.

Some cottages were well constructed in the first place and could easily be used year round. Many of both types of cottages remain along the lake and at Stop 45 allotment on the east end of town.

The Stop 45 area was the first to develop because of its proximity to Cleveland.

People bought 40 foot lots in Avon Lake for $2,000 to $3,000 Straka said. It was the thing to do. The strict building and zoning codes forced the prices up.

Straka said Avon Lake was the first city in Lorain County to enforce the use of graded lumber. Graded lumber indicates the actual strength of the material.

"The plumbing and electrical codes were restrictive and therefore safer," Straka said.

AN EVEN STRICTER code was established in 1953. "All these restrictions increase the cost of building a house," Straka said. "You can't build a cheap house in Avon Lake any more. In fact you can't build much for under $25,000/

A developed lot now costs between $5,000 to $7,000. People portion their house according to lot, Straka feels. He said no one is going to build a small house on a big lot. The code requires a 15,000 square foot lot.

There are a large number of people moving about in Avon Lake. Young couples start out with a small home, add to their family and are forced to move into a bigger one in a few years.

"Now buyers want four and five bedroom homes," Straka said. "That makes the size of the home larger."

The most expensive homes in Avon Lake, Straka estimates run around $65,000; the less expensive run at $15,000.

The newer homes built average around $30,000 and up.

Avon Lake clamped down just fast enough to prevent it from becoming a hodge podge of cottages and houses. Land in Avon Lake is a good investment. The planners worked to make it so.


Courtesy Lorain County Auditor website
I'm guessing that the attractive house at 32990 Lake Road (at right) near Coveland Drive – built in 1965 – is the home shown in the photo as an example of "one of Avon Lake's fine new homes on Lake Erie."

It only took me a few minutes to locate it via a Bing maps aerial view because of its distinctive roof and windows.


Anonymous said...

Hi Dan- What's the definition of a "honky tonk town"?

Dan Brady said...

Hmmm… that's a good question! I think it means a small town that is primarily known for its rowdy bars, where loud raucous music is played.

Mike Kozlowski said...

....I did NOT know that the Saddle Inn started out as a railway facility! Where were the car barns on the Lorain end?


Dan Brady said...

Hi MIke,

Local historian and archivist Dennis Lamont emailed me with this. I had erroneously thought that Lorain had car barns at Root Road for the interurbans, but Dennis explained it like this:

"The carbarn at East Erie & Root was a little shed for Mr. Root's open car... The Beach Park Barns were in the middle of the Lorain Cleveland line barns in Lorain or Cleveland. The horsecar barns were at 21st & Broadway. Tom Johnson's car barns are still on 28th St."

You can always find out more by poking around on Drew Penfield's Lake Shore Electric website:

Drew Penfield said...

Nice article. One little clarification, though: the Beach Park resort did not burn down, it was the Lake Shore Electric Railway power plant that burned in 1925. The Beach Park resort, with its cottages and dance hall, had been built by the railway in 1897 as a way of attracting riders. It wasn't as much of a draw by the 1920's and the railway sold the land to the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company. Then an explosion and fire in 1925 destroyed the railway's own small power plant before the new CEI plant was done. The railway's power plant was located just to the east, I believe between the present car dealership and water plant.

Anonymous said...

I remember the Straka family when I was growing up in mid-1970's. Think his wife was named Jean, and they had a lot of kids. A really cool family, as I recall