Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Robert Parsons’ Vermilion Memories – 1965

In May of 1965, Robert Parsons – a longtime captain with the Pittsburgh Steamship Company – gave a speech at the Vermilion Rotary Club about his memories of the early days of Vermilion.

Here is the Journal’s coverage of the speech as it appeared in the paper on May 14, 1965. It paints a fascinating picture of the city in the old days.

Early Vermilion Vividly Recalled
VERMILION – Board sidewalks, quigmire [sic] streets in the spring, pranks by boys equated today as delinquencies were some of the word pictures of Old Vermilion brought to Rotarians Wednesday by Robert Parsons, senior citizen and lifelong resident of this community.

“In those days,” Parsons recalled, “we were a village with a population of 1,200, bounded on the east by Crystal Beach, on the south by Mauer’s Lane and on the west by the Baumhart farm, the source of the village’s milk supply.

PARSONS, WHO IS A city councilman, retired seven years ago following 44 years, many as a captain with the Pittsburgh Steamship Co.

“My career on the Lakes started in June, 1910, under rather unusual circumstances.

“We were having our commencement exercises in the Town Hall. There were 11 of us, six boys and five girls.

“There was a lot of speech-making going on and suddenly I heard the whistle of the 9:17 New York Central train. That was the train I had to take to make connections with my first ship.

“I LEFT without my diploma, but it was given to me late that fall after the sailing season.”

The fishing industry during Parsons’ boyhood provided most of the employment for the working population.

“It was a common sight in those days to see fish piled two and three feet deep on the floor of the half-dozen fish houses. A lot of the fish was shipped out by freight train in boxes and barrels, but many tons were also packed in pans, frozen in blocks of ice and stored for winter shipping.

Parsons said that the Great Lakes shipping industry supplied the next biggest source of employment.

“When I was a boy, Vermilion could boast of having more local residents serving as Great Lakes captains than any other town on the Lakes.”

The veteran rattled off a dozen names of local men known as top captains from one end of the lakes to the other.

“MOST OF these would recruit their own crews from the local populace and at one time I personally had seven youths from here.

“But over the years, schools became better and this practice petered off as more and more boys went on either to college or to other types of employment. Right now I don’t think a dozen men from here are on the lakes.”

Parsons recalled the kerosene street lamps and the days when water, for domestic consumption, came from cisterns with back-houses not too many feet away.

“When I think of this today, I almost believe it was a miracle that we escaped a serious epidemic.”

Parsons outlined for his listeners in sequence the location of every business place for Liberty Ave., and Main St., including saloons, blacksmiths, hotels, groceries, hardware stores and the town jail.

1 comment:

Lee Cornelius said...

What a shame that no one thought to record that speech for posterity. How much history was lost that day?