Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Don't forget... the trick or treat times for Amherst, Avon Lake, Lorain, Sheffield Lake and Vermilion is Saturday, October 31 from 6:00 to 7:30. So be sure to stock up on candy and other goodies for the kids. (Or, do as my older brother once suggested. Put an empty bowl on your front porch with a "Take one" sign in it - and forget about it!)

Remember when you used to get full-size candy bars during trick or treat? What an assortment we used to get: Clark bars, Oh Henry, Baby Ruth, Chunky, Mallo Cups, Sweet Tarts, Slo Poke, Nestlé's Crunch, Turkish Taffy, Hershey bars, etc. Now the poor kids get the crummy miniature versions which are little more than a mouthful.
I hate to say it, but I don't participate in Sheffield Lake's trick or treat night any more. In ten years at our home on US 6, we've had exactly one kid... and he wasn't even wearing a costume! About nine years ago, I happened to be sitting on my front porch (staking out trick or treaters) and I watched this kid roller blade up our driveway. After I handed him some candy, he took off. Needless to say, I was impressed... he must have covered a lot of turf that night!

Oh well. Happy Halloween!

Gore Orphanage Part 7

In 1992, the Lorain County Metro Parks purchased 1500 acres of the Vermilion River valley – including the site of the 'haunted' Swift mansion. Thus the mansion site, along with the rest of Swift's Hollow, is now part of the park system. It's a good thing, not only because of its rich history, but because the area is quite beautiful and it deserves to be preserved.

I paid several visits to the area during my research for my Black Swamp Trader and Firelands Gazette article (as well as this blog series) and took tons of pictures, a few of which are shown here. In order, the photos show Gore Orphanage Road, the Gore Orphanage Road bridge over the Vermilion River, the fields of Swift's Hollow, some Swift mansion foundation ruins and the one original stone gate post that remains at the Swift mansion site.
Although it is hard to confirm from the vintage photo (see close-up at right), the damaged gate post at the site looks very similar to the gate post in the photo.
Although the Lorain County Metro Parks is quite frustrated with teenagers who visit the Swift mansion site hoping to see ghosts, the park system is not above having some fun with the whole thing. This year the Lorain County Metro Parks sponsored several presentations and tours to the Swift Mansion site in an effort to entertain and educate the public, who is naturally fascinated with the whole 'Gore Orphanage' legend. I was lucky enough to catch one of these presentations and tours, and it was quite enjoyable. Mr. Grant Thompson, a Park Manager of the Lorain County Metro Parks, did all the research for these presentations and is a well-known expert on the topic.
The Legend of Gore Orphanage will probably never be laid to rest entirely. It remains an interesting bit of Lorain County lore.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Gore Orphanage Part 6

The Swift mansion sat vacant and abandoned a few years after the Light and Hope Orphanage closed. It was an accident waiting to happen. And it sure did – thus contributing to the creation of one of the most famous legends of Northeast Ohio.
The headline of the December 7, 1923 Lorain Times Herald said it all: "HAUNTED" HOUSE DESTROYED BY FIRE. A subhead read: MYSTERY BLAZE LEVELS FAMOUS SWIFT MANSION
Apparently the Swift mansion had already developed a spooky reputation by the early 1920's. According to the newspaper account, "the old historic home, a landmark for nearly a century, is known to practically everyone for miles around. Unoccupied for many years, it has stood alone in the picturesque little valley four miles south of Vermilion and was familiarly called the "haunted house of Swift's Hollow."
The article also noted that "thousands of people have visited the "haunted" house since it was vacated years ago, and the walls of the interior were badly marked with the names and addresses of visitors not only from this locality but from distant parts of the country."
The newspaper account also explained that "the place had fallen prey to destructive persons who broke the windows, marred the woodwork and otherwise damaged it. It was a haven for tramps who sometimes spent the night within the shelter of its walls."
It was a sad end for Joseph Swift's beloved Rosedale.
It took decades for the story of the mysterious fire that leveled the Swift mansion to evolve into the legend of Gore Orphanage. But how did the 'Gore Orphanage' name get attached to the story anyway? The answer: the Gore Orphanage street signs.
You see, in this case the word 'gore' doesn't refer to bloodshed and violence. It has another, more obscure meaning: a triangular shape of land. When the road was originally laid out, it followed the boundary lines of Lorain and Erie Counties. When a surveyor's error was discovered, the wedge-shaped 'gore' was added to the map to correct it. Apparently the road was originally referred to as Gore Road; later, when the Light and Hope Orphanage became the dominant landmark on the road, the word 'orphanage' was added.
So there you have it: the story behind the Gore Orphanage legend. But wait– what does the site of the Swift mansion look like today? Well - stop in here tomorrow!

Gore Orphanage Part 5

Okay, so you're probably wondering: what does all this about the Swift mansion have to do with Gore Orphanage? Well the answer is, there never was a Gore Orphanage! But there was an orphanage. Read on for the explanation that starts to tie all this together.
Around 1903, the Reverend and Mrs. J. A. Sprunger of Berne, Indiana purchased the nearby Hughes farm, which was at the top of the hill overlooking Swift's Hollow. It was there that they established the Light and Hope Orphanage.
According to the 1906 book Lorain County, Ohio Picturesque and Industrial Features by Mrs. O. H. Monroe, the orphanage was not only for orphans. "Orphans, half-orphans, and destitute children are admitted to the home regardless of their religious creed and nationality, between the ages of two and twelve years. The home supports them till they are eighteen and twenty years of age, and besides farming those who wish can learn a trade suitable to their ability and choice." (The above photos of the boys' and girls' dorms are also from this 1906 book.)
As many as 120 children lived and worked at the orphanage. The boys lived on the Hughes farm, which also served as the orphanage headquarters, and the girls' dorm was on the Howard farm further down Portman Road. (Check out the map in 'Gore Orphanage Part 2' to see the location of the Hughes and Howard farms.)
The Sprungers eventually expanded the orphanage to 500 acres by purchasing several other farms - including the Wilbur farm. So the Swift mansion became part of the orphanage complex and was used to house some of the employees - but not any of the orphans.
Unfortunately the orphanage, which relied on donations, was never a financial success. After Rev. Sprunger died in 1912, the Light and Hope Orphanage struggled for a few more years before closing in July 1916. (See newspaper clipping at right.) Vacant and neglected, it soon became dilapitated.
Next: the fiery conclusion to our story

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Gore Orphanage Part 4

After Joseph Swift was forced to sell his mansion in the mid-1860's, the home fell into other hands. At least one other family owned it before it was purchased by the Nicholas Wilbur family.

Here is where it gets a little spooky. According to local historians, the Wilbur family were Spiritualists and as such believed that the dead could be contacted via séances. A brochure produced by the Lorain County Historical Society noted that "many wild and weird stories were told about the place during and after their occupancy. Along the river's edge were some neglected children's graves and their spirits were said to appear frequently at the séances held in the house."
In January 1893, tragedy struck the Wilbur family. During a diptheria epidemic, the Wilburs sadly lost four of their grandchildren in one week. Their graves are in the Maple Grove Cemetery on Mason Road. There are two monuments to the children, one with an arch inscribed "Our Darlings." (See photo.)
Despite the fact that the grandchildren did not die in the Swift mansion, their deaths apparently became associated with it anyway.
Wilbur himself died in 1901 and the Swift mansion became vacant again.
Next: the Orphanage

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Gore Orphanage Part 3

When Joseph Swift decided to build a new house, he didn't want just a bigger log cabin. He wanted a spectacular house. And that's what he got. (See undated photo above.)
He hired a New York architect to design it. It took ten workmen two years to build the white Greek Revival mansion. It had fourteen rooms, seven fireplaces, a basement kitchen, French windows and decorative pillars shipped from New York.
Swift called his new home Rosedale. It soon became a well-known landmark in the area and was located on what is now Gore Orphanage Road.
Unfortunately, Swift suffered financial problems and was forced to sell his beloved Rosedale in the mid-1860's.
Next: Spooky Happenings at the Swift Mansion

Gore Orphanage Part 2

Although the Legend of Gore Orphanage isn't true, there is a lot of interesting history there that led to the creation of the legend. And some of it is a little spooky after all.
The story really begins with the arrival in the area of a man named Joseph Swift. He was a veteran of the War of 1812, and was rewarded with 150 acres of land for his service in the War. All he had to do is come out to Ohio from New England and claim it.
So that's what he did. According to an interview with one of his descendants, he actually walked the whole way. He settled in the valley east of the Vermilion River and built a log cabin. The valley became known as Swift's Hollow.
Swift worked on clearing his land and eventually farmed it, becoming quite prosperous. The map above (which I pasted together from two 1800's township maps from the Lorain Public Library) shows how big his farm was. (If you ever drive down to the area today you can appreciate how huge an area it is for one man to farm.)
Due to his success, Swift was able to acquire several hundred acres of land. And with this success, he decided to build a more elegant house for his wife and family.
Next: The (In)famous Swift House

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Gore Orphanage Part 1

Well, since it's October, I promised to blog about Gore Orphanage... so here goes!

Many of us remember hearing about the Legend of Gore Orphanage while we were growing up. I know I did.
As the legend goes, all of the orphans died when the orphanage burned down long ago. Various stories explain how and why the orphanage burned. In one version, an orphan accidentally dropped a lantern. In another, the evil owners of the orphanage did it for the insurance money. In the version I heard, Indians were the culprits. (I guess we watched a lot of John Wayne movies while growing up, so it was natural to blame the Indians.)
But in all the versions of the tale, no matter how the fire got started, the common theme is that all of the orphans died – and their spirits still haunt the ruins of the place to this day.
And through the past decades, hundreds (if not thousands) of kids have driven out to Gore Orphanage Road to check out where all of this supposedly happened. (My friends and I did, and now I know that we were nowhere near the right spot!)
Unfortunately, the story simply is not true. But there is a lot of local history that contributed to the creation of the legend that is a bit spooky... so tune in here next week for the rest of the story!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Keeping Fit in the 1950s at the Shoreway Shopping Center

While watching Sheffield Lake demolish and slowly transform the old Shoreway Shopping Center into something different, I thought of some of the companies that used to be tenants there. One of them was Dee's Shoreway Health Studio.

Here's one of their phone book ads from 1959. I love it, especially the pipe-smoking husband eyeballing the ship-shape girl advertising mascot.
It's interesting what services they offered back then: steam room, body building, massages. I wonder if the steam room was the type you always see in cartoons where the person's head sticks out of a big box while their body shrinks to toothpick size?
I guess we'll never know!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Yala's Pizza Moving Poll

Hey, it's time once again to poll my loyal readers. So listen up, both of you!

I mentioned a few times recently that Yala's Pizza is thinking about moving. As recently as Saturday, as I was picking up my pizza I quizzed the young man behind the counter as to whether or not they're moving. He said that the employees aren't being told anything. So I guess it's a big secret.
So here's my poll question... would you be upset if Yala's Pizza moved? Be sure to vote in the poll at the top of my blog.
Here's the way I feel about it. I would be upset for several reasons. First of all, it would be abandoning a neighborhood that has taken it in the teeth the last few years. Second, it's farther away from their old-time customer base (I already drive in from Sheffield Lake, and am thinking of having a pizza warmer installed in my car as it is.) And lastly - I'm sure that it wouldn't taste the same.
And why do I say that? Because when I used to live on the east side of Lorain, we tried the Yala's Pizza on G. Street (I'm not sure if it's still there.) There was nothing about it that said "Yalas'" except the box.
I'm sure the owners have their reasons. For example, there's only about 3 parking spaces in front at their current location – less than your average donut shop! But as the saying goes... if the pizza ain't broke, don't fix it!
'Nuff said. Be sure to vote! (In the pizza poll, that is.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Good Riddance, Rax!

Well, last week the City of Sheffield Lake finally started to demolish the old Rax restaurant at the corner of Lake Breeze and Route 6. I'm a pretty nostalgic guy, and usually I'm upset when something that's been around for a while is torn down. But not in this case.

When it was still Hardees, I really tried to patronize this place. I bought coffee there most mornings on the way to work. I even dragged my wife here for the occasional fast food dinner. "Why can't we go to McDonald's or Wendy's?" she'd ask. "Because we have to support our city and this is all we have!" was my answer. Then we'd sit down to eat our dinner at a nice, sticky table.
I don't remember eating here very much once it turned into a Rax. I don't like eating any fast food roast beef - Arby's or Rax - for that matter. Because it's not really sliced roast beef. It's some kind of mutant, chunked, jelled roast beast product with holes in it. Ugh.
I probably dislike Rax because I can still remember back in the 1960's when Arby's sold real roast beef sandwiches. You walked into an Arby's and the big chunk of beef was hanging on a chain right in view of the public. You could see it roasting and when they took it down and sliced it really thin, it was better than anything you ever had in your life. My parents used to drive all the way to North Olmsted from Lorain just to get these sandwiches (before they built one at Midway Mall.)
Real roast beef sandwiches. Now that's something to get nostalgic about!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Yala's Pizza Moving Sign

Here's the Yala's Pizza sign that upset my pizza-loving stomach. It's on the east side of the street down at the southern end of Oberlin Avenue. According to the friendly girl who hands me my Yala's Pizza every Friday, if this location opens, the original location closes.

We didn't have pizza this weekend (I've been battling a cold/flu/plague for several days) so I've been doing the chicken soup thing for several nights. But the next time we have Yala's Pizza I'll try to get an update on this matter of upmost importance to Lorainites!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Willow Hardware Memories

It's hard to look at the new CVS at the corner of Meister Road and Oberlin Avenue where Willow Hardware used to be and not be annoyed. Did we really need another drug store in Lorain?

I've never really accepted CVS as the successor to Revco anyway, and the loss of my favorite hardware store (as well as their knowledge and help) doesn't exactly make me want to patronize the place. (I've always been a big Discount Drug Mart man, although I'm becoming a big fan of Walgreens' great selection of non-drug items.)
Anyway, I dug up this quaint Willow Hardware phone book ad from the 1950s. Feel free to post your Willow Hardware memories! (It's easy -- and I recently changed the settings so you don't have to register to be able to leave a comment. Try it!)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Yala's Pizza Moving?

Several weeks ago, I noticed a sign in front of a building near the southern end of Oberlin Avenue promoting something like "Coming soon... Yala's Pizza Drive Thru." When I went to pick up my weekly Friday night Yala's pizza, I asked the young woman at the counter about it. She told me that the owners were seriously considering closing the current location next to Dom & Luigi's Barber Shop and moving down to the other end of Oberlin Avenue. She told me that they were doing an informal poll of their customers about the move.
I told her that I thought it was a terrible idea. Yala's is a Lorain landmark at that location, and that it would be a big blow to that neighborhood, which is already losing its identity with the closing of Willow Hardware. Plus, the pizza probably wouldn't taste the same.
It's been a few weeks since we talked and I don't know what the current status of the move. But it's definitely a half-baked idea!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

It's October... and that means Spooky Stuff is in store!

Well, I'm hitting the road for a few days so I won't be updating this blog until next week. But as it gets closer to Halloween, I'll be revisiting the whole Gore Orphanage legend and the real history behind it. I've already been out doing field research at the actual site associated with the legend, and believe me... it is a little creepy.

If you live in Lorain County, be sure to pick up the October issue of The Black Swamp Trader and Firelands Gazette which usually hits the newstand the first week of the month. In it, I have an article on the same subject: Gore Orphanage. You can find The Black Swamp Trader and Firelands Gazette just inside the entrance of the Vermilion Farm Market on US 6. It's a great little newspaper and best of all – it's free!