Friday, January 31, 2014

Willis Leiter's Home – Then & Now

To close out my celebration of the publication of Lorain: The Real Postcards of Willis Leiter, here's a real photo postcard of the photographer's own home at Thorn Beach on E. Erie Avenue in Lorain.

Thorn Beach? Where was that?

That's what a lot of people were asking when the mysterious real photo postcard appeared on Ebay last August. Fortunately, Paula Shorf, one of the authors of Lorain: The Real Postcards of Willis Leiter was able to identify the house in the photo as his home and even provide an address: 2447 East Erie.

Here's what the same view as the postcard looked like in early September 2013.

A more recent, wintery view reveals more of the house and its setting.
Even with the addition of a garage, it's still a great looking home, full of historical significance.
Photo taken Sept. 18, 2013
Just a quick note – Paula asked me to pass along that there are two local book signings planned for Lorain: The Real Postcards of Willis Leiter. The first is scheduled for February 8 at the Avon Costco and another is tentatively scheduled for Sunday, March 9 with the Lorain Historical Society. Watch the Society's Facebook page for details.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Leiter Real Photo Postcard Sampler

With the publication of Lorain: The Real Postcards of Willis Leiter, many rare views of Lorain – previously seen only on postcards that popped up on Ebay – are now available to history buffs and the public alike in an handsome volume.

For me, it's downright exciting to see some of the photos – such as the one above from the book, of the Soldiers Monument and Fountain (that I wrote about here, among other places) that used to be in the park across from Lorain City Hall. Previously, I'd seen only a few different battered vintage postcards of the subject.

The book has a section largely devoted to the Lorain shipyards, with fascinating photos of ships being launched (or about to be launched, such as the Charles W. Kotcher below).

The steel mill is well represented in the book as well. The photo below – Big Crane at Skelp Mills – is one of many depicting the mill.
The book has many pages devoted to non-industrial subjects too, such as the former St. Joseph Hospital and the original Lorain City Hall.  
Common street scenes are in the book as well, such as this view of the house at Sixth and Reid (which I gave the 'Then and Now' treatment here).

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Leiter Portrait Sampler

Although Lorain: The Real Postcards of Willis Leiter celebrates the real photo postcards of Willis Leiter, the focus (pun intended) of his photography business was portraiture. Paula Shorf, one of the authors of the book, provided me with a few examples of his studio work from her collection.

Above is a great one – the laughing baby. What a cute shot. I'd believe it if turned out he grew up to become Oliver Hardy.

Here's another one (below) of a young lady. Now that's a waist!

And here's a portrait of another young lady (below). She probably couldn't have anticipated that updo hairstyles would still be big one hundred years later!

Meet Willis Leiter Part 2

The back cover to "Leiter's Souvenir of Lorain, O."
showing the 657 Broadway studio location
By 1909, Leiter had relocated his prosperous business across the street to 657 Broadway. (This location later became the home of Michael’s studio and currently houses Faroh’s Candy.)

From the new location, he published a pamphlet titled Leiter’s Souvenir of Lorain, O. The pamphlet contained photographs of many local area businesses and industry, plus a listing of the demographics of Lorain at that time. 

Leiter remained at this location until 1914, when he moved his business once again. His final move was across the street to 704 Broadway.

Due to its success, the Leiter Studio Company was finally incorporated in September of 1915. Claremont Doane, who was elected secretary and treasurer of the newly incorporated firm, was the uncle of Albert Doane, one of the authors of Lorain: The Real Postcards of Willis Leiter.

From Lorain Daily News, Sept. 16, 1915
Around 1917, Willis Leiter left Lorain after 16 successful years in business in the community. He later made a career change – becoming a licensed chiropractor (along with his son Warren) and opening an office in Elyria in 1922.

According to the Ohio Obituary Index, Leiter passed away in January 1942 in California at the age of 77, and is buried in Clyde, Ohio.

Fortunately, an amazing photographic account of Lorain’s early history survives to this day – all as seen through the lens of Willis Leiter.

The Leiter Studio's 657 Broadway location today

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Meet Willis Leiter Part 1

The first Willis Leiter Studio at 310 Broadway
If you asked a person over the age of 50 who grew up in Lorain to name some well-known photography studios in town from the old days, they would probably answer with the names Rudy Moc or Michaels. This wouldn't be too surprising, because Rudy Moc is well-known for his great collection of photos taken of the damage caused by the 1924 Tornado, and both longtime firms provided Lorainites with treasured family portraits over the years.

However, as we now know, there was another Lorain photographer who isn't as well known as the others. That will undoubtedly be changing with the publication of Lorain: The Real Postcards of Willis Leiter. Although Leiter's studio did not have the longevity to match Rudy Moc or Michaels, his body of work in documenting the Lorain of the early 1900s through real photo postcards has contributed immeasurably to keeping the history of our beloved town alive for future generations.

Paula Shorf, one of the authors of Lorain: The Real Postcards of Willis Leiter has kindly provide me with some biographical material about the photographer, which I now present in two parts.

Leiter Studio was established in Lorain in September of 1901, when Willis A. Leiter and associate, Mr. Sayre, purchased the photography gallery of J. B. Hoff. 
Article from the front page of The Daily Democrat
of Wednesday, September 18, 1901
Leiter moved his wife, Nettie, and their children to Lorain from Findlay, Ohio, where he had first developed his photographic skills.

Lorain provided Leiter with plenty of photographic subjects. The city in 1901 was a thriving industrial town, with the newly built shipyard and a booming steel mill.

Courtesy Paula Shorf Collection
Leiter documented the development of the city by creating real photo postcards of ship launchings, the activity at the steel mill, new buildings that were opening up on Broadway, and a variety of community events. He also photographed other locations in Ohio and neighboring states. More than 2,000 of these types of photographs have been identified.

But Leiter's main business was studio portraiture, and the studio was known for its quality work. The photographer’s sons, Warren and Earl, assisted their father in the business.

Leiter believed in advertising, and his promotional ads appeared in a variety of publications.

1904 ad from Lorain Cook Book
1908 advertisement

Monday, January 27, 2014

Lorain: The Real Postcards of Willis Leiter Now Available

The secret is finally out – and it's good news for anyone interested in Lorain history that wants to add an invaluable volume to their bookshelf.

Willis Leiter
The book Lorain: The Real Postcards of Willis Leiter is officially on sale today from Arcadia Publising. It features the photography of Willis Leiter, who established a studio in Lorain in 1901.

Like many photographers, Leiter's business was creating charming portraits of local citizens that were suitable for framing. But much more importantly to today's historians, Leiter also documented the Lorain of the early 1900s – ship launchings, steel production, buildings, schools, churches, community events – through thousands of real photo postcards. Those postcards are the focus of the book, and with the best of them compiled into one volume, they provide rare, wonderful and unexpected views of Lorain.

The book was the labor of love of five people with the aim of bringing long overdue recognition to Willis Leiter: Albert Doane, Bill Jackson, Paula Shorf, Matthew Weisman and Bruce Leiter Waterhouse, Jr.

The authors – (top row, from left) Paula Shorf,
Bruce Leiter Waterhouse, Jr., Matthew Weisman, Bill Jackson;
(seated) Albert Doane
Albert Doane is the well-known local historian who helped found the Black River Historical Society (now known as the Lorain Historical Society). He helped compile Lorain Ohio, the first Arcadia Publishing book on Lorain, as well as being one of the authors of Lake Shore Electric, another Arcadia Publishing book.

Bill Jackson of Chardon, Ohio, has collected postcards for many years, with an emphasis on those produced by Willis Leiter.

Former Lorainite Paula Shorf of Concord, California is also a longtime collector of Willis Leiter real photo postcards. Paula regularly patrols Ebay in search of rare Leiter treasures to add to her growing archives.

Matthew Weisman of Elyria, Ohio is a longtime collector of Lorain Shipbuilding history and memorabilia. He also presents programs about Lorain Shipbuilding to historical groups. 

Bruce Leiter Waterhouse, Jr., is a great-grandson of the photographer. He became interested in his ancestor's postcards when he saw a display of them at an exhibit depicting iron ore shipments on the Great Lakes.

How the book came to be is serendipity at its best.

Paula Shorf had been collecting Leiter real photo postcards since 2001 and had always hoped that he would get recognition for his work. At the same time, Paula and Matthew Weisman had been emailing back and forth about Lorain's shipbuilding industry, and the many Leiter postcards about that topic. A few years later, Bill Jackson – yet another Leiter collector – contacted the Black River Historical Society looking for information about the photographer. The Society put him in touch with Matthew, who introduced him to Paula. Before you knew it, the three were talking about writing a book. They were joined by Bruce Leiter Waterhouse, Jr. and Al Doane – and finally all of the players were onboard to make the book a reality.

The book can be ordered on Amazon and through the Arcadia Publishing website. It will be available locally at the Lorain Historical Society (which is currently closed for the winter).

As part of the celebration surrounding this book, my blog this week will focus entirely on Willis Leiter – his life, his work and even his former home on East Erie in Lorain. Plus, more about the book!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Oberlin's 1812 Harrison Military Road Marker Revisited Part 2

I had mentioned back in my original post about the Harrison Military Road marker that it had been the subject of an article that I wrote for The Black Swamp Trader & Firelands Gazette. Well, below is the article as it appeared in the publication's Fall 2012 issue.


Oberlin’s War of 1812 Monument Gone But Not Forgotten
By Dan Brady
With the 200th Anniversary of the beginning of the War of 1812 comes renewed interest in the important events of the war. Here in Ohio, the scene of much of the fighting, there are a variety of historical sites, markers and monuments for those that are interested. In Oberlin, just west of town, there was a historical marker – a huge granite boulder with a plaque – that had been there since 1914. But it’s gone now, and what the marker commemorated – a crossing of the Harrison Military Road – is sadly forgotten. Here, then is the story of that road, as well as the marker and its rocky fate.
General William Henry Harrison (later the ninth President of the United States) had been put in command of the Army of the Northwest after the disastrous loss of Detroit to the British in August 1812. Harrison realized that the ability to move troops and supplies around Ohio was of critical importance to win the war. Thus he ordered the construction of various military roads by the troops.
General William Henry Harrison
The main “Harrison Military Road” passed through Fremont and was used to get to and from Ft. Meigs. But Harrison also had several small tributary military roads constructed through the thick forests that covered Ohio. One of them went from Wooster to what is now Ashland, and it was determined that the route be extended north to Lake Erie.
It was this road connecting Ashland to Lake Erie and passing through Oberlin that would later be honored with a marker.
It was sometimes called the Moonsinger Road, since Colonel Moonsinger and his troops built it under orders from General Harrison. From Ashland, it went north through Wellington, Pittsfield and just west of Oberlin. Then, it followed along the line of Beaver Creek to Amherst, before connecting with Lake Erie just west of Lorain at Oak Point. 
Although the road had no special significance during the War, it was used for the movement of troops in protecting the lakeshore and forts west, as well as a supply route. 
After the War of 1812, the road through the forest continued to be used for a period of approximately twenty years before falling into disuse and becoming covered with underbrush. But the still-visible road’s crossing through Oberlin attracted the attention of an Oberlin student who realized what it was and recognized its historical significance.
Dr. George Frederick Wright
That student would later be well known as Dr. George Frederick Wright (1838-1921), an American geologist with an interest in history who became a professor at Oberlin Theological Seminary. Years later, Wright also became President of the Ohio State Historical Society, and apparently would use his influence to make sure the military road passing through Oberlin was not forgotten.
One hundred years after the end of the War of 1812, the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) in Ohio decided to honor the old military road, as well as Wright’s discovery of it. The dedication of a large granite boulder (believed to be more than 10,000 years old) containing a plaque was to be the highlight of the 16th Annual Conference of the Ohio D.A.R. held in Oberlin in late October 1914.
The marker was placed on the south side of West Lorain Street, approximately a mile and a half west of Oberlin. The plaque had the following inscription:


The dedication ceremony took place on the old Reamer farm west of town.
Closeup of the tablet
Dr. Wright spoke at the marker’s unveiling of the road’s importance, and the work involved in its construction. Wright stated “It was one of the numerous roads made by Gen. Harrison by way of precaution. At the same time the significance is great because of the labor involved in its construction. The whole country was then covered with a dense forest of large, tall trees, many of which had to be cut down and the stumps removed to clear the way. Numerous bog holes, also, had to be made passable by corduroy roads, some of which are still remembered by our oldest citizens. Thus the road is a witness to the seriousness of the military situation in northern Ohio after Hull’s surrender of Detroit in 1812.”
He also noted, “The work of the D.A.R. in marking the place where this crossed one of the principal roads of Lorain County will serve to recall to the citizens of the county the toil which was expended and the hardships which were endured during the War of 1812 to preserve those institutions which now insure the peace and prosperity so abundantly enjoyed. It is hoped that other crossing places in other towns will in due time be marked in a similar manner.”
For many years, the marker stood on what was later designated Ohio State Route 10, approximately 300 yards west of the railroad tracks. By the late 1950s, however, it was largely ignored. The Lorain Journal in July 1959 observed, “Hundreds of motorists daily pass a large boulder on Rt. 10, just west of Oberlin, but most of them fail to notice it and perhaps only occasionally will some curious individual stop to read the inscription on the plaque attached to the huge rock.”
The newspaper noted that a few years earlier, the local D.A.R. chapter cleaned the plaque and planted evergreens on either side of the concrete base of the boulder. A rail fence and some shrubbery also created a tidy “park” setting.
In July of 1969, the marker received some publicity. It was the photographic subject of the “This is Oberlin” regular feature in The Oberlin News-Tribune. The simple photo caption read, “Col. Moonsinger was here in 1813, says plaque west of town.” 
Perhaps the marker would have been better off if it had continued to be ignored. According to the book Pictorial Memories of Oberlin, vandals removed the tablet in 1969. Today, there is no evidence that the marker was ever there in its former location on what is now Ohio State Route 511.
An observation by The Lorain Journal in its 1959 article highlighting the marker is sadly ironic in view of its final fate. As the paper noted, “Mortals make history, but often their deeds would be forgotten but for the monuments left by thoughtful individuals and organizations to kept the present forever linked with the past.”
After I was made aware that the tablet had been vandalized and removed, I spent a lot of time driving up and down Route 511 trying to see if perhaps the boulder to which the tablet was attached, or maybe its base, was still out there. (Why? Just curious, I guess.)
Here (below) is the stretch of today's Route 511 west of Oberlin city limits along which the tablet was located. To get your bearing, the top of the photo is north.

You can see the trail bed of the now removed railroad tracks at the extreme right of the photo. If the marker's location was truly "300 yards west of the railroad," that would put it just to the left of the farms and on the south side of the road, close to the highway.  
Photos of the marker show it seemingly in the middle of a field, so I guess that's where it was – somewhere.

Special thanks to the Black Swamp Trader & Firelands Gazette for permission to reproduce this article.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Oberlin's 1812 Harrison Military Road Marker Revisited Part 1

Back in 2012 – the 200th anniversary of the start of the War of 1812 – I did a blog post about a historical marker that used to be located just west of Oberlin city limits on what is now State Route 511. The marker commemorated a military supply road that was cut through the forest from Ashland to Oak Point by troops.

Unfortunately, the marker is now long gone.

Anyway, while doing some research at the Lorain Public Library recently, I was stopped by Joe Jeffries, MLS of the Adult Services Dept. who said he had something to show me. As it turns out, Mr. Jeffries had found a great clipping about the historical marker in the library's files. The clipping even included a rare photo of it.

Below is the content of the article which, according to the date scrawled on it, appeared in the Oberlin newspaper on Sept. 8, 1949.


Restore Commemorative Tablet

Pictured here beside the newly restored D.A.R. marker west of town on Route 10 are Mr. and Mrs. J. L. Edwards of Edgemeer Place, who were in charge of the restoration project. The bronze tablet was damaged several years ago when the boulder on which it is placed was knocked over, probably by a bulldozer clearing the roads of snow.

Originally erected in 1914 by Oberlin Chapter, now known as Nancy Wolcott Squire Chapter, D.A.R., the marker commemorated the crossing of Harrison Military Road which was cut through dense forest by Colonel Moonsinger from Oak Point to Ashland in 1813. The site was located by the late G. F. Wright, former Oberlin College professor and president of the Ohio State Historical Society

The greater part of the work restoring the damaged tablet and re-bolting the 50-pound bronze piece to the stone was done by Mr. Edwards, who reports that his efforts almost resulted in arrest. "One afternoon while I was working on the boulder with hammer and chisel, a police officer appeared on the scene," he related. It seems that a passer-by reported that someone was "tampering" with the marker, and the policeman came out to investigate. "But the officer didn't stay long – not even to help," said Mr. Edwards. Nevertheless, when the D.A.R. holds its first meeting of the season tomorrow, Mrs. Edwards will be able to report the successful completion of the project.

Special thanks to Joe Jeffries, MLS for sharing this article with me.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

New Muzik Bros. Location Revealed

The view this past weekend
A former Downtown Lorain business is coming home.

Muzik's Auto Care is returning to U.S. Route 6 after an absence of almost 60 years – and just a stone's throw away from the firm's original location at the northeast corner of Broadway and East Erie.

Muzik Brothers first appeared in the Lorain City Directory in 1947 (below).

Muzik Brothers 1947 City Directory Listing
It was around that time period that John C. and Joseph J. Muzik opened their business in the gas station formerly operated by Lorain Mayor Harry VanWagnen.

Here's a shot of the Muzik Brothers service station from March 1952 (below).
Muzik Brothers Gulf Station at Broadway and E. Erie
(Courtesy Lorain Historical Society)
The company remained at that location until around 1955, when it moved over to 901 Broadway (below) across from the Post Office.

Muzik Brothers service station at 9th and Broadway
(Courtesy Lorain Historical Society)
Around 1973, Muzik Brothers moved their business over to 1245 Broadway. It remained there until around 1983 or '84, when the business was relocated to 3671 Oberlin Avenue (below).

A Taco Bell is going to be built at the 3671 Oberlin Avenue location (which I wrote about here and The Morning Journal covered here), resulting in Muzik's Auto Care's move to the vacant property next to Walter A. Frey Funeral Home.

It's great to see a longtime Lorain business committed to staying in business in its hometown. Best of luck to Muzik's Auto Care at its new location.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sheffield in Winter

One of the nice things about living in Sheffield Lake is that you have to take a lot of country roads to get where you want to go. If you go through Sheffield, that often takes you by some historical buildings. Above is the well-known Burrell homestead, and the bare trees gave me an unusual view of it from E. River that I couldn't resist capturing with my camera on the way to the grocery store on Sunday.

That reminds me that the play Sisters Forever: The Burrell Family Letters – written by Kelly Boyer Sagert – continues at the French Creek Nature and Art Center January 10 - 26. (Click here to read all about the play on the Morning Journal's website, and this link will take to the play's page on the Metroparks website.)

I also ended up out on Route 254, and grabbed this wintery shot of the old Sheffield Village Hall (below).

According to the Arcadia Publishing book Sheffield Village by historian Dr. Charles E. Herdendorf, the building was built in 1883 and served as the North Ridge District No. 2 Schoolhouse until it was sold to the Village of Sheffield in December 1934. It became the Sheffield Village Hall in 1935 and served that purpose for the next 65 years.
To learn more about Sheffield Village history, consider joining the Sheffield Village Historical Society. Here is the link to its page on the website. There's also a great historical photo gallery.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Topper Bar Grand Opening – June 16 - 18, 1960

A little over a week ago, I featured an old Maple Inn Grand Opening ad on this blog. One of the commenters on that post (Rae) mentioned the former Topper Bar (at left), which was located just a bit little to the east along Route 254.

Well, here's the Grand Opening ad for the Topper Bar, which appeared in The Lorain Journal on June 15, 1960. The ad includes a great photo of the bar's iconic sign.

The ad lists the original owners as Andrew and Donald Shullick.
The bar sat back from the highway, but was one of those places that I watched for as a kid from the back seat of the family car whenever we went by there. I think it was because it shared its name with the Topper TV show that my siblings and I watched in reruns in the early 1960s (and the movie too, of course).

With its top-hat sign, Topper Bar had a real elegant air. As Rae noted in her comment, it looked like a fancy night club. I wish I had stopped in for a snort when it was open.

In more recent years, the former Topper bar has been the home of McCrann's Pub & Grille.

Today the property has a "For Sale" sign out front, but it's unclear if it is the restaurant, auto service company, or both that are for sale (below). If anybody knows, please leave a comment.

McCrann's is still open for business, however, and by the looks of their Facebook page they do a good business.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Popeye is 85 today!

Back around Christmas, I did a post about some Popeye toys we received on Christmas Day 1959. Well, it turns out that the squinty-eyed, spinach-eating sailor with the "muskles" is celebrating the 85th anniversary of his first appearance in the comics today.

Click here to read a great, detailed article telling the whole story of Popeye's career in comics and the movies, as well as about his creator, cartoonist E. C. Segar. After that you can drop by the official Popeye website!

I remember watching those 1960s made-for-TV Popeye cartoons on Sunday mornings (that ran on WKYC in Cleveland) for years. I can still hear the distinctive and catchy Ken Lowman 'chamber music' (with lots of wah-wah muted trumpets) that was used in the episodes produced and directed by Jack Kinney.

Recently, I bought an inexpensive DVD collection of TV Popeye cartoons (at left) and discovered they weren't as bad as I remembered – and in fact are pretty entertaining. Unlike the rather monotonous Paramount cartoons that were made for the theaters – that consisted of endless variations of Popeye and Bluto fighting over Olive Oyl – the TV cartoons featured more of the characters and plots from the newspaper comic. That meant you got to see Wimpy, the evil Sea Hag, little Swea'Pea and the magical Jeep!

So be sure to open up a can of spinach today to toast your old pal Popeye!

Lakeview Bathhouse as Coke Emporium - March 1954

No, not that kind of coke. I'm talking Coca-Cola here – the Real Thing!

According to the above story in The Lorain Sunday News of March 14, 1954, there was a minor controversy in Lorain at the time about some Coke signage that was placed on the bathhouse. The Lorain Sunday News took a very strong position against it.

I guess Coke was pretty aggressive in its marketing. The company had similar signage placed on the Lorain Youth Center about the same time.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Third Lakeview Park Bathhouse

Photo courtesy of the Lorain Historical Society
Here's a photo of the third Lakeview Park bathhouse that I think shows it under construction.

Close-up of the bathhouse
At least it looks like it to me. There's planks leading to the building and lots of stuff laying around. There also appears to be a shack set up just to the west of it, as well as some scaffolding. (It's hard to tell from my hand-held copy of the photo from the archives of the Lorain Historical Society.)

The fountain is already there, so we know the photo was taken either in 1936 or after.

I haven't been able to find an article yet about the bathhouse's official dedication, but when I do find it, you can be sure I will post it here.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Second Lakeview Park Bathhouse

Photo courtesy of the Lorain Historical Society
Here's a rare shot of the second bathhouse at Lakeview Park – the one that replaced the original, which was destroyed by the 1924 Lorain Tornado. (The photo is from the archives of the Lorain Historical Society, and is a nice example of the goodies that researchers can find there.)

I had no idea that this particular bathhouse even existed until I found a 1930s photo at the Lorain Historical Society with an aerial view of it (below).

Photo courtesy of the Lorain Historical Society
It had such an unusual roof-line that it obviously wasn't the original, or the squarish brick one that was there for 70 years. I guess I had forgotten that several historical sources had mentioned that the bathhouse had been rebuilt twice.

Anyways, I don't have an exact timeline for the second bathhouse, but I do know that the third one was still under construction after the Lakeview Park fountain was unveiled in 1936.