Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Huron's Saloon Town Days

Ohio History Marker located near Huron’s Mile Long Fishing Pier
Here’s an interesting article that ran in the Journal shortly after Huron began demolishing its downtown. The article ran in the paper on December 1, 1969 and is a look back at Huron’s vanishing history. It also has some funny stories about Huron’s wild and woolly days as a saloon town for sailors.


Recall Huron History as Demolition Continues
Staff Writer

HURON – It’s already started. A bulldozer and a crane are ripping away at the core of Huron. Splintered scraps and memories will soon be all that remains of this city’s downtown as the first phase of the city’s $4 million urban renewal project begins.

But for many longtime residents, the history that was downtown Huron will not be forgotten.

Lewis Kuhl is 83 and was mayor before the village was municipalized in 1961. Before that he was a township trustee for 22 years, taking over that position from his father.

He remembers downtown Huron.

“It’s almost the same as long as I can remember with the exception of a few buildings here and there,” he says, pressing a finger askew of his glasses.

“There was a big frame building where the Huron recreation bowling alley is now that was the Masonic Lodge. And I remember that we held village meetings there sometimes.”

ACROSS THE STREET was a row of fishing businesses, twine houses where the gill nets were stored, docks and shanties.

“There was a cannery there to back before the twenties, the Mad River railroad then followed the river south. There was a bridge over the river near the present Fries Lumber building.

“I think it was about 1928 that the Lake Shore Railroad came down South Street and there was an interurban that ran from Sandusky to Ohio Street,” he says recalling a story.

“President McKinley was speaking in Sandusky so we all went up on the interurban. While we were gone, a naval training ship – I think it was the USS Hawk – came into port and at that time there were about 15 bars on Main Street. When we were coming back from Sandusky, the trolley conductor stopped outside of town and said he wasn’t going any further.”

“The sailors had taken over the town and thrown everybody else out including the bartenders. We lived on the other side of town so we went around downtown and when I looked up Main Street al I could see were sailor boys running around all over the street,” Kuhl recalls.

It was a wide open town then. Every other building was a bar.

“The fishermen would come here from Buffalo in the early spring because this part of the lake thawed first. There were about 360 working at the ore docks then. And everybody had their favorite saloon. And they were just saloons. A liquor license only cost about $50 and some brewery would usually grubstake a bar owner to get him started. It got pretty rough around here at times, but when prohibition came most of the bars closed down.”

John Rhinemiller, local historian, wrote of Huron in the 1890’s:

“It has been noted that there were 13 saloons in Huron. It was a rough town. For instance, if you heckled the bartender just a little too much, he simply shot you.”

Once, in 1928, the Coast Guard chased a rum runner up the Huron River but before they got to him the runner dumped his goods overboard in burlap bags. The next morning the story filtered down to the fishermen, who spent much of the next morning dragging the river for the booze.

THEN THERE is the story of Chief Thunderwater and his small tribe that lived out in the Grand Forest Beach area in the late 1860’s.

The chief and his tribe were forced to leave town after a little too much local whiskey started a small-scale Indian uprising.

Town Hall was always the center of the community, though, says Kuhl. “Everything that involved the entire community happened there.”

“There were shows and meetings and it was quite a place in its day.

“To me there is a certain sentiment about the old town and the hotels – (The Aldine which burned down, the Parkland Hotel which is now the Captain’s Inn, and the Shephard House which was in the Dorne Block torn down about two weeks ago.”)

"But you can’t stop progress. The only thing to do is go along. I take with a grain of salt all this talk of saving it – it’s impossible to do anything with.. this town has been dormant for so long and I think they’re just starting to do something about it and get it back on its feet."

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