Lake County History Immersed in People, Places, Adventure

Lake County, the smallest county in Ohio, was surveyed by the Connecticut Land Company in 1789 as part of their Western Reserve land holdings. The first settlers came in 1800. Sixty-six pioneers formed a new county led by John Walworth and General Edward Paine. Back then it was common for townships to be named after the man who surveyed them and it was Harry Champion who mapped out Painesville – so it was called Champion, at first. But it was quickly renamed in honor of General Edward Paine because he was an American Revolutionary Hero. The town’s people found it more fitting a name.

There is only one town named Painesville in Ohio. However, there are twenty towns named Madison in Ohio! Plus, did you know Madison has one of the few remaining barn theaters? What is a barn theater, you ask? Well, I did a little research. Apparently a barn theater is a community venue for plays and the performing arts, a gathering place for actors and actresses out in the country. Rabbit Run sounds like fun!

Lake County is full of interesting and beautiful mansions, one of which is the Coulby Mansion on Ridge Road in Wickliffe. It is a 16 room Victorian built in 1913. The shipping tycoon Harry Coulby built it with the fortune he made from the shipping industry on the Great Lakes. It is now the Wickliffe Town Hall.

Another more familiar, and fascinating house in Lake County is The James A. Garfield home located in Mentor, on Mentor Avenue. Garfield moved his family there and added 11 new rooms to accommodate his wife and seven children, plus any visitors who may have been passing by on trains for political talks and events. Garfield was our 20th President; his biography is very interesting.

Lake Erie is surely unpredictable and so is the weather over the land as well. On July 28, 2006, the Grand River overflowed its banks and caused a state of emergency in Lake County and Ashtabula County. The river reached 11 feet above flood level due to a 48-hour rain. The flooding was so powerful, in fact, that it caused a tributary (Paine Creek) to change course in at least one location! The area was subsequently declared a Federal Disaster area.

In January 1986, an earth quake happened and it was felt in LeRoy, Ohio. That is not a typo. LeRoy is located in Lake County and is spelled correctly as ‘LeRoy’. Most people don’t know this and spell it Leroy. I found this to be an interesting unknown fact about Lake County. How about you?

What was pioneer life like for these folks who settled our area? Thank God someone wrote it down! I’d like to know what pioneer women went through. For me, I’ve got it easy. I’m hungry. I go to the store. I buy some food. I take it home and I eat it. Let’s see what it was like for a pioneer woman from Willoughby around the 1800-1850’s.

“In 1802 John Miller was killed at a barn raising, leaving the young mother to care for the babe, who proved herself equal to the emergencies of pioneer life. Corn was the crop raised for the sole dependence. One fall the raccoons were so numerous that the whole crop was in danger. Vigorous trapping was resorted to. Mrs. Miller salted the hindquarters for winter use. The corn was pounded, or cracked for mush and bread, which, with the raccoon meat, made sumptuous fare for that winter. One day, hearing a noise in the pig pen, she went out and found a bear. Returning with an ax, she went back and Bruin was quickly dispatched, so bear meat was added to the larder.” (Larder is a cool place for food storage, small or large cupboard.)

And as Lake County is the ‘North Coast’ of Ohio, it would be wrong for me not to mention the two lighthouses on its shores. Fairport Harbor, located 30 miles east of Cleveland on the shores of Lake Erie, is a unique village rich in history and attractions. The village, approximately one square mile, was settled by Finnish, Hungarian and Slovenian immigrants. Fairport has two lighthouses, two museums, the Finnish Monument, and LaSalle and Mormon historical markers. I’ve been to these lighthouses and I assure you, they are worth a visit!

To sum it up, I would say Lake County was then, and still is, a beautiful and interesting county. The people who populated it, hardworking, resourceful, and rich with courage and an adventurous spirit, have left us with a history that we can rediscover today! Next time you are looking for something to do, I encourage you to visit one of Lake Erie’s lighthouses, or explore James A. Garfield’s home!

Gabe Arnold
Author: Gabe Arnold