Monday, February 25, 2008

The Grand Cosmorama of 1891

Before Mrs. Jay O. Moss was successful in her appeal to Andrew Carnegie for a donation of $50,000 for the purpose of the building a public library in Sandusky, Ohio, she belonged to a group known as the “Library Building Fund Association,” or L.B.F.A.

The Library Building Fund Association was organized in 1886 with the purpose of raising money to purchase or build a library in Sandusky. They worked diligently to secure funds by sponsoring plays, lectures, and musicals.

Pictured below is the program from the “Grand Cosmorama” held at the Opera House in Sandusky on April 3, 1891, under the auspices of the Ladies Building Fund Association.
The evening’s event opened and closed with selections from the Ladies Banjo Club. Several “living pictures” were acted out. The “Light Infantry” featured six children singing and acting. The “Wheel of Fate” number involved eight ladies in party costumes doing a drill with fans. The “Old Maids of Lee” was an amusing act in which the participants frantically tried to catch a man. Fifty Sandusky residents took part in the festivities.

Susie Selkirk (shown here in her Sandusky High School graduation photo, class of 1888) was one of the ladies who participated in the Grand Cosmorama.

See the Sandusky Daily Register of April 3, 1891 to read an account of the 1891 Grand Cosmorama, available on microfilm in the Archives Research Center of the Sandusky Library.

Mrs. Jay O. Moss addressed the Firelands Historical Society in 1900 and spoke about the history of the “Free Library” in Sandusky. (You can read her address in the 1900 “Firelands Pioneer.”) One of Mrs. Moss’s comments was especially poignant: “The dimensions of our building almost stagger us, for our income will be small and our size great, but if our object of bringing people and library together, in unity, acting in sympathy and sentiment, each with the other, can only be accomplished, our halcyon days are indeed upon us.”

The Sandusky Library website has a brief history of the library.

If you're in Ohio, remember to vote on March 4!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Mystery Image: Washington Park as it Never Was

We recently received a donation of a drawing of Washington Park from an out-of-town collector who has never been in Sandusky. She thought it would be an interesting item for our collections, showing a view of the city from 1921. It certainly is an interesting view -- but it is a scene that never existed in reality.

The image shows a slightly elevated view of Washington Park, from Wayne Street, down Washington Street. We can see several landmarks that were familiar to residents in 1921: on the left is Sandusky High School, with its top floor still there; beyond that we see the Erie County Courthouse as it looked before its remodeling in the 1930s; on the right is the Kingsbury Block, the Sloane House Hotel, Odd Fellows Hall, and the Presbyterian Church.

The strange part of this drawing is in the center of the picture: We see Washington Street as a boulevard, with landscaped medians and a monument at the center of the intersection with Jackson Street. Of course, this plan was never built, but what is the story behind its creation? What we do know about this drawing is that the donor found it in a photo album that was originally owned by Jessie A. Spieker-Fritz, who lived on Camp Street in Sandusky. The 1923 city directory says that she was a secretary for the Brown Clutch Company. This would help to explain how she came to have a copy of this drawing: In the lower right corner of the image, we see that the drawing was designed by T.T. Morgan and drawn by Charles Hottmann; Morgan was the president of the Brown Clutch Company and Hottmann was a superintendent there.

As to why the picture was drawn and why the plan was not implemented, those questions are still mysteries. Was Morgan part of a planning committee for the city, or were he and Hottmann simply interested citizens with an idea? Was this plan ever formally considered by the city? Further research is needed to find the answers.

Viewing this image raises another question for me: You notice in the background the monument in the intersection, most likely intended as a civic monument or war memorial. Have you noticed that in nearly every city or town in Ohio (and, it seems, in most American communities settled in the 19th century), there is a major civic monument in a prominent public square, sometimes several, usually built in the 19th century or early 20th century? Have you noticed that there is no grand civic monument from that time in Sandusky? (Some monuments have been built downtown in recent years of course.) Why did early Sanduskians not follow the trend of most communities of the time, and build a great war memorial or other monument? Any thoughts?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Program Announcement: Ohio's Presidents (Brown Bag Series)

The subject of our next program in the brown bag lunch series is Ohio's Presidents. Bring your lunch and come to the Library Program Room (Terrace Level) at noon on Wednesday, February 20. Join us as we commemorate Presidents' Day with Tom Culbertson, Executive Director of the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center. Mr. Culbertson will explore Ohio's Presidential Legacy, looking at Ohio's presidential heyday and the factors that contributed to Ohio's impressive presidential success in the Nineteenth Century.

Registration is requested. To register, call 419-625-3834 and press 0 to speak with a switchboard operator (9-5, Monday-Friday) or press Option 6 to leave a message.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Winter Races on Central Avenue

An earlier blog entry reported on horse racing at the original Erie County Fairgrounds, located at what is now Cable Park in Sandusky. But there also has been horse racing on the other side of town, but of a different sort. For a few winters around 1900, Central Avenue, between Monroe and North Depot Streets, became known as the "speedway," where local stables brought their best horses and drivers for races on the snowy pavement. (Central Avenue had only recently been paved.)

An article in the Register newspaper on December 18, 1901 described plans for a season of racing on the Avenue, described as "without a doubt one of the best in this section of the country. It is about a half mile long and is plenty wide enough for four horses to come down abreast." (You can see from the photo above that this was an accurate claim.) It described the leading stables in the area, and the prospects for racing that season.

Do you think today would be a good day for a sleigh race?

A Scene on Decatur Street in 1899

The photograph above, taken about 1899, is from the Business Collection of the Archives Research Center of the Sandusky Library. Notes on the back of the original photo indicate that the stone building on the right was built in 1844 for a hotel. It was later called the North American House. In 1870 Adam Oehm, bought the building for a feed store. Helen Hansen, author of At Home in Early Sandusky, said that she was born (in 1902) in the stone building in the apartments above Mr. Oehm’s store and residence. By 1926 this building was razed and the Hinde and Dauch Co. built their office at this location. Presently the Board of Education of the Sandusky City Schools is located at the southwest corner of Decatur and Adams Streets.

To the south of the stone building, at 407 Decatur Street, was Hodgins & Large Horseshoeing. The 1900 City Directory lists William Hodgins and Charles Large as the proprietors of this business.

At 411 Decatur Street, just south of Hodgins & Large’s horseshoeing shop was a saloon owned by August Hummel. August Hummel was a German immigrant, as were Adam Oehm and William Hodgins. At the time of August Hummel’s death in July of 1915, he still had a brother and sister residing in Wuerttemberg, Germany.

The construction workers pictured in the forefront of the photograph are working on a road or curb project for the city.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

George J. Reynolds, Carriage Maker and Underground Railroad Conductor

Though there is not much personal information known about George J. Reynolds, his name has long been connected with the activities of the Underground Railroad in Sandusky, Ohio. He was an active conductor on the Underground Railroad, making the vital connections between the individuals seeking freedom and the persons in Sandusky who helped them achieve that goal. He showed an incredible amount of courage and determination for the cause of freedom.

No known images of George J. Reynolds, his home, or his business, exist in the Sandusky Library's collections. Here is an 1851 newspaper ad from the Sandusky Daily Commercial Register for Reynolds’ carriage shop:

A brochure from the Erie County Visitors Bureau cites the business of George J. Reynolds, located at the northeast corner of Jackson and Madison Streets, in their listing of safe houses and businesses associated with the Underground Railroad in Sandusky. Professor Wilbur Siebert described Reynolds as "a man of mixed Negro and Indian blood" and a skilled blacksmith. Professor Siebert gathered and published information about Ohio’s participation in the Underground Railroad for over fifty years. His collections are held by the Ohio Historical Society.

Hill Peeble Wilson, author of John Brown: Soldier of Fortune, places G. J. Reynolds at John Brown’s Chatham Convention. John Brown and several of his supporters met at Chatham, Ontario, Canada in May 1858 to make plans on how to create a plan of action to help put a stop to slavery. While G. J. Reynolds attended the Chatham Convention, there is no evidence suggesting his participating at the Harper’s Ferry Raid.

Rush Sloane’s address on the “Underground Railroad in the Firelands” is found in the July 1888 issue of the “Firelands Pioneer.”
Sloane gives an account of the anti-slavery operations of several Erie and Huron County residents, including G. J. Reynolds. Leading officials of Sandusky, lawyers, ship captains, business owners, ministers, and many unnamed individuals all played a part in the clandestine activities necessary to aiding the fugitives make their way safely to Canada.

For more information about the Underground Railroad in Sandusky, see William Steuk’s The Underground Railroad in Sandusky, available in the Genealogy/Local History Department of the Sandusky Library, and the brochure The River to Lake Freedom Trail available online.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Program Announcement: African-American Genealogy Workshop with Tony Burroughs

Author, teacher, and genealogist Tony Burroughs says researching your family tree can lead to amazing finds - the secret to success is asking many questions. Mr. Burroughs, author of Black Roots: A Beginner's Guide to Tracing The African American Family Tree, will present a daylong workshop on methods and resources for African-American genealogy research on Saturday, February 9, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. in the Library Program Room, Terrace Level. A book signing will be held after the workshop.

Mr. Burroughs has appeared as an expert in the PBS series "Ancestors" and "African American Lives with Henry Louis Gates" and in the Discovery Channel documentary "The Real Family of Jesus." In addition to his writing, appearances, and service in genealogical organizations, Mr. Burroughs teaches genealogy at Chicago State University. A one hour lunch is on your own. Registration is required. To register, call 419-625-3834 and press 0 to speak with a switchboard operator (9-5, Monday-Friday) or press Option 6 to leave a message.
(Reposted to move it to the top of the webpage.)