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Focus on history of Geauga Lake neighborhood

Marker to grace iconic city zone

By KEN LAHMERS Editor Published: June 14, 2017 1:00 AM
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AURORA -- With an Ohio historic marker recognizing Aurora's first settler Ebenezer Sheldon having been unveiled at the Sheldon Deed House site last month, the local historical society and landmark commission now turns its sights toward another historic marker for the Geauga Lake neighborhood.

"The Geauga Lake marker will focus on both the park and neighborhood on separate sides," said historical society president John Kudley Jr. "The dedication is planned in mid-September. It will be located at the Geauga Lake Improvement Association's lakeside property along Route 43."

"The sign is the culmination of a suggestion by (Councilman) Jim Vaca from many years ago," said city landmark commission chairman Jeff Clark.

"We felt that before we put up a sign there, we ought to research the area's history. The historical society and landmark commission funded an oral history project which gathered personal stories from residents about the neighborhood, the park and surrounding businesses."

Kudley explained the process for securing the marker was quite involved and began in June 2016. The Ohio Historic Marker program is part of the Ohio History Connection, formerly known as the Ohio Historical Society.

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The city first submitted an application to program officials with the proposed text and detailed documentation of the information. A map showing the proposed location also was submitted, along with a certificate of permission from the owner of the property.

"The application was reviewed by the office in Columbus, and after the marker was approved, Sewah Studios in Marietta cast it," Kudley said. "It was shipped to Aurora in early May and is in storage until the unveiling."

He added the dedication will follow the August 13-17 reunion of the Sheldon Family Association in Aurora.

"The GLIA is proud to be part of Geauga Lake's designation as a historical site and so granted permission for the placement of the marker on its property to so designate," said Michael Thal, president of the GLIA.

Side one of the marker reads: "Geauga Lake, a scenic destination for visitors to Northeast Ohio, was initially named Giles Pond after settler Sullivan Giles (1809-80). In 1856, the predecessor of the Erie Railroad stopped at Pond Station, spurring the area's growth.

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"In the 1880s, locals established picnic grounds, a dance hall and other facilities for those seeking a country getaway. Picnic Lake Park, later Geauga Lake Park, opened in 1887 and thereafter offered rides, a roller rink, photo gallery, billiard hall and bowling alley, among other attractions.

"In 1888, the [75-room] Kent House hotel opened on the southeast side of the lake. In the century that followed, more attractions were added, including Sea World of Ohio, and the park expanded. In 2007, the melodic sounds of the carousel and the echoing screams from the Big Dipper roller coaster ceased when the park closed."

Side two reads: "Geauga Lake began as a cluster of summer cottages occupied by vacationers to Giles Pond. Residential growth began in earnest with the formation of two allotment companies: the Geauga Lake Orchard Co. (1915) and Western Reserve Land Co. (1920).

"In 1921, the Geauga Lake Improvement Association was chartered to protect the residents' access to the lake. During Prohibition, this rural setting was the site of speakeasies and dance halls such as the Magnolia Club.

"Because of gas rationing during World War II, the GLIA's lakeside clubhouse doubled as a church, with services offered by Rev. J.R. Hutchinson (1905-96). The postwar era housing shortage and improvement in transportation brought a transition to the community with year-round housing.

"As of 2017, the GLIA continues to be the guardian of the adjacent area."

In Kudley's not yet published second edition of Aurora's history (covering the 20th century), his chapter about the Geauga Lake area concludes with some thoughts by longtime Geauga Lake area resident Liz Strahan, who lived there from 1917 until her death in 2007.

"If I sold this house, I would be selling part of me," she said. "It's not a perfect neighborhood. But tell me where the perfect neighborhood (is), other than with God, you know."

Strahan published Aurora's first newspaper -- The Listening Post -- from 1945 to 1967. It focused mostly on the Geauga Lake neighborhood, and its peak circulation was about 1,000. Liz Strahan Park in the neighborhood is named after her.

Email: klahmers@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189


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