The Twentieth Century of Ashtabula – 1903 Part 1


Darrell E. Hamilton

       On January 1, 1903 a new rule went into effect that when a foreigner is admitted to the citizenship of the United States, he will have to know some knowledge at least of the government he swears allegiance to.
       On January 7, 1903 the Baird Inn in Burton, the oldest hotel in the Western Reserve was destroyed by fire.
       Since the passage of the Beal Law in the spring of 1902, 91 towns in Ohio including Geneva have gone dry.
       On January 10, 1903 a letter was received from Rt. Rev. Bishop Maes of Covington, Kentucky by the Rev. James H. Halligan, pastor of St. Joseph’s Church, Ashtabula. Rev. Halligan was informed that Rev. T. McGrady of that diocese no longer belongs to it because he is suspended on account of insubordination to his Bishop and persistency in professing and proclaiming socialistic doctrine contrary to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.
       In 1902 there were 58 new houses built in Ashtabula city. Prospect Street had the most with ten followed by West Street and Adams Street with five each. The cost of these houses ranged from $800 on Bell Street (Bell Court) to an $8,000 house on Walnut Street (Walnut Blvd.). The average price for a new house in 1902 was under $2,000.
       Even with 58 new houses built in 1902, a house or apartment for rent was extremely difficult to find. Work was very plentiful in 1903 Ashtabula. About the only men who didn’t work in Ashtabula were the ones were too old to work or didn’t want to work. Only severely disabled men didn’t have a job in 1903. Men and their families that came from Toronto, Illinois, Kansas and other surrounding states came to Ashtabula and readily found work in Ashtabula. Most of the time their belongings were shipped by train. After a month or so without a house or apartment to rent, their belonging would be shipped back to where they came from without ever being unloaded off the box car. Families that came from other countries usually ruffed it out until they found suitable accommodations. Sometimes foreigners would usually send a male member to this country first to seek employment and find accommodations before sending the entire family to America.
       On February 5, 1903 the First Methodist Episcopal Church announced that Mr. James L. Smith, “In memory of his father and mother, Lewis W.  and Mary Smith and his grandfather, the Rev. James Gillmore had tendered as a gift memorial, ninety feet of his property on Elm Street.
       In February of 1903 a merger between the Ashtabula City Schools and the Harbor Special School District was first mentioned. Talk of merger of the two school districts would be heard off and on for almost sixty years before the merger was realized.
       On Friday the 13th of February, 1903, Judges W. S. Metcalfe and Theodore Hall, Judges of the Common Pleas Court redistricted and subdivided the city into four wards under the new Municipal Code passed on October 22, 1902. Previously the city contained seven wards.
       On February 10, 1903 Geneva marked the first anniversary of the new waterworks system in their Village.
       On February 18, 1903 the committee of the Anti-Saloon League filled with the mayor’s office and filed with him a petition calling for a special election under Beal Law. The petition contained over fifty percent of the voters in Ashtabula City.
       In March of 1903, the city post offices received their first telephones.

The Twentieth Century of Ashtabula – 1903 Part 2

Darrell E. Hamilton
       According to the Beacon in 1903, the electric clock as we know today was invented by two Ashtabula men, Benjamin F. Kerr and Frank Talcott of Kerr’s Jewelry store on Bridge Street.  The clock was displayed at the jewelry store and was keeping accurate time for five months. There were electric clocks before their invention however the clocks derived their power from spring or weights wound at regular intervals by an electric connection. In Kerr’s and Talcott’s clock the electric current was the direct power and was almost impossible to stop the clock unless the electricity was cut off. The minute hand could lift about thirty pounds.
       The clock was designed so any number of clocks could be made a part of the main clock through an ordinary telegraph wire. Even though the rest of the clocks could be placed hundred miles apart, each clock would have the same time to the second. This would be a most valuable invention to the railroad.       
       In March of 1903 the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad awarded a contract to start grading and excavating along their present railroad tracks. A third and fourth railroad track would be added between Buffalo and Cleveland.
       The building of the additional tracks meant the hiring of about two thousand men. A lot of immigrants were hired on the building of this railroad. The largest share of those men were Italian.
       On Monday March 16, 1903 a special election was held under the Beal Law which would have made the city of Ashtabula dry. After the saloon owners saw what happened in Geneva, the saloon owners made a strenuous effort against  the Anti-Saloon League. As a result the largest voter turnout up to that date came out to vote. As a result the wets won by over fifteen hundred votes and Ashtabula remained wet for at least a few more years. I wonder if the special election cost the city fourteen thousand dollars?
       In April of 1903 the Police Judge was given a $150 raise to make his salary $700 a year.
       Also in April of 1903, the A. B. Cook drug store had live beavers in their show window to draw attention to Beaver Oil. It was a remedy for pains and aches that could be rubbed on or drank. Contrary to the name, the remedy was not for your pet beaver.
       In Jefferson the county examiners gave a teacher examination for those who wanted to receive a teachers certificate to teach. Surprisingly several girls took the test under the legal age to teach which was eighteen at the time. A twelve year old girl, Vera Britton, took the test and received a teachers certificate even though no school system could legally hire her to teach.
       In May of 1903 teachers and principals for the schools were announced for the Ashtabula City schools. The principal of Ashtabula High School in 1903 was Miss Lillian E. Kurtz. At the time there were six school buildings in the school district. There were four female and two male principals. All the principals also taught school as well.
       In May of 1903 a fire drill was given to the fire company without them knowing it was a drill. The alarm was turned into the operator at the telephone exchange.  In twenty seconds the fire alarms were ringing. The fire company was to go down the street on Main Avenue at the Crosby Hardware store. Within one minute and thirty seconds after the operator was notified, the fireman had several lines of hose connected to the hydrants and were ready to turn the water on when they were notified it was just a drill. Quiet an accomplishment considering there were no fire trucks in 1903 Ashtabula.
       The first person to graduate from Ohio State University from Ashtabula was Max De Los Morton. Max was a member of the twenty-sixth graduating class at Ohio State. Max graduated Ashtabula High School in 1897. Max would eventually move to Ironwood, Michigan.
       In June of 1903 the electric company raised rental fee of a meter from twenty-five cents a month to seventy-five cents a month. An interesting note is that the city owned the electric company in 1903.
       West Street obtained sidewalks for the first time in June of 1903. The west side of the street received sidewalks first. Apparently there was more to celebrate than just the bicentennial in 2003.
       The assistant prosecuting attorney’s salary was fixed by the council at four hundred dollars per annum.
       An ordinance was passed to regulate the closing hours of saloons and amending a former ordinance for the closing of saloons from 10:30 p. m. to 11:30 p. m.  “Also all screens must be removed and a full view of the interior be afforded.”
       In June of 1903 an ordinance providing for the organization of the board of the sinking fund was passed.
       On South Main Street a new plat of building lots were being planned. Several of the houses would overlook the gulf. The street was to be named Riverside Drive.

The Twentieth Century of Ashtabula 1903 – Part 3

Darrell E. Hamilton
       By the end of June of 1903 Ashtabula had a total of fifteen automobiles. Amazing enough is that all these automobiles ran and all of them were less than a year and a half old. The AAA had not made it to Ashtabula even though there had been talks of starting one in Ashtabula. There were no service stations in Ashtabula in 1903. If you wanted gasoline for your automobile you usually bought in hardware stores by the gallon in a can. Gasoline before the automobile was used mostly as a cleaning fluid.       
       The first service station would be eventually be  built at the corner of Elm and West 44th Streets where a parking lot now sits west of the ABC bowling alley.
       Also in June of 1903, a Finnish man was sentenced to three months in jail and a hundred dollar fine for having more than one wife. In 1903 this was considered a heavy sentence. The good news is that he had been supporting both of his wives and children.
       In 1903 the Ashtabula Pail Factory was shipping four car loads of pails and tubs per week. Several years ago I saw one of the pails but was unable to purchase it. Does someone have one of these pails or tubs today?
       On June 23, 1903 the father of Mayor John T. McMillan died. Matthew McMillan and his family came from Ireland in the 1850’s to America. Four of his brothers plus himself fought in the Civil War. Two of his brothers died in battles. Mayor John T. McMillan was named after his oldest uncle who died in battle at Independence, Missouri.
       The Ashtabula Business College had its second annual commencement with twenty-one graduates.
       On Monday July 6, 1903 the new Ashtabula Public Library opened for business. An in depth article will be published on the library in a few weeks.
       On Saturday July 4, 1903, three tramps were at the Nickel Plate depot waiting for a freight train to take them out of town. The old depot was located off Main Avenue in downtown Ashtabula. One of the men was a colored man. When the colored man attempted to get aboard he missed his hold and fell under the cars. His head, both arms and one foot was severed from the body. The other two tramps never came back to identify the body. The man’s identity was never known.
       The Board of Public Service submitted their budget for the last half of 1903. Street cleaning and parks took up almost ten percent of the budget.
       The old Case medical building which was located at the corner of Park and Center Streets was enlarged by adding another story to the building. Dr. Reginald Shelby would someday locate his office in the building.
       Realtor J. M. Seymour advertised an eight room house on Runkle Street with one half acre a bargain at $1,500. How about 104 acres at the Saybrook depot for fifty dollars an acre?
       On August 18, 1903 Nathan Strong passed away at his home on South Main Street. Mr. Strong was one of the oldest members of the Odd Fellows’ lodge and belonged to the Marine Engineers association. Mr. Strong and his family were early settlers of Ashtabula.
       Sixty building lots were being sold on Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison Streets. Ten dollars down and no interest with easy weekly payments were advertised.

The Twentieth Century of Ashtabula 1903 – Part 4

Darrell E. Hamilton
       On October 7, 1903 four prisoners broke out of the city jail at the old city hall. Three of them were  tramps who were arrested on suspicion. One of the men was arrested on charges of abusing a horse.
       The men managed to break out of jail by digging a hole through the brick wall of their cell to the furnace room. As they walked down the corridors of the police station in the basement of the old  City Hall, they passed a policeman on duty. He never gave them any thought as they did not seem to be up to any mischief. Besides the police department had just received orders to release the three tramps.
       Needless to say the police never went after the three tramps but did go after the man accused of abusing a horse. Abusing an animal in those days especially a horse could bring a person serious consequences. Not long ago I wrote about a man fined and sentenced to sixty days in the Canton work house for abusing his horse. He had left his horse out in a rain storm.

In          In October of 1903 the Davis Shoe Store was giving away a ticket for each fifty cents worth of

      goods a person would buy. The ticket would be a chance at winning a beautiful chestnut, city broke,

reliable, pleasant family horse that was eight years old. The last time I went to the shoe store I don’t
even remember getting a shoe horn. However after all the walking I’ve been doing delivering flyers

on ton the new city charter, I will definitely need a new pair of shoes and I probably could have used a

       A. H. Pontius, formerly the principal of Ashtabula High School engaged with the Equitable Life
Assurance Society of New York for Ashtabula County and a portion of Geauga County.

             In October of 1903 the Ashtabula City School Board voted that hereafter all bills of substitute

teachers for service rendered in capacity of substitutes, be paid and deducted from the salary of the regular teacher.

             The first snow of the season of 1903 fell on October 23. What’s the matter? Am I making you

feel uneasy?
       The very next day after the snow fell, Ashtabula beat Geneva on the football field by a score of eleven to five.

              On Station Avenue a man was murdered in front of his house by a one legged shoe-string

salesman. According to the confession, the one legged man had words with the victim and hit him

      with his crutch. However according to the man’s confession the body was not found where the man

      said he hit the victim.

       The Lake Street plank road was being repaired with new planks.
       False teeth were advertised for five dollars. You could buy a better set of false teeth for ten dollars with a gold filling.

             Ashtabula High  School lost its first game of the season to New Lyme by the score of 27-0.

Previously New Lyme was the only high school in the county to give the Ashtabula High School
football team any continued competition. It should also be noted before high school athletics were
controlled by the state, some men would actually play on a high school team as with the New Lymn
school. If a rural school didn’t have enough boys for a team, they sometimes invited men to play on
the school team.
       Even with the loss, Ashtabula was still in the hunt for the county championship. Ashtabula and     

Conneaut had previously beaten New Lymn earlier in the season.

       Ashtabula played Conneaut the following weekend and beat Conneaut 10-0 for the County 
       On November 19, 1903 the American Federation of Labor went on record and voted a resolution
against Socialism.
       On November 27 the first moving pictures came to Ashtabula at the old City Hall Auditorium.
The price to see the Edison moving picture exhibition was ten cents and fifteen cents.

              The new Prospect Presbyterian Church was dedicated on November 29, 1903. The church had

just been organized four years earlier. Two years earlier S. A. Harris had given the church the
building lot at the corner of Samuel and Prospect Streets.
       On December 11, 1903 Henry Lawton Morrison “joined the majority”. Mr. Morrison passed away at the family home on Park Street.

             Henry Lawton Morrison was born in Geneva Township on August 12, 1820. While an infant his

mother died. His father was unable to care for him and he was given to an aunt and uncle (Mr. and

             Mrs. Abisha Lawton) to raise. His education was obtained at primitive district school. He went to

school to the highest grade available at the time.
       At the age of sixteen he decided to start out for himself and came to Ashtabula. After arriving in Ashtabula Mr. Morrison obtained a job as a clerk in a grocery store with a salary of $75 a year plus
room and board. The next twelve years he was employed by Root and Barnes in a mercantile store.  He was able to save four hundred dollars and on March 1, 1848 he invested his saving to become a partner in the business. In 1851 Mr. Morrison purchased Mr. Barnes interest in the business and the

      firm's name was changed to Root and Morrison. In 1885 he became the sole owner of the business

and the firm’s name was changed to H. L. Morrison and Sons.
       The business under H. L. Morrison prospered and grew. The store became the largest department store from Ashtabula County to Cleveland.

             He became the most prosperous business man in a tri-county area. He would only be out done by

his grandson of Molded Fiber Glass, Robert Morrison.

             H. L. Morrison served four terms as Ashtabula Mayor and for several years was a county

commissioner. At one time he was the director of the Farmers National Bank and had many business
interests including the railroad.
       Space does not permit to name all the accomplishments of Henry Lawton Morrison. He was a self
made man who started with nothing but himself. He paved the way for his children, grandchildren
and great-grandchildren and quite possibly for generations to come.
       Mr. Morrison’s funeral was held at the First Baptist Church in Ashtabula and is buried in
Chestnut Grove Cemetery.

Henry Lawton Morrison & Family