The Twentieth Century of Ashtabula - Introduction


Darrell E. Hamilton


      The arrival of the twentieth century in Ashtabula County was met with a great deal of optimism. Ashta-

bula City had half the half population that it has now. It was the largest city from this county to Cleveland
 and the fourth largest in  Northeastern Ohio.
       With the arrival of the railroad in the 1800ís, industry was coming to Ashtabula by leaps and bounds. The Ashtabula Harbor became one of the great ports on the Great Lakes because of the railroad.
Remember, when Ashtabula was settled, Ashtabula did not have a harbor. All we had was huge sandbar
 that was only navigable during the wet season by a small boat.  The first settlers that arrived by boat, had to dig their way in to get to the Ashtabula River.
       The railroad was one of the largest employees if not the largest employee in the county. Working for the railroad was also a dangerous occupation. I have found in some instances, in some weeks, someone was killed almost every day by a train accident of some sort. 
       In 1900, there were no televisions or radios. You got all your news from gossip, here say or the newspaper. The newspaper was the most reliable way to be informed. Since there were very few photo-

graphs in the newspaper at the turn of the century; the reporters described in graphic detail how the

bodies were found once a train dismembered a body. Not someone with a weak stomach would want to read.
      With the advent of railroad and the opening of the Harbor, many new business blocks were built Many new roads and bridges were built for auto, wagon and loco-motive. The principal means of travel to any town of any distance was by train. In 1900, no one in Ashtabula owned an automobile. There were only about a 125 phones in Ashtabula. The first moving pictures ever shown in Ashtabula were shown at the old City Hall. You could get fined or go to jail or both if you left your animals out in below freezing temperatures without protection. If you were involved in a divorce at the turn of the century (and Iím not talking about four years ago), the complete details of the divorce was placed in the newspaper no mater how graphic it was. You did not need gossip magazines. Your local newspaper supplied almost all your reading material. Later on newspapers would often reprint novels in parts.
       Suicide was not an uncommon occurrence. Many of the early pioneers were beginning to die off. The first cement sidewalk was sixteen years old by 1900 and there were very few paved streets.
       If you would like to find who owned the first auto in Ashtabula and what make it was, who was the first person to graduate Ohio State from Ashtabula, who received the first speeding ticket in Ashtabula, just keep reading this column. If you have any information or pictures of Ashtabula and the surrounding areas you would like to share, please e-mail me at .
The Twentieth Century of Ashtabula - Part I
Darrell E. Hamilton
       The 1900 census showed that Ashtabula County had a total population of 51,448. Of that total, 6,781 were of foreign birth. The census also showed that there were 244 colored people in Ashtabula County and 239 Negro people in the County. Excuse my ignorance but I did not know the difference between Colored and Negro. So, I along with Doug in the reference department of the Ashtabula Public Library, we looked that question up to cure my ignorance. According to a book on US Census terms, a Colored has a lighter skin than a Negro. Well children that proves that ignorance can be cured. But, remember, stupidly canít. Being in school means you are ignorant. Dropping out means you are stupid.
      The foreign born population of Ashtabula in 1900 was almost fourteen percent. Most of that foreign population resided in the northern part of the county. For Ashtabula Countyís size, we had a large foreign population.
       The Black population made up of less than one tenth of a percent of the population of Ashtabula County. Those figures would change right after World War II where not only were there large numbers of blacks moving into Northern Ohio from the South but large numbers of Appalachians would settle here to work in the factories.
       1900 in Ashtabula started out with a great deal of optimism. The docks at the Ashtabula Harbor were going at full force. Ashtabula Harbor was the largest ore importer in the world. Along with the docks, the railroads grew to ship the iron ore to the steel mills. Railroad tracks criss-crossed Ashtabula and the tracks were forever busy. Factories began to spring up in the port cities of Lake Erie. Many new building were planed in Ashtabula. A new bank, post office, library, telephone company, hospital and a new high school were just one of the many new building that were being planed during the first year of the twentieth century. Ashtabula received its first four story building that was also dubbed as the first building in Ashtabula County as having an elevator.
       Foreigners were arriving almost daily at one time. Most of them were Norwegian or Italian and either worked for the docks or the railroad.
       When an automobile came to town, it usually made the newspaper as no one in Ashtabula owned an automobile. Usually the people of Ashtabula considered an automobile a nuisance as they would often scare the horses. Some people felt that laws should be made against the automobile especially when a woman was driving a buggy. The attitude toward the automobile would soon change. The first ad for an automobile was placed in an Ashtabula County newspaper on November 20, 1900. The ad was for a Locomobile. Also the following year, an automobile factory was started in Geneva.

       Many stores of almost anything you could imagine lined the streets of Main Street and Bridge Street. Carlisle was at the time was located on Bridge which ironically is located on Bridge Street once again. H. L. Morrison & Sons was located on Main Avenue. At the time it was the largest department between here and Cleveland.


The Twentieth Century of Ashtabula Ė 1900 Part 2


Darrell E. Hamilton

       The Beacon Record was the forerunner of the Star Beacon. There were seven newspapers published in the City of Ashtabula alone. Most of the other newspapers were only weekly or monthly newspapers. The price of the local paper in 1900 was two cents. Because there were very few means of communication in 1900, it was not unusual for a family to subscribe to more than one newspaper. The Beacon Record was an evening paper and on occasion printed a special edition that sometimes came out with a morning edition. The newspaper was delivered by boys usually 12-14 years of age. They made on an average of $65 a year. Doesnít sound like much but when you consider the average man made about that much a month. The Beacon Record was in its thirteenth year and contained on the average eight pages. It was printed every day except Sunday and Christmas. There were no comic, sports or classified sections. The obituaries were located at random throughout the newspaper. Train schedules appeared daily in the newspaper.

       The front page almost always contained no local news. The only time a local story made the front page was if it merited national exposure.
       Political cartoons did appear in the newspaper from time to time but would not appear on a regular basis until 1902. When they did, they appeared on the front page. It would be many years before the first comic appeared in the newspaper.                                                                                                          
       Baseball was the most popular sport in 1900 in Ashtabula. Even though there were no sports pages in the local newspapers, the professional baseball standings and scores were printed on the front page.           
       Football was a very popular high school sport in 1900. Ashtabula High School dominated the sport in the early part of the twentieth century in the tri-county area. In certain years, they would even dominate all of northeastern Ohio. Harbor High School hadnít been in existence ten years by 1900. The school did not contain enough male students to field a football team. However, if any male student at Harbor wanted to play football, they were allowed to play for Ashtabula High School which many of them did. In 1900, Ashtabula claimed the county football championship and finished the season undefeated with a 16-0 win over Painesville.
       Ashtabula High School had an enrollment of 522 students which was a good size school for 1900. The high school was located where Ball Gymnasium stands now and was overcrowded even though the present high school was just fourteen years old. To elevate the overcrowding, the school board voted to place on the November ballot a levy to build a new school. The new school was to be built on the Park Street school grounds at a cost of $25,000.
       The school levy to build a new high school passed by a wide margin. William McKinley won re-election very easily in Ashtabula County caring every percent in Ashtabula County except ward two in Ashtabula City. President McKinley obtained the same results in the 1896 election in the County. In 1900, Ashtabula contained seven wards.
       In 1900 many new buildings were being planned besides a new high school. The Farmerís National Bank voted to build a new bank. They purchased an older wooden building which was occupied by Oliver Hensonís Oriental Tonsorial parlors on Main Avenue. The property was purchased from H. L. Morrison. The new building would be completed in 1904. It is now occupied by Casa Capelli Restaurant which will be holding the one hundredth anniversary of the opening of the building this summer.
       The Beacon Record and the Ashtabula Telephone Company built new buildings on Center Street beside each other. Really ironic when you consider years later they would both build new buildings on Park Avenue next to each other.

The Twentieth Century of Ashtabula Ė 1900 Part Three

Darrell E. Hamilton
       Life in Ashtabula was a lot different in Ashtabula in 1900 than life is today in Ashtabula. True history is more than just names, dates and places. True history is about the people, the social values, the environment and what led to the creation of a historical person, place or thing. Even though everything canít be told in these short columns, I will at least try to give you at least a glimpse of what life was like in Ashtabula and the surrounding areas and the people who lived here, good or bad. Local history is a lot more interesting than any other type of history. In Ashtabula County you visit almost any area in the county and visit history. I often take long walks in Ashtabula and as I walk, I imagine the history in my mind as if I was watching a movie. I can imagine the buildings, the people, and the children and yes, even the animals. Try it sometime. It is a lot better than a computer game and there is very little on television anymore worth watching.
       In 1900 very few streets were paved. The streets that were paved were paved with brick. The few that were paved were in the downtown area. The first street that was paved was Park Street in the 1890ís. Park Street (now Park Avenue) was where most of the well to do people lived in Ashtabula in the 1890ís. Make your own conclusion.
       Before the major streets in Ashtabula were paved, the streets would have stone crossing walks at certain intervals and especially at the corners. The walk ways were intended for pedestrians in the business district would not get their shoes muddy or dusty. I believe the real end reason was so customers wouldnít track mud or dirt into the merchantís store.
        During the spring and autumn when the streets would become extremely muddy, the walks ways would often be covered with mud from the wagons and horses. Ladies would often have to pull their dresses up past their ankles to cross the streets. This scene must have been quite a show in 1900.
       The merchants would often complain to the city to no avail. The City scrapper had been in the shop for five weeks was one of the reasons for the conditions of the streets. Another reason often given by the City was that the street department was out of funds. Kind of reminds you of the present conditions of the city streets and the street sweeper situation. I suppose history does repeat itself.
       The street cars in 1900 also had their problems in 1900 with mud. Often the tracks would become impassible because of the amount of mud on the tracks. Sometimes several times a day a street car scraper would have to go over the tracks.
       Mud was not the only problem of the streets. During the dry days of summer, dust was sometimes unbearable and often dangerous. The biggest problem of dust was probably on Bridge Street. Dust would settle so thick in the stores on Bridge Street that sometimes it was just impossible to tell a showcase from a dry goods box. Sometimes the dust was so thick that a person could not see the opposite side of the street.
       Conditions became so bad that the council adopted a set of rules governing navigation on Bridge Street. All persons and rigs must carry bells or whistles that must be sounded every twenty feet to avoid collision. All persons must keep to the right and not walk faster than one mile an hour.
       On entering stores it was imperative that each person should come to a stop as in the dust a window might be mistaken for a door and damage done to life and property. Any violation of these rules would subject the offender to a fine. I suppose a fine to offender was cheaper and more profitable than a sprinkling wagon.
       Even though merchants prayed for rain or a sprinkling wagon to come down the street a little more often, this is what the street council came up with. Paved streets would be the answer to their prayers.    
       Gravel was placed on Prospect in November which would improve a much traveled road. It would be many years before Route 20 was paved between the cities.
       The post office department was a lot different in 1900 than it is today. There were no televisions or radios in 1900. Telephones were for the most part were just for businesses. Phones for the average citizen were just starting to become a reality. The least expensive way to communicate with a person was by mail.
       Mail in the city was often delivered twice a day because of the volume of mail. In the business district, the mail was often delivered three times a day. It has been recorded that the mail delivered in just one delivery in the business section of the Harbor amounted to 181 pounds.
       Mail carriers in 1900 were required to pass a civil service examination. To take the exam, they had to be between the ages of 21 and 40. They also had to be at least 5 ft. 4 in. in height and weigh 125 pounds. Female applicants were not required to meet the physical requirements of men as most of them usually started out as clerks. The starting salary for mail carriers in 1900 was $650 per year.
       In 1900, two canons from the Spanish-American War were given to the city by the Federal Government and were placed in Flat Iron Park and Point Park. Ashtabula had to pay for the shipping. For those not old enough to remember, Flatiron Park was located at the intersection of Center and Prospect Streets. The cannons remained in the parks until World War II when they were scrapped for their metal for the metal drive for the war.
       In Kingsville F. B. Phelps had lived in the same house since his birth 83 years ago.
       In 1901 the Geneva Automobile Company was formed in Geneva. However the Geneva was not the first automobile ever built in Ashtabula County. In Kingsville Lindsey B. McNutt labored in his machine shop off and on for six years. Mr. McNutt built the first horseless carriage in Ashtabula County. It was steamed powered and used gasoline to produce steam. The automobile was built with a reverse gear which very few or no automobiles came equipped with in 1900. It was said to revel any automobile built in 1900.
       On October 2, 1900, John and Lucy McNutt were married seventy years. The McNutts were early pioneers of Ashtabula County and lived on North Ridge West in Saybrook Township.