Joe DePollo family

The Reunion

I knew his father before I knew Joe.

Joe DePollo was the son of John DePollo, who owned DePollo’s Store in Thomas, W.Va. The store was started by John’s parents, first-generation Italian immigrants, who eventually built the three-story brick building on Front Street in 1915. They operated a general store that supplied dry goods and fresh food to the families of the town’s coal miners and railroaders.

DePollo's Store, Thomas, W.Va.
The Purple Fiddle now occupies the former DePollo’s Store in Thomas W.Va. John DePollo operated the store up until four months before he died in 1994.

My maternal grandfather, Clayton Watring, was among the latter class of workers. Whenever my parents went back home to Thomas, I tagged along in his 1957 turquoise-and-white Chevy as he fulfilled the grocery list prepared by my grandmother, Violet. DePollo’s was usually one of the stops.

Elderly man in old general store, Thomas, West Virginia
John DePollo in his store, 1993.

Thirty years later, in the summer of 1993, I wandered into DePollo’s store to find its iconic owner and the son of its founders still taking care of business at the age of 88. That day I interviewed and photographed John and Jim Cooper, his haberdashery-owner friend down the street, and later wrote a story and sold it to Goldenseal, the West Virginia Department of Culture and History magazine. It was my second piece for the magazine and set me on a course to write more than 100 stories for the publication, for which I still freelance. It is the most gratifying work I do, and my memories of travels in the state and the acquaintances I’ve made are precious to me.

John DePollo died in June 1994, and in keeping with his wishes, the family sold the building to provide for the care of his widow, Elsie. John Bright eventually purchased the old store and in 2002 established there the Purple Fiddle, another iconic Tucker County business, which I also wrote about for Goldenseal.

Back in 2015, the Purple Fiddle hosted a revival of what had been a longstanding tradition for John DePollo: a concert of polka music performed by his twin sons, Joe and John, on the occasion of his birthday. For those memorable birthday parties, the store closed for business, a sign announcing the party and free beer went in the window, and the twins played The Tucker County Polka and dozens of other zippy tunes to their father’s honor and delight . It’s said that Joe Sr. danced all the polkas, even when he was in his late 80s, and often recruited a a few lady guests to join him on the wooden floor.

Joe told me that his father’s love of this music and the accordion was behind the gifts of two accordions for his sons back in the late 1930s or early 1940s. Joe and John took lessons for a couple of years, but after their teacher was drafted into the army, the boys turned to recorded music and attending dances to complete their education. Thus, they never learned to read music, but they amassed a repertoire of a hundred songs or so, including square dances, which they performed at wedding receptions, parties, family gatherings and Bill Slaughbaugh’s Horse Shoe Run Tavern. Teamed with other Elkins-area musicians, the twins played as the Polka Dots and Godfathers.

John with accordion
John DePollo played lead in the twin brother’s band, Polka Dots, and their reunion performances.

In July 2018 I traveled to the Purple Fiddle for the revival of what had become another tradition involving the DePollo family: An annual reunion that included a concert featuring Joe and John on the Fiddle’s stage. This event got its start in 2015 and roughly coincided with the late John DePollo’s birthday.

I interviewed Joe at his home and attended the concert, filmed it and share the story online. The reunion will be a future Goldenseal Back Roads story, the quarterly column I write for the magazine.

Joe and John did not perform at the Purple Fiddle this year due to a previously booked engagement at the venue. And Joe became ill shortly thereafter and passed away in Virginia September 13. One family member predicted that John would never pick up and play his accordion again because they played as a duo all their lives (Joe, by 15 minutes the older of the two twins, told me his brother always played the lead part).

Losses like this always remind me of the immediacy of the work in which I am engaged. The human landscape is constantly changing, and ever since I wandered into DePollo’s store back in the 1993, I’ve followed this passion of preserving the stories of my home state, West Virginia, to the second and third generations …

Joe DePollo smiling
Joe DePollo had a great smile and personality that helped him succeed as an insurance agent. Playing music was his hobby.

Pleasure Grounds marks 150 years

The smoke from the July 4th fireworks has cleared, replaced by the oppressive humidity and haze typical of July along the Lake Erie shoreline.

The bursts of fire and glimmer over the Geneva-on-the-Lake business district was witnessed by thousands of motorists and their passengers who’d paid $10 or more for a spot to park their vehicle close to the heart of the commercial district.

People on the Strip at GOTL.
Thousands of people walked The Strip in the hours before the fireworks on July 4, 2019.

They came to drink, eat, listen to live music and find the best spot for watching the fireworks, which began at 10 a.m. Some might have known that it was the birthday of the nation that was being celebrated, not their arrival at The Resort. Even fewer knew the significance of the date to the story of Geneva-on-the-Lake, the “Pleasure Grounds” opened by Edwin Pratt and Cullen M. Spencer exactly 150 years earlier, July 4, 1869.

Ad for the Pleasure Grounds.

Their Pleasure Grounds amounted to five acres on Sturgeon Point. It was a shady picnic grove on this point of land that extends into Lake Erie and was named for the huge lake sturgeon that congregated around the landmark. The proprietors offered a horse-powered merry-go-round, tables and benches, lemonade and ice cream. Below the point, the wide beach beckoned, as did a small boat.

Sturgeon Point was sold for private development some 30 years after the Pleasure Grounds opened for business. By then, the business district had shifted to the west and was under the control of Warren and L.C. Spencer, Cullen’s sons, and several others. Sturgeon Point was renamed Mapleton Beach, which became a densely packed cottage development that exists to this day.

Sunset at Sturgeon Point, GOTL, July 4, 2019.

Knowing and having written about the beginnings of GOTL and the historical significance of the July 4, 2019, holiday, I focused my documentary photography of the celebration on Mapleton Beach. Dozens of boats, including one or two large ones in the distance, gathered off the point as dusk fell over the historic land. Young adults, their faces illuminated by the LCD screens that fed them entertainment and news from distant places, glanced at the panorama only long enough to acknowledge the occasional explosion of consumer fireworks being shot off from the point.

Mapleton Beach (Sturgeon Point) guests and property owners gather outside their cottages to watch the fireworks July 4, 2019.

When the first of the professional fireworks appeared in the southern sky, the cottage owners and guests left their beach chairs behind and flocked at the entrance to the Middle and West Drives of Mapleton Beach, which provided a clear view of the fire showers over Strip businesses.

Fireworks explode over SportsCenter, one of the vintage businesses on The Strip at GOTL.

The display came to a close and long lines formed at the order windows of Eddie’s Grill, Katie’s Korner and many other eateries that stayed open late to capture the post-fireworks business. Routes 534 and 531 became traffic jams from The Strip to downtown Geneva as the spectators returned to their beds and prepared for the day of work on Friday.

Spencer and Pratt would have been amazed by it all.

Sunset at Sturgeon Point, GOTL.
Pleasure Grounds book Karaoke Queen.

Karaoke Queen

Bill Allison hates karaoke, and with good reason.

The speakers from the The Time Square Patio karaoke at Geneva-on-the-Lake are aimed at his Grumpy Grandpa’s Lemonade Stand across The Strip. Bill “retaliates” with signs that express his disdain for the wailing and screaming.

“Karaoke” And on the 7th day God created earplugs.”

“Karaoke” is a Chinese word meaning “tone deaf.”

“Karaoke is the bane of my existence.”

Man reading in lemonade stand at Pleasure Grounds
Bill Allison of Grumpy’s Lemonade and the miniature golf course at Geneva-on-the-Lake, tries to read while karaoke singers belt out tunes across the street.

When it comes to Judy Allen, however, Bill’s in tune with her music. “Judy ‘The Karaoke Queen’ is a good karaoke singer.”

The Karaoke Queen is Judy Allen, who lives to the east of The Village and comes down to The Strip whenever she can get a ride from a friends. She’s at Time Square Patio most Saturday and Sunday afternoons and evenings.

Bill says there’s just one problem with Judy’s singing: She knows only a handful of songs, most of them sad country ballads made famous by Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline.

The Karaoke Queen is one of the many stories from GOTL’s 150 years of history that are featured in “Pleasure Grounds.” Want to hear Judy sing and tell her story? Check out this Pleasure Grounds video.

Good Question band photo

Memorial Day and a Good Question at GOTL

One of the traditions at Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio’s oldest summer resort, is the band, Good Question.

Although not quite as old as the 150-year-old resort, Good Question is nearing its golden anniversary, says Paul Bodnar, one of the band’s original members.

Bodnar, of Saybrook Township, grew up at GOTL during the years his parents owned the Hungarian Restaurant at the east end of The Strip. He became interested in the new rock-and-roll sound while a young teen exploring The Strip and listening to bands play in iconic bars like The Cove and The Sunken Bar. At the time, the early 1960s, Bodnar was too young to enter the bars, so he had to listen to the music from the sidewalks. After paying his dues in a few small bands that played mostly school dances, Bodnar pulled together several other northeast Ohio musicians to form Good Question. They became the house band at the legendary Castaway Nightclub. After a couple of years at Castaway, Good Question was enticed by Cove founder and owner Peter Macchia to move their smooth sound to his bar on The Strip.

Good Question was Macchia’s favorite band, and the group always played a birthday concert for him in October. Most recently they opened the season at The Cove with a concert in April.

Paul says that there are GOTL visitors who book their cottages and lodge rooms around when Good Question is playing at The Lake. Mike and Bob Beer of western Pennsylvania confirm that tradition in Pleasure Grounds.

“Good Question, that band is the best in the world,” Bob Beer said in an interview for Pleasure Grounds. “I know of people who have scheduled their vacations around that group being here.”

Pleasure grounds book cover.

Pleasure Grounds, 500-plus pages, fully indexed, hundreds of photos. 8 1/2 x 11 inches, silk laminate paper cover

Because Good Question and GOTL are so intertwined, Pleasure Grounds devotes several pages to Good Question, which also had a long run with the Swiss Chalet. Over Memorial Day weekend 2019, Good Question will play three nights at the historic bar, the former New Inn, which also receives much attention in Pleasure Grounds.

The Pleasure Grounds history of GOTL book will be for sale during the band’s first break Saturday and Sunday evenings, starting around 9 p.m. The cost of the autographed book is $42.65. Cash is preferred, but credit/debit card processing will be available.

If you can’t make the Good Question performances, Pleasure Grounds is available on The Strip at:

  • Lakehouse Inn
  • Treasure’d Island
  • Anchor Inn
  • Eagle Cliff Hotel

In Ashtabula, the book is at Bridge Street Art Works, 1009 Bridge Street; in Harpersfield, at the Covered Bridge Shoppe (Harpersfield Covered Bridge Metropark).

Paul Bodnar with photo of Good Question.

Paul Bodnar, “the glue” that has held Good Question together for nearly 50 years, stands with the band portrait that once adorned the front of The Cove.

Pleasure Grounds

Bathing beauties enjoy Lake Erie near Sturgeon Point, where The Pleasure Grounds got their start in 1869. It grew into GOTL.

Our newest book, Pleasure Grounds, arrives May 22 and will be available for purchase from this website, at Bridge Street Artworks and several vendors at Geneva-on-the-Lake, which is book’s topic.

July 4 of this year marks the 150th anniversary of the founding of these Lake Erie picnic grounds, referred to as a “Pleasure Grounds,” by the founders, Edwin Pratt and Cullen Spencer. Our new book traces the history of Ohio’s first summer resort town (it beats Cedar Point by a year through more than 500 historical and recent documentary photographs, maps and brochures. The book has 578 pages, is 8.5×11 inches and weighs nearly five pounds!

Exhaustive, and exhausting for the author/designer, Pleasure Grounds is our biggest book yet. It grew out of the work I did with my former employer, The Ashtabula County County Commissioners, who loaned me the Geneva-on-the-Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau to work on interpretive signage about key events, people and attractions at “The Lake.” This work became known as the Summer Fun Heritage Trail.

The many bars along The Strip provide a Pleasure Grounds during Thunder on The Strip, one of the topics explored in the new book.

After a new board commissioners decided to eliminate my position, I decided to use my new status as a freelance writer to delve much deeper in The Resort’s story and provide readers with a narrative that looks at all aspects of this unique town and resort.

I sparingly use the word “unique” when I write, but when it comes to GOTL, it earns it.

Where else can you find an incorporated Ohio village without a single franchised business except Dairy Queen? It has no banks, no payday loan joints, no doctor’s or dentist’s offices, no traffic lights and no big-box stores, not even a pharmacy. Yet there are 17 bars, hundreds of cottages to rent, a state park, a lodge, wineries, zip lines, mom-and-pop stores and what appears to be the nation’s oldest miniature golf course. GOTL even has a magic store!

This little microcosm has developed totally independent of outside investment, until recently, when Delaware North Companies began building high-end amenities like the zip line/challenge course and cottages development. Most of GOTL’s commercial district is operated by families in the third and fourth generation of ownership. They have created the businesses vacationers associate with GOTL: Eddie’s Grill, The Cove, Firehouse Winery and many more.

This little resort soon became a vacation destination for blue-collar steel-mill towns of Western Pennsylvania and the Youngstown region. Many of them camped at Chestnut Grove. Their voices and stories run flow through the book like 3.2-beer once flowed through the village. Topics covered in the book include dance halls, alcohol, lodging, amusements, beaches, the riots, cottages and much more.

There is both pleasure and sadness in this place, a microcosm of human experience and emotions, joys and disappointments.

Pleasure Grounds will be available at select merchants at GOTL this summer. We have chosen not to distribute through Amazon at this time. It can be purchased through this website as well as our retail location, Bridge Street Art Works, 1009 Bridge Street, Ashtabula. Books will be in stock starting May 23.

Confirmed GOTL locations selling Pleasure Grounds are the Eagle Cliff Hotel and Anchor Inn. The Covered Bridge Shoppe at the Harpersfield Covered Bridge also will stock the book. .

In the weeks ahead, I’ll be posting supplemental videos and stories about GOTL as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of this unique town and resort.

See you on The Strip!

Pleasure grounds book cover.

Pleasure Grounds, 500-plus pages, fully indexed, hundreds of photos. 8 1/2 x 11 inches, silk laminate paper cover

A gift awaiting unwrapping

Most Christmas gifts have been unwrapped by now, but chances are there is box of gifts remaining behind in (hopefully) a bedroom closet, awaiting someone to unwrap them—again.

I’m talking about a box of home movies. The motion picture record of your family’s past: Stories of weddings, birthdays, vacations and other special events that your parents, grandparents or uncles felt important enough to investment money and time into capturing and preserving for future generations.

The 8mm, Super 8mm and 16mm films, as well as the 35mm color slides, that these amateur cinematographers and photographers left behind are wonderful gifts that beg to be “unwrapped” every holiday season. Unfortunately, they are wrapped in antiquated technology. Working film projectors are difficult to find and expensive. By now, most film projectors stored with the films need a belt, lamp, cleaning and lubrication to bring them back to life. Further, attempting to project film on a projector that is dirty or won’t properly thread and transport the film can cause irreparable damage.

In the 1980s and 1990s, many families had their family’s films and slides transferred to VHS cassettes, assuming VHS would be around forever. That’s not been the case, and now families are discovering that VHS was even worse than film as an archival media (something videotape was never intended to be). And, as with the projector situation, finding a reliable VHS machine that won’t eat the tape is becoming difficult. If you had your films transferred to video tape, dig out the films today and have them transferred to digital media. Video transfers look awful due to the low resolution of the format and inability to make corrections to the original material.

To properly unwrap these home movie gifts, specialized equipment that photographs every frame on those long strips of film is required. And once the acquisition, or transfer, is done, those frames must be re-assembled in software to create the movie that can be saved to a DVD or Blu-Ray disc, as well as to a USB drive or hard drive/SSD (recommended for archival, HD use).

That’s what we do at The Feather Cottage. We are a boutique transfer service that offers state-of-the-art transfer services to consumers and businesses. We customize each transfer so it includes music and titles that identify who is in the film, when and where it was shot, and the dates. We physically clean the film before transferring and also perform digital cleaning of noise, scratches and other defects. Colors are restored and dark sections lightened to reveal the details that have been hiding in the shadows for decades. We work one-on-one with the client, and we do our work locally (northeast Ohio).

What we really do is preserve the gifts of the past. We make sure that the sacrifices of money and time  that our ancestors made in preserving memories on film are not lost to our carelessness and the passage of time.

In our day, most every phone and camera is capable of recording a video. YouTube’s millions of videos attest to the ubiquitous nature of video. But back in your grandparents’ day, making a “video,” actually a motion picture, was a costly venture.

A basic 16mm camera/projector kit cost around $400, as much as a car when the medium was offered to home movie makers in the 1920s. Unlike inexpensive video cameras today, the acquisition cost of the equipment was just the beginning. Film had to purchased and processed; a roll of 16mm film, 100 feet long, cost $13.09 for Kodachrome II with processing by Kodak in 1972. That would provide approximately three minutes of movies. Yes, just three minutes (now you know one of the reasons shots are so short on these old films!).

Super 8mm film in 1972 cost about $5 with Kodak processing. The 50-foot cartridge provided three minutes and twenty seconds of filming.

To put that into today’s dollars, that is roughly $65 for a roll of 16mm film and $25 for a cartridge of Super 8mm film and processing. Imagine if cellphones charged that much for recording a video!

The family members who came before you gave you a great gift, an expensive gift, when they went to the trouble and expense to record their story, your story, on film.

All gifts come with responsibilities on the recipient’s part. Most recipients disregard that responsibility, but I and others in my Baby Boomer generation were raised to accept those responsibilities when accepting a gift. You thanked the giver. You took care of the gift. You showed them and their sacrifice appreciation by enjoying it and making it last.

I encourage all recipients of these gifts, whether through inheritance or direct giving, to treat the gifts, and the giver, with the honor due them. Treat your family’s old families as if they were one-of-a-kind diaries, which they are. There is no other copy of your family’s films in the world, so take care of them and get them archived onto digital media while family members are still alive who can identify who is in the films and what is going on in them.

Your family’s films are gifts waiting to be unwrapped—again and again. Did you leave a gift unwrapped this Christmas? If you are ready to unwrap it, visit our Film Transfer Services page.

 

The Field Guide to all things Ashtabula

“Ashtabula County: A field guide to the natural,  historical and curious treasures of Ohio’s largest county” is back in stock. Additionally, Ruth and I will be at Jefferson, Ohio, Recreation Center on East Jefferson Street, Dec. 1, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for their Christmas craft fair. The following Saturday, Dec. 8, we will be at the Lantern in Saybrook Township with our books, as well. That show is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and benefits the Alzheimer’s Association.

For online shoppers, we are offering the book for just $18, including shipping, through the end of November. The price returns to $21.95 after November 30. For in-person shoppers at the two previously mentioned shows, the price is just $20. Credit cards are accepted on this site and at our events.

We recently posted a video that describes the book and provides a peak inside.

Film transfers

Long before DVDs, VHS and YouTube, there were home movies shot on real film in 8mm, Super 8mm and 16mm.

One of the services provided by  The Feather Cottage is digitization or transfer of these film formats to DVD, Blu-Ray or digital video files for uploading.

Our film transfer promo describes this service in more detail.

View it here:

Ashtabula Harbor

“Ashtabula Habor: A History of the World’s Greatest Iron Ore Receiving Port” makes a great Christmas gift for former residents and history lovers.

We recently completed a video about the book, available on this website.

‘the bible for all things Ashtabula’

“The bible for all things Ashtabula.” That’s the way veteran journalist and author Neil Zurcher describes our new book, “Ashtabula County: A field guide.”

He goes on to say “It is a compact history of a wonderful county, the people who live there and the towns, even those that no longer exist.”

That is a reference to the final chapter in the book, which highlights a few of the ghost towns that once thrived in the county. Sometimes only a building or two remains in these places that still have a place on the map and in the memories of elderly residents.

The “Field Guide” was inspired by my wife Ruth, who decided to relocate to Ashtabula County after accepting my marriage proposal. There was much for her to learn about the county, and so we set off on adventure after adventure as I introduced her newly adopted home. Along the way, a book took form.

“This is a ‘must have’ book for anyone who loves Ohio’s biggest county, or who plans to visit in the coming year.”

Neil Zurcher

At first, I was thinking 100 or so entries, but once the lists were made and research began in earnest, the book nearly tripled in content and size.

The content is categorized as natural treasures, structures, transportation, curiosities, memorials/monuments and ghost towns. Each entry includes a picture, short story and, oftentimes, trivia about the topic or site.

It is a different sort of book for me; the stories are short and to the point, but I’ve tried to tuck into each story a nugget, bit of humor or little-known fact about the topic. The first-person interviews, which are used in my other works, are absent, yet the conversations with hundreds of residents and historians underpin many of the entries.

The book is available on amazon.com as both a Kindle ($5.99) and softcover book ($21.95). The Kindle book is not indexed and, frankly, is not very reader friendly, but that is the nature of Kindle formats. The print edition is fully indexed and includes a list of attractions for each town/township/village.

“A Field Guide” is also available in our website store. We pay the shipping on books ordered from the website, and each book is signed by Carl. If it is a gift, or you want a special inscription to yourself, let us know when you order.

Carlisle’s Home in the Harbor on Bridge Street has autographed copies for sale, as will the Ashtabula Maritime Museum for its Christmas event.

The book was launched at the Ashtabula County Covered Bridge Festival, where my frozen fingered managed to sign a couple of dozen books to folks who braved the rain and frigid temps to acquire a book from our table at the Graham Road Covered Bridge. Many of the folks commented on missing my work in the Star Beacon, which I departed more than five years ago.

And that leads me to the dedication. After I left the newspaper industry, I had the privilege of working for the three best supervisors I had in my 40-plus years of working: Ashtabula County Commissioners Joe Moroski, Peggy Carlo and Dan Claypool. They had the vision to combine a lodging tax administration and tourism special projects coordinator into a position under the county commissioners’ office. During the nearly five years of working in that job, I was part of many interesting projects that were launched with grants and private funding and have helped introduce tourists to our county’s story. Unfortunately, a new board of commissioners saw no value in the position and abruptly eliminated it … which leads me to writing books!

“I confess I have long admired the writing of Carl Feather. I have considered him one of Ohio’s secret treasures since I first became acquainted with his work at the Ashtabula Star Beacon Newspaper. He touched many lives with his stories that were filled with humanity—sometimes sad, sometimes filled with humor—but always illuminating, written in an ‘everyman’ style that was easy to read and understand.”

Neil Zurcher

While browsing online for books about Ohio, check out the many volumes by Neil Zurcher, famous for his “One-Tank Trip” books, as well as “Ohio Oddities,” “Strange Tales from Ohio,” “Tales from the Road,” “Ohio Road Trips” and “Ohio Road Food.”

The “Field Guide” is our first joint effort as co-owners of The Feather Cottage, our “retirement business.” Carl is working on two more books for release next year, and Ruth, well, she’s working in Cleveland at a day job until book sales can bring her into the land of “retirement.”