Mail Pouch barn detail

Mail Pouch

It was the summer 1985. I was in my second year as a photographer and occasional writer for the Ashtabula Star Beacon while, when searching for feature art in the Rock Creek area, I came across a barn being painted.

Mail Pouch barn, Rock Creek, Ohio
The “Mail Pouch” barn, Route 45, Rock Creek, Ashtabula County, Ohio, as it appeared several years ago. The lettering has faded significantly since then. Photo by Carl E. Feather.

The barn was just north of Rock Creek, on Route 45. The painter was Harley Warrick, of Wheeling, W.Va., an American treasure.

Harley began painting barns at the age of 21, in 1946. Two days home from the Army, a Mail Pouch team came into the area and painted two ends of the Warrick family’s barn. Harley got to talking to the painters and got interested in joining a crew. Facing the task of milking 26 Jerseys every night and morning if he stayed on the farm, Warrick joined a painting team. Lacking any civilian clothes, he wore his Army uniform during his first week on the job.

Warrick worked 13 states, Michigan to Missouri to New York. He painted some 4,000 barns, and not just once. Every three or four years, the signs had to be repainted.

He usually worked with a helper, who filled in the background around the letters. All work was done free hand. Warrick’s preference was to start with the “E” in CHEW and then add the “H” and “W.” The reason? Those were his initials.

He’d been known to repaint six signs in one day and two new signs a day. He had a sense of humor, occasionally purposely misspelling a word to see if the tobacco company would get any calls.

It was a hard life. Warrick was on the road weeks at a time, often sleeping in his truck or a cheap motel. His first marriage suffered from the long absences, and his wife gave him the ultimatum. Warrick chose his work, but for his second marriage, he agreed to gone but one week at a time.

He might have been unemployed by the 1965 Federal Highway Beautification Act had it not been for the fact that the existing signs were grandfathered and therefore exempted from the new restrictions on highway advertising. Mail Pouch discontinued the painting program in 1969, but Warrick’s signs got an extension on life when the signs were declared National Landmarks. Mail Pouch continued to support the program until Warrick’s retirement, at which time he was the last of the barn advertising sign painters.

The last barn that Mr. Warrick painted was at Barkcamp State Park, Belmont, Ohio, Warrick’s hometown. He’d originally painted the 150-year-old barn in the early 1980s.

I recall Harley as a fascinating, witty Yankee with a penchant for smoking a pipe. He told me that he’d once gone through a box of matches lighting his pipe for a National Geographic photographer who was trying to the perfect flare on the match tip, puff of smoke and expression in one frame of film.

Harley died Nov. 24, 2000, in Wheeling.

Mail Pouch barn, Aurora, West Virginia. Route 50. October 1982. Photo by Carl E. Feather
Several years before artist Harley Warwick painted the barn in Ashtabula County, Ohio, I was photographing this one along Route 50 in Aurora, West Virginia. This image was shot on a beautiful Sunday morning in October 1982.

Although the Mail Pouch barn he painted in Rock Creek 30 years ago is showing its age, the lettering is discernable and the weathering adds to the nostalgia of the structure. The negatives I shot that day were destroyed years ago, and I’ve always regretted having not taken color transparencies of the artist at work. But every time I pass the barn I recall how a chance discovery along the rural highway enriched my life as much as the red and yellow sign embellish the landscape.

Cemetery at Gould, a ghost town in Ashtabula County, Ohio

Gould

Folks came from all over Ashtabula County, Ohio, to the hamlet of Gould to have their teeth pulled, filled, poked and fixed by Doc Everetts.

Doc charged 25 cents for a filling and 50 cents for an extraction. He used oil of cloves to numb the pain and was skillful in his use of the tools of the trade. Patients liked Doc Everetts’ prices, chair-side manner and skills, even though practiced way out in the boonies.

In addition to its dentist, Gould also had a store, two churches, hotel, horse race track and covered bridge. The lumber business had literally built the town, but when the forests were cut and the land offered only stumps, the residents started to move away. In the 1920s, Gould got its death blow when the highway was rerouted out of the hamlet. Route 167 bypassed the settlement, located just south of that road on Stanhope-Kelloggsville Road, east of Pierpont.

Only the cemetery remains as testimony to the hamlet’s former existence. Most of the burials here are from the latter half of the 19th century and first couple decades of the 20th. After that, if someone was laid to rest here, it was because their spouse had gone over yonder back when the hamlet still had some life left in it. Odd as it is, death has assured Gould a bit of recognition after the hamlet died.

There is still a road sign for Gould off Stanhope-Kelloggsville Road. It should say “Gould Cemetery,” for that and a woodlands, the kind they cut a century ago, is all that’s left. Other signs warn that the road is not maintained in winter. More accurately, it’s simply not maintained, save for mowing the grass that has reclaimed what was once a road. You can find it off Stanhope-Kelloggsville Road, just south of Route 167.

Old photo of wood bridge at Gould, Ohio.
Gould once had a lovely covered bridge, the abutments for which can still be seen in the stream valley. For more information about the Gould and other lost covered bridges of Ashtabula County, Ohio, read The Covered Bridges of Ashtabula County by Carl E. Feather, available at Bridge Street Art Works, 1009 Bridge Street, Ashtabula, Ohio, and amazon.com. For information on other Ashtabula County ghost towns, read Ashtabula County: A Field Guide, available in our website store.

American Penmanship’s father had a famous daughter, too

Ellen Spencer Mussey: The Father of Penmanship’s Trail-Blazing Daughter

Ellen Spencer was but 12 years old when she went to work in the penmanship school of her famous father, Platt R. Spencer of Geneva. She was the youngest penmanship teacher in Ohio, and her father, 62, was the oldest.

Following the death of her father in 1864, Ellen could have drifted into marriage, motherhood and obscurity. But the same penchant for excellence and accomplishment that marked the lives of her father and his business-college founder son, Henry, was endowed upon Ellen, a lawyer, educator and pioneer in the effort to open legal education to women and give them full legal rights apart from their spouse.

Born in 1850 in Geneva Township, Ellen received her early education from her father at the Jericho School on what is now North Myers Road (the Spencer home there is owned by the P.R. Spencer Historical Society). She studied at Rice’s Young Ladies’ Seminary in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., following her father’s death. Further education was obtained at Lake Erie College and Rockford College, Rockford, Ill.

Her brother, Henry, founded the Spencerian Business College of Washington, D.C., and at the age of 19, Ellen moved to D.C. to lead the women’s section of the college, which trained students for jobs in government and business. Her Washington presence connected Ellen to Reuben D. Mussey, who had served as a colonel for the Union Army and had a law practice in D.C. A New Hampshire native, Reuben had campaigned for Lincoln and joined a militia company led by Cassius M. Clay, an abolitionist. Initially charged with guarding the president and White House, Mussey eventually became captain of the 19th U.S. Infantry Regiment. As captain, he helped recruit African-Americans to serve as Union Army soldiers.

Ellen and Reuben were married in 1871; a woman far ahead of her time; she had the word “obey” omitted from the wedding vow. Nevertheless, in her actions she demonstrated a commitment to both matrimony and motherhood while blazing a trail for equality.

She bore two children, Spencer (1872-1891) and William Hitz (1874-1939), and was stepmother to Reuben’s two daughters by his first wife. Ellen also took an interest in her husband’s profession, worked in his office and studied law under him. She applied to the law schools of National University and Columbian College but was denied access. Just five years into their marriage, a huge burden was shifted onto her shoulders when her husband contracted malaria while campaigning for Rutherford B. Hayes. Reuben became an invalid, and Ellen, 26 and with four children and an invalid husband, moved the family to a building in downtown Washington near the law practice. With Reuben’s assistance, the practice remained open.

Lady in graduation robe
Ellen Spencer Mussey was admitted to the bar in Washington, D.C., after an oral examination. She went on assist many other women enter law school. Photo from Wikpedia Commons.

Ellen was not a member of the bar, however, and her husband’s death in 1892 jeopardized her livelihood. Several Washington lawyers lobbied to have special consideration given to her, and in March 1893, Ellen passed the bar by oral examination. She was admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States in 1896.

That same year, President Grover Cleveland signed into law legislation drafted by Ellen and giving women of the District of Columbia the right to their own earnings and custody of their children. Prior to the law, a father living in the district, even if he was a criminal, could claim custody. Her fight for a woman’s independent legal status culminated in 1922 with passage of a bill that permitted an American female citizen who marries a foreigner to retain U.S. citizenship rights. As a result of this bill, Ruth Bryan Owen, daughter of William Jennings Bryan and the wife of an Englishman, could serve as a US Representative from Florida’s 4th District from 1929 to 1933. From 1933 to 1936, Bryan was US Ambassador to Denmark.

Like her father and brother, Ellen had a strong interest in education. She was a member of the Columbia Board of Education and worked to establish kindergarten as part of the district’s program. And she pioneered the effort to establish retirement benefits for public school teachers.

Her greatest accomplishments were in the area of providing legal education for women. An aspiring attorney, Della Sheldon Jackson, in 1895 requested an apprenticeship under Ellen. With assistance from a colleague, Emma Gillett, Ellen opened, on Feb. 1, 1896, the first session of the Woman’s Law Class. Jackson, Nanette Paul and Helen Malcolm were its first students.

The program grew with assistance from several prominent Washington, D.C., attorneys. The students planned to take their final year of law education at Columbian College, but that institution rejected them on the grounds that “women did not have the mentality for law.” That closed door resulted in the founding of the Washington College of Law, incorporated by Emma Gillett and Ellen Mussey in April 1898.

The college, since merged with American University, was the world’s first law school founded by women. Ellen Mussey served as dean until her retirement in 1913.

In her retirement years, Ellen founded the Women’s Bar Association of the District of Columbia and was elected its first president. She also was involved in the founding of the National Association of Women Lawyers in 1919 and was first chairwoman of the Women’s City Club of Washington, founded the same year. And she was among the founders of the American Red Cross.

Ellen Spencer Mussey died April 21, 1936, in Washington, D.C.; she is buried in the district’s Oak Hill Cemetery.

Ashtabula stockholders invested in Normania

The shipping season of 1909 delivered nothing but progress to Ashtabula Harbor.

The first four of eight Hulett electric unloaders went online that summer at the Lake Shore’s (New York Central) Superior extension docks on the river’s east side. As the operators became comfortable with the behemoths’ controls, ore unloading records began to fall. Meanwhile, nearly 250 men worked on the Lake Shore’s docks that would accommodate the ore shipments for Jones & Laughlin mills.

In their haste to unload and drive the hundreds of piles required to create the slip, Frank Ferguson, a foreman, was nearly killed in October. A piling, thrown out of a rail car, struck Ferguson on the side of his head, knocked out a few teeth and dislocated his jawbone. The timber hit O. Else, a worker, in the chest and knocked him 10 feet. A couple of days later, Antonio Pondico, 45, was crushed between a rail car and clam bucket filled with coal and being swung into the hold of a vessel. He died on the way to the hospital and left behind a wife and seven children, still in Italy. He was saving his money to bring them to the United States, where a daughter and son already lived.

Such was the nature of work and life in The World’s Greatest Iron Ore Receiving Port.

Also in 1909, the Pennsylvania Railroad, which operated on the west side, announced an investment of $100,000 in its Ashtabula docks at Ashtabula; the work would be done during the winter of 1909-1910. That August, a steam shovel devoured slices of Point Park, “what was once the pride of the north end,” as the prime real estate was removed to make way for the Pennsylvania Railroad’s tracks to the lakefront. The dirt thus removed was used to fill low spots where the coal and ore cars would terminate their journey to the docks.

Mean, the pay cars of both The Lake Shore and Pennsylvania railroads delivered glad tidings to workers; in August, 1909, the biggest pay day in two years put extra dollars into the railroaders’ pockets and Ashtabula economy.

A deal between the city and Great Lakes Engineering was signed that summer, as well. Although the shipyard failed to bring the touted economic boom to the city, it built Liberty Ships during World War I and provided drydock facilities for smaller lake vessels for several decades.

Port lists attest to the volume of bulk carrier business handled at The Harbor. On a typical day, a dozen ore boats arrived at The Harbor and as many cleared the port.

The steamer Normania was among those received in August. Its arrival was received with much fanfare, for the Normania had a strong hometown connection: Many of its shareholders were Ashtabula investors, who came to The Harbor the afternoon of August 15 to see what their $300,000 had purchased.

Normania was built the prior year at the St. Clair, Michigan, works of Great Lakes Engineering. She was 420 feet long, 52 feet wide and drew 24 feet. Gross tonnage was 4,871; net, 4705. The steel hull was number 39 for the shipbuilder.

There is no explanation for its name, but the owners were incorporated as the Ashtabula Steamship Company. The Normania appears to have been the firm’s only project. Pickens-Mather & Co. managed the vessel, which  was skippered by Captain Oscar Olesen of Ashtabula.

He welcomed 15 of the shareholders onto the vessel that evening as its cargo of iron ore was unloaded. The tables were set with “a lunch that would have done credit to the swell hotels of New York city.” The owners then toured the vessel, which, according to the Ashtabula Beacon-Record, was “a model of utility, convenience and comfort. … The cabins are neat and commodious, affording ample accommodations for the crew and officers. Each department is provided with private bath rooms and each gang-way has a separate shower bat equipment. The passenger rooms are elegantly appointed, with their tall, brass bedsteads, chiffoniers, private lavatories, electric lights and fans.” The rooms compared favorably to those in “leading hotels.”

After eight years of ownership, the Ashtabula Steamship Company sold the vessel to the Ottawa Transit Co. of Mentor (Lake County). An act of the 64th Congress, June 22, 1916, approved changing the vessel’s name to William F. Stifel. It retained that name when it was sold to Columbia Steamship Co. in 1921 and to Oglebay Norton Co. in 1958.

By then, the 420-foot-long vessel was too aged and inefficient for the lake trade, and she was sold through Marine Salvage, Ltd., of Port Colborne, Ontario, to Italian shipbreakers. The Normania, which had proudly sailed into Ashtabula Harbor, her colors floating in a stiff breeze, to meet her owners some 51 years prior, arrived in tow at Savona, Italy, Dec. 27, 1960, for scrapping.

Such was the way of life and work at The World’s Greatest Iron Ore Receiving Port.

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

‘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.”

 

Barn quilt marks northern end of trail

Ashtabula County’s latest barn quilt requires a boat to view it.

At 4-by-4 feet, the barn quilt can’t be seen with the naked eye from Lakeshore Park. With a pair of good binoculars, you can just discern the outline of the object on the east side of the Ashtabula Lighthouse.

The barn quilt was painted by John Carpenter, who volunteers with the Ashtabula Lighthouse Restoration and Preservation Society. John chose the mariner’s compass pattern, a fitting motif for an object that guided freighters into Ashtabula Harbor for more than 60 years.

The nonprofit group has been in control of the lighthouse since 2007. Grants and fundraising resources were used to the structure/crib and add a staircase and floating dock. But there is much work to be done before lighthouse can open for education/interpretation.

Joe Santiana, president of the group, took me and a newspaper reporter to the lighthouse on Sept. 14 for a look at the structure and barn quilt. I have visited the lighthouse on prior occasions, and each time left wishing that in my younger years I’d turned my lens toward documenting life on the structure before it was automated in 1973.

A bald eagle claims the former foundation of the lighthouse.

On our way out, we passed the lighthouse’s former foundation, approximately 1,750 feet closer to the shore than the current location. Ashtabula Harbor’s docks and railroads experienced a surge of expansion and growth starting in 1908, and that required a larger inner harbor and expansion of the breakwater. In 1916 the lighthouse was moved to its current location and doubled in size. A 50-foot-square concrete crib was built to accommodate the lighthouse, which was doubled in size. Further, future expansions of an emergency generator and air compressor to run the fog horn would need to be accommodated. The stone breakwater was extended from Walnut Beach, and while it is possible to walk the long, jagged breakwater to the lighthouse, it is very dangerous.

Joe Santiana, president of the Ashtabula Lighthouse Preservation and Restoration Society climbs the ladder to the upper lamp room in the Ashtabula Lighthouse.

While an iconic and lovely bump on the west breakwater of Ashtabula Harbor, the metal structure was built for functionality. Its interior is spartan. The first floor is a big, dark empty room that once provided the living and sleeping quarters. Above it are the two levels that accommodated the light and fog horn. The Fresnel lens ended up in the Ashtabula Maritime and Surface Transportation Museum. The fog horn and related equipment were possibly dumped in Lake Erie.

The white structure was recently painted, but the large population of gulls and other birds at this point have coated the lighthouse in white excrement. Not the most pleasant place to be, even on a beautiful September afternoon on Lake Erie.

The view of Ashtabula Harbor from the top of the lighthouse is stunning; perhaps why the spot is so popular with birds!

Then again, the life of a lighthouse keeper was not as pleasant as we might imagine it to have been. The lighthouse lacked comfort facilities. The keeper bathed in the lake, which also served as the restroom facility. The same lake provided dinner, a fresh-caught fish and provisions brought from the shore via the boats that also brought a fresh crew to man the light. In the final years of the manned lighthouse, a transistor radio provided some “entertainment.”

The Ashtabula light was the last on the Great Lakes to be automated . A solar-powered light glows in the top room of the structure and is maintained by the US Coast Guard. Otherwise, it is the society’s responsibility to care for the lighthouse, which was purchased as government surplus.

John Carpenter painted the Mariner’s Compass barn quilt that is on the Ashtabula Lighthouse.

The presence of a barn quilt this far north of the city and at the entrance to the harbor suggests the start of a truly unique barn quilt trail, one that could stretch from Lake Erie to the Ohio River. This 100-mile journey is rich in heritage and stories, not to mention some lovely, well-kept barns in Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbia counties. These four stacked counites have been linked for centuries via the stagecoach turnpike, Underground Railroad, the Pennsylvania and New York Central railroads and Route 11. Iron ore that supplied the steel mills of the Ohio River towns came through Ashtabula Harbor, and coal that moved up the river and railroads moved through Ashtabula Harbor.