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.

Ashtabula Harbor, a history

Carl’s new book about Ashtabula Harbor, Ohio, is his first venture into self-publishing. More than 400 pages of history and stories await. Purchase a signed copy from this site and receive free shipping.

In the fall of 2016 I embarked upon the most ambitious writing project of my life, crafting a history of Ashtabula Harbor, Ohio.

Why? For more than two decades, The Harbor was the greatest iron ore receiving port in the world. More iron ore flowed through this port and to the mills of Youngstown, Ohio, and Pittsburgh, Pa., than through any other port. Immigrants built the railroads that linked the lake to the Ohio River and steel mills, and then worked on the docks unloading the vessels with shovels and wheelbarrows.

“Lively times” reported the Ashtabula Telegraph in July 1873, when the first ore boat arrived in The Harbor. Thousands more, each year progressively larger, would arrive at The Harbor. Brown Hoists replaced shovels, Huletts replaced Brown Hoists, and eventually the self-unloaders and demise of the domestic steel industry ended it all.

And before ore there were schooners and passengers steamers and a curse on ships built at Ashtabula Harbor. And during the ore boom there were saloons, murders, brothels, drownings and beachfront resorts. Lighthouses came and went, as did bridges and tugs and hundreds of Bridge Street businesses.

And they are all in this hefty volume, available for order from this site.

 

A sun sets, we beg for understanding

Complain we must about the rain, the clouds, the odd weather that tinkers with our plans for a picnic, wedding, campfire and fishing. The fact remains that the clouds are good for sunsets, and sunsets are good for the heart.

A sunset well executed can stop you in your tracks, make you want to pull over and point the cell phone toward the horizon in hopes of capturing sol’s soul. Even better if you happen to be at the beach. He slips behind the deck of dark clouds and thrusts the beach into premature dusk. Then, like the bride emerging from shadows and marching down the aisle, the solar ball dashes through a break in the deck and dazzles with brilliant beauty, rays and all.

Sun for light, sand for texture, water for waves and clouds for scale. We love a sunset over the city or countryside, but adore and romanticize it when day collapses on the beach, exhausted, panting, exhaling orange and red like a marathon runner gasping at the finish line as the crowd cheers the time warrior for besting the record. So it is against the thunder of applause that the sun as it sets with fingers tapping, shutters clicking, jpgs writing, lips touching …

Wind is the unseen ingredient in all this drama. It moves the clouds in place like stagehands rolling backgrounds between acts. It stirs the water into unpredictable contortions that roll and squirm and roar like tortured molecules. If you look carefully, you will see thin strands of glass pulled from the droplets; the strands last but a fraction of a second and then dissipate into froth.

All of this occurs because we are spinning and don’t even know it, because hot and cold air we can only feel are clashing and oddly enough the ball that casts light on the whole process determines what is night and what is day. It takes a bit of imagination to believe that there is significance to any of it other than another day is over, but poets find metaphor aplenty in the seeming perpetual motion of waves, mystery of sunset and landscape’s plunge into darkness.

We are not ancients pondering these enigmas, for our generation has gone far above the waves and clouds to discover the mechanism by which these things occur and developed formulae that succinctly reduce poetry and mystery to predictable events. We state to the minute when the light will depart from our gaze, but we cannot predict if the passing will be pleasant, prosaic, stunning or stupefying. Such is death. These things are up to the wind, clouds and waves. Heaven can shed its light upon Earth, but Earth ultimately decides if molten sunlight and molten water will tango, sit out the dance or even bother to play a tune. Some nights, the best we can hope for is a long sigh.

The strange thing amid all this is that when it is noon somewhere and midnight somewhere else, it is sunset yet some other place. And if I stare at a sunset in Geneva there is a throng to the east placing heads upon pillows in fledgling darkness, while those to my west are walking Pacific beaches in hope of seeing what I have already consumed. Strange thing the way stuff happens on this sphere. What if the world were really flat? Then would all of us see the same sunset at the same time, or would sunset even exist? Would sun have only two states, like a simple switch, or be more complex, like a dimmer control?

Rhetorical considerations aside, closer to home, there is an ex-lover standing next to a new love on a distant beach, holding hands, looking at the same sunset by which the two of you once swooned and loved. Some 1,500 sunsets later all of that love has come unspun and now winds itself about another heart. It is a mystery, to be sure, how things as consistent as the sun and its setting can exist for eons and faithfully perform their duties, but the human heart will have nothing to do with all that, as if it operates in a different universe. It would serve itself well to be more reliable like the sun and less fickle than the sunset, dependent upon externals like clouds, waves and wind. But that is beyond its nature, and there is no more use arguing for a predictable heart than for a predictable wave. It will crash as and where it wants and destroy and erode as it sees fit. The sun sets and that is that, accept the loss and get on with life, as we trust the sun will do, come the sunrise.

But that is whole other event.