By: Rich Tarrant
Technically, every photograph is a “one shot thing”. But in this instance the photos that accompany this essay certainly are. It is highly doubtful that there will ever come a day when any crowd the size of that on the west breakwall or along the river will ever again gather there to watch a regatta celebration. And, obviously, the lighthouse at the end of the breakwall will never again watch over the harbor in that place either. These are impressive portraits of a Vermilion b.s.p. (before smart phones).
Newspaper editor Roscoe captured these scenes and the others on glass during a Regatta in 1926. It’s a bit hard to see in the breakwall reproduction, but he etched that information on the glass photo plate. [Note: the 9 in the year 1926 is not backwards because he was dyslexic, but because he was writing backwards on the plate. It was a bit tricky.]
In the yesteryear, as is obvious by this photo; regatta days in Vermilion were a big deal. Families came from far and wee to participate in, and watch, the races on the lake – as well as numerous activities along the river in front of the waterworks. But it was not always so. In October of 1908 the following report appeared in The Vermilion News:
“At the last meeting of the Lakewood Yacht Club, expressions of pleasure and satisfaction were in unanimous in regard to the club Regatta at Vermilion. The club has decided to make this visit an annual event with the cooperation and consent of Vermilion committee.
The change in the time of the regatta has been suggested, also that they should have a squadron sail. This would be very desirable, as all the boats, both power and sail would take part in it, and would give the yachtsmen a chance to entertain their Vermilion friends. There would be 50 or more boats under power or sail at the same time, and would make a grand site off our port.
There is some talk of holding the Lakewood open regatta off our port. There would be four days of racing, both power and sailboats. This event takes place the latter part of July and, would be a fine drawing card for Vermilion.” They did – and it was.
Readers will herein note that initially it was known as the “Lakewood open regatta”. No small part of the reason the Lakewood club had opted to use Vermilion as their race site was because one of their members was a man named F.W. Wakefield. In 1905 he owned a successful lighting business then located at the “Old Arcade” in Cleveland. He was also an avid yachtsman. One day, as he sailed his Yacht “Unique” into Vermilion Harbor, it is said that he turned to his companions and remarked that “this place looked good [to him] for a factory.” By 1906 a local contractor was busy building his factory. By 1912 he was elected Mayor and soon thereafter the Lakewood Regatta had become the Vermilion Regatta.
By 1926 the Vermilion Regatta had become quite famous. They really did provide numerous families from miles around with several days of live entertainment in the sunshine by the water. By ’26 more and more people owned an automobile and were able to travel some distance to participate. After the lake races there were diving and swimming competitions on the riverfront along with canoe water fights. It was great fun for persons of all ages. And it was free.
On Saturday (sometimes Friday) evenings the Division / Main street between Liberty and the railroad tracks was closed and local charities set-up games of chance. For the young children there was a “penny-pitch” game. For the adults there were games like roulette, etc. At the north end of the street ladies from some charitable organization sold sandwiches and soft drinks. And at the other end a band would take their places on a stage; corn meal would be spread out on the street and folks would dance into the night. All the businesses along the street were closed with the exception of (what else?) the beer joints. One of the songs that used to be played at those dances with some regularity was “There’ll Be A Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight”. And there certainly was.
Then, somewhere in time all those times faded away and have disappeared, replaced now by the Festival of the Fish and the Third Thursday activities. No crowds gather on the west breakwall to watch yacht races. Nor do crowds gather by the river to enjoy competitions and exhibitions upon the waters. Those days, some might say, are waters that have long ago passed under the proverbial bridge. Nonetheless, we have these photographs to remind us of just how fleeting and precious are all our days – in the yesteryear or even today.
Ref: Vermilion History Museum Photo Archive.
Vermilion resident Rich Tarrant has agreed to share many of the photos and stories he has acquired from the former Vermilion News and other local sources with the readers of the Photojournal. Rich is the youngest son and a grandson of the late proprietors of The Vermilion News (1897-1964). Readers may email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org