The pleasures and treasures hidden away in Vermilion

By: Rich Tarrant    

Photographer and Editor of The Vermilion News etched the phrase “Pleasures at Vermilion, O. on the glass negative from which the accompanying photo was made with good reason: “Weren’t a lie.” What better to do on a warm Sunday afternoon in July or August than rent a rowboat or a canoe and explore the river?

These shadows were captured during the era in our nation that is commonly referred to as “the Roaring Twenties”: It was a period of sustained economic prosperity married to a pervasive feeling of social independence. In short, anything and everything seemed possible. Business was booming. The stock market was soaring. Suddenly, things like automobiles, telephones, radios and various electric appliances were becoming commonplace. Even that which had seemed out of reach just a decade earlier (i.e. the 19th Amendment to the Constitution giving women the right to vote) had come to pass. And all was right with the world.

During those years Vermilion was an ideal spot for persons pursuing a refuge from the aforementioned roaring and finding it, if just for a few hours, in a quiet commune with nature on the river. Aside from commercial vessels – the gill and trap net tugs at the fish houses and a few small passenger boats – there were very few motorized pleasure boats along the waterway. And from the Vermilion Light House at the mouth of the river, past the railroad bridges, the tents at the Olympic Outing Club, and the, one, two, and three great shale banks looming over the stream to the south peace (at least figuratively) reigned.

Behind the happy Sunday afternoon boaters in this particular portrait was the swampland that once dominated most of the northeast shore along the river from the old wagon bridge, the L.S. & M.S. Railroad and Lake Short Electric Railway Bridges to the south north to the Lake Erie. Soon the scene would change drastically. And the pleasures and treasures enjoyed by Sunday boaters would quietly fade into the yesteryear.

Near the beach on the east side of the river – the northwest side of the swampland was a place Locals called “Cloudy’s Ferry”. At Cloudy’s you could rent a rowboat or a canoe, such as those pictured, and go exploring. Cloudy was a Canadian émigré named Louis Noel. He also ran a small ferry service from his headquarters to a dock that would have been located just a few yards south of the current water plant on the west side of the river. [NOTE: Cloudy’s place was located in the approximant area currently occupied by the Vermilion Yacht Club]. The ferry service was actually a Linwood Park concession created to allow residents and visitors to the park a convenient way to access the business section of town to avoid traipsing “the long way”, down a dusty / muddy path to the wagon bridge, to access town. Before Cloudy a gentleman named Pete Wahl had the concession (c.1896). And after him a fella name Normal Ansel Foster had the lease (1899). Cloudy picked it up around 1906 and essentially held it until it became obsolete. Setting all these trivial details aside it was, as one might imagine, a very healthy business. At least it was during the warmer months of the year.

One of the (many) questions that may have crossed one’s mind while gazing at this photo and / or those similar to them might be: Why are most, if not all, the women in these boats dressed as though they’re about to attend a formal ball at the governor’s mansion? The men are usually in their shirtsleeves and boater hats – which makes a good deal of sense: But the women? It must be that all the male navigators were so proficient that it never became a problem. If it had we’d certainly have heard about it. But let it suffice for us to note that currently most folks taking advantage of similar activities along the stream in their canoes, kayaks and paddleboards have given up formal attire.

But however one is dressed the pleasures and treasures of cruising down the Vermilion River still exist. And if one is lucky on early mornings, before the dew has dried on the weeds along the stream, one might just be able to catch sight of a mother deer and fawn quietly getting a drink of water before leaping back into the cool shade of the trees to take refuge from our brief intrusion into their world.

Ref: Vermilion History Museum Photo Archive; http://www.vermiliionohio.org/cloudy.html.

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: rnt@twc.com

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