By Rich Tarrant
The accompanying photograph was taken from an area we currently know as Exchange Park in beautiful downtown Vermilion, Ohio sometime in the early years of the 20th century. While the cityscape has changed a great deal since some thoughtful person captured these shadows with their camera the scene should be nonetheless familiar to most Vermilionites. Pictured, of course, is the business block, as it once appeared, on the west side of what was then Division Street (now Main) from Liberty to the tracks – and a bit beyond.
The big building that occupied the corner of Division and Liberty was built in 1892 by a local lake captain. The lower rooms of the structure housed various small retail shops; while the larger store on the corner (with two big front windows) was occupied by the Pelton-McGraw General Store. The McGraw store had another entrance on the Liberty side as well as an empty lot beside (west of) it where farming supplies were stored, bought and sold.
The rooms on the upper floor of the building had been rented to the local Masonic lodge for $100 a year for ten years with an option to extend the lease for another decade after the first ten had expired. In the early 1920’s amid the ever-changing environment in business trends in the U.S. and, inevitably, Vermilion Village the part of the building containing the market was purchased by the Erie County Bank. Two years later – in 1922 – that portion of the building was razed to make way for a new bank building (currently municipal offices). And four years later, when presented with an opportunity to purchase what was left of the original building, the local chapter of the Masons jumped at the prospect, and it has served as their home ever since.
Around the same year of this photo another devastating fire tore through the stores on the southern half of the block destroying A.D. Baumhart’s drugstore and several others. Those who look closely will note that a small shop once sat between the large corner building and that which is now (2017) the “Brummer’s Chocolates” building. In 1919 Mr. Baumhart opened his store in a new building he had constructed on that site.
Another very noteworthy thing about this photo – that which makes it truly remarkable – is the empty lot (left) on the southeast corner of Liberty and Division streets. In May of 1904 the Sandusky Star-Register ran this little article: “The old Lake House, for many years the leading hotel of the town and which was closed some time ago is now to be moved. The owner had made all preparations and plans for remodeling the house, but he has now decided to erect a new business block on the site. The hotel will be moved to the eastward of [sic] the Lake Shore Electric station. The new business block will be complete and modern.” And this, of course, is a photograph of the site after the old hotel had been moved down the block where it still sits today.
In his memoirs, late Vermilion historian Don Englebry would write of the move, “I remember when they moved the Old Maudelton Hotel down to its present location. It was really some job in those days, with none of the modern equipment it took some time but I don’t believe they even cracked any plaster in the process.” Perhaps “remarkable” is an understatement.
And so the area stood empty until 1915 when, finally, local lumberman and entrepreneur George Fischer built his business block. It was a fine addition to the town and to apply an already overused word, it was and remains a “remarkable” structure. That’s because the roof did not require numerous support beams inside the building allowing an unobstructed open area on the upper floor of the building. In fact it once featured a roller-skating rink.
To be sure this is a rare photograph of our town. Because even with all the changes that have occurred in Vermilion during the last one hundred years it really remains much the same. And that is extraordinary.
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