By Rich Tarrant
Okay. It’s not an Ansel Adams photograph. Nonetheless it is historically relevant – at least as it pertains to Vermilion Ohio. As best I can determine this photo of a photographer taking a photo was taken (probably) in the spring of 1961.
When these shadows were frozen in time Vermilion was, some might say “on the cusp” of becoming. In short, it was still a village. However, the Ford Motor Company had recently built a massive auto assembly plant on its eastern border. In addition the village had also recently annexed the Village of Vermilion-on-the-Lake. The annexation had extended Vermilion’s border to the east and, of course, grew its population. In Ohio municipalities with populations larger than 5,000 souls are incorporated as cities. But as has been said the town was “on the cusp” of becoming a city. So when this particular picture was taken for the local newspaper it was still a village.
Part of the reason this photo is historically significant is because the gent holding the shovel was, the Honorable Charles Wheeler Baumhart, the last Mayor of the “Village” of Vermilion. Shortly thereafter Mr. Baumhart would lose his bid to become mayor of the newly formed “City” of Vermilion to the equally Honorable Louis Rauh. The town was, indeed, “on the cusp” of becoming – and it would never ever be the same.
Readers with a keen eye will have already identified the site of the photograph. The large sign on the right advertising “Motel Plaza” gives it away. This was the field, the acreage on the south side of Liberty Avenue / Lake Road that would become the South Shore Shopping Center. If this picture were taken today (2018) these fellas would be standing in the approximate locale of the drive-thru lane at McDonald’s restaurant.
Years before this acreage had been used as a parking area for visitors to the Crystal Beach Amusement Park and the Crystal Garden dancehall just across the street to the north. There are still a few aerial photographs of that particular area around that show the entire area filled with visitor’s cars. Such a scene may for some be unimaginable. But there was actually a time when thousands of people crowded the park just as families visit the Cedar Point Amusement Park In Sandusky. But times were changing. And the building of this shopping center was part of that change.
Behind this apparently joyful gathering, and dominating the skyline, is the old wooden roller coaster – “The Thriller”. No one knew it at the time but very soon the rides at the park would take their own journey into history. Regrettably, so too would the Blanchat mansion that is just visible below the coaster. The wonderful dancehall / roller rink (not pictured) where many of the best musicians and bands in the nation had once performed, and where thousands of lovers had once danced and skated would, alas, also fall to the wrecking ball before the next five years had passed.
As previously stated, when this photo was taken our town was “on the cusp” of becoming. Its future was not something any group of people or any one person could really ever envision or imagine. Good old Vermilion was changing again whether one liked it or not. But as some wise person of a yesteryear observed, “I have seen tomorrow, and it is there.” You can bet on it.
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