By Rich Tarrant
There’s a reason many local folks refer to it as “Rubberneck” Park – and if you look close you can actually see why in this photo. The official name for it is “Exchange Place”. That’s because, a billion [an exaggeration of course] years ago Exchange Street was ostensibly supposed to run to and behind / below this park. But over the years that changed. Nonetheless it was still given the name. And probably because of the old marine cannons, a wooden marker inscribed with the names of local veterans (now in the library); and then much later the Memorial Clock as well as the bricks honoring local veterans were located in that park, some people quite naturally confuse its name with Victory Park. Victory, however, is the one located just down the street and across the tracks to the south. As a matter of local trivia it may interest some to know that Victory Park, in the heart of the village, was initially known as “Liberty Park”. I’ve no idea as to when that name was changed [yet], but it may have been sometime following the First World War (c.1919-20). Anyway, back to the park some known as “Rubberneck”.
This park was unofficially, but very fondly, named after an activity – or non-activity, however one may see it – of those who spent time there sitting on the benches passing the time there watching (i.e. “rubbernecking”) the world pass by along Liberty Avenue. In the accompanying snapshot even the Village Police Chief (Ed Benson) can be seen sitting on a park bench “rubbernecking”. His police cruiser (it appears to be a 1938 Chevrolet sedan) is parked next to the bushes on the left. I’m guessing of course, but I’d say that this photo was taken around 1940-41 – during WW2.
At the time Vermilion had only one full-time policeman. He wasn’t really wasting village resources by sitting in the park. If anything happened, he was right there in the middle of town, where anyone and everyone could find him. And if he needed help? Well, as you can see he had plenty available.
For years Route 6&2 / Lake Road was the only major highway across northern Ohio. On the weekends when families were traveling between Cleveland, Cedar Point and the Lake Erie Islands their passage through Vermilion was exceptionally slow due to a “bottleneck” caused by sharp turns in the highway on Decatur Street between the tracks and Liberty Avenue. They were 90-degree turns and, unfortunately, surprised many a motorist. Accidents on those corners were common. The old Kyle Motors showroom and garage, that was located where the Vermilion Municipal Court and Council Chambers and offices are today was a regular crash site for eastbound vehicles. Over the years Kyle’s went through a significant number of gasoline pumps and showroom windows, etc. [An insurance adjuster could have set up a business desk on that corner.] Vermilionite Bob Kyle likely has a story or two, three, or even four about those days. This bottleneck / crash site was no small part of the reason the 4-lane road on the west part of town was finally constructed. But in the meantime, watching the traffic crawl through the village, especially on Sunday afternoons, was more fun than any television show – then or now. It was, in fact, a wonderful place to pass the time for kids of all ages.
Traffic literally crawled through town. In fact walking was faster than driving during those times. It was so slow you could speak with the weary travelers as they slogged along, some trailering their boats: “Hey Buddy, the Coast Guard’s following you!” and get a smile. There was only one traffic light at the intersection of Liberty and Main streets, and because there was no reason to use it during these traffic jams few paid any attention to it – including the Police Chief. Moreover, for spectators / rubberneckers as well as those passing through town there was a drinking fountain. And just across the street was Hart’s wonderful Drug Store making soft drinks, ice cream and candy readily available – as well as cigars if you were of age. The convenience of the nearby comfort station could not be underestimated. In the early years there was also “Mac” McDonald’s popcorn and peanut stand nearby. Later Furgie’s Popcorn stand located in the park and the water fountain was updated to produce refrigerated water. Who could have asked for more? Not me.
Vermilion resident Rich Tarrant is Curator of the Vermilion History Museum and a son and a grandson of the late proprietors of The Vermilion News (1897-1964). Readers may email him at: email@example.com