Oberlin Heritage Center Blog


1930 Drought: The Most Critical Situation in Oberlin’s Waterworks History

September 14th, 2021

By Zenobia Calhoun, 2021 Summer OHC Volunteer

A long drought in 1930 tested Oberlinians’ energy and strength along with millions around the nation. It decimated crops and threatened Oberlin’s water supply: “The water shortage really was a serious condition—more serious than most people were inclined to believe,” said Superintendent of the Maintenance Department Doren Lyon in 1931.[1] The drought also created other potential problems, like disease outbreaks and worse fires. The drought was statewide and nationwide, as the results of the dust bowl show. Before 1930, the northern areas of Fulton, Lucas, Ottawa, Erie, and Lorain counties were usually the driest, each having 33 inches of rain or less for the whole year, with the whole state averaging 38.25 inches. However, in 1930, the whole state averaged just 27 inches of rain.

Ohio Rainfall 1930 vs Previous

Data from Straszheim, Robert E, and Falconor, J I. “The Drought in 1930.” Mimeograph Bulletin 37 [of the Department of Rural Economics at Ohio State University] (April 1931).

The main concern of water management in 1930 was having enough safe drinking water for everyone in Oberlin. Other concerns included saving the crops of the year and fire and disease outbreaks. At the beginning of 1930, Oberlin’s water supply was the Vermilion River in South Kipton. By July, the drought was already well-underway and the Oberlin News-Tribune noted that city officials asked citizens not to use water for “unnecessary purposes”, which included washing cars, watering gardens, and maintenance of the golf course.[2] At that time, there was enough water for another 30 days of regular use, which worried the city council as August is usually a dry month. Delaying the start of the college year was also considered as a mitigation strategy. Waterworks Superintendent Harry V. “Vic” Zahm also reported that due to the record-setting high temperatures there was a 25% increase in the amount of water used in comparison to the previous July, mainly in attempts to cool off. In Cleveland, a new high of 97 degrees was recorded for July.

 

Notice to Water Users 8-7-1930

Sears, L A. “Notice To Water Users.” Oberlin News-Tribune. August 7, 1930.

The second major concern was agriculture, both livestock and crops. The Oberlin News-Tribune reported on July 31 that the early corn was a failure and that late corn, potatoes, berries, and small fruit were soon to follow, and that even “should weather conditions become favorable, the crop will be way below the average.” On August 7, it was reported that farmers had been hauling water for their stock, burned pastures, and had no hope for the corn crop.

Usually, drought fears are alleviated by fall; however, in 1930 they remained. A little rain fell in September, but not enough to eradicate the fears of the Oberlin City Council and City Manager Leon Sears. The Oberlin News-Tribune noted on September 11 that there was still “real need of conservation wherever possible” and that the Elyria paper with the heading “No Shortage of Water at Oberlin” was “entirely misleading”. It was decided the college would start on schedule, though village officials worried about the new strain on the water supply. The article went on to explain how the Oberlin Water Department had bought a booster pump to move water from the Morgan Street reservoir to the settling basins, and that the watershed in Kipton now provided a trickle, rather than a stream, with outtake far exceeding intake.

On September 25, the Oberlin News-Tribune noted that there was enough water in the reservoir for 40 days of use. City Manager Sears believed that the worst fears were over and with continued caution the town would get along until normal weather conditions return. There had been light showers, but no heavy rains. The Kipton reservoir and watershed seemed much better off than earlier in the same month, with around 1/3 of the daily consumption running to the reservoir, but the mood was hopeful and city officials believed water restrictions could be lifted after several heavy rains.

In early November 1930, water restraints were still present. The average daily consumption of water was 262,000 gallons, with much less coming down the conduit from Kipton. The autumn rain had not been enough to stop the daily lowering of the reservoir. Luckily, City Manager Sears and City Council had been searching for a new water source and they found one. The Nichols stone quarry located east of Kipton had a large volume of water they pumped out daily which had previously been being wasted. The company agreed to turn the water into a line connected to Oberlin’s water conduit, adding 50,000 gallons of water to Oberlin’s daily water supply. The water, being from under a quarry, was also softer and purer then the regular supply and required less chemical treatment. Oberlin citizens were also working to use less water. The daily average of the week of November 13 was 230,000 gallons. By extreme economizing, city officials believed the town could cut down to 225,000 gallons daily.

It was found that college students were also using less water than in the beginning of the semester. However, one dorm might have been an exception. A story was received at the Oberlin News-Tribune from a college student: the inmates of her dorm were homesick and had been trying to use as much water as possible so that they could go home [3] (assuming that if the drought situation become more dire, the college would be obliged to take a break) [4]. However, besides this stand-out anecdote, most Oberlin residents and college students alike worked to ration their water throughout the drought.

Unfortunately, droughts can have other negative effects besides loss of drinking water. The Ohio Department of Health informed county and local officials that the current weather could result in more outbreaks of typhoid fever due to people seeking new, less safe water supplies, and the eventual rain picking up many pollutants and making more water supplies unsafe. The Lorain County Health Commissioner, Dr. Barrett, recommended immunization against typhoid fever for all who were drinking even possibly unsafe water.[5] Surveys by the health department found that 2/3 of dug wells at the time were not fully protected against pollution, making them vulnerable to typhoid and other germs, especially in the expected first heavy rains.[6]

In August and September, fire precautions were limited to help conserve water. This meant that there was no longer a waiting water supply, and, if there had been a large fire in the year, destruction would have been extreme. Thankfully, there was not. However, a local fire department noted in early 1931 that there was a significant increase in the number of fires in 1930 in comparison to past years, causing $2,760 worth of damage, or around $44,000 in today’s money.

By March 1931, all water supply fears had been reprieved and there was more than enough rain to last until spring. However, the fear of the previous year was still felt. Jacob Berg, an Oberlin resident who kept a diary recording the weather every day, found that the year 1930 was the driest in 60 years, [7] while Superintendent Lyon revealed that in October in 1930 there was a water supply for just 30 days, and that the situation was “the most critical that has ever been in the history of the Oberlin waterworks.” [8]

Since both citizens and city management dealt well with the heavy stress caused by this drought, it can be used as an example for what to do in the case of future climate disasters. It also offers the warning that one challenge often leads to other potential challenges that must be taken seriously, like the fires and possible typhoid outbreaks. Oberlin demonstrated both prudence and flexibility in its response to the 1930 drought.

 

SOURCES CONSULTED:

“Condition of Crops Serious in Vicinity.” Oberlin News-Tribune, July 31, 1930.

“Drought and Heat Wave Hit Farms Throughout Middle West.” Oberlin News-Tribune, August 7, 1930.
Retrieved 5 August 2021

“Citizens Ordered to Reduce All Water Consumption to the Minimum Until Rain Comes.” Oberlin News-Tribune, August 21, 1930.

“Thirty Days Water Supply.” Oberlin News-Tribune, August 21, 1930.

“Danger From Typhoid Fever at This Time.” Oberlin News-Tribune, August 21, 1930.

“Must Conserve Water Supply.” Oberlin News-Tribune, September 11, 1930.

“Water Shows Increase in Conduit Line.” Oberlin News-Tribune, September 25, 1930.

“Water Situation Remains Serious.” Oberlin News-Tribune, November 6, 1930.

“New Supply of Water to Aid Village.” Oberlin News-Tribune, November 13, 1930.

“Has Kept Diary For Last Sixty Years.” Oberlin News-Tribune, January 1, 1931.

“Forty-Four Fires Caused $2,670 Damage.” Oberlin News-Tribune, January 8, 1931.

“Indefinite Supply of Water Now Assured.” Oberlin News-Tribune, March 5, 1931.

Aier. “Cost of Living Calculator: What Is Your Dollar Worth Today?” AIER. American Institute for Economic Research, June 15, 2021. https://www.aier.org/cost-of-living-calculator/

Straszheim, Robert E, and Falconor, J I. “The Drought in 1930.” Mimeograph Bulletin 37 [of the Department of Rural Economics at Ohio State University] (April 1931). Retrieved from https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/159598534.pdf

FOOTNOTES:

[1] “Indefinite Supply of Water Now Assured.” Oberlin News-Tribune, March 5, 1931. 

[2] “Thirty Days Water Supply.” Oberlin News-Tribune, August 21, 1930. 

[3] “New Supply of Water to Aid Village.” Oberlin News-Tribune, November 13, 1930. 

[4] “Must Conserve Water Supply.” Oberlin News-Tribune, September 11, 1930.

[5] “Danger From Typhoid Fever at This Time.” Oberlin News-Tribune, August 21, 1930.

[6] “Danger From Typhoid Fever.” Oberlin News-Tribune.

[7] “Has Kept Diary For Last Sixty Years.” Oberlin News-Tribune, January 1, 1931.

[8] “Indefinite Supply Water Assured.” Oberlin News-Tribune.

Sandusky’s Underground Railroad

December 10th, 2019

by Melva Tolbert, OHC Volunteer

About 4 years ago, the Oberlin Heritage Center traveled to Sandusky, Ohio as part of their education program for staff and volunteer docents. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend, but continued to have an interest in the history of Sandusky’s involvement with Underground Railroad and wanted to learn more.  This past October, my husband and I ventured out and found two locations connected to this history: the Second Baptist Church and the Follett House Museum.  The experience was memorable and I want to share it with all of you.

We found the Second Baptist Church (on Decatur St.), which is said to have been one of the most active locations in the Sandusky Underground Railroad network. We were fortunate to find one of its members at the neighboring parsonage and he invited us in for a brief tour of the current building.  The historic placard in the front yard explained the Underground Railroad activity that occurred there.  With the view of Lake Erie in plain sight from our location, it was easy for me to visualize the freedom seekers’ journey to Canada.  The gentleman led us into the small sanctuary with its large stained glass windows and purple family pew cushions.  The original church was founded as a Zion Baptist Church in 1849 by a group of formerly enslaved peoples and freeborn Blacks. Just prior to the Civil War, the church was organized at its present site under the name First Regular Anti-Slavery Baptist Church. The sanctuary that we stood in dates to around 1930, and was constructed around the original church’s wooden framework.

sapi276

 

Second Baptist Church, March 17th 1957. Photo Courtesy of the Sandusky Library.

I asked whether there was a basement, which our guide confirmed there was, so we followed him downstairs to a large room with tables, chairs, and a large commercial kitchen.  Our guide then showed me a side room that housed the furnace. Thinking about how the space may have been used in the era of slavery, I could image that many people seeking refuge could find some rest and comfort here before continuing on to Canada.

 

The following day, I arrived at the Follett House for a tour.  The original use of the home was for Oran and Eliza Follett and their children.  The home is now owned and operated by the Sandusky Public Library, which documents the history of both Sandusky and Erie County. My tour began in the den of Mr. Follett, who was known primarily for being a publisher, president of the Sandusky, Dayton, and Cincinnati Railroad, and for his involvement in the local banking industry.  His wife was a homemaker and active in the local community providing aid to those in need.

Circ 1894 Follett House compressed

 

The Follett House, ca. 1984. Photo Courtesy of the Sandusky Library.

The docent led me to the front parlor and rear parlor pointing out the massive fireplaces which illustrated the family’s wealth.  There was a temporary display in the rear parlor of people connected to Sandusky’s early Underground Railroad activity, including the Folletts. We then continued the tour into the basement of the home.  There were several quilts displayed and old maps of the Sandusky area.  The tour led us to the second floor which contained four large bedrooms for the family and then to another staircase to the fourth floor (attic) where the tour ended.

My desire is to continue visiting and learning more about this incredibly historic area of Ohio, and I urge all of you to do your own exploring as well.

 

For more information on the Sandusky Underground Railroad Network, feel free to visit the following websites to plan your own experiences:

Erie County Underground Railroad Historic Walking Tour

Follett House Museum

NPS Visit Underground Railroad Sites

Change is the only Constant in Life*

November 30th, 2019

By Assistant to the Director Mary Anne Cunningham

Mary Ann Cunningham working at OHC circa 1993

In 1993, Pat Murphy and I took turns working at the computer in a shared front office.
(Notice we used a folding chair at this work station in those early years!)

What a wonderful journey began when I stepped through the Monroe House’s front doors to begin working for the Heritage Center 26 years ago. It was autumn 1993 and I was hired to work 10 hours a week assisting the organization’s new Administrator Pat Murphy. Right away, I could tell from the people I met, from the local history I learned, and from the vision that Pat and the Board had for the organization, that this was going to become a special place.

There has been a remarkable amount of change here over the past quarter-of-a-century, and yet I would say that the essence of the organization remains very much the same. Among the changes:

  • The Organization’s Name: A name change sounds like a quick edit on a piece of paper, but actually can represent years of careful planning, introduction and promotion. The cumbersome “Oberlin Historical & Improvement Organization” with its confusing acronym (O.H.I.O) was changed in 1998 to the more clear-cut “Oberlin Heritage Center,” and gradually through the succeeding years, the new name (along with a new logo) came to better identify the organization’s mission in the community.
  • Buildings & Grounds: The years have seen a changing “footprint” to the site, both conceptually (adding the Jewett House to the historic site tour in 1994) as well as physically (moving the Little Red Schoolhouse across the lawn in 1997 to install two intersecting brick walkways that provide easy and inviting access through the grounds). Other major changes to the organization’s bricks-and-mortar composition included the transfer of ownership of the Burrell-King House to Oberlin College & Conservatory for use as a new Community Music School (2003) and purchasing the Vineway building to develop access and visibility for the Heritage Center from Main Street (2010).
  • Staff Growth: The Heritage Center staff has grown from two part-time jacks-of-all-trades employees (1993) to a balanced team with particular expertise and job responsibilities including a part-time Collections Manager (added in 1998); part-time Business Manager (1998); and full-time Museum Education & Tour Coordinator (2007). The Administrator position became a full-time Executive Director in 1999. My role as part-time Assistant to the Director will be even better defined in my successor’s job title when the new Communications & Development Coordinator joins the staff next month. Meet Veronica Vanden Bout in January’s E-Gazette!
  • Technological Advancement: When I arrived at the Heritage Center, there was one shared computer (and one typewriter!), Pat Murphy and I shared one office (the front reception area), and we walked uptown each day to the Co-Op Bookstore to use its photocopying machine. We didn’t think much of these “limitations,” as this was pretty much the norm at that time. The rapid development of technology since then has vastly increased the organization’s capacity to connect with members and friends through ever-new options in database management and communications methods. Local history is now much more accessible to broader audiences through OHC’s website and Facebook/Instagram pages, while we now also can adapt tours and outreach for different learning preferences, including docent-led tours, self-guided tablet tours, interactive smart phone tours or hands-on-history classroom learning kits. Technology also has provided opportunities for staff to become more knowledgeable about their own work through professional development webinars, online support communities, skyping and more. Workplace changes in general over the past 25 years have been amazing, and have allowed small nonprofits like OHC the ability to do so much more with limited staff and resources.
  • National Accreditation: Those early years passed quickly as staff and volunteers developed policies and procedures in all areas of museum management, created a strategic plan to provide a roadmap for the future, and worked together to document, record, conserve, interpret, and follow best practices of museum operations. In 2005, after a long, rigorous process of self-study and peer review, the Heritage Center was accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. This mark of distinction placed the Oberlin Heritage Center in the top ten percent of museums operating in the United States – this was indeed a pivotal moment in the organization’s history. The accreditation process needs to be re-visited periodically, and in 2020 the Heritage Center will be working through the steps for re-accreditation … stayed tuned for more in coming months.

We’ve all heard the saying the more things change, the more they stay the same. In many ways, the fundamental nature of the organization remains much the same as I found it in 1993:

  • It’s a Membership Organization: Oberlin Heritage Center members have long been the heart of the organization – OHC couldn’t do what it does without the support, participation, encouragement and feedback of its members. Membership in 1993 totaled about a dozen individuals and couples; it has grown a lot since then and in recent years, OHC has maintained a stable membership of about 700 households and businesses. Nothing makes me smile more than welcoming new members to the organization — even after 26 years, I still do a “happy dance” when someone new joins the Heritage Center
  • Tours: Guided tours have been a hallmark of the Heritage Center’s educational offerings even when the organization was an all-volunteer group prior to 1993; tour fees continue to remain very affordable to this day.
  • Educational Programs: The vast majority of public history programs that the Heritage Center presents in the community are free of charge. Programs that require a fee are kept as low-cost as possible, and OHC members typically receive a discount. Children’s camps and outreach activities are further supported by scholarships and grant assistance. Making history education accessible and affordable has been a consistent principle of the organization’s mission.
  • Beautifully preserved historic buildings: The Monroe House, Little Red Schoolhouse and Jewett House are enduring and distinguishing features of the Oberlin Heritage Center. Being able to appropriately care for these buildings and the artifacts within them has been a top priority since day one.
  • Volunteers: If members are the heart of the organization as stated earlier, then volunteers have to be considered the backbone. For nine decades, the organization’s leadership and momentum depended solely on volunteers – a fact I have always appreciated and applauded! Since 1993, when an outside grant to the organization allowed professional staff to be hired for the first time, the dedication and expertise of volunteers continued to be the Heritage Center’s greatest resources. Without a doubt, the Heritage Center would not be the organization it is today without the tremendous commitment of more than a century of volunteer leadership and participation.

I hope you share some of my great love for the Oberlin Heritage Center – as a caring and careful preserver of Oberlin’s past, as an organization that brings people together and instills pride in their community, and as an educational resource that encourages new generations to explore and enjoy local history. Thank you to everyone who has supported the Heritage Center during these past 26 years – you’ve made it an exciting, fun, challenging and unforgettable experience for me every step of the way!

*This contemplative quote is attributed to ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus.

Mary Anne Cunningham working at OHC in 2019

Since 2000, this cozy corner in a second floor office (shared with two other staff members) is what I like to call my “nest.” You can see that I like to line it with plenty of paper and I have a bird’s eye view of the grounds from the beautiful window facing me!

History of the Morgan Street Water Works

February 10th, 2019

By OHC Executive Director Liz Schultz

r1996.011.01a3 w

 

The complex of structures on Morgan Street known as the Water Works tells the history of Oberlin’s growth as a city, continuous efforts to problem-solve through science and engineering, and leadership in civic improvements when it installed the first municipal lime and soda water softening plant in the nation.

Early Water History of Oberlin

Prior to the construction of the Morgan Street Water Works most home owners and businesses obtained water through private and shared wells, cisterns, or even Plum Creek. While perhaps adequate, such sources were susceptible to contamination and could more easily spread waterborne diseases such as typhoid and dysentery. They also limited the town’s ability to fight fires, including the disastrous fire that burned through downtown in 1882. Despite strong advocacy by Judge John Steele, some residents continued to prefer the “bucket brigade” to a high-pressure hydrant system. Just as the city was contemplating borrowing money to build a city water system in spring of 1886, another fire blazed across the southwest block of downtown.

Voters passed a $50,000 bond in April 1886 and after testing various sources it was agreed that the Vermilion River supply be adopted. Oberlin College also contributed over $5,000 toward the costs. Permission was obtained from Kipton property owners to lay line to transport the water, much of which was installed by Italian immigrants from Pittsburgh. The city also built a reservoir and pump station and purchased boilers and pumps. Local leaders in these efforts included Judge Steele, Edwin Regal, Professor Albert A. Wright, Professor Frank F. Jewett and Engineers H. F. Dunham and W. B. Gerrish. By September of 1887 there was enough water in the system to impress townspeople with a demonstration of shooting water from a hydrant up and over the 110 foot flag pole in front of the Union School on South Main Street. Service was inaugurated on December 23, 1887 and by spring of 1888 construction was complete.

1888 Sanborn map

1888 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map showing the early layout of the water works near the corner of Morgan and Cedar Streets, including a pump station on the left, circular well, and 1 million gallon reservoir to the south.

By 1900 Oberlin was pumping 36,560,000 gallons of water a year.  (According to a report from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, in 2002 Oberlin averaged 640,000 gallons a day). Water was provided free in horse troughs and sprinkler systems that kept the road dust at bay. Businesses and industries generally connected earlier with the new water supply while home owners gradually tapped in, by their own choice. Additional water mains were added by street and block over the years. Some less affluent areas, which were also often predominately black residential areas, went far longer without access to the city supply.

In August 1893 a 66,000 gallon steel tank was set on a 40 foot stone tower – the tower many residents recognize today. Water shortages in the 1890s prompted the construction of an additional 15,000,000 gallon reservoir. Early engineers or superintendents at the water works included Henry Braithwaite, Doren E. Lyon, and H. V. Zahm.

 

1903 map from America's 1st Mun article by Fuller & Cosens

Diagram of the 1903 water works from the paper “America’s First Municipal Lime-Soda Softening Plant is Replaced”
by Raymond Fuller and Kenneth Cosens

Nation’s First Municipal Water Softening Plant

The water that supplied Oberlin’s public water system was hard, containing dissolved calcium and magnesium. In 1927 W. H. Chapin reported that the hardness of Oberlin’s natural supply, measured in calcium carbonate, averaged 270 parts per million. According to the USGS, this number today is classified as “very hard.” While that level was safe to drink, it was not to everyone’s taste and because soap does not lather well in hard water it was not ideal for washing or bathing. Even after connecting to the public water supply some Oberlin residents continued to use rainwater from their cistern for washing.

Not content with the water quality, the village of Oberlin set about investigating the possibility of softening their supply and in 1903 it installed the first municipal lime-soda water softening plant in America.

C. Arthur Brown, a chemist and bacteriologist from Lorain who was consulted on the project, related the following.

All in all, the water was one that would have satisfied most cities. But Oberlin is different… The public-spirited and progressive city fathers decided that the best they could get was none too good for the city. While the water was satisfactory in most respects, it was a hard water and many of the citizens refused to use it for bath, laundry and cooking purposes, and it was feared at some time or other possible contamination of the water might occur and Oberlin have the same experience as Cornell University did with a typhoid epidemic.

In addition to Brown and city officials, Professors Wright and Jewett, William B. Gerrish, and W. B. Bedortha were involved in this next stage of development.

The softening process itself involved dissolving soda ash and lime with water in the pumping station, adding that mixture to the water coming in from the reservoirs, letting the water mix through a series of baffles in settling basins, allowing adequate time for the chemical reactions to occur (nearly a week), treating the water for purity, pumping it up to the water tower/standpipe, and then dropping it through sand filters and into the city’s mains. While successful, the process needed to be monitored for the greater processing time required during cold weather, the high amounts of silt that resulted, and the side effect of precipitates making it into the mains and clogging them.

Word began to spread about Oberlin’s new plant. City Engineer William Gerrish published the paper “The Municipal Water-Softening Plant at Oberlin, Ohio” in the Journal of the New England Water Works Association and responded in print to questions about the process. C. Arthur Brown presented a paper to a club of professional men in Joliet, Illinois, which was also reprinted in the Oberlin News. According to the Oberlin News, Gerrish even received a request from Moscow, Russia for information on the water-softening process.

Rise and Fall of the Morgan Street Water Works

Over the years the city implemented many improvements at the Morgan Street Water Works, including replacing the original sand filters with excelsior filters, adding more water sources after significant droughts, increasing the settling period to reduce incrustations in the water mains by adding a 10,000,000 reservoir in 1916, chlorinating the water, adding a recarbonation process, and even replacing the entire conduit line to Kipton in the 1930s.

But some issues persisted, including the continual build-up of sediments from the process, aging equipment, and increasing demands for water. By the time of the 1916 Annual Report of the Village of Oberlin there were concerns about the increased cost of soda ash and the new “Eight Hour Law” limiting the work day of engineers at the plant. The largest costs listed in the report included coal, salaries, chemicals, and construction. Coal consumed for the year: 684,000 lbs. Total pumpage for the year: 104,373,000 gallons.

 

Front view Annual Report of the City of Oberlin w

Photograph from the 1916 Annual Report of the Village of Oberlin

1960 map from America's 1st Mun article by Fuller & Cosens

Diagram of the 1960 water works, just before production moved to the Parson Road facility, from the paper “America’s First Municipal Lime-Soda Softening Plant is Replaced”

Nation-wide water shortages around the 1950s and dwindling water flow from the Kipton Reservoir prompted the construction of the newer reservoir and pumping system on Parsons Road in 1960, sourced from the Black River.

 

Recreation

Photographs indicate that the water works and reservoirs were enjoyed recreationally from the very beginning. While fishing and (prohibited) swimming, may be popular now, residents likely enjoyed the reservoirs with their eyes alone while they were the city water supply.

r2016001-2

Copy of a photograph showing Carol Kohut as a toddler at the reservoir.

John Elder recalled rolling down the rare hills as a young boy and then as a college student borrowing trays from the dining hall to go sledding.  He also recalled ice skating there, as did others, until they were shooed off.

In an oral history interview Charles Peterson recalled the Fourth of July in 2001, when fireworks were still launched behind the City Manager’s House near the water works.

The bowl by the reservoir was just packed with people and there were vendors and food, and there was music and everybody was smiling and the children were playing. And I just remember sort of standing on the street looking over the bowl thinking, “Oh my god, this is absolutely amazing!” That this town has so much spirit and the intimacy of it and everyone knew each other and were old friends and were open to new people coming. And I thought, this is, you know, I think that was the first time I really began to realize what a special place Oberlin is, and that’s a memory.

 

Legacy

Every year the Oberlin third graders are introduced to the history of the Morgan Street Water Works on their annual bus tour of Oberlin, but for many residents the stone tower, brick gabled pumping station, and grassy basin are mysterious remnants of an earlier time. The tower, without its original metal tank on top, is designated as a City of Oberlin Landmark, which means any proposed exterior alterations must be approved by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission. The older 1887 brick pump station was not included on the landmark designation renewal form of 2001. Years of disuse and neglect have taken their toll on the building and perhaps it is doubly sad that a fire in 2011 damaged the rear part of this building, which was constructed in very large part to combat that exact menace. Ideally this building will continue to be part of Oberlin’s natural and historic landscape and continue to tell this locally- and nationally-significant history.

 

If you have more to add to this story, please contact [email protected].

 

Sources

Annual Report of The Village of Oberlin, Fiscal Year 1916. Oberlin: Press of the News, 1917 [Copy held in the collections of the Oberlin Heritage Center]

Blodgett, Geoffrey. Oberlin Architecture, College and Town. Oberlin: Oberlin College, 1990.

Chapin, W. H. “Water-Softening as Practiced at Oberlin, Ohio.” Industrial and Engineering Chemistry 19 (1927): 1182-1187.

Cosens, Kenneth W. and Raymond Fuller. “America’s First Municipal Lime-Soda Softening Plant is Replaced.” No date. [Copy held in the collections of the Oberlin Heritage Center.]

Gerrish, William. “The Municipal Water-Softening Plan at Oberlin, Ohio.” Journal of the New England Water Works Association 19 (1905): 422-436.

Jones, George T., “The History of Utilities in Oberlin,” in Oberlin Community History, edited by Allan Patterson, 52-58. State College, PA: Josten’s Publications, 1981.

Oberlin News. “Paper on Oberlin’s Water Works System.” January 2, 1906.

Oberlin News-Tribune. “Water Plant Monument to John Steele.” March 29, 1935.

Oberlin Weekly News. “Information About the Water Works.” September 8, 1887.

Oberlin Weekly News. “A Partial Exhibition…” September 8, 1887.

Oral History Interview with John Elder by Rachel Hood and Haley Johnson, 5 April 2017. Oberlin Oral History Project and Environmental Studies 101 Community Engagement Project, held by the Oberlin Heritage Center, Oberlin, Ohio.

Oral History Interview with Frank Zavodsky by Rob McLean, 19 January 1987. Oberlin Oral History Project, held by the Oberlin Heritage Center, Oberlin, Ohio.

Oral History Interview with Charles Peterson by Jeanne McKibben, 13 June 2009. Oberlin Oral History Project, held by the Oberlin Heritage Center, Oberlin, Ohio.

Paynter, Braden. “Mud, Fire, and Telephones: Oberlin College and the Modernization of Oberlin 1870-1907.” Honors Thesis, Oberlin College History Department, 2005.

Phillips, Wilbur. Oberlin Colony: The Story of a Century. Oberlin: Press of the Oberlin Printing Company, 1933.

Report of the Oberlin Water Works Board. No date.

Photographic Image Sources,

William Annable

Kathy DeRuyter

The Lost Streets of Oberlin

October 23rd, 2018

by Officer Bashshar Wiley,Oberlin Police Department

As a police officer with the City of Oberlin Police Department, I spend a lot of time patrolling the streets and neighborhoods. Although I’m not sure of the exact number of miles driven or hours spent on patrol during the past seven years, I do know that it’s probably a significant number. Any good cop will tell you the key to patrolling the streets, is knowing the streets. What makes Oberlin unique in this aspect is that while doing research for another topic, I came across maps which showed streets that have drastically changed over time, no longer exist, and in some cases, “kinda-sorta” still exist. It caught my interest and I decided to document and write about it while working overtime on a particularly quiet Sunday dayshift.

Please click on an image to view it in a larger format.

 

FRANKFORT STREET

Frankfort 1896

Atlas and Directory of Lorain County Ohio, The American Atlas Company, Cleveland, Ohio, 1896

Frankfort 1912

Atlas of Lorain County Ohio, C.H. Lawrence and L.W. Griffin, Elyria Ohio, 1912

 

Frankfort Street ran eastbound & westbound between Water Street, which is modern day South Park Street, and Spring Street. These maps show the location of Frankfort Street just to the south of Groveland Street.

 

image3

Photo by Bashshar Wiley, 2018

 

Although Frankfort Street still appears on some maps, today it’s essentially a private driveway for the residents at 173 South Park Street.

 

RAILROAD STREET

Railroad Street

Atlas of Lorain County Ohio, D. J. Lake and Co., 1874

Railroad Street was located north of the old railroad tracks, with Sumner Street to the south. Railroad Street ran parallel with the railroad tracks and was accessed by Water Street (South Park) and the intersection of Mechanic Street and Spring Street. Mechanic Street to the west of Water Street would become Locust Street and to the east would become Frankfort Street. An interesting fact about Railroad Street is that on October 25, 1926, a homicide took place at the Chester Durham residence located on the corner of Railroad Street and Spring Street when he was shot and killed by William Whiteside after a drunken disagreement following money owed during a card game.

 

image5

Photo by Bashshar Wiley, 2018

This photo shows the intersection of Groveland Street and Spring Street looking southbound to the Spring Street Extension. Further south would’ve been the intersection of Spring Street, Frankfort Street and Railroad Street. Today, it’s used to access the bike path and Oberlin Community Garden located behind Groveland Street.

 

image6

Photo by Bashshar Wiley, 2018

Today, Railroad Street no longer exists and cannot be seen from South Park Street or the bike path which has replaced the old railroad tracks. This private driveway of 225 South Park Street would’ve been the approximate location of the west side access to Railroad Street.

 

SOUTH PROSPECT STREET & SOUTH CEDAR STREET

South Prospect

Atlas of Lorain County Ohio, D. J. Lake and Co., 1874

At one time, South Prospect Street continued, or was envisioned to continue, south of Morgan Street, over the railroad tracks, past Follett (Lincoln) Street and ended at what is today West Hamilton Street.  Additionally, prior to the construction of the Morgan Street Reservoir, South Cedar Street, then known as West Street and later Cedar Avenue, continued south of Morgan Street and ended at Follett (Lincoln) Street.

image8

image9

Photos by Bashshar Wiley, 2018

Today, South Prospect Street ends at Morgan Street other than a gravel driveway which leads to private residences. Going south past the gravel driveway leads to Ladies Grove, which is a series of walking paths connecting to The Arboretum.

image10

image11

Photos by Bashshar Wiley, 2018

PENFIELD STREET

Penfield Street

Atlas and Directory of Lorain County Ohio, The American Atlas Company, Cleveland, Ohio, 1896

Penfield Street was accessed just to the south of Johnson House on South Professor Street. It also connected to Cedar Avenue, which stopped at Morgan Street but then continued on the south side of the Morgan Street Reservoir to Follett (Lincoln) Street. Another interesting note about this map is that it also shows Culvert Street and Catherine Street between the railroad tracks and Follett (Lincoln) Street which both no longer exist. Additionally, South Prospect Street has been changed to a “Vacated Street.”

Penfield2

Atlas of Lorain County Ohio, C.H. Lawrence and L.W. Griffin, Elyria Ohio, 1912

By 1912, Penfield Street still existed although the sections of South Professor and South Cedar Streets which ran south of Morgan Street have been removed.

image14

Photos by Bashshar Wiley, 2018

In 2018, Penfield Street is simply a gravel driveway access to The Arboretum located behind a locked gate which can only be accessed by Oberlin College Campus Safety. The Arboretum is accessible to the public from Morgan Street.

 

HOVEY LANE

image16

image15

Photos by Bashshar Wiley, 2018

Hovey Lane is partially a gravel driveway access for the private residence of 234 East Lorain Street and continues northbound to the Oberlin High School football field. My experience with Hovey Lane occurred while training a new officer on the midnight shift. At approximately 6:00am, I instructed my trainee to drive up Hovey Lane and use it as a cut-through to patrol the Oberlin High School football field. As we continued northbound up the drive, we could feel our patrol vehicle sinking in the mud. I instructed my trainee to “gun it” and informed him I would take the blame if we got stuck. Thankfully, our all-wheel drive Ford Explorer with the police interceptor package was able to power through the thick, muddy terrain. At shift change, one of the sergeants coming on duty noticed our cruiser in the parking lot, now covered in mud, and asked us “who went mudding?” I immediately pointed at my trainee and stated “he did it.” My sergeant then rolled his eyes in disappointment, instructed us to wash off the mud-caked cruiser and went into his office.

FA056C39-B3CA-4816-8CBE-B5A80958F0DB

Oberlin Weekly News, May 6, 1881

Another interesting piece of Oberlin history is that Frank Hovey served as the Oberlin Village Marshal during the 1800s prior to his sudden resignation during a council meeting on May 6, 1881. Frank Hovey would then be replaced by Constable Franklin Stone.

Thank you for reading.

If you are interested in viewing any of the atlases used in this post, please contact the Oberlin Heritage Center, at (440) 774-1700 or [email protected],  to set up a research appointment.