Friday, July 3, 2015

Where have you gone, Uncle Sam?

No, that's not a song title, or a personal statement as to the direction that the country's been going in since July 4th is tomorrow.

I'm talking about an iconic mailbox in Lorain County – that's gone.

Many of you might remember that for decades, a mailbox with a cutout shaped like Uncle Sam has stood in front of a house on Route 58 just a stone's throw north of Wellington. Over the years, there's been different versions of it with different color schemes. But an Uncle Sam mailbox has been there since about the 1960s.

Here's a photo of it from last year (at right).

Well, I was recently informed by the webmaster of the Oberlin In The Past Facebook page that the current version of the mailbox has been taken down, and replaced by a regular post type structure. And she's not too happy about it – especially since she had a nickname for him.

"It has been there since at least the mid-60s when my family would call out "Hiiiii, Whiskers!" as we drove to Findley or the Fair, and "Bye!" as we left," she reminisced.

I remember seeing him on the way to Findley State Park in the 1960s as well, and watching for him as sort of a Route 58 landmark.

She noticed that something was up a few weeks ago. "I've been working in Wellington since last month, and have been passing him everyday. I saw last week that a tall mailbox had been put next to him, on the south side, and it obscured the view of him when I went to go home. 

"I got to thinking how if he disappears for good, it will be just one more nail in the coffin, or whatever the expression is. Then I saw him missing yesterday, so there you go."

I agree with her sentiment. 

Little things like that Uncle Sam mailbox become part of your life over the years. They give you a pleasant, comfortable feeling when you see them year after year. They reinforce the idea that, thank God, some things never change.

But then without warning, they're gone. And then you realize that nothing ever stays the same.

So what happened to Whiskers?

My webmaster friend has a few thoughts. "I am thinking new people moved in, or are going to," she wrote. 

"I see a trash can in the driveway with old window screens sticking out of it, and a barn in the back is being taken down. I hate to think that cut-out is in that trash can.

What would she do if she saw the Uncle Sam cut-out sticking out of the garbage can?

That's easy.  

"I would take it!" she exclaimed.

Another view of the Uncle Sam mailbox, courtesy of Google Maps
If anyone has any knowledge of what happened to Uncle Sam, or the story behind him, be sure to leave a comment. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Along the Old Lake Road Today

If you turn south onto Oak Point Road from Route 6, you very quickly encounter the street sign above. It's where historic Old Lake Road crosses Oak Point Road.

But don't plan on taking a retro road trip down Old Lake Road anytime soon.

Heading east, Old Lake Road (apparently private now) meanders down to Beaver Creek and the Copper Kettle Marina. Heading west, the road is more or less the driveway for the PQM Wastewater Plant.

Although it's not possible for us to drive on the old roadbed today, we can still enjoy seeing it through the eyes of someone who walked it.

Bob Kovach, a longtime contributor to this blog, was working at the PQM Plant when he emailed me back in December 2010. He wrote, "I thought you would be interested in what I know about the section of the road from the PQM Wastewater plant heading west up to the electric company.

"The road is still there, but has been reclaimed by nature big time. There is a section that has sort of a catch basin drain on each side.

Courtesy Bob Kovach
"I have found some spots along side of the road were old bottles have been thrown, mostly broken now. I also found a very nice license plate from 1950 (at left).

"Once you get close to the electric company, the road sort of disappears into the landscape. Not a whole lot to see, but very interesting just the same."

I checked in with Bob last summer to see if he was still working at the PQM Plant. He wrote, "I'm still working at the plant and haven't been down the old road for a number of years.

"Once in a while I'll walk over to our fence a few feet away, and try to make out the roadway that is pretty well grown over. There is an old metal gate that blocked traffic from getting onto the road that must have been there for many years, because the trees have actually grown around the post.

Old Lake Road looking west from the PQM Plant
Courtesy Bob Kovach
"I don't know how long that gate was there before the plant was built in '88, but I think the road was closed many years before 1988."

I had no idea that Old Lake Road was still out there until I traded emails with Bob. I had seen the road on maps for years, and assumed it was just a cartographer's mistake.

1972 Map
After corresponding with Bob, however, I started to utilize the various online aerial maps that were available, and was delighted to discover that you could see old roadbeds that were not visible from main highways – such as Old Lake Road.

Here's a screen grab from several years ago, showing Old Lake Road west of the PQM Plant.

And here's the whole stretch of Old Lake Road – from the PQM Plant all the way to where the old gas station was located by the highway. Unfortunately, the photo is pieced together from different photography sessions. But it's still interesting to look at, especially after seeing the vintage photographs of Old Lake Road that I posted yesterday.
Anyway, it's always fun to do a little mind traveling and explore the old highways without leaving the comfort of your house.

Special thanks to Bob Kovach for sharing his story and photos

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

1950s Aerial View of Lake Road

Here's another nifty aerial photograph (above) from the archives of the Lorain Historical Society. It's from the same collection of aerial photos taken around the time of the construction of the Ford Plant (seen at the bottom of the photo) in 1958.

I've labeled a few of the landmarks for you so you can get your bearing. As you can see, there are a few things in the photo that relate to my posts of the last few days, including Hole-in-the-Wall beach.

What's interesting to me is that gas station that sits at the junction of Old Lake Road and newer Lake Road (Route 6). I've never been able to find the station in a city directory, since it's so far outside of Lorain.

You could see it even better in the photo I posted yesterday (below).

Today the area is unrecognizable from the photos, with the First Energy plant nearby. All that remains of the gas station is what looks like a little bit of its driveway. Here's a view looking east (below).
Here's an aerial view (below). The small triangular-shaped bit of concrete by the words "W Erie" at the bottom of the photo is where the gas station was located.
But the roadbed of Old Lake Road is still there, hidden from motorists racing by on its modern replacement.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Hole-in-the-Wall Part 2: the Claus Farm

1896 Map showing the two Claus (spelled Clause here) farms
While many local residents have fond memories of sneaking onto Hole-in-the-Wall beach near Oak Point as teenagers, the "other" Hole-in-the-Wall is much lesser known.

That's because as opposed to being adjacent to a resort area, this Hole-in-the-Wall was part of the Henry B. Claus farm, where Quarry Creek empties into Lake Erie.

Historian and archivist Dennis Lamont explained the story to me in several emails over the last few years.

First of all he pinpointed the location. "This is directly across from the little two stone graveyard on Route 6 between the power plant and the Fairlane yard sign. Before they rebuilt the road and filled in the valley, it was a pretty steep grade on each side."

Dennis pointed out that both the Nickel Plate railroad and the Lake Shore Electric Railway both had bridges over Quarry Creek. Both bridges had a built-in feature to allow the Claus family to access the lakefront.

"When the Nickle Plate came through, they had to build a cattle pass in the trestle so the farmers could take their cattle and horses down to the lake," Dennis noted.

According to Dennis, the Claus hole-in-the-wall was also the location of a terrible accident on the Nickel Plate Railroad. On July 17, 1912 an engine and baggage car were backing up from Lorain, heading west towards Vermilion to pick up a group of Crystal Beach picnickers. The cars jumped the track, and fell forty feet from the trestle into the ravine below.

Here is a Willis Leiter photograph of the accident. The view is looking west. The Lake Shore Electric Railway bridge is not visible in this photo, but it was just to the south of the Nickel Plate bridge.

The Claus family eventually lost their "Hole-in-the-Wall" beach access when Lake Road was improved between Lorain and Vermilion in 1933. But the family didn't give it up without a fight.

An article in the August 14, 1933 Lorain Journal and Times-Herald mentioned the Lake Road construction delay due to negotiations between the government and the family. It stated, "The strip now being improved cannot be connected at its west end with the present road unless the dispute between Henry B. Claus and the highway department is settled.

"The right of way is clear up to Claus hill, where the new road will join the old Lake-rd after cutting out several curves and hills.

"Claus wants $4,500, claiming that the new route will block off the present by-pass under the railroad and street car tracks, which allows access from his Lake-rd property to the beach. The state has offered $1,700. Efforts to bring the two together on a compromise arrangement are underway. G. A. Resek, attorney for Claus, says the case is near settlement.

Henry B. Claus eventually had to settle for less. The August 17, 1933 Lorain Journal and Times-Herald reported, "The last bar to the progress of the West Lake-rd. construction was cleared today with settlement of an injunction suit brought against the state highway department by Henry B. Claus, Lake-rd farmer.

"Claus procured a court order restraining the highway department from entering his property to locate a new section of the Lake-rd from Beaver Creek to Claus' hill. He asked $4,500 damages for this property to be confiscated by the state to lay down the new road. The state had offered approximately $2,000.

"The case was settled for approximately $3,000, it was learned today."

Here's an undated aerial photo showing the Henry Claus farm situated next to a widened Lake Road. At the edge of the photo, you get a glimpse of the culvert allowing Quarry Creek to flow under Lake Road. The photo was in a collection of photos at the Lorain Historical Society taken shortly before, during and after the construction of the Ford plant in the late 1950s. That's Old Lake Road winding its way down from the top of the photo.

Up until about four years ago, the Claus farmhouse still stood on the south side of  Lake Road just east of the small family graveyard on the other side of Quarry Creek.
Here's a 2011 aerial view (below).

And then suddenly – and quietly – the two buildings were torn down, along with the other buildings near the graveyard. Today there is no evidence that the farms were ever there – except for the two gravestones.

Here is a current Bing Maps view (below).

However, if you know where to look, you can see exactly where the "Hole-in-the-Wall" under the Nickel Plate Railroad bridge and the Lake Shore Electric steel trestle was located.

Al Doane and a friend visited the site in 2012 and took some pictures. He noted in an email, "The train workmen have marked where the hole in the wall is by the two painted white poles set in the Right-of-Way track bed.

Here is his photograph showing those poles.

Looking north at the location of Claus' Hole-in-the-Wall
(Photo courtesy of Al Doane)
Al also provided a great photograph showing how the filling in of the former ravine didn't entirely erase all evidence of what was there before. As seen in the photo below, according to Dennis, the stone part of the abutment is what's left of the Lake Shore Electric's bridge.

(Photo courtesy of Al Doane)
Lastly, here's what the location of Claus' Hole-in-the-Wall looks like today (below). Note the two sewer pipes emptying into the lake. As Dennis observed, "It's hard to imagine a wooden trestle on the Nickel Plate and an 180 foot long steel bridge on the Lake Shore Electric – along with Claus' cattle pass and a beach."

Thanks to everyone who contributed historical information and photos for these two posts.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Hole-in-the-Wall Part 1: Oak Point


To many local residents, the name probably brings up memories of that beach just west of Oak Point Road. You couldn't see it from Route 6, but you could tell where it was by all the cars parked in the grass just off the highway. To get to the beach, you had to climb over the railroad tracks. It was private property, so you if went there, you were trespassing – which probably just added to its allure.

I was there myself once or twice in the 1970s, and never knew how it got its name. That is, until a few local historians provided me with an explanation that dates back to the days when Lake Road was located further to the south and zigzagged across Beaver Creek.

1896 Map showing the Hahn property. Hole in the Wall
beach was north of the tracks and west of Oak Point.
Ted Reising-Derby, whose Hahn ancestors had a farm in that area, explained it in an email. He noted, "As far as my Hahn ancestors always said, technically the actual hole in the wall (and its beach) were on Hahn land nearer to the west side of Beaver Creek's mouth."

He pointed out that there was an "actual hole (large culvert) that went underneath the Nickel Plate Railroad tracks," and that that people used to access the beach through the "hole in the wall" there prior to the 1930s Lake Road improvement project which caused the loss of that access hole.

Dennis Lamont concurs. He and Drew Penfield have done much research about the resort that used to be located where Oak Point Road meets Lake Road near Beaver Creek. Dennis believes that the "hole in the wall" there "was where the old resort got under the Nickel Plate Railroad to get to their docks and boat livery. (You can read much more about the resort here on Drew's Lake Shore Rail Maps website.)

Ted Reising-Derby also noted that the "Hole-in-the Wall" beach is still there at Beaver Creek today and is very impressive. He also observed that after the 1930s highway improvements and the access "hole" was lost, the beach retained the name, although few people now know the origin.

Aerial view showing Hole-in-the-Wall beach today (at left)
Today, a very long chain link fence and several NO PARKING signs along Route 6 in that area discourage curiosity seekers from sneaking onto Hole-in-the-Wall beach.

Next: The "other" Hole-in-the-Wall

Friday, June 26, 2015

Second Hoop Drive-in Opens – June 1957

I'm too young to remember the Hoop Drive-in, but the more I think about it, the more impressed I am. It's a great story of a single restaurant on Henderson Drive becoming so popular that it expanded into multiple locations around Lorain and Elyria.

The second restaurant in the chain was the one on North Ridge Road just west of Route 57. The ad shown above announced its opening, and appeared in the Lorain Journal on June 29, 1957 – 58 years ago this Monday.

Eventually the success of the Hoop Drive-ins attracted the attention of the Manners restaurant chain, who ended up buying them, and hiring Richard Head, the man who operated them. (Mr. Head also operated the Lorain Diner.)

I did a two-part blog series on the history of the Hoops/Manners restaurants (here and here) as well as a post on the former Hoop/Manners location on the east side where a Denny's Diner was later built (here).

I like the modern, abstract graphics in the Hoop ad. It certainly gave it a unique, space-age feeling. It's nice that it plugged other local businesses, including the O'Neil Shopping Center, Lorain Creamery and Gelman Commission Co. (Gel-Pak).

I wonder what those free plastic banana boats mentioned in the ad looked like? I'll bet they looked like these (below) which are on Ebay right now, and are described as disposable, plastic banana boats.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Lenny's Drive-in Pizza-Burger Ad – June 8, 1957

I've done a few posts about Lenny's Drive-in (here and here), which opened in July 1956. It was located right next door to the Airport Tavern (now Mutt & Jeff's) on Oberlin Avenue.

Well, here's another ad for Lenny's from about a year after the drive-in opened. The ad ran in the Lorain Journal on June 8, 1957 and featured a new nationally franchised menu offering, the Pizza-Burger.

As much as I like advertising mascots, I'm not a fan of the freakish mascot – although he is rather memorable. (I can see Jimmy Durante as their national spokesman.)

So what was the story behind the Pizza-Burger? Here's an article (courtesy of from the April 1957 issue of Fast Food that explains the whole story.


"Do I Smell Pizza Burgers?"
by Marie Berube
Reprinted from Fast Food August 1957
Combine the zesty tang of a pizza with the ageless appeal of a hamburger and you've got the PIZZA-BURGER sandwich – newest fast food menu sensation!
For verification, just ask two Wisconsin men who've been building profits for quick-service operators across the country by franchising their pizza-burger rights.
The two partners, Paul de-Angelis and Hugh McGrorty, of Muskego, Wis., came up with the "different" sandwich a few years ago as the answer in their search for something really new to add to their menu at the Muskego Drive-In.
The felt, and have proven, however, that their spicy sandwich not only appeals to customers in the Muskego area -- but also draws heavy plaudits from patrons of rapid-service food establishments in every state of the nation.
The customer-building sandwich, made of seasoned ground beef and pork garnished with a sauce, cheese and chopped onion is grilled like a hamburger and served on a toasted bun.
Simplicity and speed of the pizza-burger is best verified by the many successful franchisers – people like Richard Reimer, co-owner with his parents of the Wagon Wheel Drive-In in Elgin, Illinois, who became a pizza-burger operator in 1955.
About once a week Reimer puts through his meat grinder 80 lbs. of lean pork butt and beef, adds the pizza-burger special blend of seasonings and spices -- then regrinds the mixture through a finer knife. Molded into hamburger patties, the meat is then packed into cartons and placed in the freezer.
The basic patty recipe is for 13 lbs. of meat, to be made up as needed rather than frozen, but Reimer finds that making up a week's supply and freezing it assists in speedy service -- and the meat loses nothing in flavor by being frozen, he states.
Preparation time for Reimer is about three and a half hours. Result: about 560 or his normal week's supply of patties for pizza-burgers -- for which he has exclusive rights in a guaranteed Elgin territory.
At the time of order, all Reimer does is grill a patty on one side, flip it over, top it with a special formula sauce, grated Parmesan cheese, chopped onion and sliced American cheese, heat through until done --pop onto toasted roll and serve.
"Secret" of the pizza-burger's zesty flavor is the method with which the seasonings are combined with the meat and the sauce. The franchise, Pizza-Burger Systems, Inc. supplies the seasonings in the right proportions in packets -- Reimer need only mix in as per instructions.
Basis for the sauce is a No. 10 can of tomato puree, the prescribed seasonings, cooking oil and water. A gallon of sauce takes only a couple of minutes to mix and is enough for about 150 sandwiches. Total cost of the sandwich and sauce is about 12 cents. Pizza-Burger Systems, Inc., suggests a 35 cent retail price.
Today's restaurant operation can become acquainted with the pizza-burger franchise system through a unique $10 option offer employed by deAngelis and McGrorty.
Under this plan, the restaurateur sends in $10 to Pizza-Burger Systems, Inc., and is assured a three week test option on a protected territory. For this nominal sum he receives seasoning mixes for about $42 worth of pizza-burgers, recipes, back-bar signs, hats, table tents, etc.
At the conclusion of the option period, the operator can decide to not carry the pizza-burger. In this instance he forfeits the $10 and removes all evidence of the pizza-burger name -- fully protected by registered trademark-- from his menus and premises.
Pizza-Burger Systems, Inc., reports, however, that the above option plan of action is not taken by 80% of the prospective franchisers. With the reception customers are giving the new sandwich treat and the profit picture of pizza-burgers, deAngelis and McGrorty say that all most operators want to do is more pizza-burger business!
In this common case, the quick service operator's $10 is applied toward the initial franchise fee, this ranges from $25 to $100 based on the population area.
In addition to the initial fee there is a small annual fee; as an example, the initial fee may be $45, the annual $30.
Accepting a protected territory, the restaurant then need only sign an agreement with Pizza-Burger Systems, Inc., stating that he will make the meat mixture and the accessory sauce according to specific direction and that he will purchase his seasoning and recipe mixture from Pizza-Burger Systems, Inc.
That's all there is to any operator becoming a franchised purveyor in an area protected for the duration of the franchise which is renewable each year.
With more and more operators climbing on the pizza-burger profit bandwagon, McGrorty and deAngelis devote all their time to the franchise end of their business and to production of the seasonings.
Boasting no sales force, Pizza-Burger Systems, Inc., lines up new franchises entirely through the mail. New prospects are the result of trade advertising and publicity, or word of mouth recommendations from established franchisers like Richard Reimer and his Wagon Wheel Drive-In.
McGrorty and deAngelis also have, in addition to the seasonings available for purchase such promotional material as match books, sandwich bags, hats, napkins, table tents, decals and menu clip-ons. All of these, which are optional purchases by the operator, feature a pert, prominent-nosed "Pizza Burger Boy" insignia, with the slogan "Do I Smell Pizza-Burgers?"
The yearly fee entitles the franchise to promotional streamers, back-bar signs and other such material, mailed almost every month. Suggested advertising ideas and spot radio advertisements are also covered by this small tariff.
A hybrid item born of the continuing demands for the different, the tasty and the quick in the speedy service food field, the pizza-burger is rapidly fulfilling the destiny of its name -- to rank with the pizza and the hamburger in consumer popularity. And growing right along with it are the dollar profits of the franchised operators.

Incredibly, Pizza-Burger System, Inc. is still around. Click here to visit their website!
And to see some great photos of a diner in Granite City, Illinois that featured the Pizza-Burger, click here to visit the GraniteCity Gossip website.