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1955 - 2005, Fifty Years of Progress in Avon

Climate and History
Dr. Norton S. Townshend Antislavery Politician, Agricultural Educator
Germ Theories of History
Looking west at the I-90 -- SR-83 interchange in 1974

The City of Avon, Ohio, is located in northeast Lorain County near Lake Erie. At the close of the American Revolution in 1783, the British and the Iroquois organized a general Indian confederation to defend the Ohio River frontier against the Americans. The land that was to become Avon lay in Indian territory.

In 1789, the French Revolution began, followed by the world conflict known as the Napoleonic wars. In 1790, the Americans joined the struggle in a full-scale war against the British-backed Indians. In 1794, General Anthony Wayne crushed the Indians at Fallen Timbers, and the United States pushed the frontier west to the Cuyahoga River.

By the Treaty of Fort Industry in 1805, the Indians gave territory on the west side of the Cuyahoga River to the Americans which included the site of Avon. However, it was dangerous to attempt permanent occupation of this land until the power of the Indians and the British was smashed in the Lake Erie region. This was accomplished by the defeat of of Tecumseh at Tippecanoe in 1811 and by the victory of Oliver Hazard Perry on Lake Erie in 1813.

Napoleon unleashed the enthusiasm of a nation in arms with the massed infantry charge, against which a thin line of musketeers could not stand. War was no longer the sport of kings, but Napoleon lost his last battle at Waterloo. The long struggle came to an end with British triumph in Europe in 1815. Napoleon was confined for life on the island of St. Helena in the Atlantic off the coast of South Africa.

Township Number 7 in Range 16 of the Western Reserve received its first permanent American settlers during 1814 from Montgomery County, New York, led by Wilbur Cahoon. The township was administered by Dover township and was part of Cuyahoga County. In 1818, Township Number 7 was organized and first named Xeuma, then later, Troy Township. [Note that Sheffield is Township Number 7 in Range 17 of the Western Reserve.]

In 1824, Lorain County was created, and the name of Troy Township was changed to Avon Township. An Avon post office was established in 1825.

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Life in Avon must have been very hard shortly after the arrival of Wilbur Cahoon and the others. 1816 was 'the year without a summer,' when the eruption of Tambora may have forced some New Englanders off their farms. Settlement of Avon was probably also aided by the crash of 1819 and the following depression which forced jobless men to seek new opportunites to the west.

Religion and education played an important part in the lives of the pioneers. Several Protestant congregations were organized soon after Avon was settled. In 1833, the Schwartz, Miller and Faber families arrived in Avon from Bavaria, Germany; and a Roman Catholic congregation was established.

A saw mill and a grist mill were built to process raw materials produced by the settlers. These early factories were powered by French Creek; but, as the forest was destroyed, the water flow became irregular; and the mills could not operate.

The American economy had bottomed in the mid 1840's and a wave of excitement began to grip the nation. It was the manifest destiny of the United States to expand from the Atlantic to the Pacific. "Remember the Alamo" and "Fifty-Four Forty or Fight" were slogans of those years. It was an exciting time with the discovery of gold in California and the guerrilla war over the destiny of Kansas.

Little is known about how Avon responded to the enthusiastic spirit of the times. There was evidently a new burst of enterprise. In the 1850's; a steam saw mill and a steam flour mill were built to replace the obsolete water mills. Other ventures were also attempted. Many of our beautiful century homes were built during the 1840's and 1850's, decades of prosperity in Avon. (The Avon Historical Society has more information.)

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Agriculture was at the cutting edge in Avon. In 1830, Joel Townshend arrived from England with his family and established one of the finest herds of Leicester sheep in Ohio. The Townshends also introduced field tile to the area. It is hard to imagine the back-breaking labor required to remove glacial boulders from the fields and to drain malarious swamps. At the end of the twentieth century, preserving wetlands is emphasized. In the nineteeth century, draining fields to increase farm productivity was a top priority. Joel's son Dr. Norton S. Townshend, went on to be a founder of Ohio State University.

The years of prosperity came to a climax in the Civil War. Did the people of Avon care about the draft riots in New York City, or that the slaughter of Pickett's men at Gettysburg might mean that the massed infantry charge was no longer the path to glory? Unrest and raging inflation affected everyone.

The crash of 1873 and the following depression brought hard times to the Avon mills. Then rapid growth of railway transportation following the Civil War and the development of efficient, large-scale industrial facilities in urban centers forced the Avon mills out of business. Avon became a quiet community of well-kept farms.

An electric interurban trolley line was built through Avon Township in 1898 by Tom L. Johnson, who also founded what became the U. S. Steel plant, (Kobe in the 1990's) in Lorain. The interurban and the resort community along the Lake Erie shore were a familiar part of the quiet rural life in Avon. A period of such intense economic restructuring would not be seen again for over one hundred years; but the end of this period in the late 1880's and early 1890's would be remembered as happy times, as the 1990's may be remembered. Some of the trees on Hayes Street and Centennial Avenue, planted then, are still alive.

The migration of industry from rural communities was accompanied by a migration of people to the cities. An interesting view of rural life of this era is found in the writings of a former Lorain Countian, Sherwood Anderson.

Harrison Williams, who was born in Avon Township in 1873, was part of the migration. By 1929 he was the richest man in America, controling nearly one-sixth of all American utilites.

Williams' life story really begins in 1892, when at age 19 he took over a controlling stake in the Fay Manufacturing Co. in Elyria. At the time, the company was manufacturing parts for bicycles and tricycles.

During the 1890s, America was overtaken by a "bicycle craze," and Williams started producing bicycles full time at his factory in Elyria. Later that same year, Williams formed the Lorain Wheel Co. It was this fateful move to making bike tires that set Williams on the path to becoming the richest man in America.

No one had ever produced child-sized bike tires and bikes until Williams starting making them at his Lorain and Elyria factories. Upon displaying the new "Fay Boy's Bike" at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893, he reportedly received enough orders to run his plant for an entire year.

In 1899, Williams sold his bike business to the American Bicycle Co., and with $2 million in his pocket he moved to New York City.

For more on Harrison Williams see


A new boom had begun toward the end of the 1890's; and with the Spanish-American war, the United States joined the savage struggle for colonies, world trade, and, above all, sea power. By 1901, the citizens of Avon would have read about Teddy Rosevelt's charge up San Juan Hill in Cuba and could look for excitement beyond our shores. In 1913, Lloyd Wearsch's sister, Mary Wearsch, became Avon's first pedestrian automobile fatality.

Perhaps the excitement of the European arms race found a pale reflection in Avon Township politics. In 1911, the residents of the northern portion of the Township voted to form the incorporated Village of Avon Lake. Possession of the Nickel Plate Railroad was granted to Avon Lake by a court decision. The remaining part of Avon Township was incorporated as the Village of Avon in 1917.

World War I and the machine-gunning of infantrymen ended with an influenza epidemic, perhaps a premonition of a new kind of warfare. A young nurse, Edith Smith, eighteen years old, died of the flu; and her brother, Carl, was toe-tagged for dead at the Army base in Chillicothe, Ohio. He lived to establish a family in Avon.

The boom peaked in 1920, but there was no end to dreamy plans for the development of Cleveland's western surburbs. Sidewalks were laid, and a right of way acquired for the creation of a four lane boulevard on Hilliard Road in Westlake almost to the Avon border. This speculative fever made itself felt in Avon; but the tide had turned.

Prohibition marked the triumph of the moral majority, and the country gave itself over to having a good time. Organized crime rose to a dominant position; and the automobile revolution swept the United States.

Elliot Ness and the Mafia made sure Avon winemakers stayed out of business, although Kathe Kruezer's restaurant was established at the eastern edge of Avon, catering to customers from Cuyahoga County. The Avon Isle Dance Pavilion was built in in 1926. The biggest thing to hit Avon in this decade was the tornado of 1924.

The crash came in 1929. Among the victims were the noted Cleveland real estate developers, the Van Sweringen brothers, the creators of the Shaker Rapid and the Terminal Tower. The bubble had burst, and Avon farmers were locked into a grinding struggle to pay their taxes and save their land. Some citizens of Avon lost their jobs as the Great Depression deepened, and there are still memories of those hard times.

The electric interurban was forced to close in 1938; and new highway construction was concentrated on the east side of Cleveland, while Cleveland's electric trollies were replaced with smelly diesel buses.

Avon's relative transportation capability was reduced. The interurban rails were disposed of; the car barn turned into a motel; and some of the right-a-way made available for automobile use. In 1974, with the price of gasoline over fifty cents a gallon, some might have wished that the interurban were still there.

Of course, the destruction of public transportation in Avon was not complete until the Cleveland Regional Transit Authority bought the ridership rights in Westlake from the Cleveland-Lorain Highway Coach Company.

World War II marked the end of the Depression. Cavalry and artillery in new forms ended trench warfare: Tanks, bombers, ballistic missiles, and nuclear weapons captured the public imagination, but sea power remained decisive.

General farming continued to decline in Avon. At the same time, greenhouse farming began to increase in importance. Tomatoes from Mexico were not even imagined. More and more citizens of Avon were commuting to jobs in the cities. Progressive leadership in the neighboring community of Avon Lake brought industrial growth north of the Nickel Plate railroad tracks. Many Avonites, whose ancestors had farmed for generations, left the land to take factory jobs in Avon Lake.

At the end of World War II, there was widespread concern that the country would fall back into a depression; but it was time for another boom. The crusade against Communism enthusiastically began in Korea.

Avon entered the 1950's with a bang. A city water system was begun; and, in 1958, a new City Hall was built on Detroit Road next to Casper's garage. (In 1998, this municipal building was turned over to the Police Department.) Also, in 1958, Avon's second fire station was built on Schwartz Road. See AVON FIRE DEPARTMENT 75th ANNIVERSARY

Northgate became Avon's first experience with a large housing development. Avon was forced to operate the Northgate sewage treatment plant to protect the health and safety of its citizens, bringing Avon into direct confrontation with the State of Ohio Water Pollution Control Board (EPA in the 1990's), which issued its first discharge permit to Avon in July, 1955.

By the late 1950's, a few Avonites had enough of prosperity. Some of the most vigorous opponents of futher growth were new residents of Avon. They explained that they did not want Avon's rural image spoiled.

A major salt mining company wanted to begin a large underground operation in Avon. It was turned down. The idea seemed never have occurred to the no-growthers that the best way they could have helped preserve Avon's rural charms would have been for them to refrain from contributing to population growth in Avon by staying out of town. It also escaped their imagination that underground salt mines would not consume much of the landscape, and that mine tax revenue could have been used to purchase public green space.

In 1961, because of the census of 1960, Avon Village became the City of Avon.

The new prosperity was coming at Avon from all directions. The State had decided to build Interstate 90 through the middle of Avon from west to east. Avon was to be blessed with two interchanges. In the early 1960's there was a long wrangle with the State over the relocation of State Route 83.

Some citizens feared that the only thing to be relocated would be the SR 83 -- I-90 interchange, and that the rest of the new SR 83 would never be built. Avon had lived for years with the dog-leg intersection of Center Road and SR 254. The State's proposal threatened to saddle Avon with a super dog leg of indefinite duration at Center Road, Chester Road, and I-90. As could be expected, the State had its way.

Hostility toward I-90 intensified during the actual construction. Avon found itself caught in a web of regional energy and transportation needs. The Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company (called Centerior in the 1990's) supplied fill for the construction of the first section of I-90 in Avon. This fill was taken from borrow pits on CEI property located near the I-90 -- SR 611 intercharge. In 1967, CEI applied for a permit from Avon to fill the borrow pits with fly ash from its electricity generating plant in Avon Lake.

In October, 1967, Avon's Mayor, acting as Safety Director, denied CEI's request for a permit. CEI appealed the Mayor's ruling to the Avon Board of Zoning and Building Appeals in February, 1968.

Meanwhile, in January, 1968, Council, acting at the Mayor's request, passed an ordinance prohibiting the digging of any more borrow pits in Avon. This law was expected to increase the cost of further I-90 construction in Avon because fill would have to be obtained from outside the City.

The Board of Zoning and Building Appeals rejected the CEI request, and CEI filed suit in the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas. Late in 1968, the contract was let for the contruction of the second section of I-90 in Avon.

Despite a long series of court cases centering on the borrow pit ordinance, it was possible for the highway contractor to obtain fill within Avon city limits, Early in 1969, CEI won its suit in Common Pleas Court. Avon entered the 1970's with fly ash hauling and highway contruction in progress.

The battle over sanitary sewers steadily intensified. In July, 1955, the State ordered Avon to install a sanitary sewer system to serve the populated areas of the community. The immediate cause of this order was the unsatisfactory performance of the Northgate sewage treatment plant. One problem was infiltration of storm water into the sewer lines. The State also contended that French Creek and smaller ditches in Avon were seriously polluted.

No one could disagree with the State's findings. The vile odor coming from French Creek near the intersection of SR 254 and SR 611 was convincing evidence.

But the majority of the people of Avon decided to dig in their heels. Avon's population had more than doubled between 1950 and 1960. On January 4, 1961, Avon, with a population of 6002, was forced to accept the legal status of a city. Sewers, with their implication of further population growth, became the political football of choice, the path to glory. This part of Avon's history will be of interest to those who wonder why their sewer bills are so high.

On the surface, it would appear that Avon has probably set a record for successful defiance of State authority. In 1974, almost a generation after the first order from the Water Pollution Control Board, there was still no sanitary sewer system serving the populated areas of Avon other than the Northgate plant.

However, the dilatory performance of the State in stopping the pollution of the waters of Ohio should be contrasted with the vigor with which the State pursued the construction of I-90 in Avon.

Lack of sewers pleased some local residents becuase their neighbor's undeveloped property could serve as "free" green space. Outside interests which did not want competition from industrial and commercial development in Avon were even more pleased. I-90 was in Avon but not for Avon.

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Despite the drop in European birth rates to below replacement levels, there is no sign that world population has peaked; the long-term growth continues. This probably will not go on forever:

By 600 AD, there had been a marked population decline within the boundaries of the disintegrating Roman Empire. One possibility is that smallpox, starting from an isolated place in the Middle East, travelled the Roman roads until it had spread throughout the Empire. Another suggestion is that a natural disaster in 535 AD (comet? volcano?) created conditions (a climate cooling?) for the spread of bubonic plague everywhere in the Empire.

Smallpox also may have been a major factor in the drastic population decline in Central America after the European invasion starting in 1492, although the depopulation of the Mayan cities at the end of the first millenium AD is still a mystery.

This "germ" theory has been expanded to suggest that syphilis (the great pox) was carried from America to Europe by Columbus' sailors. The long sleeves, high collars, wigs, and heavy face makeup of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries were not just fashion statements. See Bug War

But for now, the United States and Avon can not escape the consequences of the upward trend. Either we try to create something beautiful from what is happening; or, like heating a stoppered bottle of water, it will explode in our faces. Depending on stoppers for free green space is worse than useless.

Although Avon operated the Northgate sewage treatment plant, it had refused to accept title to it. By the end of 1971, Avon had lost over two thousand dollars in operating the treatment plant. In 1972, the plant was put up for sheriff's sale to pay real estate taxes in excess of seven thousand dollars. No one would buy it.

Nationally, the enthusiasm of Korea had given way to the bitterness of Viet Nam; and sewers were a bitter issue in Avon. Another boom had peaked. This time scientists and engineers hit the unemployment lines, and technical colleges worried about the drop in their Freshman enrollments.

In 1956 and 1957, the State issued discharge permits to Avon calling for the preparation of a general sewage treatment plan. In October, 1958, the Water Pollution Control Board called on Avon to show cause why a permit should not be denied. The Avon Council hired an engineer and applied for a federal grant. A general plan was presented to the Board in November, 1960.

The Board issued a permit calling for a detailed engineering and financial plan. Council did nothing. The Board issued another show cause order. Council finally put a bond issue on the ballot in 1963.

The 1963 sewer plan was estimated to cost 1.9 million dollars. It was in 1963 that Avon hit upon a strategy for long-term defiance of the State, a charade which the State would accept. A sewer issue would be put on the ballot at the insistence of the State. One or more Avon public officials would vigorously attack the sewer plan. The people would defeat the issue, and Avon officials would tell the State that they had done everything they could. This series of moves worked so well for so long that it should be considered a classic, the Avon defense.

Members of Council attacked the 1963 sewer plan on the grounds that it was too large and would bankrupt many people. They asked why should Avon be required to clean up Lake Erie when bacteria in the streams and ditches would completely consume Avon's waste before the water reached Lake Erie. They pointed out that Avon's contribution to pollution almost did not exist when compared to what other polluters in the area were doing. The 1963 sewer issue was defeated.

The 1964 sewer plan was criticized because it was too small. This same complaint was made against a 1.7 million dollar sewer plan in 1965 by the succesful mayoral candidate.

In the spring of 1966, a breath-taking new proposal was brought forward. It was urged that Avon, North Ridgeville and Sheffield combine together to form the French Creek Sewer District. Opponents argued against the creation of another taxing authority, and that the savings achieved with a large sewage treatment plant would be consumed several times over by the cost of transporting sewage from North Ridgeville to Sheffield through Avon.

Some suspected that the proponents of the French Creek Sewer District were very amused by the thought that no one in their right mind would inflict the French Creek Sewer on Avon, but that this "marble outhouse" could be used again and again to defeat any rational sewer plan proposed.

The Avon Council resisted the French Creek Sewer and presented its own 2.4 million dollar sewer plan in 1966. This issue was defeated as well as the 1.4 million dollar sewer plan which Council put up a vote in 1967. Council made one last unsuccessful attempt in 1969 to pass a bond issue for an independent sewer system in Avon. A comprehensive 4 millon dollar sewer plan was put forward.

In the spring of 1971, it was proposed that Council sign a contract with the State of Ohio committing Avon to pay $118,000 for French Creek system engineering studies. If Avon signed the contract, the City would be irrevocably committed to the French Creek Sewer project because Avon could not raise that much money on its own.

At a dramatic meeting on March 31, 1971, Council rejected the contract by a 4 to 3 vote. Councilman Theodore Beckman justified his vote against the contract on the grounds that such an important question should be decided only by a vote of the people.

It must have been with horror that the promoters of the French Creek Sewer watched as, like Dr. Frankenstein's monster rising from the table, the marble outhouse creaked and groaned to life.

In 1968, the State had imposed a building freeze on Avon. Many citizens welcomed the building freeze because they thought it would stop Avon's growth. A substantial minority had voted for sewers in the past because of problems with their septic tanks and the stink in their backyards. The building freeze convinced some of these people that they could preserve green space in Avon by voting against sewers.

The State changed its tactics after the Council vote on March 31, 1971. In April, the State filed a suit in Lorain County Common Pleas Court asking fines of $500 per day and jail terms for Avon councilmen. The State also billed Avon $40,000 for previous engineering expenses.

The Ohio Water Development Authority informed Avon that there would be no state or federal aid made available for an independent sewer system in Avon. In August, 1971, the Ohio General Assemnbly passed a bill giving the Ohio Water Pollution Control Board the power to direct the Ohio Water Development Authority to build sewage treatment facilities and to levy assessments upon users to pay for construction costs.

All opposition on the Avon Council to signing the $118,000 French Creek contract was crushed. On August 12, the Avon Council submitted to the French Creek Council of Governments an ordinance consenting to the contract.

In April, 1972, the Avon Council authorized the City Engineer to draw up plans for a city collection system to bring sewage to the French Creek trunk line. Thr cost estimate for a comprehensive plan was 11.3 million dollars.

Phase one of the plan, which did not include the expense of a pumping station and force main at Jaycox Road, or a north line near the Nickel Plate railroad tracks (Norfolk and Western in the 1990's), was estimated to cost 2.9 milion dollars.

As in the past, there was no sign that Avon was capable of raising this money. So, although Avon was committed to the French Creek sewer system, the only prospective Avon users were the residents of Northgate.

In November, 1973, the Councils of Avon, North Ridgeville and Sheffield approved a final contract with the State. As a kindly gesture, the State had lifted the building freeze on everthing except commercial and industrial construction in Avon on June 28, 1973.

Looking west at the I-90 -- SR-83 interchange in 1974

Although industrial and commercial development was feasible in Avon because of I-90, this type of addition to the tax base was still not permitted. Perhaps this was a blessing in disguise because obsolete facilities were not built.

Construction of office buildings was fashionable elsewhere. There was no idea that the 1990's would bring the Internet and the ability of companies to have their employees do service jobs from home on a piece-work basis.

Ground was broken for the French Creek sewer trunkline in December, 1973.

There has always been a spirit of good will in Avon, as demonstrated by the many organizations which contribute so much to the community. The Spring of 1974 found everyone approving of the new water tower under construction near the intersection of SR 83 and SR 254.

Would there be a new era of good feelings in Avon? Could Avon become an outstanding modern city through balanced growth, preserving green space and the natural beauty of our town? These questions are still with us as we begin the third millenium.

The Third Millenium -- An Outrageous Beginning

1955 - 2005, Fifty Years of Progress in Avon

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