Avon Isle Oral Histories

Jean Ackerman

Mayor Jim Smith

Betty Blair

Jessie Root

Tom Tomlin

Avon Isle Oral Histories, 2007, Interviews and Transcriptions by Rhonda Newman

Excerpt from the APPLICATION to include the Avon Isle Dance Pavilion in the NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES, 11-6-08:

``Avon Isle Park is located in the City of Avon within Lorain County, Ohio. The Park consists of a historic Avon Isle dance pavilion surrounded by a tree-lined meadow and the sandstone gorge of French Creek. Situated at the center of a once rural community, it was a natural gathering place for the community. The property is historically important due to the social, recreational, and educational events that took place at the location of Avon Isle. These events made significant cultural contributions to the history of Avon and the surrounding communities.

Avon Isle rests on land once believed to have offered Native American Indians a secure campsite because the land was surrounded on three sides by the French Creek, leaving only one side to guard. This land may also have been a battleground during the French and Indian War (1750s).

Some 100 years later (circa 1854) during the excavation to build a steam sawmill on a lot adjacent to the Avon Isle property, workers found French military buttons along with human remains ...''

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Oral history by Jean Ackerman

RHONDA: I'm here today with Jean Ackerman; it's July 20, 2007.

JEAN: My last name is spelled "A-c-k-e-r-m-a-n." My maiden name was Blaha; B-l-a-h-a. My mother's maiden name was Schwartz; and the Schwartz family has been in Sheffield Village for 5 generations. And our farm house is 150 years old. We're not on the register or anything but anyhow we've been here a long time. I'm a member of the Sheffield Historical Society; we're just getting off the ground. And I see where we're going to get the scenic byway that's going from Sheffield Township through Sheffield Village, through Avon -- I don't know where it hooks up. But this could very well be one of the sites on that scenic byway.

RHONDA: Do you recall the first year you visited the Avon Isle?

JEAN: When I was a little girl I would come up with my mother. There used to be picnics up here; they used it like a community center and there would be picnics outdoor; with stands and then hot dogs and various things that you could do. I think [they had] little rides and fire trucks and everything were here; just like a little village carnival.

RHONDA: Do you know what year that was?

JEAN: 1947; 48 probably. And then 1955 I think we started coming up square dancing; maybe 54 even; in the 50's we were square dancing up here every Saturday night. We had a group; we had our own set of square dancers and it would vary a little bit. And then Elsie Biltz would play the piano and Ed Brown Sr was her violin player; I don't know who the drummer was; and she would do the calling. Sometimes, Hank Jackson would call. And he lived on Ford Road; I know that he's deceased. But he was another square dance caller.

RHONDA: Is Elsie Biltz still with us?

JEAN: No, she's in heaven. She was unique because she would play the piano; she had a piano stool;and she would bounce as she played; and if you were down stairs; [Avon Isle] had a beautiful hardwood floor;does it still?

RHONDA: It does

JEAN: And if you were downstairs having refreshments you could tell when the dancing started because the floor would [move slightly] and creak a little bit so you knew she started up the square dancing again;

RHONDA: You could probably hear it too, right?

JEAN: Oh yeah; yeah; and she would do dances such as The Heel and Toe; that was not a square dance; and the Rye Waltz; and there was another one that was sort of waltz-type;you just don't hear of these anymore; maybe if you went to the southern part of the state where they do square dancing you would probably hear this type of music yet;but those were beautiful and they were pattered after; and we didn't know how to do them; but we watched because they were gorgeous to watch; yeah; that was; even when I went away to college; when I'd be home we'd go and square dance;

RHONDA: And that was '54; '55?

JEAN: Yeah; '52; maybe '50;

RHONDA: I'm looking for a description of the social culture of the Avon Isle. When you were here in the `50's; did they serve beer and liquor?

JEAN: Sure; well; I know they served beer - and they served pop - and; I don't know about liquor. In those days they had a thing called 3-2 beer and if you were 18 you could drink 3-2 beer; but I think we usually drank pop; but there was beer and they had sandwiches.

They offered -- I guess -- ham sandwiches; were very, very good because they made them here. And this was also used by the firemen to do fundraisers; they did the bingo; the firemen did; I just found that out this morning up at church; the Avon firemen did a lot of activities here; they would have turkey raffles, and bingos, and that would pay for their fire equipment. And while the firemen were running the bingo, the girl scouts would come up and sell baked goods; they'd have bake sales and sell products to the people who came to the bingos.

RHONDA: Do you recall what years that took place?

JEAN: That would have been in the 40's and 50's.

RHONDA: So this was all going on at the same time as the square dancing?

JEAN: Yes, the square dancing was only Saturday and Sunday nights. And Sunday afternoons; in the summer; they would have various carnivals and things; and the Avon Village picnic; the kinds of things you could go outside and do them;

RHONDA: When you came to Avon Isle to dance, was there a dress code?

JEAN: The boys all had shirts; they would wear a sport shirt; and they would wear slacks; nobody was there in jeans at that time;

RHONDA: Was that the dress code? Or was that just how people dressed?

JEAN: Yes, that's how people dressed in that era.

RHONDA: And what about the ladies?

JEAN: The ladies would wear dresses; and pretty big skirts that would -- you know -- fly out when they danced; and if you didn't have a big skirt, you just wore something nice; and we always tried to wear something cool because we would get very, very warm in there dancing; there was no air-conditioning, of course; so it would get warm in there; I can't remember if they had fans in there or not, but I suppose they did.

RHONDA: Did the ladies wear poodle-skirts and saddle shoes? like what people think of as dress for the 50's?

JEAN: No, it was more like cotton skirts; and broomstick skirts that were kind of full and would flare out when you danced.

RHONDA: I see; so, there was not a written down dress code?

JEAN: No, it was just how people dressed at the time.

RHONDA: Was there a behavior code? Such as no kissing, no close dancing.

JEAN: No, people just didn't do that. And if anybody was drunk they would call the police and sometimes; the men folk who were good at dancing would gather on the porch; and they would watch the dancers; and sometimes they would get rowdy; and we had to suspect that maybe they got into the beer; and the police would come and they would talk to them but there was never, never any problems;

RHONDA: So, the Avon Isle didn't have a bar room feel?

JEAN: Oh no; no;

RHONDA: Ok; on Saturday and Sunday nights, when you were dancing; was it date night? Or did everyone just dance together?

JEAN: There were lots and lots of married couples; they would get a babysitter and they would come and they'd square dance because [Elsie] had a following with her square dancing; a lot of married couples and; well; our group was almost all cousins to one another; and there were a lot of those where one couple would be married in the family and then other family members -- sisters and brothers -- would come and join in their set; what they call a set; 4 couples; if you had 4 couples that was a set; a lot of them were based on a couple in the family that was married and then their sisters and brothers and cousins would come along too; it was more of a family feeling;

RHONDA: During the square dancing era, do you think people looked at Avon Isle as having a bad reputation? How do you think the community viewed Avon Isle?

JEAN: Well, I think it was just a fine place for everybody to get together;

RHONDA: It wasn't like a place that people thought of as "good girls don't go there" ?

JEAN: No; no; in fact, we were just talking this morning;there were 4 people at mass this morning up at St. Teresa's church; they had been in our set; and I said, "do you remember -- we would square dance until they closed at midnight?"; and in those days you had to fast if you were going to go to mass the next morning; you had to start fasting at midnight; and I said, "remember we would get home and we'd be so thirsty from dancing and getting over-heated and we were almost ready to die of thirst and you couldn't have a drink because it was midnight and you were going to go mass the next morning and go to holy communion;and I said, "I remember the thirst was unbearable."

Of course now we can eat or drink up to an hour before; but I said, "that was really suffering" and they said, "yeah"; they remembered how you'd get so hot and you were so thirsty; we'd try to remember to get a drink before midnight; before we left; but we didn't always remember to get that done;

And I said, "you know what is wild?"; as we were dancing; and sometimes;when you square dance you swing your partner; and the guys that were tall; they would swing us shorter ones off our feet and sometimes we would slip because the floor was very well polished; sometimes we would fall down and they would laugh; but anyway;

And I said, "as much square dancing as we did every Saturday night"; and I said, "and look, all of us kept the faith." And no; no, it was not an evil place; nothing like that; it was a fun place to meet and square dance; and the group that came on Sunday night -- they were from even farther away and they didn't seem to have as much fun as we did on Saturday;they were more reserved and better dressed.

RHONDA: I was told that people gathered here for the war effort. Do you know anything about that?

JEAN: No, but it wouldn't surprise me because there are wonderful people in Avon and I'm sure they would get together and do something.

RHONDA: I've also heard that these grounds hosted agricultural fairs -- before the construction of the Avon Isle; do you know anything about those?

[See www.avonhistory.org/jean/isle.htm for the Agricultural Fair of 9-28-1875 held on the Isle site.]

JEAN: No, but that would be fitting; and I would not be surprised to learn; in fact, the creek that runs through here runs behind Dr. Fischer's property -- Delbert Fischer -- and I guess his wife's name is Jean; well, some of those homes that back up onto the creek; they were part of the underground railroad;

[No evidence has yet been found for French Creek in Avon being a route of the Underground Railroad.] the people would get up here, then they would follow the water along into Sheffield;and then once they got into Sheffield, they would stop at the Burrell House; and Mr. Burrell had a room under his barn where he would put them;

And his -- I think it's a cousin -- Mr. Root would get them then into the river; and he had a boat; and he would get them over to Canada; and so; I would not be surprised if this figured in, in that way somehow; I know that they could not.

Mr. Burrell had that room under his barn so that if he was discovered he would say, "that's not in my house; those people got under my barn." If you were discovered helping runaway slaves, they could confiscate your house, if you had them in your house; so he put them under his barn; and he being a business man, he would have them work on his farm for a little bit too and then get them to the river and over to Canada. And I know that this creek running through here was part of that.

RHONDA: Do you know what years that was going on?

JEAN: (1861 -- 1865); the years of the Civil War; around there; because one of my grandparents married a girl from Avon -- one of my great-grandparents -- a girl from Avon; she was not able to find a suitor in Avon because so many of the young men were away at the Civil War; so she came out to Sheffield and she found my great-grandfather;and they got married;and they settled on our farm -- the Schwartz farm;

The documents [on the underground railroad] are in the Burrell House over there on East River Road; because I was just on duty at the Burrell House during our historical society tour that was about 3 weeks ago and I was showing people the map of how the underground railroad worked; and the Burrell House was one of the stops on that;

RHONDA: I know that you came here in the 50's for the square dancing; what about the time after that? Did you come here in the 60's or 70's at all?

JEAN: No; my mother came up for bingo all those times; whenever there was a bingo up here; she liked to come to Avon Isle;

RHONDA: Was that in the 70's?

JEAN: Oh, I think so; and that would have been done by the firemen; the Avon firemen may have documentation on what years they ran the bingo out here.

RHONDA: Was [your mother] coming up here at the same time you were coming up here? Would you come on the weekends to dance and she would come during the week for bingo?

JEAN: She would come during the week for bingo.

RHONDA: And then you'd come on the weekends for dancing?

JEAN: Yes.

RHONDA: Once the square dancing stopped, did you still come to Avon Isle?

JEAN: No, because then I was in college and I had studied to be a nurse; I went to college in Cleveland; and then I had my first job in Cleveland; so I was just out of that.

RHONDA: So you stopped coming here about '55 or '56?

JEAN: I stopped coming here about '53;

The interview ended at this point.

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Oral history by Mayor Jim Smith

RHONDA: I'm here today with the mayor of Avon, Ohio, Jim Smith. It is July 23, 2007. Mayor, can you tell me the years that you visited the Avon Isle?

JIM: In the early 1960's there was a saloon downstairs and once in while we were down there for a soda pop when I was a kid. And then they had dances when I was about 16.

RHONDA: What year was that?

JIM: 1964

RHONDA: So, you did go to dances at the Avon Isle?

JIM: Oh, yeah; there were a lot of dances there;

RHONDA: When you were there for the dances, did they serve beer and liquor?

JIM: No; no; this was teenagers; downstairs was a bar, upstairs was where they had the high school dances -- there was no liquor being sold;

RHONDA: Oh, these were high school dances; when were they held? Friday and Saturday nights?

JIM: Yeah

RHONDA: When you were there for the dances, was there a dress code? Did people wear jeans?

JIM: Very few people wore jeans when you went to a dance; you always wore kind of dress clothes;

RHONDA: What about a behavior code? Did they say "no close dancing" ?

JIM: No; I can't remember any.

RHONDA: I know that you were quite young, but do you remember how the community viewed the Avon Isle? Did it have a good or bad reputation?

JIM: My mother and dad went to dances there; it was part of the culture; everybody went to the Friday and Saturday night dances; they had them from the 1920's on;

RHONDA: So the community viewed the dancing at Avon Isle as "good, clean fun" ?

JIM: Yeah.

RHONDA: Do you anything about the agricultural fairs that were held on the grounds of the Avon Isle?


RHONDA: Ok; do you know anything about people gathering at the Avon Isle for the war effort?


RHONDA: Can I ask you about the time that you spent there where you were involved in boxing? What years did you do that?

JIM: 1970's

RHONDA: Was it a place where only men went? Or did the ladies attend also?

JIM: It was a mixed crowd, but it was 90% guys; it's typically a man's sport

RHONDA: Was there drinking at that time?

JIM: There was some beer being consumed; yeah, we used to bring in different matches from all over the county; all over Northern Ohio; there'd be a couple guys from the city.

RHONDA: Did you box in the basement?

JIM: No, upstairs;

RHONDA: And they brought in a boxing ring?

JIM: Yeah...

RHONDA: Other than the boxing, did you go to Avon Isle for any other reasons?

JIM: Yeah, later on; in the 80's; they did reverse raffles; for the school booster club; there were still a few things going on.

RHONDA: Did your parents tell you any stories about the Avon Isle?

JIM: Yeah, my mom and dad used to dance there all the time; I'm pretty sure that's where they met; my dad lived right across the creek on [Route] 611; and everybody went from all over Lorain County; they all went dancing there; they had big bands in there; they used to pack the house; people would waiting out; people would be standing out in the side parking lot; and the guys -- during prohibition -- would go down to the creek and hide their beer or liquor bottle behind a rock;

RHONDA: Any other memories you'd like to share?

JIM: There was a beautiful bar downstairs; I don't know whoever tore it out; it was all hand carved; there was bar right across the street -- it used to be Kiser's; now it's Frank's; there were 3 bars right in the area.

But Tom Tomlin, who works for the Lorain County Board of Education -- Tom has a really deep history of the place; Tom's dad, Linus; they were; there was huge gambling there at one time; they did a lot of card games and things like that; Tom Tomlin has kind of a history of Avon Isle Park and the whole area; his dad had a car lot across the street too; they used to have slot machines and things like that; a lot of speakeasy type of goings on.

You can talk to Tom -- he's over at the Lorain County Board of Education; he'd be glad to tell you; Tom knows the history very well; his dad and my dad hung out there; again, my dad and mother used to dance there; like I said - they'd have big bands in there; one time I guess somebody leased the place and had one of the major big bands in and they didn't realize they couldn't put enough people in to cover the cost; they packed the house, but they couldn't cover the cost because you just couldn't fit enough people in.

It was one of the local dance areas of Northern Ohio; we used to go to Avon Isle Park and we used to go to French Creek Tavern which was right next door; there was a little carnival that was there all the time; they had a train; they had these barrels you could spin in; they had a merry-go-round; but that was there continuously; that was there all the time.

RHONDA: What years?

JIM: Probably the 60's; because I puked on my Finance [Service Director -- Jerry Plas] Director there; well, it was the barrels -- the spinning barrels; Larry Forthofer was sitting there; and Alan Vassu, who owns Vassu Communications; there was Alan -- in the barrel; Larry Forthofer; and Jerry Plas, and myself; the 4 of us; and I told the guy, "stop; stop; stop" and then I threw up all over the 4 of us; a couple of pillars of society and I puked on every one of them.

So anyway; they used to have a little train; and then they had pop; I remember they always had Nehi -- Nehi Grape; Nehi Orange; Radar O'Reilly famous pop; yeah, but you always had Nehi pop; then over at St. Mary's you had your picnic; the whole class would go; and that was in the 60's; '58 -- '61; it was like a little amusement park; and then right behind it was the sawmill.

And then behind St. Mary's there was the gristmill; the gristmill was there when I was a real little boy; Avon was the biggest community in the early 1800's; the had the most blacksmith shops; mills; people came here to get their grain.

Lorain wasn't the center at the time; if you read back in the history; it was all farmers; the English came; the Swedish came later; the Judson's;the Jameson's; they were all English; they grew everything along Detroit Road; and then the German's got the crap land -- that was South and North of Detroit Road.

Detroit Road was sand; the rotten ground was about mile south and north of Detroit Road; so, the English were the first ones that came so they got all the prime land -- they got stuff all along Detroit Road -- and then they sold off the garbage land; it was still good stuff -- it just wasn't as prime a grade.

Then the Swedish came; they're the ones that made the greenhouses; we had more acres under glass than any other city east of the Mississippi River; working in the greenhouses; especially around Christmastime because Christmastime was when you pulled the vines out from the fall tomatoes - because they just grew and they died; then you had to plant the early, early spring tomatoes;

It you were a kid, and you wanted a job; you couldn't get a tractor in the greenhouse, so what you'd have to do; you'd have to pull out all of the vines out; they were all dry and nasty; Christmas break we did that; you got the new tomatoes planted; and that was about January; then March or April we started harvesting.

A lot of people still used horses when I was a little kid; my grandfather still used a horse to plow; when I was little that was not uncommon; some of the first tractors that they had -- all they were was a horse with wheels; you just hooked the same horse equipment up to the tractor and pulled it behind; of course, now they have hydraulics.

When I was a kid, it was just a great place to live; we had a lot of fun; every kid would bring their gun to school -- they'd go hunting after school; in 6th grade, I'd go home from St. Mary's and get my shotgun; it wasn't uncommon to see kids walking down the street carrying a shotgun; Larry Forthofer; Jerry Plas; we'd take a shotgun to school; at lunchtime we'd go on top of the school and shoot pigeons; some of the most reputable people in Lorain County today.

The reason why is because you had your cistern; and the pigeons pooped in the cistern -- in the water; we had cisterns until I was 5; we had cistern water until I was 5 years old; there was 4 boys and I had to be bathed first -- I was the youngest; on Saturday; about an inch of water in the tub; and then the last one -- he got rinsed off with an extra gallon of water -- to rinse all the scum off.

We had a cistern; you couldn't afford; the cistern was either the well water -- which, if we were having a year like we are -- it would have been dried up a month ago; you had to order water; the guy came with a big truck of water and filled your cistern up; we'd walk down to the creek; there was a spot; in fact, I was down there the other day and water is still running; it's called a cold springs; there's a slit where the water runs out; we tapped a pipe into it; everyone would fill their jugs up.

RHONDA: Where is that located?

JIM: Right across from St. Mary's; that's where everyone got their drinking water; my mother would send us down with 4 or 5 gallons; and you didn't want to drop it because they were glass; we didn't have plastic like we do today; the jugs were all glass -- glass milk jugs.

RHONDA: It was an innocent time.

JIM: It was a nice time;

RHONDA: It sounds like it was.

JIM: You could give your kids a spanking and not worry about who's coming to get you; my dad did not spare the rod; he'd take his belt off; whip your butt; put you to bed; I knew my dad loved me; he never said it but he showed it.

The interview ended shortly after this point.

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Oral History by Betty Blair

RHONDA: I'm speaking with Lorain County Commissioner Betty Blair; it is July 25, 2007. We began talking; you said your parents were married in 1919?

BETTY: 1919;

RHONDA: And they lived in Avon as well?

BETTY: No; my ancestors lived in Avon; my mom and dad got married in Lorain -- they lived in Lorain when they got married and then they moved a couple different places and ended up in Carlisle Township, where I still live; but went dancing at Avon Isle.

I'm not sure if Avon Isle was the attraction or Elsie Biltz and her husband George; Elsie played the piano she called square dances and George -- he just kind of played the drums; I think he went wherever she went; I remember being at a dance at Avon Isle; my dad died in 1956, which was the year I graduated from high school; my husband, Chuck Blair, and I got married in 1958; now, I remember being at a dance with him and my mother at Avon Isle; we were the last couple there.

My husband wasn't really a dancer; he kind of went along because he had to; and they needed one more couple to fill in; and I was ready and willing; but we filled the set out -- much to my delight; so, I have been there and I had danced but I know that my parents danced there many times; I think other members of my family may have as well; when my brother Don Yunker got married -- I was in the 8yh grade so that was probably about 1952; Elsie Biltz played at his little wedding reception;

RHONDA: Can you explain to me; what does "calling a square" mean?

BETTY: Well there are 4 couples in a square; you have 1-2-3-4 couples;and 1 and 3 face each other and 2 and 4 face each other; and the caller starts out by whatever dance they're calling -- it's the 1st couple out to the right usually; and then he or she instructs them what to do; and then they go the 3rd couple and the 4th couple and then they go back home and usually it's on the left (?); to the person on your right; and then you turn back around and you go right;hand over left; until you reach your partner.

Or, if the caller tells you pass your partner by, you do and then you meet your partner again and then you swing and then you circle home; and your home is where you started; and then the 2nd couple starts out, and it goes through each couple gets to do the same routine; and that completes that dance.

Usually they call a set of 3 squares, I guess you could say; by that time, I guess the caller thinks that the dancers need a rest; they'll play a few slow dances in between;or something else;and then they'll start again with another square.

My mom and dad used to have a set that they danced with; regulars -- they went square dancing together, they played cards together, and they were not the same age; they were much younger; and seniors; but they were friends; and I don't know how they got together; but, there was a couple from North Ridgeville; in fact, Alice (?) just passed away.

Well, there's still one remaining out of this whole set; there was the (name ?) from North Ridgeville; Mildred Carmen -- in fact, she's from Avon; in fact, I think she used to work for the post office; she could tell you stories;I see her at card parties yet; she would be one of the younger ones; and then (name ?) Welcher -- and they lived across from Tom's Country Place in Avon and they worked at Tom's; they were dear friends of my folks; and then my mom and dad;

RHONDA: Do you recall what the years were that you danced at Avon Isle?

BETTY: Well, it was '58 when Chuck and I got married so it was between '58 and '59 because our first cherub was born in '59, so after that we didn't do much dancing at all; and I don't know; when did Avon Isle close?

RHONDA: Well; they say that it died down in the `60's.

BETTY: Well; that would be the right time frame.

RHONDA: And then it was used in the `70's for bingo; clambakes.

BETTY: I've heard tell; and I'm not sure who told me this story -- probably one of my sisters because they used to dance at the Avon Isle; they said; apparently; the dancing upstairs; and they must have had a bar downstairs; that if you'd be downstairs when the dancing started you could see the sawdust kind of filter through; there was a lot of activity;

RHONDA: So, you didn't go downstairs? Did you ever go downstairs?

BETTY: Oh, I think so; that's where the bar was so if you were working had at dancing, you'd need a drink;

RHONDA: Do you remember if they served beer or liquor? Or did everyone just drink pop?

BETTY: I really have no recall of that; that wasn't high on my priorities -- getting Charles Blair to dance was.

RHONDA: So you went there just for the dancing; you never went there for any of the other activities?

BETTY: No; just the dancing.

RHONDA: I understand there wasn't a dress code, is that correct?

BETTY: Patty Carmen; I'll think of her married name; it's *** Hildred's daughter; Kelly; Dennis Kelly, is her husband; I think; if you're really on a search to talk to Hildred; she might not be in the phone book;

RHONDA: So, the years that you were there, there was no written down dress code, is that correct?

BETTY: I don't remember.

RHONDA: What did everybody wear? Do you recall?

BETTY: I don't have a clue; you have to remember the only thing I had on my mind was dancing; comfortable shoes; we have a different kind of shoes today; we didn't have options; all shoes were dancing shoes to us.

RHONDA: So, you gals didn't wear high heels? Would you wear flat shoes in order to dance better?

BETTY: High heels; I don't remember; well; I remember a special pair of shoes that I bought special to go dancing; I thought they looked half way decent but I could still be comfortable in them.

RHONDA: All the ladies wore dresses, is that right?

BETTY: I think pants were unheard of; we certainly couldn't wear them to school; unheard of; in fact, I remember when I was a kid, my mother made me wear leggings to school; I hated them, but she wanted me to keep my legs warm; we'd never dream of rebelling against the establishment.

RHONDA: When you went to the Avon Isle, was it mostly couples?

BETTY: I think it must have been a family place because I went with my widowed mother; my husband and I went with my widowed mother; I don't remember who else was in our party but I'll bet you there were more of our family there; oh, you know what? my sister; I'm sure my sister Loretta must have been there; and she a neighbor who was not married at the time; and I think she brought her neighbor so he could be my mother's partner; nothing romantic; you know; he was alone and unmarried; so she brought him along so he could dance with my mother.

RHONDA: It sounds like a very family oriented atmosphere. Is that correct?

BETTY: Well; I'm trying to remember if my mom and dad took me there when I was younger; but I don't remember; they probably could have because there were 2 of us at home; my brother was 5 years older than me; my mother took me with her to a lot of places.

RHONDA: You said that you were raised in Carlisle Township, is that right?


RHONDA: I'm wondering what the world was like while you were growing up. Do you have any memories of what the world was like back then?

BETTY: Well; in Carlisle Township, my dad bought 9 acres of land so that he could have a cow and chickens and a garden; we had a grape vineyard; to feed a family; this was sort of during the depression;

I was born in '38; the depression was just a little bit before that; and when you have 7 mouths to feed; dad was a pattern maker at the Lorain Foundry; and in his 50's he left there and he built a house; we had moved up to the front -- on Grafton Road -- there was a lane down that street; it was called Yunker Court; that was my name -- Yunker; my dad's name.

And there were 2 houses on there and my first brother and sister needed a house and so they built cement block houses; just a square little cement block houses side by side; and my dad and the guys all pitched in and they built them; and my dad laid out plans because he was a pattern maker; he drew the plans himself for a house on the other side;and then he built that and then he sold that; so he built that first house and every cent that my mom and dad had went into the materials for that house;

My mother was working; she had an office job; she was working; and that's what they bought groceries with; then he sold that house; then he built another house; now, I live on that street today;

RHONDA: So your mom had an office job in the `40's or 50's, is that right?

BETTY: My grandmother insisted that my mother stay in school; she had to repeat the 8th grade because there was no availability for her to go to high school; I don't know what the deal was; but I remember my mother telling me how she hated it.

My mother made her go to the 8th grade twice so she would stay in school; and then she signed her up for the secretarial courses; she took a form of shorthand -- it wasn't Gregg -- it was whatever it was at that time; so she had office skills.

Then she got married; I don't know where she worked but after she got married she raised a family; in the early `50's -- maybe late `40's my one sister had a business on this site called the Letter Shop where she did public stenography; she did typing and mimeographing, and mailings for companies that had overflow business; and whenever she had overflow work in her office she would bring my mother in to help her.

My mother was a very good -- excellent -- speller; before spell check; my mother was very good in English and she was a good typist; I worked for my sister; she paid my 25 cents to stuff envelopes; 25 cents an hour; hey, I was a business woman when I was 10 [years old]; my sister had this business and my mother worked for her; so as that went on; and I find this so interesting because I love my mother so.

They did some work for the Elyria Municipal Court because they had overflow; and in Elyria; instead of having an appointed mayor's clerk they had a municipal clerk appointed; Pearl (name ?) was the first clerk that was appointed; she moved from mayor's clerk to that clerk and then they had a judge that was elected.

Frank Wilcox was the first judge; and they offered my mother the job of his secretary; and I loved this because my mother was a staunch Democrat and Frank Wilcox was a staunch Republican; and they worked together; she had the utmost respect for Frank Wilcox; this was after my dad died; he died in 1956 and that election was probably around that time; so; anyway; my mother said she was saving that job for me; she thought I'd be needing that job so she was saving it for me;well, she like it so much she kept it; I went to work in another department.

All this time my dad was building houses; but he died very early; he was only 61 years old when he passed away.

To be continued.

(Commissioner Blair takes out a map of Lorain County.)

BETTY: I was looking to see where Webber Road is because I asked Boyd about this when I saw this; I said, "is that named after our family?" and he said, "yes." He was going to do some more research on it but he told me that it was named; and you'll see back there that's where Theodore started out, in Avon; and when I was campaigning in Avon I made known of the fact that Webber Road was named after my relatives; how interesting; and when I was nominated into that First Family; I took my oldest grandson with me; and it was kind of exciting.

RHONDA: That is exciting.

BETTY: My grandma Webber, who was not a Webber, but she was just a Webber by marriage; lived on a dinky little lot in the city of Lorain; on 23rd Street; she had a garden in her back yard; she had a grape arbor; always had grapes; I couldn't wait to go to her house; every year; it was right when the time school would start; and she'd have grapes; that's about it; do you have any other questions?

RHONDA: Yes, I'd like to ask you about Vermilion on the Lake. I understand that you have visited there as well?

BETTY: Yes, my niece, Peggy Schmidt, had her wedding reception at Vermilion on the Lake.

RHONDA: What year was that?

BETTY: I knew you'd ask me that;oh my;that wasn't too awfully long ago; she has 2 children in college.

RHONDA: So, maybe in the 1980's?

BETTY: Yeah; but I danced there as a teenager; we called it Vermie's; I had a girlfriend, Dolores Mezzerouski was her name and she lived in; Avon?...or Avon Lake; one of the two; I don't remember but Dolores came to Elyria Catholic, to high school; and; I don't know why; she adopted me and I was her friend; she wanted to go to Vermilion on the Lake, so I went with her; but I didn't know many of the people there.

I not sure that I felt real comfortable; you know, you go some places, to a dance, and you know a lot of people so you're at home; but I went and I remember that there was a crowd there and I remember going into the restroom; I just remember being there; I can close my eyes and see it.

RHONDA: Was that before you danced at Avon Isle?

BETTY: Yeah, because I was married when I danced at Avon Isle.

RHONDA: Ok, and you were at Vermilion on the Lake in high school?

BETTY: As a teenager; yeah.

RHONDA: So that was about mid 1950's?

BETTY: Yeah; yeah; I graduated in 1956 from high school; so that would have been in the early 1950's.

RHONDA: How many times did you visit Vermilion on the Lake?

BETTY: No more than 2 or 3.

RHONDA: I know that there were a few years in between, but could you briefly compare and contrast the Avon Isle and Vermilion on the Lake?

BETTY: Vermie's at the Lake; no comparison, because the lake was there.

RHONDA: What about the people? It seems to me that the Avon Isle was a fun place for families to go.

BETTY: I think family is the key word there; because when I went there it was with my mother; my widowed mother and my husband; when I went to Vermie's, I went as a teenager and my high school girl friend; we were looking for guys.

RHONDA: Did they square dance at Vermilion on the Lake?

BETTY: I don't think so.

RHONDA: What type of dancing did they do?

BETTY: Just dancing; but I don't think there was any square dancing at Vermie's; not that I remember; Elsie wasn't there, remember?

RHONDA: Right.

BETTY: You had to have someone there to call the square dances.

RHONDA: So it seems.

BETTY: It was a different environment; very much; I think.

RHONDA: When I think of the 1950's, I think of [the TV show] Happy Days.

BETTY: That's exactly how it was; and I could tell you who Fonzie was in my memory; and let me tell you what a shock it was to see him several years later.

That comment concluded the interview.

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Oral History by Jessie Root

RHONDA: I'm here today with Jessie Root; it's July 27, 2007. Do you recall when you first went to the Avon Isle?

JESSIE: My parents moved here when I was 6 years old; I'm 93 now. I've lived here 87 years. The Avon Isle was there when we moved here. I know for a fact because my folks were always very active in everything, especially the PTA and things like that.

At the Avon Isle they always had a dance -- the Pioneers -- for the public -- called the Pioneers -- and my folks would go to those all the time. And then my husband was telling me that when he was 4 years old, he remembers very well, that his dad had to go down to the hardware store, and they were doing something over at the Avon Isle and his dad went over there to see about it -- so it's been there a long time.

It's still looks the same now as it did then. It has a beautiful dance floor. And down in the basement -- it was later on -- the bar that my son owns, Frank's Bar, is across the street from the Avon Isle. And a man named Barbier owned Frank's Tavern then -- and there were a bunch of unemployed men -- about 3 or 4 -- that would live in the basement and they built that beautiful fireplace in the basement.

RHONDA: Do you know what year they built that fireplace?

JESSIE: No, I was young and I didn't pay attention to things like that. But it was always in there that I can remember. It was probably built in the 1925's or 1930's. My husband and I got married in 1936 and before that my parents -- Frank and I went too -- but my parents went every Saturday night to the dance at the Avon Isle. So I know the fireplace was down there.

RHONDA: What years did you go to the dances at Avon Isle?

JESSIE: From the time my folks moved here they went to the dances all the time.

RHONDA: On the weekends? Or during the week also?

JESSIE: It was only on Saturday nights.

RHONDA: Do you remember when they had the big bands in there?

JESSIE: No, they usually only had one person -- later on it was Elsie Biltz and her husband played there -- they had square dancing -- and I can't remember except that we went every week when they had them.

RHONDA: Did you go the dances at the Isle after you were married or before?

JESSIE: Well, they didn't have them every week -- just on occasion they had dances -- this Pioneer Club -- I suppose it folded, like everything else -- I know that when my husband and I got married -- they had dances every Saturday night for quite a while -- and that was before we were married -- and I can't remember -- we didn't go to them too much after we were married.

See, in those days the little red school houses were all over -- and about the only night a week there wasn't a dance would be Monday night -- and we would go to these school house dances the rest of the week -- so 6 days a week we were dancing at night.

RHONDA: Is it fair to say that dancing was the main form of recreation that everyone did at that time?

JESSIE: No -- well -- a lot of it though -- my husband's family home -- where Eddie Herdendorf lives now -- Frank said when he was a kid, they used to clean out the dining room and everybody around the neighborhood would come and dance -- they had violin players usually.

RHONDA: When you went to the Avon Isle, did it have a family atmosphere?

JESSIE: You knew everybody there -- Avon didn't have that many people back then -- but everybody knew everybody else there -- they'd switch dance partners -- then, I was on the school board at the time -- a group of us got together -- 3 or 4 of us -- and formed a dance club -- we had that for several years -- and then it folded because too many cocktail parties -- and that ruined the dancing because people didn't get there until late -- so that pooped out too.

RHONDA: Do you remember anything about the kiddie rides that they had there in the 1950's?

JESSIE: No, I don't remember that at all.

RHONDA: So, you went to the Avon Isle just for the dancing. Is that right?

JESSIE: Well, the firemen every year would have -- at Thanksgiving, as they do now -- would have a raffle over there -- I know one time it was a turkey raffle then -- it was just stuff they collected from the neighboring business people and they'd raffle them off.

RHONDA: It was a fundraiser?

JESSIE: Yes, a fundraiser -- it was volunteers, and very small -- they were in that little old firehouse.

RHONDA: At the Avon Isle, do you remember if they served beer and liquor?

JESSIE: Oh sure -- it was just beer, I think

RHONDA: What about the behavior of the patrons? Did it ever get out of hand?

JESSIE: No...see -- in those times -- there were some drunks, we all face that -- but they were just a nice bunch of people who knew each other and I can't remember any obnoxious people .

RHONDA: It sounds like it was a nice place.

JESSIE: Oh, it was -- Avon was wonderful.

RHONDA: According to some books I've read, there was a time when dance halls had a bad reputation -- people thought only bad girls went there. Do you remember Avon Isle being thought of in that way?

JESSIE: No, I'm sure they didn't. It was just a place for the people to enjoy.

RHONDA: It was mostly just family and friends, then?

JESSIE: Yes -- yes.

RHONDA: I guess that's all, unless you have other memories that you'd like to share.

JESSIE: Well, I remember Mikey Wolfe's mother and father moved to Avon -- Vi was a lovely lady -- Mikey was always quite a character, if I may say so -- I don't know if he'd admit to that or not -- ( they lived across the street from me -- they moved in quite a long time after my parents did -- people named Johnson lived there before that -- their kids were the same age as my sister and I -- they were there a long time.

RHONDA: Did you graduate from Avon High School?

JESSIE: Yes -- then my sister and I went on to college -- I became a teacher.

RHONDA: Where did you attend college?

JESSIE: Bowling Green

RHONDA: Where did you teach?

JESSIE: I ended up teaching at -- on Gulf Road -- there's a little school -- there were 8 grades in that school -- and then I taught over by the Midway Mall -- there was a 2 story, no, a 1 story building -- they had 8 grades there -- and I taught there.

RHONDA: How many years did you teach?

JESSIE: I only taught 2 years because if you got married -- then -- you weren't allowed to teach anymore because the school teachers that graduated wouldn't get a job unless they fired you -- so, after we were married -- why, I did a lot of substitute work.

RHONDA: Did you know that was going to happen when you got married?

JESSIE: Oh yeah, we all knew it.

Rhonda L. Newman, July 30, 2007

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Oral History by Tom Tomlin

RHONDA: I'm here with Mr. Tom Tomlin; it's July 26, 2007 and we're talking about the Avon Isle. Mr. Tomlin, you said that your parents used to dance at the Avon Isle.

TOM: Right

RHONDA: What year was that? Do you remember?

TOM: I'm going to say it was in the 1950's -- I'm positive of that because -- I was young then -- I do remember -- there was an Avon couples club and they used to dance with -- I can name 3 or 4 of the other couples -- Bill and Dorothy Cummings, who are both deceased -- then there was the Curtis' -- they were relatives of the Cummings -- and -- some other couples -- I don't remember.

RHONDA: Through talking to people, I get the feeling that there was a very family oriented atmosphere at the Avon Isle. Do you think that's fair to say?

TOM: Yes, absolutely.

RHONDA: So, more family -- it wasn't a rowdy crowd?

TOM: Yes, they had that too -- not necessarily at the dances -- but at other events -- see, in the 1950 census, there was -- I have a book from it -- an Avon directory from 1950, somewhere at home -- there was about 800 people in the town so it was pretty close-knit.

RHONDA: People from other communities came to the Avon Isle too, didn't they?

TOM: Absolutely -- the guy that owned it at that time, Julius Barbier, you probably heard his name before -- I knew him very well -- in fact, I used to work for him part time over there -- he used to rent it out on weekends, especially during the summer, and there would be church groups or social clubs from Lorain that would come out there and have pig roasts -- like people do now, but these people were doing that 50 years ago -- or lamb roast -- or something like that.

I used to work over there -- I used to help him get it ready -- like mow the grass and paint old picnic tables -- anything that was needed -- and then clean up afterwards -- when I was kid, I lived almost right across the street.

RHONDA: The pig roast and such -- those took place in the 1950's as well?

TOM: Oh yeah -- then there was a little part of that time -- late 50's -- he rented part of the place permanently -- there was a guy, I think he was from Bay Village, had a small kiddie park -- anybody tell you that?


TOM: Their name was Taylor -- I'm almost sure they were from Bay Village -- I think the guy's name was Phil Taylor.

RHONDA: So, the kiddie park was on the lawn area? It was always there?

TOM: It was always there.

RHONDA: But it wasn't run at night?

TOM: No, he ran it at night too -- all through the summer -- part of it was in the parking lot area right along the creek as you go over the bridge to the right and a little bit to the left -- the lawn area to the left -- there used to be, they called it an outside bandstand -- it's kind of a loose use of the term, but that's what they called it.

RHONDA: Do you know about any other structures on the property?

TOM: There was also a concession stand, kitchen type thing.

RHONDA: Do you know when those were built?

TOM: No, it was before my time.

RHONDA: So they were built before the 1950's?

TOM: Yeah.

RHONDA: Do you know what happened to the concession stand and bandstand? Did they burn down?

TOM: I think they torn the bandstand down, and I think -- the concession stand -- there was a fire there -- but I don't know that it burned down -- but I think they tore it down because it was damaged enough -- I remember that happening, but I'm a little foggy on it.

RHONDA: When did that happen?

TOM: It was in the 70's -- maybe even the 80's -- yeah, because that bandstand was there -- it might have been there -- they were not used anymore -- they didn't have picnics over there after Mr. Barbier was in his late 80's -- he lived past 90, so -- he was in his 90's -- I used to run the gas station across the street -- that was dad's and my uncle's -- like I said I was born there -- I used to live there.

I grew up right across the street from the Isle -- do you know where the little car lot is? You know where Frank's Bar is? There's Buck's Hardware, and then there's a car repair place, and there's a bar, then there's another building that's like an upholstery shop now, and then there's a car lot, and then there's the crick. The building that's the upholstery shop now, was my father's second gas station. We lived upstairs.

RHONDA: So you had front row seats for everything that happened at the Avon Isle?

TOM: Yeah.

RHONDA: No wonder Mayor Smith suggested I speak with you.

TOM: Well -- I grew up with him, too -- he was around the corner only maybe like mile away.

RHONDA: Great. Now, your parents danced at the Avon Isle in the 50's -- did you ever go there for the dances or any other reasons?

TOM: I've been there for other reasons -- other than when I worked there -- I used to go, when I was a kid, with my dad they used to have clam bakes over there -- it was mostly men, in fact, it was all men -- and there would be some drinking and partying -- they would be playing cards -- I remember guys shootin' darts on the front porch of the Avon Isle.

RHONDA: What years did that take place?

TOM: That would have been early 50's -- in fact, a cousin of mine was the police chief of Avon and they used to have to go back there every once in awhile and tell them to have to keep it down -- those clam bakes sometimes went all night and into the next morning and they'd still be over there -- I remember my mother complaining about it.

And then I was also there when -- I hope Mayor Smith told you about when he had a boxing match over there, cause I was there.

RHONDA: He didn't talk too much about his boxing match but I am aware of it

TOM: Yeah, they'd have probably 3 or 4 of those -- and they'd have a local grudge fight and then they'd have 4 or 5 amateur bouts with real fighters.

RHONDA: What year was that?

TOM: That was in the 70's I would say -- those drew some big crowds.

RHONDA: What was going on at the Isle in the 60's?

TOM: There were still the dances and they had picnics -- there was -- in the basement of the place -- there was actually a regular bar -- it was open year around -- probably from the mid-50's until sometime in the 70's -- it was a regular bar -- the guy that ran it was Jim Bender, he's passed away now, but his son is still around.

RHONDA: When you say a regular bar do you mean they served beer, wine, liquor?

TOM: Yes -- it was a regular bar

RHONDA: Did they serve alcohol during the dances?

TOM: Yeah

RHONDA: Beer, wine, liquor -- all of that?

TOM: I don't know -- I was pretty young then -- but during the boxing matches they sure did -- they used to have turkey raffles over there -- the Avon firemen, I think had turkey raffles over there when I was real young -- and they'd have -- you know how when you go to a turkey raffle now and it's all frozen turkeys? They would bring -- I remember my dad bringing home live turkeys -- at Thanksgiving -- and that would be about 1950 or so -- I remember my mother, when we lived across the street, putting the turkey in the laundry tub with a screen over it and then they'd kill it the next day.

RHONDA: Did you ever go to the Isle to dance while you were in high school?'

TOM: No it was mostly like ballroom dancing and square dancing -- no, I might have stuck my head in there or something -- cause I vaguely remember the bands with Elsie Biltz being the square dance caller, you've heard that name too?

RHONDA: Oh sure, a lot of times.

RHONDA: What about the 80's? Had you left the area by then?

TOM: No, my father and I sold cars and had a gas station repair shop there -- my dad was there from 1934 until we sold it in 1986 -- except when he went into the army in the second world war.

RHONDA: So what was going on at the Isle in the 80's?

TOM: It was pretty well shut down -- I think they had a few outside -- I think Mr. Barbier tried to do an outside flea market or yard sale thing there but it didn't do very well -- and it kind of -- he just kind of kept it kind of closed off -- he was trying to sell it -- he was getting elderly and he was trying to sell it -- and I think the first people that he sold it to after he -- before he died -- tried to do a -- I can't remember the name of it -- they changed the name of it and they did catering and they did wedding receptions -- but it didn't last a very long time -- a few years maybe.

It used to be -- before there was city water in Avon -- when they had an all volunteer fire department -- after they had gone to a fire, they would come over -- they would park the fire truck on the bridge, right over the side there was the deepest portion of that creek and they used to pump the water out of the creek to refill the pumpers after a fire -- I remember seeing that a lot.

RHONDA: That was the early 50's?

TOM: Yeah -- then, I remember after he closed it up -- I haven't been in there in a long time -- when you're a kid and you go in there, you think the place is huge -- when I was there 10 years ago or something -- after the city bought it, I think I was in there with the mayor -- we were reminiscing -- it's not as big inside as what I remembered when I was kid.

RHONDA: It's still quite a beautiful building inside, though.

TOM: It's very unique -- the guy that owned it, Mr. Barbier, and his father before him -- the bar that's across the street my dad bought from Mr. Barbier in 1951 -- and that was his father's bar -- and like I said he was probably 60 years old in the 1950's -- so, it's been there a long time -- but they were very thrifty when it came to building things -- while it's solid, it was built with whatever materials they had, so you'll see different size boards because that's what they had.

RHONDA: Are you talking about the original construction of the building back in the 20's?

TOM: Yeah -- I remember all the tables and chairs -- have you ever seen those little ice cream tables with the little chairs? On the front porch of that place, and those things bring a lot of money at antique shows now, there was 50 or 100 of those tables and chairs -- stacked up on the porch of that place after the thing closed -- I don't know what ever happened to that stuff.

RHONDA: Did they used to be setting out? Did people used to use them?

TOM: Yes, sometimes -- especially when they'd have those clambakes or picnics and there all kinds of old wooden coolers -- I remember when I helped him out -- when I worked there -- I think he paid me like 50 cents a day or something -- it wasn't very much -- but then I'd get to go to the picnics and I'd get to eat for free and everything -- and I'd have to keep the coolers filled with ice and stuff like that -- the place was actually an isle then -- the water did run all the way around it where it doesn't anymore.

RHONDA: When did they fill that in? when did they fill in the channel?

TOM: Oh you knew about that?

RHONDA: Yes, it was for the sawmill, right?

TOM: Yes, right -- I used to play in the sawmill too -- when it was still -- after it shut down -- it was a pretty dangerous place -- when did they fill that in? I'm going to say in the 60's -- first -- they didn't keep cleaning it out after the sawmill closed, which was probably in the 40's -- I don't know -- I don't remember when it closed -- the trench was still there, but since they weren't using the sawmill anymore nobody was keeping it clean and after a while it just -- brush grew in it and then water didn't flow through it anymore.

And then a guy by the name of Cyril Miller -- his family owned the other side of the creek and evidently he proved that he owned the trench because that's where the sawmill sat -- he was a trucker and he used to store cinder and topsoil and stuff that he sold, he would store it back there and then he just started filling it in when he'd get junk dirt that he'd removed somewhere, he'd just dump it in there.

RHONDA: And that's how it got filled in?

TOM: And that's how it got filled in -- he used to throw his scrap in there and then he'd level it off and that's how it got filled in.

RHONDA: Are you aware that people used to gather there for the war effort?

TOM: No, I don't know anything about that -- I don't know if anyone has told you this -- in 1964, when Avon was 150 years old they had the Sesquicentennial celebration there at Avon Isle.

RHONDA: Was it a one day celebration?

TOM: It might have been 2 or 3 days -- it might have been over a long weekend.

RHONDA: Was it a festival? Is that what is was?

TOM: Yeah -- yeah.

RHONDA: Who sponsored that event?

TOM: I think the Lions Club was involved with it -- somewhat -- but there were a lot of organizations -- they had booths -- they sold food -- there was a contest at that time that everybody was suppose to grow a beard -- and they had a beard growing contest -- and anyone that was clean-shaven they locked them up -- they had a little jail over there -- you had to donate to charity ... they were ahead of their time.

(This concludes the oral history of Mr. Tom Tomlin.)

Rhonda L. Newman, July 30, 2007

HISTORICAL SKETCH OF AVON, OHIO, TO 1974 -- Lake Erie -- Topic Index

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