The Avon Isle Park

  1. Introduction
  2. A Brief History
  3. 10-5-05 the Avon Isle Park Is Salvageable
  4. 11-13-06 Historic Avon Isle Park Will Soon Get a Facelift
  5. 11-10-10 Avon Isle Park Building to Be Renovated

FEATURE ARTICLE from The Plain Dealer, January 16, 2002, By Catherine Gilfether, Plain Dealer Reporter

"Hoping to renovate dance hall into a center for Avon's seniors

AVON - Agnes Zilka vowed never to dance with a bald-headed man. But one spin around the dance floor, and marriage and children soon followed.

Zilka, now 77, and her intended first danced at a hall on W 25th Street in Cleveland. But after they married and moved to Lorain County, they learned that Avon Isle Park was the place for fancy footwork.

In the 1920s, when dancing was outlawed in nearby Elyria and Lorain, a gal could still fill her dance card at the Isle. Situated at the center of the once-rural community, it was a natural gathering place for quilting parties, picnics, square dancing and bingo for over 60 years.

Residents want to preserve those memories by renovating the 1926 building. Many hope it will become the city's senior center, honoring and serving those who might have once waltzed around a dance hall - if not in Avon, then elsewhere.

Mayor Jim Smith once boxed in fund-raising matches at the Isle, the same building where years earlier farmers were said to have settled disputes via fisticuffs.

"People from all over northern Ohio used to come there," Smith said.

But the dancing pretty much stopped in the 1960s, and the building fell into disrepair. It now houses city parks-and-recreation offices.

"It's a landmark," said Jack Smith, president of the local historical society. "The building... has a distinctive shape."

The wooden building with a long porch, hip roof and smaller gable at the top sits on a patch of land surrounded by the French Creek. In 1854, a channel was cut to increase water velocity for a nearby sawmill, and an island was created.

Elderly woman standing in front of a paintingAvon Isle Park, painted by long time Avon resident Agnes Zilka, 77, is one of the many local landmarks she has painted.  Area residents hope the Isle, once a dance hall, will be renovated to become a Senior Center.  Plain Dealer photo by Scott Shaw  

The white-haired Zilka painted a picture of the Isle in 1988. But nothing really re-creates the memories, especially of the first time she danced as a youngster.

"I would sit there, a bump on a log, and some guy would come up and teach me to dance," she said. "Then I would walk 2.5 miles to my home, Osage orange on either side of the muddy road. I got home and could still hear the whooping and hollering."

Elsie and George Biltz of Avon were the life behind the party. "George keeps a good, steady beat and is a perfect complement to Elsie's piano playing," Zilka's son, Martin, wrote for a college oral history project.

Elsie recalled being urged to "Call a square! Call a square! So one Saturday night... I called a square dance. Well, I tell you, if on Saturdays and Sundays, if you didn't get there early, you'd be lucky if you got in there."

Once, when a tired patron complained to Elsie, she told him to sit out a dance.

"Yeah, but when you start the music, I can't keep my feet still anymore," he said.

Neither can Avon residents, who want to get moving on the renovation. The mayor estimates it could cost $750,000 to renovate the building, rebuild the one-lane bridge, create a walking bridge to a parking lot and build an amphitheater.

Zilka wonders if "there's enough people with that kind of money" to save the building.

Historian Smith said there had to be. "To knock it down would be a sacrilege." ''

Contact Catherine Gilfether via email.

© 2002 The Plain Dealer