History of Rockport Township, Cuyahogo
County, OH (Part 2)
From: A History of Cuyahoga County
and the City of Cleveland
By: William R. Coates
Publishers: The American Historical Society
Chicago and New York, 1924
Of Lakewood, the beautiful city of homes, the gem of the outgrowth on the soil of old Rockport, the fruition after some years of the labors of the first settlers, who laid the foundation, we cannot speak too highly. Its wonderful growth, in keeping with the growth of Greater Cleveland, of which it is a western border, is phenomenal. Its homes are all that the name implies. There is no seeming attempt to outdo one another, but everywhere neatness and variety and the attractive ornaments of trees and flowers, and well cut lawns. By the courtesy of Hon. Richard F. Edwards, of the Ohio House of Representatives, we are permitted to draw from his forthcoming book on "The Pioneers of Lakewood." Mr. Edwards is a grandson of Doctor Fry, one of the early pioneers of Rockport, and lives at 1375 Fry Street in the City of Lakewood. He has been elected and reelected to the General Assembly and is serving as a member of the Finance Committee of the House. He has had large experience as a newspaper writer in New York City and elsewhere and has interviewed many men of national and international fame, yet he sees in the sturdy pioneers those enduring qualities, those original achievements, which should be recorded for the present and future generations. His work on the finance committee of the House of Representatives has been marked by dose application and carefully formed judgments rather than spectacular display. He is known as "The watch dog of the treasury." He says in his introduction: "These sketches are of the earliest residents of Lakewood, who settled in this district more than half a century before the World war. They are gathered all from first hand sources. There is material for many a romance in the early history of the present city of more than 50,000, in the stories of the Nicholsons, the Wagars, the French family, the Halls, the Kirtland and the Winchester families. The greatest of all the pioneers was the Dr. Jared P. Kirtland, but the fascinating side lights on the career of this wonderful man could only be obtained from my Harvard classmate, Mars E. Wagar, and from J. C. Andrews and William Johnson. I looked with wonder through the pages of my encyclopedia that I found no mention of the man who originated all of the well known varieties of cherries. He was a famous horticulturist and a great doctor. His textbooks were used at Yale. He discovered that this lake district was especially adapted to grape culture, because the underlying shale strata retained the moisture needed for the growth and development of that delicious fruit." Mr. Edwards speaks in his introduction of the French family and says: "The original member of the French family was Price French, a younger son of Lord French, who married the daughter of an Indian chief. His elder brother died and he was called home to assume the title left by his father, but refused, and on the outbreak of the War of 1812 he served in the army of his adopted country against the British. * * * The Calkinses and the Winchesters were of old Yankee stock and of distinguished lineage. The first Winchester helped the slave, George Harris, immortalized in Mrs. Stowe's 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' to escape from his would be captors, and was later haled before the court at Painesville." Mr. Edwards concludes his introduction by saying: "We do not need to worship our ancestors, as do the Chinese, but it is well worth while to understand their ideals and methods and see to it that we do not slip, so far as the former are concerned. The reading of their deeds will do us good." We will give enough of the sketches of Mr. Edwards to show their merit and historical interest and the necessity of preserving in permanent form that which would otherwise be lost. "Perhaps no descendant of Lakewood pioneers has a stronger claim to fame than the late Ezra Nicholson, son of James and Betsy Bartholomew Nicholson, who built the first permanent home in what is now Lakewood, 110 years ago on the site of the mansion of the late Robert Wallace, Detroit Street, opposite Waterbury Road. The fine allotment through the fruitful acres was in fact named after the Connecticut town where the pioneer wife was born, Chatham, Barnstable County, Massachusetts, the birthplace of James Nicholson, who was a minister's son. For our splendid old Yankee citizen, who has now passed on to the 'greatest adventure of life' was what writers are pleased to call a man of vision, inheriting that sixth sense of looking afar into the future to some closed book, that led his father, when twenty one years of age, to travel on foot from the Massachusetts home to the far off Western Reserve, which, not a decade before, was the home of the hostile Indian. The date was, in fact, but ten years after Mad Anthony Wayne had broken the power of the savages at 'Fallen Timbers,' sixty miles west of the Cuyahoga. At first James Nicholson settled in Ashtabula, where he bought a section of forest and began clearing for his future farm. Here he married and one day after he had lived here six years there came along a homesick traveler from the wilderness five miles west of the Cuyahoga River, who stopped to visit former friends. He offered to trade with Nicholson and give money to boot. The Ashtabula farm was improved and the other's land was in what is now Lakewood. Our pioneer was a Yankee, and, as a matter of course, he must see the land. He walked to Cleveland to satisfy himself before he closed the deal. There wasn't any better means of travel by which he could transport household goods and therefore he traveled the seventy five miles with his bride to the new home, driving a yoke of oxen, and taking several more days than is now required for the express trains to span the continent. When it was necessary to build a fire before the door at night to keep away the wolves and bears, the young husband was drafted into the army fighting against the British in the War of 1812, and left his wife alone in the wilderness for three months. While he was away a bear came and carried off the family pig squealing in its arms. The same bear was shot by the musket which Nicholson carried to the front. Nicholson bought 160 acres more land out of the earnings of the original purchase. His holdings then extended from the west line of Cohasset Avenue allotment to the east line of what is now Elbur Avenue. On this estate there was never a mortgage. When he built the first home in 1812, the or y habitation between the Cuyahoga River and the Rocky River was a ferryman's house on the west bank of the Cuyahoga River and another on the east bank of the Rocky River. Detroit Street was a crooked blazed trail through the woods. The second home was built on the hill on the west side of Nicholson Creek, where a fine residence now stands. It was fastened together by wooden pins, no nails, and in consequence swayed and creaked dreadfully when there was a heavy wind. Twenty five years after the building of the log house the present homestead, opposite Nicholson Avenue, was erected in a chestnut grove, a former camping place for Indians, who often exchanged products of the chase for much prized salt. This homestead has been occupied since only by Nicholsons. Ezra Nicholson was then only two years old. This sketch would not be complete without a brief history of him. He was a man of 'vision.' If he had done nothing further than invent the 'Nicholson Log,' which is in universal use in the navy, his fame would be established. He was the first capitalist to see the importance of natural gas, an unknown agent fifty years ago. The first gas well in this part of the country was put down by Ezra Nicholson just south of Scenic Park, a gusher, more than half a century ago. Inability to pipe the product resulted in abandonment of this well, but, not discouraged. he bored another just west of the old homestead, which is in use today. Mr. Daly will take notice that our fine old neighbor put in pipes as far as Cove Avenue and told the neighbors to 'hitch on' free of cost. He organized the first rapid transit, the Rocky River Railroad, with the late Dan P. Rhodes and Elias Sims and was the first president. The old depot (McGuire's then) still stands, the third house west of Fifty eighth Street on the north side of Bridge Avenue. This was the eastern terminus. The railroad ran to the Cliff House, Rocky River, and the car fare was 20 cents. George Mulhern was the first conductor. Later Mr. Nicholson negotiated the right of way for the Nickel Plate Railroad, which bought the Rocky River Road. He was the first clerk of the Hamlet of Lakewood and served on the committee that selected the name. The permanent home of the sons is still in Lakewood.
"It is a far cry from the present modern and model City of Lakewood to 1789, when a hunter and trapper
visited the then newly established City of Marietta, on the Ohio, and stated that he had traveled westward on the
southern shore of Lake Erie as far as the River Cuyahoga. He ventured the opinion that the location was a good
one and would some day be the site of a great city. At the time of his visit to the new City of Marietta, the City
of Lakewood was only inhabited by Indians. Right in the City of Lakewood today are a number of families whose histories
are practically the history of the town before it became a municipality. One of the best known is the Wagar family,
who at one time or another have owned at least one fifth of the entire 3,600 acres that constitute the area of
the town. It was more than 100 years ago that the first Wagar came to Ohio from Lansingburgh, New York. He was
Mars Wagar, a man learned in the classics and the mystery of surveying. In 1820 he purchased 111 acres of land
in East Rockport, a mile and a half east of Rocky River. He paid $5 an acre for the homestead on which four generations
have since lived and it is interesting to note that his grandson and namesake this year sold twenty acres of The
interior of that farm with no street frontage for $95,000, or practically $5,000 an acre. Incidentally Mars E.
Wagar told the writer that that property was assessed for taxes at the same value as the price of sale. The old
abstracts show that the Wagar homestead was bought from the estate of Gideon Granger, who took his title direct
from the Connecticut Land Company. The Grant House property through which now runs the extension of Belle Avenue
was sold to Israel Kidney, twelve acres in all, for $7 an acre. The original Wagar's grandson, many years after,
bought back two acres of the same for $14,000. The real price first paid for the twelve acres was a yoke of oxen.
This was often told by Mrs. Katura Wagar, who long survived her husband. On this $84 estate was built the hotel,
which after the Civil war was called the Grant House. This hotel stood on a steep hill and the hill was a favorite
coasting place in winter. This hotel was the scene of many a wild revel and many are the stories told about it.
One is of Innkeeper Bennett, who made a bet with a famous local woodman that he could not saw five cords of wood
in one day. Bennett lost his money. Another episode of the old days when John Barleycorn was still triumphant is
related. It was decided to play a joke on one of the inebriated frequenters of the place. A ghost was fitted out
to intercept the home going frequenter on a gloomy boisterous night. The victim saw the ghost some distance away
and provided himself with a rock. 'Who are you?' he asked. 'I am the devil and have come after you,' was the reply.
'Well, take this,' said the much sobered man, whereupon the rock sped true and the ghost was knocked out. As a
sequel to this story it is related that the doctor refused to patch up the injured ghost until his fee of 50 cents
"In old East Rockport there were a small select number, who stood out above the rest. Among them were Dr.
Jared P. Kirtland, James Nicholson, Price French, Mars Wagar, Franklyn R. Elliott and Dr. Richard Fry. Doctor Kirtland
easily stood first, and we believe today there is no one who could dispute that title with him. The old Kirtland
homestead of indigenous narrow deavage sandstone was built when he purchased the 200 acres extending from what
is now Madison Avenue to the lake, bounded on the east by the Price French acres. This includes the entire present
Kuntz estate. Bunts Road was the eastern boundary south of Detroit Avenue. The purchase was made in 1837. Several
other pioneer homes were built of the same material as Dr. Kirtland's. This mansion still stands on Detroit Avenue
opposite the Elks' Home, changed by stucco and porch additions but not improved in the eyes of old settlers. Doctor
Kirtland was born at Wallingford, Connecticut, in 1793. His father, general agent for the Connecticut Land Company,
intended to send him to Edinburgh University, Scotland, but the breaking out of the War of 1812 prevented and he
sent him to Yale, where he graduated in the medical department. His life was devoted to the study of medicine and
natural history, plant and animal life. He was a national authority on natural history, geology, etymology, pomology
and horticulture, and was an intimate of Agassiz. He made discoveries of the parthenogenesis of silk worms and
the fish fauna of the lakes. Twenty six varieties of cherries were originated by him and half a dozen pears. He
was an expert taxidermist and taught many of the sons and daughters of settlers the art just for the love of it.
One of them for a long time had a sign in front of his house, 'Bird Stuffer.' That was before the pretty word taxidermist
became popular. He also showed his neighbors how to make wax flowers, perfect imitations of plant life. He was
the first and only president of the Cleveland Academy of Science, succeeded by the Kirtland Society of Natural
History, and, with Doctor Delamater, was the founder of Western Reserve Medical College, where he was a lecturer
for twenty years. Doctor Kirtland in fact was the savant of Rockport, the grand old man of his day. He was six
feet tall and a figure that would be noted anywhere. The older men of today remember the mane of white hair, the
strong splendid face, aquiline nose, and the look of genius that marked him out from all others of that day. The
children and young men looked up to him with something like awe. In his house was the most wonderful library in
miles around, 6,000 volumes. Among them were the complete works and pictures of the great Audubon, worth at that
time $400. He knew all the local birds and all about them. The demesne about his house was a veritable park, and
the blooming magnolias, then unusual, were the wonder of all who passed. He could not bear to see a fine tree injured
in any may. The present Mars Wagar said he never was so chagrined in his life as at a reproof from the old doctor.
His mother had taken the preacher and his family to board and, by the way, for 80 cents a week for each member,
and when the domime could not pay in cash she accepted his nag in payment. The horse was balky and tipped Mars'
father into the creek once with a load off watermelions. it remained for the sun to discover the way to manage
the animal. He found that by getting out of the wagon and giving the horse an awful crack with anything he count
find, the horse would run away thinking he had got nu of me maven. He did not know that the driver had climbed
in over the backboards and was well satisned as long as his steed went in the right direction. One day the horse
balked in front of the Kirtland house. Mars got out, and seeing nothing else available, tore a branch from a buckeye
tree. Just at that moment the Doctor looked over the hedge and said: Mars, your mother would not approve of that.
Many stories are told of the doctors's democratic ways. The old doctor one day carried some feed across the street
to his pig pens and asked a young man who was passing to hand the pail to hun over the fence. The young man did
so and was thanked for his trouble and then asked his name. I am Reverend Mercer of me Swede-Georgian Church,'
was the reply. Yon should wear a tan hat and a long tail coat for that calling,' said the doctor. Doctor Kirtland
was the author of textbooks used at Yale College. One day two elegant young men stopped in front of the manse and
asked an old man in nondescript domes where Doctor Kirtland lived. the old man pointed to the nouse. The young
men were Yale students and were making a pilgrimage to meet the great man of their university. They politely asked
the old man to hold their horse which he did, without comment. Mrs. Pease, the doctor's only daughter, came to
the door and to the question where Doctor Kirtland could be found, she pointed to the old man holding the horse.
The young men were tremendously embarrassed while the Doctor enjoyed the joke in the same degree. in Civil war
timers the great savant was greatly stirred. He did not waste his patriotism in sentimentality but volunteered
his services to examine men for the army at Columbus. Of his descendants, only one, Noble Pease, a great grandson,
lives in Lakewood."