History of Milan, Erie County, OH (part 2)
From: The Centennial History of Erie County, Ohio
By: H. L. Peeke
President of the Firelands Historical Society
Sandusky, Ohio 1925


{contunued from Milan history part 1]


The village of Beatty, now Milan, was laid out in 1814 by E. Merry, father of E. Merry, Jr., who resided in Milan until his death in 1888, and of Elizabeth, who resided with her brother. In 1816 Mr. Merry, with J. C. Smith and Isaac Tupper, began erecting a saw and grist mill near town. The former, who was a large land owner and a man of considerable enterprise, bought out his partners before the mill was completed, and, finishing it alone, operated it for some time to the satisfaction of residents for miles around. In 1819 F. W. Fowler removed to Milan Village from Abbotts, and in 1820 he opened a public house which accommodated boarders up to 1842.

In 1823 a meeting of citizens of Milan and the township adjoining was held at the house of F. W. Fowler to consider the building of a harbor at the mouth of the river. A committee was appointed, consisting of George W. Choate, Philo Adams, N. P. Mason, Schuyler Van Rensselaer, David Gibbs, Frederick Forsyth, N. M. Standart, James Williams and Ralph Lockwood, to consider the feasibility of the plan. Afterward a company was organized with five directors: Jabez Wright, Philo Adams, H. N. Jenkins, N. M. Standart and B. N. Adams. The work was begun in 1824, under the superintendence of Charles Wheaton, of Milan, and when he died, the following fall, Zebulon Stevens, of Huron, was elected to his place. The company's money was exhausted before the work was finished, when the National Government took it up and completed it.

Milan Canal. - The following appeared in the Sandusky Clarion of May 5, 1824:

"In conformity with the authority vested in us, and in discharge of the duties required of us, we, the undersigned, on the 12th day of April, 1824, proceeded to make the necessary survey of the canal route from the village of Milan to the navigable waters of the Huron River, near the former seat of justice for this county.

"The engineers and acting committee, having carefully looked the ground over which the canal will pass, marked out the route. At the commencement of this, they find a very convenient situation for the summit pond, which may be formed by a very small dam across the Huron, which from estimates by actual experience, can be constructed for $300, with an ample supply of water at all seasons of the year. With this expense, the summit pond will be perfectly secure from floods.

"It is found by actual measurement of the fall of the water the whole distance of the contemplated canal, that it will be seven feet and six inches. The whole ground over which the canal will pass is bottom land, and the easiest kind of aquateneus earth for excavating. The whole distance is three miles, and entirely of the above description of earth. From excavations actually made in the same kind of earth, it is found that the excavation may be made at an expense of six (6) cents a square yard, and at this rate a boat navigation of four feet deep and 30 feet in width may be made at an expenditure of $1,500 per mile, and consequently the three miles of excavation may be made for the sum of $4,50 Add to this the dam and the excavation of the summit pond, $300, equals $4,800. It is believed that two locks will be necessary, one at or near the summit-pond, and one at the entrance of the canal from the river, at an expenditure of $300 each; to which add the above and we have $5,400. Some grubbing of timber and other contingent expenses, say $400, which added to the above makes $5,800.

"It is believed that this expense will be more than counterbalanced by the great advantage which the thriving village of Milan will derive from the canal. Nearly one half the above sum is already offered to be advanced by responsible individuals.
"Geo. W. Choate, "Mr. Bates, of N. Y.,
"Geo. Lockwood,
"Committee.
"P. R. Hopkins, "Chas. Wheaton,
"Engineers."

The Village of Milan was laid out in 1817. It at that time contained two log houses or cabins.

The action above stated constituted the first step toward the canal which was commenced some six years later and completed for use in 1839, a period of fifteen years from the preparation of the above estimate.

In 1827-28 B. N. Abbott built the schooner Mary Abbott at the home of the family on the river. In 1829 he made a prosperous voyage to New York City via Huron River, Lake Erie, the Erie Canal and the Hudson River, disposing of a load of Ohio produce and purchasing a cargo of goods needed in the West, returning safely home. H. N. Jenkins built the schooner Louisa Jenkins across the river at about the same time, but he confined his navigating expenditions to the river and Lake Erie.

A charter was granted the Milan Canal Company, which in 1828 proposed to dig a canal some three or four miles long, so that the village might be reached by such sailing craft as had been navigating the river up to Ward's Landing and Abbots. E. Merry, Ralph Lockwood, George Lockwood, T. Baker and J. Wright were named in the charter as commissioners to open books for subscriptions to the stock. The subscribers assembled at the home of F. W. Fowler on August 27, 1831, and elected the following directors: E. Merry, E. Andrews, George Lockwood, D. Hamilton and F. W. Fowler. Work was begun on the canal in 1832, and completed, after numerous delays and discouragements, in 1839. This artificial waterway was of vast importance at that time from the fact there were no railways, and it afforded an outlet for immense quantities of grain. John Sherman in his "Recollections" says, "In the Fall of the year it was quite common for the farmer to load upon his wagon his surplus wheat, and haul it fifty miles to Sandusky or Milan, and receiving in return, salt and farming implements, and the balance in money." It was costly to Milan later, however, as it made the citizens of that village so independent that they refused a right of way to the Lake Shore Railroad, and that line went through Norwalk, which was then an unimportant village.

The organization of the old canal company was still continued for the purpose of holding the charter privileges for the W. & L. E. R. R. Co.'s right of way, but it has been many years since the old canal would float even a row boat, except at times of freshet, when the river overflows its banks. The first vessel to arrive at Milan by the canal was quite a curiosity, and its captain was a popular hero. When Captain Moran and his schooner, the Kewaune, of 150 tons, arrived on the 4th of July, 1839, he was met by a procession of 500 people with music and banners, and presented with an American flag by Miss Maria Butnam, acting for the patriotic ladies of Milan.

With the opening of the canal Milan at once became an important lake port. In the matters of securing the grain of the interior, and lumber for ship building, there was a considerable advantage in lying some eight or nine miles from the lake.

A scheme to connect Milan with Columbus by a railroad from the head of the canal through Norwalk and other villages was inaugurated at about the time the old Mad River Railroad was built, but for some unknown reason the project fell through.

Soon after the canal was finished the enterprising citizens of Milan began active steps in the direction of permanent improvements and substantial business projects. Warehouses were erected along the upper canal basin and the buyers of grain were rewarded with a trade that covered a section reaching in a southerly direction for more than a hundred miles. Great covered wagons, drawn by four or more horses, came in trains to town, and Milan held the greater part of their trade, though at times considerable numbers of the farmers passed on down the river to Huron in anticipation of a higher price for their grain.

The canal gave quite an impetus to ship building as well as commerce. The fine white oak timber in the vicinity was utilized for this purpose by numerous builders at their yards on either side of the basin, below the hill on which the village stands. J. P. Gay was among the first prominent builders, constructing a number of government sailing boats previous to the Civil War. E. Merry was at one time connected with this firm under the title of Merry & Gay, but they were unfortunate in their contracts and the business was suspended. Henry Kelley, for many years a prominent and public spirited citizen of Milan, owned a shipyard at the foot of the ridge on which the residence of J. C. Lockwood was built. Captain Kelley afterwards erected a fine brick business block in Milan, and improved several farms in the vicinity, besides beautifying his house and grounds in the village. For many years he was a member of the council, and was once a commissioner of Erie County.

Among the first and last of the ship builders was Valentine Fries, a self made man, who came to Milan about the year 1849 and began the grocery business in a small way. Careful attention to business and steady, hard work, together with the strictest integrity, gave Mr. Fries the necessary means to enlarge his business, and to invest a limited amount of money in vessel property. The time was opportune, and he soon increased his marine investments. In the '70s and '80s he built, at Fries' Landing (formerly called Wards and Abbotts), several of the largest and finest sailing vessels on the lakes, including the Marion Page, the Golden Age and others. He also built the steam barge Charles Foster. As a trustee of the township he was very active in bringing about the graveling of the flats north of Milan, an improvement that has been a very great benefit to farmers on that side of the town because the roads prior to this were next to impassable for several weeks every spring and fall.

The advent of the railroads was unfortunate because, not appreciating their significance, Milan suffered them to go to the west of her, cutting off vast areas which had poured their grain into her warehouses, suffered them to go south of her, cutting off other large territory and finally to the east, so that only a very restricted district found its rational trade outlet at Milan.

The Huron river is not now and never was navigable to Milan, but boats of considerable size can approach to a point within three miles of the village. The distance was overcome by the construction of the canal, and on the banks of this canal, there stood for many years some of the largest grain warehouses then extant in the United States. All of them, but one, now have been removed.

For miles in all directions around Milan, the hills were covered with a growth of heavy oak timber, admirably suited to boat building, and at one time, Milan was the chosen spot for the government to have its revenue cutters for lake service built. Around the walls of the library, there are today, brave in blue and red and white the pictures of smartly trimmed briggs and yachts, which upheld the glory of the Stars and Stripes upon the inland seas prior to the Civil War.

In retrospect these years seem very long ago, yet so well did the shipwrights in those days build that at least one of the evidences of their handicraft and possibly others still persist. "The Golden Age," a stout and hardy barque, is still afloat and flies the colors of the Pringle Company. Few of this day recall those times of high prosperity. One, however, Miss Elizabeth Taylor, who celebrated her 91st birthday November 22, 1922, recalled on that occasion that the business of Milan frequently overflowed the accommodations of its taverns, and that men frequently went as far as Spear's Corners, a distance of several miles from Milan to secure accommodations.

J. C. Lockwood and Lucius Stoddar, who were associated in the Milan Banking Company, were also largely interested in the shipping interests. Mr. Lockwood was also engaged for many years in the general mercantile trade. This business was afterward transferred to his nephews, Frank C. Smith and R. M. Lockwood.

J. M. Choate erected a carding mill in 1821, and started the business which was afterward taken over by J. Brown. About the same time N. Standart opened a general store, and Ralph and George Lockwood opened a store very soon after. The latter business after. ward became the well known house of F. G. and R. Lockwood, and then Ralph Lockwood, No. 2 Lockwood Block. Ralph Lockwood, Sr., became the first postmaster of Merry's Mills, as the place was then called, and held the office seventeen years. Henry Lockwood began the hat manufacturing business here in 1824, and conducted it with varying success for some time. The first Lockwood Block was a frame building erected in 1827, and burned some years later.

Among the old families whose names are worthy of mention are those of Kneeland Townsend, Carlos Colton, Joseph Hough, Charles Eldridge, Judson Perrin, William Daniels, D. Dimon, William Dimon, William Raynor, Doctor Renner, Squire Emmons, Captain Dean, Henry Penfield, H. Stoddard, William Mackey, H. McMillen, Captain Hicks, Captain Coulter, Squire Burt, O. Ruggles, the Roots, Hawleys, Lowrys, Roscoes, Fays, Minards, Richards, Gibbs, Roberts, Schaeffers. Williams, Daleys.

Among the earliest newspapers of Erie County was the Milan Free Press, which was conducted for some time by W. Jenkins, and the Tribune, established in 1848 by Clark Waggoner, who was afterward connected with the Toledo Commercial. Other papers have flourished from time to time, notably the Milan Bugle, which was sold by its editor, S. D. Brady, to the Milan Advertiser, edited by W. B. Starbird, and Messrs. Pratt, Balsey, and Gibbs, in succession since 1868, when it was established by Mr. Pratt and others.

The village was incorporated in 1833, and has since been presided over by the following mayors: John Smith, Richard Burt, John Smith, S. F. Taylor, T. R. Hopkins, E. B. Atherton, J. J. Penfield, L. Galpin, A. Page, George Dimon, V. Fries, Darwin Fay, W E. Lockwood, Dr. E. L. Perry, J. W. Stoakes, Dr. E. L. Perry, J. W. Stoakes.

The Odd Fellows were organized here largely through the activities of Mr. Mann. Milan Lodge No. 105 was installed in the spring of 1848 by Thomas C. McEwen, afterward a resident of Sandusky. The lodge flourished for many years, but meetings were finally discontinued. The cause of the failure is said to have been the enlistment of so many of its members in the army during the Civil War.

The present society is styled Marks Lodge, No. 717, being named in honor of Reverend Marks, so long an Episcopalian minister at Huron, and an Odd Fellow of high standing. This lodge was installed in the fall of 1882, by Grand Master J. Burkitt, of Finlay, Ohio. The charter members were F. H. Weaver, S. G. Saunders, P. J. Slocum, J. Eggleston, R. Croft, H. L. Wilson and D. J. Wilcoxson.

Erie Lodge, F. & A. M., was established in Milan in 1853, with the following charter members: Dr. E. L. Perry, John W. Sisty, Castleton Roscoe, Darwin Fay, William Lewis, J. F. Webster, P. P. Parker, A. Youman, S. Hollister, George A. Kline, and J. S. Felton.

Cranston Post, No. 73, Grand Army of the Republic, was organized in 1881, with the following officers and charter members: H. N. Shipman, C.; John P. Mowry, S. V. C.; M. K. Lee, J. V. C.; J. C. Fitch, adjutant; P. A. Gordon, surgeon; C. H. Wilson, chaplain; John A. McLain, Q. M.; T. J. O'Leary, O. D.; W. H. Bemis, O. C.; Silas Brown, M.; J. Eggleston, Q. M. S.; A. Foreman, J. C. Bartow, William Eastman, William P. Poole, and J. Herble. The cornerstone of the soldiers' monument was laid May 10, 1867.

A Woman's Relief Corps was organized in the spring of 1888, with the following ladies as charter members: Mrs. Emma Elliott, Mrs. Lucinda Callanan, Mrs. Mary Gordon, Mrs. Emma Shupe, Mrs. Kate Luff, Mrs. Louisa Eggleston, Mrs. Fidelia McLain, Mrs. Rebecca Schaeffer, Mrs. Elizabeth Bassett, Mrs. Louisa Burch, Mrs. Julia Roscoe, Mrs. Helen Roscoe, Mrs. Sarah Oakley, Mrs. Sarah Marsh, Mrs. Alice Roscoe, Mrs. Mary Brown, Miss Eliza Schaeffer, Miss Annie Bassett, and Miss Lizzie Bassett.

The cornerstone of the town hall was laid July 4, 1876.

The Fanny Gordon Home, Milan. - On one of the prettiest residence streets in Milan is located "The Fanny Gordon Home," which was bequeathed to the corporate body known as "The Church Home of Cleveland," an Episcopalian home for old ladies, by the late Mrs. Frances McFall Gordon, who died in August, 1907.

The Gordon Home was dedicated on Wednesday, July 29, 1908, under the oversight of Mr. Lee and a large party of the trustees and friends of the home. The Milan Cottage has always been maintained as a summer home, and here a number of the old ladies from the Cleveland Home come to spend the warm summer months in charge of Sister Sarah, who looks after their comfort and welfare. The cottage is nicely furnished and has all modern conveniences. It is indeed an ideal summer home and it is with genuine pleasure that the citizens of Milan greet the return of these old ladies. In 1849, 13 died of cholera.

On August 17, 1910, Milan held its centennial celebration.

The village of Milan has a population of 653.

The Milan Bank Robbery

Nowadays when it is an every day occurrence for a gang to walk into a bank, shoot up the officers and get away with thousands of dollars, the robbery of the Milan bank would create no surprise, but a bank robbery was rare in 1895 and the little village was thrown into a storm of excitement when on Monday morning, February fourth, 1895, five shots were heard caused by the blowing of the safe about three o'clock A. M. Twenty thousand dollars in cash and valuables were obtained, and the residents who dressed and got to the spot were just in time to see the bandits make their getaway. There were five of them but the only one ever convicted was Louie Stoughton, a gambler of Sandusky who hired the team in which the gang were conveyed from Sandusky to Milan and back. The fact that there was snow on the ground and one of the team had a peculiarly shaped hoof which was easily traced was the evidence on which Stoughton was convicted and for which he served a year in the penitentiary. Many inducements were held out to him but he never squealed or in any way intimated any knowledge of the men concerned in the crime. The loss was reduced to about eleven thousand dollars by the cancellation of some securities. After serving his time Stoughton returned to Sandusky and opened a saloon and gambling room until his death in 1906.

The Milan Library

The Carnegie Public Library at Milan was dedicated December 13, 1912. In addition to Andrew Carnegie, the existence of the library is due to A. L. Hoover and W. A. Galpin of Buffalo, New York.

The building is fifty by thirty five feet and constructed of oriental brick in three colors. The building is heated by steam and lighted by electricity. The library is composed of several thousand books.

The Milan Library Association was first formed about 1878 through the persistent efforts of Dr. P. A. Gordon and Mrs. A. C. Winslow. Fifty dollars was raised by subscription with which one hundred books were purchased which were the nucleus of the library. They were cared for in Mr. Case's Drug Store for a while, in Mr. H. L. Wilson's store and later in F. W. Weaver's jewelry store. In 1892 the township trustees levied a tax of one tenth of a mill for the library and in February, 1892, Dr. P. A. Gordon as President of the Milan Library Association turned over to the trustees the property of the Association. The salary of the librarian was fixed at twenty five dollars a year. In 1908 the library contained two thousand volum¬es.

The librarian's report for the year 1922 shows the library then contained 5,945 volumes and circulated a total of more than twenty two thousand volumes during the year. In this year an endowment was received from W. A. Galain of $5,400.

The library contains a file of the Milan Tribune from September 28, 1843 to September 13, 1848. It was a whig paper and edited by Clark Waggoner. It supported Edward S. Hamlin for Congress in 1843 and Samuel Atherton for State Representative. It gives the price of wheat in 1843 as sixty six cents; corn, thirty cents; oats, twenty five cents; flour, three dollars and a quarter a barrel, and ham, four dollars a hundred. The prominent business men were Gaston and Kennedy, dry goods; A. H. Shaw, commission merchant; J. C. Lockwood & Co., groceries; Ebenezer Andrews, S. F. Taylor, P. R. Hopkins. and W. H. Tucker, attorneys, and Dr. L. H. Pierce, L. C. French and Leman Galpin as medical men. It contains a picture of a train on the Huron Valley railroad, now the Wheeling and Lake Erie with an engine about the size of the one attached to a modern threshing machine and two cars attached, one called the wheat car which it announces will "move night and day. Farmers freighting the car are entitled to a passage on the road free of charge." It announces the arrival of numerous schooners loaded with salt and iron and their departure, loaded with wheat. It advertises the American House at Huron kept by M. Hudson. It announces the meeting of the "Old Oaken Bucket" Division of Sons of Temperance on Friday night, and an advertisement of a joint Temperance meeting of Huron and Erie County at Milan July Fourth, 1848, addressed by S. F. Cary, I. J. Allen of Mansfield and Samuel Galloway of Columbus, and others. The committee was C. E. Pennewell, P. N. Schuyler and Dan. A. Baker. On September 6, 1848 it announces the opening of Huron Institute for the Fall term with Lemuel Bissell as Superintendent. The term was eleven weeks and the tuition was three dollars for common English branches; four dollars for the higher English and four and a half dollars for the classics.

VALENTINE FRIES

Valentine Fries was born in the small but picturesque village of Beteshein in Germany. When five years old his parents made the then perilous voyage to the New World. Four weeks were spent in making the voyage from Havre aboard a sailing vessel before New York was sighted. And then followed the long and tedious trip by way of the Erie Canal to Buffalo, from Buffalo to Cleveland by steamboat, and the last lap by way of the Ohio Canal to Kindel (now Massillon, Ohio). Later on Mr. Fries entered the employ of J. W. Watson, a wholesale druggist. After five years, having through strict economy saved a little money, Mr. Fries decided to try his fortune. After various experiences he located at Milan, Ohio, where he established himself as a retail grocer, which business he continued for twenty years. In 1852 Mr. Fries in partnership with J. P. Gay established a ship building yard. Five years later Mr. Fries began the construction of vessels independently. At that time he built the Schooners: Wm. Slupe, Hyphen, William Raynor, Atmosphere and Amaranth. This yard was abandoned in 1868. Ten years later however, he again commenced the construction of vessels, this time about three miles down the Huron River at a place that became known as FRIES LANDING. The Marion Page (named for Marion Edison Page, sister of the great Thos. Edison and neighbor of Mr. Fries); the schooner Charles Foster, the Steamer William Edwards and to climax his ship building operations, the famed Golden Age, the biggest schooner of its day on fresh water was launched. So large was this vessel that the Huron River had to be dredged for a considerable extent to permit her to reach Huron Harbor. The name of Milan-Huron-Erie County became known throughout the Great Lakes region through these vessels. Though not an aspirant for the honors but conceding to the wishes of his friends and neighbors the office of Mayor of Milan and Township Trustee were accepted by him but when later asked to accept different county offices he declined as he had no desire for a political career. On Nov. 28, 1889 Mr. Fries was married to Anna Crone of Massillon, Ohio. From this alliance was born one son, Valentine A. Later on he retired from the active managements of his various enterprises and spent his days on his farm about one and one half miles from Fries Landing. He was identified with the Weideman-Holmes Company of Cleveland, Ohio, Fries & Rand Banking, Lumber & Fisheries of Huron. Ohio; F. N. Ellis & Company, Putnam County; Paul & Company of Massillon, Ohio; Sandusky, Milan & Norwalk Electric Railroad Company; the American Shipbuilding Company, Ship Owners Dry Dock Company; Milan Canning Company and extensive real estate interests. Mr. Fries was a man of retiring disposition and avoided all notoriety fond of reading of genuine charity ever ready to join any enterprise that had for its object public improvement or tending toward the general welfare of the community. He died April 2, 1900 and was buried from St. Anthony's Church at Milan, Ohio.

VALENTINE A. FRIES

Valentine A. Fries was born May 13, 1890, at Huron, Ohio, the son of Valentine Fries and Anna M. Fries. He was educated at the University School, Cleveland, Ohio, and during the World War enlisted at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pa., his military record bringing him a commission. Following his service in the army, he has devoted his time and attention to managing the large property left him by his parents and has shown considerable ability as a financier.

He married Irma Brockett of Marion, Ohio, in 1922, the daughter of Don E. J. Brockett and Florence Brockett, and to this union have been born two children - Valentine Albert Fries, Jr., and Jacquelyn Ann Fries.

Mr. Fries is a member of the Cleveland Athletic Club and of the Plum Brook County Club of Sandusky.

ARTHUR L. HOOVER

When the final records of the Prohibition battle in Erie County are written there will be no name more prominent than that of Hoover. Arthur L. Hoover was born November 23, 1871 at Monroeville, Ohio. He is the son of Isaac W. Hoover and Hannah Hoover. He was educated at Western Reserve Normal School and the Sandusky Business College. He says he grew into the business of manufacturing. He has never held office except to be a member of the Milan School Board. He is a director of The Citizens National Bank of Norwalk and The Farmers & Citizen Banking Company of Milan. He belongs to the various Masonic bodies and The Methodist Episcopal Church of Milan. He has been twice married, first on October 12th, 1898 to Harriet Wolverton the daughter of Edson Wolverton and after her death, on April 9th, 1921, he was married to his present wife Betsy Mary Kelley the daughter of F. A. Kelley. He is the father of two children Margaret Fay and Mary Jane. The creditable record of his business enterprise would require a large space to tell. But his most creditable achievement has been his wish to make the world better because he has lived in it, and to show that his Religion has gone with him seven days a week, and sometimes even to the ballot box. His part in the Prohibition conflict will be a heritage of which his children may well be very proud.

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